The Persecuted Church in Ukraine:Have We Lost Our Courage?


The world has witnessed over the last year a shocking military collision between Russia and Ukraine. Yet behind the military conflict is a spiritual conflict between the historic Orthodox Church which has existed in Ukraine for over a thousand years, and a new nationalist sect created by the patriarch of Istanbul in 2018.       

The true shepherds of the Orthodox Church have always stood faithfully to defend the faithful, whether they were persecuted by pagan Rome, oppressed by the Ottoman Turks, or martyred by the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.

Yet the same temptation—the temptation to silence because of fear, or a desire to maintain a position of prestige when faced with intimidation from enemies of Christ’s Church—remains the evil one’s greatest tool against the Church today as much as it was in centuries past.

Perhaps the last few years have softened up our will, making it harder for Orthodox Christians to stand during times of persecution. Perhaps one should not be surprised when state-sponsored soldiers in the Ukrainian capital seize churches and monasteries, assault priests and monks of the canonical Orthodox Church, and forcibly install the members of the new nationalist sect in the holy places. Perhaps nothing should surprise us in a time of war.

Yet for those Orthodox Christians blessed to live outside the war zone, who say they seek to preserve the communion of the Orthodox Church from the safety of their homelands, silence is uncharacteristic of a Christian.

A few years of forced silence under state-imposed restrictions on basic liberties has made too many Orthodox Christian laity and bishops willing to forget the lessons of totalitarianism. The temptation to popularity with our elites is too great for many in the Church, and it makes some do things they should not do.

Over the last three years, we have seen bishops who would stand with Marxists, in order to gain praise as leaders in racial reconciliation—knowing all the time these same activists are attacking our faith and its teachings, and burning our neighborhoods.

This is the price of popularity with the world, when we sacrifice our brethren in Christ. 

We have seen bishops who have forbidden their priests from defending the jobs of their faithful—instead siding with state medical authorities, and costing thousands of Orthodox Christians their livelihoods.

This is the price of popularity with the world, when we sacrifice our brethren in Christ.

We have even seen an Orthodox bishop—may God spare him—publicly defend the right of a mother to kill her unborn child, putting to death his own conscience in the process, and leading to the abyss the consciences of those in his spiritual care.

This is the price of popularity with the world, when we sacrifice our brethren in Christ.       

Now, should it surprise us, when confronted with the persecuted canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine, that such compromised consciences might be faced with a dilemma? It is at times such as these that Christ is calling us to shake off our silence, even in the light of past mistakes, and to raise our voices—in person or in writing—in defense of those in the Church in Ukraine, who are being oppressed by fraudsters disguised as clergy, by a fraudulent sect created by an ambitious patriarch with papal ambitions.

What can our bishops and priests do at a time like this?

Firstly, they can direct each parish to serve formal prayers at each Liturgy for the deliverance of the canonical Church—not merely euphemistic “prayers for peace”, which any stranger could utter, but the prayers of true Orthodox brethren, for the deliverance of the suffering flock of Christ in the canonical Church in Ukraine now being torn apart by wolves clothed as sheep.

Secondly, they can make pilgrimage—personally, and prepared to make their case—to the halls of political power, and lay the case for the religious freedom of the Orthodox Christians in Ukraine before those who now support the regime that is persecuting the Church, as well as those who have the power to call publically to help them. This carries with it many risks—not unlike the risks faces by the saints of the early Church. Those who are real men will decide if they will stand, with God’s help, or run away.                

Thirdly, they can cease commemoration and liturgical concelebration with those sectarians in the West who aid the wolves persecuting the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, who channel funds to them, or who commune with them at the Holy Table. Well must we remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who reminds us to be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

The land war in Eastern Europe is the business of politicians and generals: it is a battle that is not the primary responsibility of the Church, for which we must minister to all involved.                                  

The spiritual war against the canonical Orthodox Church—the attacks on priests and faithful, the ransacking of holy monasteries, the introduction of laws banning our Orthodox Christian faith—these are the business of the Church and its shepherds. The shepherds must see to this business, and not be cowed into further silence.

Our bishops and priests can find their voices for all sorts of matters which appeal to the chattering classes. It is time for us to find our courage to be men, even when the chattering classes might be against us, just as they are against Our Lord.

It is the business of the bishops (and by extension, the priests)—indeed, the very calling of the clergy by God—to say to the wolves surrounding the Church as did the new bishop of the Diocese of Kirovograd did in recent days, Look at the icon of Christ, and tell Him that you are banning His Church.

The shepherd's staff is carried by each bishop to defend the flock—the Church Fathers remind us that this is the symbol of the authority to fight off the wolves attacking the Church. Such responsibility also extends to each member of the priesthood, to be exercised against the falsehoods spoken by those who would draw the faithful out of the canonical Orthodox Church.

Saint Gregory Palamas reminds us, the silence of the clergy is atheism. The bishops and the priests in the rest of the world must now speak for the persecuted Orthodox Church in Ukraine, now suffering at the hands of the Ukrainian state at the behest of a schismatic sect.

It is a failure of our vocation in the priesthood to do any less.

Archpriest Geoffrey Korz is a priest in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

John D1/18/2023 6:17 am
David, As I have said before – disagreements and debates are essential for reformulating views. That is how we can draw closer to the Truth, which is the only thing that is important for us – for Christ has told us “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). True understanding of that can only come from embracing the truths of our Sacred Tradition and the Holy Fathers and ‘unceasing prayer’ for guidance. Our formation as Orthodox does not – cannot – come from the “modernist mouthpieces” of “worldly-geo-political” Orthodoxy: neither the neo-papist EP, the “post-patristic- Rue Daru-Paris School-” protestant-intellectual-academic-scholastic self-titled theologians who needed to “fix” and “restore” the Church –as if the Church needs fixing [Schmemann, Meyendorff, Behr, Bloom & Hopko and their OCA seminary] or the secular media, or the heterodox in themselves, thus assuming that they may actually occasionally be telling the truth. Bl. Fr. Seraphim distinguishes the true Orthodox zeal from the zeal "not according to reason": “Orthodox zeal, needless to say, has nothing to do with soulless phariseeism or the attachment to the letter of the Church’s law at the expense of its spirit; nor with the emotional revivalislm which some substitute for zeal; nor, certainly, with the combination of phariseeism and emotionalism which prompts some misled converts to think they 'know better' than the Holy Fathers and ascetics themselves what Orthodoxy is. Such kinds of 'zeal', being only human, fade away, and only the true zeal inspired by the Holy Spirit remains ever fresh and burning. Bishop Theophanous writes: 'Do not confuse one zeal with another. Spiritual zeal entirely expends itself in pleasing God and saving the soul; it is full to overflowing with the fear of God and it preserves unceasing heedfulness toward God, in every way being concerned to allow nothing either in thoughts or in feelings or in words or in deeds that is not pleasing to God, as indicated by one’s conscience, which it preserves as clean a mirror; it preserves the heart from any kind of attachments to anything save to God and Divine things, and in hope it is translated to another world, having cut off all earthly hopes'. " Many of the newly converted to Orthodoxy in the West succumb precisely to the zeal "not according to reason", as they begin their journey into the Orthodox Church. With the intensity typical of neophytes, [anyone 10yrs or less in the Church] they immediately become opponents of liberalism and anything that isn’t “dogmatized.” At the same time, they have not yet sufficiently mastered the authentic Orthodox spirituality or acquired an Orthodox ethos, as a basis and substance of their inner spiritual life. In the absence of personally acquired spiritual pointers [the most important of which during ecclesiological discussions are maturity, humility and modesty as intellectual and spiritual qualities], they inevitably only scrape the surface and support their reflections with formal reasons, which they "discovered" in the Church Canons or sayings of the Fathers. Bl. Fr. Seraphim described briefly but very accurately the mentality and spiritual attitudes of people who yielded to such temptations. Above all, they suffer from a "canonical literalism," or they continually cite the “Fathers,” the “canons,” or “rules” or “the correct way” or voice the latest Orthodox “fashion” on “how to be” –build this or that in Orthodoxy; or what the convert/neophyte Orthodox has written on the Fathers [without actually reading and DOING what the Fathers say] – all without interpreting them in the light of the healthy Orthodox spirituality but detaching them from the context of true Christian life. Question: Just out of curiosity, how long have you been Orthodox? Second question: From what former faith confession do you hail from? Just curious. Doxa to Theo, John D
Alex1/18/2023 2:08 am
David: I see what you're saying, but if you are talking about relations between Ukrainians and the Moscow Patriarchate, you should not use Crimea as an example. The great majority of the population of Crimea is Russian, as every census conducted by Ukraine (by Ukraine!) shows. As such, it should come as no surprise if the people of Crimea prefer to be part of the Russian Orthodox Church rather than the UOC. In most of Ukraine, however, the majority is solidly Ukrainian, so the people _there_ would want to remain in the UOC.
Gary1/17/2023 2:13 pm
An accurate article I believe and thanks for M. Cornelia's comments!
David1/17/2023 12:22 pm
Mother Cornelia: It isn't a good. At all. But an increasing number of Ukrainians want nothing to do with the Moscow Patriarchate in any way, shape, or form. The MP can't minister to them, and tightening their grip is the worst thing they could do, and yet they insist on doing so. How was it good for the MP to ignore what was coming? THAT was the MP's mistake---thinking that they could guilt and gaslight the autocephalists into "coming back." The wounds were and are too deep. That the MP couldn't and can't see that speaks to a whole other set of problems. Ukrainian people need to avoid the Moscow Church, FOR THE MOMENT. Like a marriage that has fallen apart, with the couples having to separate for a time. It won't be forever, but the longer the MP denies, gaslights and obstructs, the more difficult reconciliation will be when the guns fall silent. I pray that silence comes very soon.
m. Cornelia1/17/2023 9:40 am
David, first of all, the UOC will always exist, because as the canonical, historical Church it is the Body of Christ. But it is being persecuted. We can't be silent about that--it is a fact. That the bishops in Crimea went under the Moscow Patriarchate is not something they consider a tragedy, because they are still the canonical, historical Church, the Body of Christ. If we continue to view the Moscow Patriarchate as some sort of evil that the Ukrainian Church must avoid, we err, because it is the canonical Church. If it's God's will that the UOC be completely separated from the MP through an autocephaly granted by its Mother Church, then that will obviously be the best thing for everyone. But that is not for us to decide. But you can't convince me that it is somehow good to consider the canonical Moscow Patriarchate as something inherently evil that Ukrainians must avoid at all cost. A schismatic church sliding into various non-traditional views and even heresies should however be avoided at all cost. Because: what do we profit if we gain the whole world but lose our souls?
David1/17/2023 1:21 am
Mother Cornelia: The UOC's only chance for continued existence under current circumstances is to declare autocephaly now. You are right, the OCU is not interested in co-existence, but neither is the MP. The UOC's "autonomous" status was always a begrudging concession to defang the autocephalist movement (which failed). The annexation of Crimea by the MP is a preview of what the UOC's future will be, should Russia win the war. The Canons have also been weaponized by Russia.
m. Cornelia1/16/2023 9:17 pm
David: Unfortunately, events in Ukraine are showing that you are probably wrong. If Ukraine wins the war, there will be no UOC, because the government is already in the process of banning it. Everyone is suppose to, according to them, go under the schismatic Epiphany. That "church" is in step with the Western colonizers' ideology and with militant Ukrainian nationalism, and the traditional UOC will have no place there. They have been, are now, and will be persecuted. That they have declared independence from Moscow hasn't made a bit of difference, because the root difference is still there and always will be. If Ukraine loses the war, then we will see. Perhaps the UOC will be free to choose its own future. And concerning courage: We all need the courage to see and stand up for the truth. I recall the popular book by Rod Dreher, Live not by Lies. Well, here is our chance to seek the truth here, and not just nod our heads to untruths in order to avoid judgment from uninformed people.
m. Cornelia1/16/2023 9:05 pm
Juan: I don't think the author is turning a blind eye to the horrors of this war, but many people outside of Russia and Ukraine did turn and are turning a blind eye to the continual shelling of the Donbas region for eight years, killing thousands of civilians, by a Ukrainian government hell-bent on erasing Russian culture from lands that were always Russian. There are also many details of this war that are very incriminating against the Ukrainian government, but you will not read about them in your news. So, I don't judge you for you ignorance, but when the truth comes out, please be open to it.
Juan1/16/2023 3:29 pm
I agree with everything that was said in this article, but I also wonder why the author would turn a blind eye to the destruction of temples and, more importantly, of the faithful sons and daughters of the canonical Ukrainian Church by the invading forces of the Russian Federation, and lay the blame entirely on the Ukrainian state and its Western partners.
David1/16/2023 7:54 am
I don't see a loss of courage at all.   I see people doing what they can, where circumstances permit.   Aid and prayers have flowed into Ukraine from all across the Orthodox world (including the Greek Churches). What "intervention" would solve the problem?   This whole war is the result of "interventions."   30 years of short-sighted and myopic decisions, made on every level by every side. I think the "silence" of the Church suggests an acknowledgement of a painful reality, that events have to run their course now.  If Ukraine wins the war, an autocephalous Church will be fully born (and it won't be on the UOC's terms).  If Russia wins, then the UOC will cease to exist, as Ukraine itself will cease to exist, except for perhaps a Galician rump state centered in Lvov (which is the OCU homeland, anyway).   The UOC itself is in an untenable position in its current status.   However, the declaration of independence surprised everyone.   I believe a declaration of official autocephaly from the UOC will happen this year.  Perhaps THAT is what the other Churches are waiting for. I could be wrong, and maybe peace will come. With God all things are possible.
pfmd@icloud.com1/16/2023 5:13 am
Be very careful Fr. Korz, there are many recent American “Orthodox” converts on this site, ”that aren’t actually Orthodox Christians in their thinking, actions, or spiritual life. While they identify as Orthodox because of their baptism at some time in their recent past, their worldview is firmly conformed to the secular world, and is alien both in spirit and in action from the life and teaching of the martyrs and Church Fathers”, who will challenge you and offer their antagonistic, senseless and hateful alternative to the historic and spiritual truths in your essay. These “orthodox” converts hate Orthodoxy as represented by the Russian Orthodox Church and by the Hellenic Orthodox Church. They hover on this site to antagonize all true Orthodox believers and spew their venom concerning our ancient Orthodox beliefs. These recent American Orthodox converts “believe they are going to improve the Orthodox Church—rather than be improved by the Church.” “These Bobos share the iconoclasm of the modern progressives, rejecting established institutions and norms”, but their real motive is to destroy the Orthodox Church and Russia specifically. Are these recent American Orthodox converts any different than the present Ukrainian pretend “Orthodox”believers (OCU) that are currently destroying and tearing apart the UOC, Russia and the ancient Orthodox religion, and will soon be prosecuting and murdering any Orthodox believers who refuses to conform to the new Neo-nazi directives of conversion to the OCU?
Dionysius Redington1/16/2023 4:24 am
In the days of the Sassanids, there were terrible persecutions of the Church in the Persian Empire. These persecutions were partly due to Zoroastrian fanaticism. They were also partly due to the close alignment of the Church establishment with the rulers of the Roman Empire, many of whom, ironically, were heretics. St. Maruthas of Martyropolis, the Peace-Maker, pray to God for us. --Dionysius Redington
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