Bucharest, February 10, 2023
As state persecution of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church ramps up, Romanians are increasingly concerned about the fate of their compatriots who live and attend church in Ukraine.
The Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church addressed the situation yesterday:
Concerning the situation of the Romanian Orthodox parishes in the Northern Bukovina area, under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church firmly maintains its stance in favor of respecting the rights and freedoms of Romanian communities throughout Ukraine, just as Ukrainians are respected throughout Romania.
This is not the first time the Romanian Synod has raised its voice in defense of Romanians in neighboring Ukraine. On February 21, 2019, the Synod noted that it’s especially concerned about the 127 Romanian-speaking parishes in Bukovina and the preservation of their ethnicity and language.
To this end, the Synod decided that “it’s necessary to obtain written guarantees from the Church authorities that … they will have the opportunity to organize into a Romanian vicariate and to cultivate their spiritual connection with the Romanian Patriarchate,” noting that a Ukrainian vicariate has operated in Romania since 1990.
The schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” was quick to jump on the opportunity, announcing in early March of that year that it was prepared to create such a vicariate.
But in September of that year, a source in the Romanian Church told the Ukrainian outlet Vesti that “the OCU is putting strong pressure on the priests and laity to fill up the Romanian vicariate, and it could lead to the creation of rival Romanian-speaking structures in Ukraine.”
And now the Ukrainian Church is under even greater pressure, and the fate of its Romanian churches and parishioners has become a topic of great concern in Romania.
Last month, Romanian politician Gelu Visan went on TV to talk about the Ukrainian authorities’ “crimes against the servants of the Lord,” accusing President Zelensky of closing 100 Romanian churches and banning the Romanian language, despite all the help that Romania has given Ukraine throughout the ongoing war.
Another participant in the program recalled how priests are being physically attacked and the services interrupted, forcing the faithful to gather elsewhere. “These are real crimes they’re committing against the servants of the Lord,” she said.
Visan has also accused Zelensky of Nazism, expressing outrage that he sends Security Service agents into churches and monasteries.
In turn, the Ukrainian State Service for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience accused Visan of slander, insisting that “Ukraine has been and remains committed to the fundamental principles of freedom of conscience.”
There have even been calls from Romanian public and political organizations for His Eminence Metropolitan Longin, an ethnically Romanian hierarch of the Ukrainian Church, to lead the Romanian-speaking parishes into the Romanian Patriarchate, due to Kiev’s initiative to ban the Ukrainian Church.
His Eminence Archbishop Viktor of Baryshevka, head of the Ukrainian Church’s representation to European international organizations, referred to the Romanian initiative as a “wake-up call from abroad” for the Kiev authorities.
As the hierarch recalls, after the call for the parishes to join the Romanian Patriarchate, Romanian politician Dumitru Viorel Focșa visited Ukraine and interviewed Romanian clerics and faithful. “Romanian priests are being terrorized and forced to join the new political church, leaving the autonomous canonical Church of Ukraine,” Focșa said, adding that they remain loyal to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine and don’t want to join the Romanian Church.
The Security Service officers who are wreaking havoc in churches throughout the Chernivtsi-Bukovina Diocese use “Stalinist rhetoric without evidence, shameful and stupid,” sums up Focșa. “So I will report to the European Parliament Commission on Violence. Ukraine doesn’t know how to respect minorities, and the European Commission, the European Parliament should know what these Kiev politicians are doing.”
If Ukraine does finally ban the canonical Church, then it would be no surprise if the Romanian clerics and faithful look to join the Romanian Church, Abp. Viktor writes, which would be a clear signal to the world that there is discrimination and harassment going on in Ukraine.