Belgrade, March 29, 2023
His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije of the Serbian Orthodox Church has joined his fellow primates and hierarchs who are speaking out in defense of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the brethren of the Kiev Caves Lavra who are facing persecution by their own state.
“The behavior of the Ukrainian state leadership testifies that its true and probably ultimate goal is the destruction of historical memory and all traces of the original Orthodoxy in Ukraine in order to change its code and historical identity, which the Church has created in patience and torment, preserving for centuries, from the Holy Prince Vladimir to the present day,” he writes.
in connection with state terror
against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as is well known, is the canonical and legitimate Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and at the same time the largest religious organization in this country. It is recognized by all Orthodox Churches in the world, as well as by all non-Orthodox Churches and denominations, while the non-canonical schismatic structure, which, although it calls itself the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, does not even have the elementary attributes of a church, is recognized by only four Orthodox Churches, which make up a very small percentage of the total number of believers in the Orthodox world.
Of course, if the numerical disparity were in favor of a non–canonical structure, that is, not in favor of the canonical Church, this still wouldn’t change anything on the ontological level, because the Church is the Church, and an illegal parasynagogue can become a Church only through repentance and canonical procedure, but not by the stroke of anyone's pen.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not at all one of the “warring parties,” but a living and functioning Church of God, which is in unity of faith and liturgical communion with the Russian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Churches. Wars, both just and unjust, are waged by states, not Churches. In itself, the treatment of the Church as an enemy is monstrous, because believers from both sides of the tragic confrontation belong to it.
The Church is always for peace. It constantly prays for peace and does everything in its power to make friendship and love replace enmity and hatred between people. The Church doesn’t divide people into “friends” and “strangers,” “fellow citizens” and “foreigners.” In the name of God, Who is Love, the Church strives to embrace with love and pastoral care for the salvation of the soul and life of everyone who needs brotherly love and help.
The best example of such a position and behavior is given to us by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—its primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, its episcopate, priesthood, monastics, and faithful people. Therefore, it is with deep concern, sorrow, and compassionate brotherly love that the Serbian Orthodox Church beholds the patience of the saints (Rev. 14:12; cf. 1:9) in Ukraine, beholds the oppression, violence, and persecution that the current Ukrainian government is carrying out against the canonical Church, and thereby against the majority of its own citizens, given the fact that we are talking about the largest religious community in the country.
The persecution literally culminated in recent days with the forcible seizure of churches in favor of a pseudo-church schismatic structure enjoying the status of a kind of “state Church” and an informal inquisition.
The upcoming peak of terror, conceived exactly according to the scenario of the Soviet persecution of the Church, was also announced—the expulsion of two hundred and fifty monks, as well as over a hundred teachers and students of theology from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, the spiritual source and century-old center of Holy Rus’, the Baptismal Font of Eastern Slavic Christianity and Orthodoxy in modern Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus.
The Kiev Caves Lavra with its sacred treasures is not only a symbol and center of Orthodox Ukraine and, more broadly, of the “Russian world” (however this term is understood), but also an inexhaustible life-giving spiritual font for all Orthodoxy. Moreover, the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Lavra is an extremely important and visible element not only of the Ukrainian and all–Russian, but also of the world cultural heritage.
In the light of these facts, the decision of the current state leadership of Ukraine to expel Metropolitan Onuphry, the monastic brotherhood and the Theological Academy from the Lavra is nothing but a synonym for the horrific state terror over the Church, as well as the grossest violation of its fundamental rights, violation of both religious freedoms and freedom of conscience in general.
The behavior of the Ukrainian state leadership testifies that its true and probably ultimate goal is the destruction of historical memory and all traces of the original Orthodoxy in Ukraine in order to change its code and historical identity, which the Church has created in patience and torment, preserving for centuries, from the Holy Prince Vladimir to the present day.
Feeling and knowing that the only existing Orthodox Church in Ukraine, headed by Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev, carries its cross with courage and humility, hopefully ascending to Golgotha—both Christ’s Golgotha and its own, we are certain that the Crucified and Resurrected Lord, thanks to deep faith, forgiveness and love for everyone, including those who have become its enemies by their own choice, will grant His Church the strength to endure all the incumbent sufferings that it can bear.
Simultaneously with this cry, we raise our voice against the terrible injustice and state terror over the Church in Ukraine, which “cries out to Heaven.” We hope that Churches and religious communities, institutions and organizations that care about peace, justice, and at least some kind of order in the world will condemn the gross violation of religious rights and freedoms in Ukraine.
Praying fervently to the Lord for the cessation of the fratricidal war in Ukraine and for the speedy establishment of blessed peace on its land, we await with faith, hope, and love the triumph of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ over the forces of darkness, evil, and death. Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship O Christ, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.