100+ Serbian academics in defense of the persecuted Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Belgrade, June 21, 2023

Photo: akron.com Photo: akron.com     

More than 100 Serbian academics and cultural figures have come together to speak out in defense of the persecuted Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

An address was published on pouke.org yesterday, calling for the Ukrainian state to stand up and protect the rights of the hierarchs, clergy, and faithful of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

“Given that we live in the 21st century, it is difficult to understand how many in today’s Ukraine, and even in Western countries, are not only indifferent but also agree with the unprecedented persecution of believers in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” reads the appeal signed by 109 professors, doctors, and others.

The academic community thus unites its voice to that of a number of Serbian Orthodox hierarchs who have spoken out, including His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije, His Grace Bishop Sergije of Bihać and Petrovac, His Grace Bishop Fotije of Zvorničko and Tuzla, His Grace Bishop Siluan of Australia and New Zealand, and His Grace Bishop German of Gornij Karlovac.

The appeal reads in full:

We, as representatives of the academic community and cultural ambassadors of the Republic of Serbia and Serbian lands, express our deep concern over the gross violation of basic human rights in Ukraine.

First of all, this concerns the alarming violation of constitutional norms and laws that guarantee freedom of religion.

What is happening to the priests and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church cannot be called anything other than state terrorism.

According to data from the human rights defender in Ukraine, over 75 priests of the UOC and hundreds of members of their parishes have been exposed to various forms of repression.

In addition to sporadic incidents of burning religious sites, in 2022 alone, with overt support from the authorities, 250 canonical churches of the Church were seized. This year, that trend has not only continued but intensified. Right now, those who support the so-called OCU, which is not recognized by 11 out of 15 canonical Orthodox Churches, are seizing churches in the Khmelnitsky, Chernivtsi, Kiev, and other regions of Ukraine. Priests and faithful of the UOC are exposed to various forms of persecution. They are not only threatened but also beaten, tortured, injured, and poisoned with tear gas. Supporters of the OCU, often with the assistance of state structures, do not hesitate to use physical violence even against UOC bishops. Furthermore, some bishops have been sent to prison or placed under sanctions based on poorly constructed, fabricated reasons. This and other data indicate that a well-planned and thorough destruction of entire UOC dioceses is underway.

Meanwhile, regional and city councils throughout Ukraine are adopting decisions to prohibit the functioning of the UOC in their regions. Bills to ban the Church have been registered in the Ukrainian parliament, and on May 15, 2023, a court decision opened the possibility of depriving the UOC of its official name and transferring its property to other confessions. The Ukrainian state not only failed to return the UOC’s property that was unlawfully taken away during the Soviet era, but it is currently depriving it of the right to use land parcels where its places of worship are located.

Given that we live in the 21st century, it is difficult to understand how many in today’s Ukraine, and even in Western countries, are not only indifferent but also agree with the unprecedented persecution of believers in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At the same time, while various rights are being propagated in the modern world, many are closing their eyes to the pain, tears, and blood of millions of Ukrainians who simply want to preserve the faith of their ancestors. A faith that has no connection to the current war and political problems between Ukraine and Russia.

As it is our moral obligation as intellectuals to speak out against injustice, against the violations of human rights and the infringement of human dignity, we call on the Ukrainian authorities to immediately stop the persecution of Orthodox believers and the forcible seizure of UOC churches.

We also ask the official Kiev to ensure strict compliance with the current Ukrainian legislation and international law with respect to freedom of conscience and religion.

In addition, we address European institutions, its human rights organizations, and the entire global community, calling on them to actively defend not only the religious but also the basic human rights of UOC members. We urge them, first and foremost, to send their observers to critical points where persecution is already underway and to help take rapid measures aimed at stopping the persecution and administrative pressure on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, its clergy, and parishioners. First and foremost, the preservation of the UOC’s jurisdiction over the Kiev Caes Lavra and the Pochaev Lavra, which represent great holy places for the entire Orthodox world.

A group of Serbian Orthodox faithful are also currently in the midst of a 650-mile, 2.5-month long procession in support of the persecuted UOC.

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