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Church leaders deplore continuing bloodshed in Ukraine

01 July 2022


Ukrainian firefighters clear the site of the Amstor shopping mall in Kremenchuk on Tuesday in search of victims of the Russian air strike

Ukrainian firefighters clear the site of the Amstor shopping mall in Kremenchuk on Tuesday in search of victims of the Russian air strike

UKRAINIAN church leaders have denounced Monday’s missile strike on a shopping centre in the east of the country, as Patriarch Kirill of Russia again condemned the West and lauded the “absolute decency” of his country.

The Primate of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, Major Archbishop Svietoslav Shevchuk, said in a message on Tuesday: “We were all moved by this event of unprecedented proportions, and today we sympathise and express prayerful closeness to relatives and friends of the victims, all those wounded in this terrorist act.

“Heavy fighting is taking place along the entire front line. But Ukraine is standing. Ukraine is fighting — and we thank the Lord God and Ukraine’s armed forces that we have survived until this morning and can still see the light of day.”

The Archbishop, whose Church combines the Eastern rite with loyalty to Rome, was reacting to the attack on the Amstor shopping mall at Kremenchuk, near Poltava. At least 20 civilians had been confirmed dead by Wednesday morning, and dozens more were injured or missing.

At their summit in Bavaria, G7 leaders condemned the apparently indiscriminate strike as a war crime. The Metropolitan of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church (PCU) accused Moscow of seeking to destroy “everything enshrined and guaranteed” in his country’s post-Soviet democratic constitution, adopted 26 years ago.

“Its preamble recognises the important role of faith for the Ukrainian people, our desire to be guided in life by not just human law, but the law of God,” the PCU’s Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko) said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“Today, during Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, our defenders are protecting what the invaders so brazenly plunder: our independence, sovereignty, democracy, and rights and freedoms, as well as our security and the inviolability of human life and health.”

The bombing of the Kremenchuk mall, an act described by President Zelensky as having “no strategic value to Russia”, took place as the G7 countries announced new measures against Russian oil and gold exports, and pledged to “stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes”.

Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, branded the attack a “Ukrainian provocation”, but gave no evidence to support the claim.

The Poltava region’s governor, Dmytro Lunin, called the strike a “cynical act of terror against the civilian population”. Turkey withdrew objections to the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO at its Madrid summit, and the Alliance announced plans to boost its troops on high alert in Eastern Europe from 40,000 to 300,000.

In a Sunday sermon in Kuban, however, the Moscow Patriarch praised his countrymen for remaining “strong in love and loyalty for the Fatherland”, and said that Russia’s “faith, philosophy of life, and absolute decency” posed a challenge to “the powerful world, which lives by different laws”.

The Patriarch said that the “so-called enlightened West” was incredulous that new churches were being built in Russia, when its own were being “sold to Muslims” or repurposed for “everything the secular, godless society desires”.

“God grant that our spiritual strength never becomes impoverished, and that there are no fears or uncertainties about our historical development; everything happening now is happening correctly, even if our path is not an easy one,” Patriarch Kirill said at the cathedral liturgy.

“All this requires strong unity and the consolidation of all our people’s forces. . . Any contradictions today should go into the background; so the solidarity of our whole people comes to the fore in the face of real threats.”

Ukraine’s Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church, the UOC, continued to complain of the seizure of its parishes, after 14 more seceded last week to Metropolitan Epiphany’s PCU. It said on Tuesday that three more of its churches had been damaged in fighting around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

City councils in Lviv and Cherkasy became the latest this week to ban the UOC for “posing a direct threat to Ukraine’s existence”, although calls for an overall prohibition of the Church have been rejected by the Ukrainian government and parliament.

In a weekend statement, the Kyiv Culture Ministry said that 144 religious buildings, including 51 listed as historical monuments, had so far been destroyed or severely damaged since the Russian invasion on 24 February; and that it had recorded 396 Russian “war crimes” against Ukraine’s cultural heritage.

Protestant Church leaders from Central and Eastern Europe discussed closer co-operation with Ukrainian counterparts at a Lviv meeting this week. Church leaders across Europe, including the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, welcomed the European Union’s granting of accession “candidate status” on 23 June to Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova.

In a weekend report, Ukraine’s Religious Information Service said that a “large delegation” from the Moscow Patriarchate had arrived under military guard in the wrecked Azov Sea port of Mariupol, to organise local clergy and the rebuilding of destroyed churches “to Russian Orthodox standards”.

Church sources predicted that the Russian Church’s Holy Synod would follow up its annexation, in early June, of the occupied Crimea’s Dzhankoy, Simferopol, and Feodosia dioceses by also placing the Donetsk and Luhansk dioceses under its direct jurisdiction once the Donbas region of Ukraine was fully conquered.

In a Moscow speech on Tuesday, the chairman of the Synod’s Department for Society and Media, Vladimir Legoyda, confirmed that the Russian Orthodox Church would help to integrate the Donbas “in the living space of Russian civilisation”, in line with its mission to “build the unity of peoples and cultures”.

Meanwhile, the Moscow Patriarchate said that its former foreign-relations director Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), who was dismissed on 7 June, had attended a reception with Cardinal Peter Erdo and RC leaders in Budapest, and conveyed Patriarch Kirill’s gratitude to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, for opposing the Patriarch’s inclusion on the list for the EU’s sixth sanctions package at the end of May.

In a letter to Catholic Information Agency in Poland, the head of Ukraine’s Dominican order, Fr Jaroslaw Krawiec, said that recent Russian missile attacks on Kyiv, Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Sumy should serve as a “wake-up call against the growing hope that we may now be safer”.

Metropolitan Epiphany urged Ukrainians to remember how “the blood of martyrs flowed in rivers, soaking Ukrainian land,” during Moscow’s persecution of religious believers.

He called for prayers that “the righteous God will strike the foreign armies with his wrath”, and help Ukrainians to “build up their state and not return to the slavery of the Russian sphere.

“Once again, the alien enemy is spilling rivers of blood across our land, as the northern horde invades prosperous Ukraine to reimpose its yoke,” the PCU leader said in a Sunday homily.

“But Russia is like an ear of corn, with a head shining like gold but feet of clay. It swells with imaginary greatness, but does not stand firmly and sways and falls, while our Ukraine, like little David before the giant Goliath, stands strong with true faith in God.”

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