CHURCH leaders have stepped up peace appeals for Ukraine in the run-up to Easter, amid growing condemnation of Russian atrocities and the pro-war stance of the Moscow Patriarchate.
“Seeing the suffering, destruction, brutal violence, and spread of death brought by Russia to every corner of Ukraine, we understand that a just peace can only be brought by fighting the aggressor and expelling him from our land,” the Primate of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said.
“The Lord is with us in this struggle, because we are fighting for truth and goodness against demonic tyranny and resentment. . . We believe that our people will overcome all new challenges — that Ukraine will win its victory.”
Metropolitan Epiphany was preaching on Sunday in Chernihiv, north-east of Kyiv, after its recapture by Ukrainian forces from a month-long Russian occupation. He said that the partly destroyed town had “paid a terrible price in hundreds of lives taken by Russian murderers” for staunchly resisting “Kremlin plans to destroy Ukrainian statehood”.
In a reference to other embattled areas, however, he warned that Russia’s invading armies were “still preparing the fate of Mariupol, Bucha, Yagidny, and Novoselivka for the whole Ukrainian people”.
Speaking at the weekend, the head of Ukraine’s Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), said that millions of Ukrainians had now been forced to flee the Russian invasion, mainly to Western Europe, and thanked Orthodox leaders in other countries for their “fraternal support”.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Roman Catholic bishops said that the massacre of civilians had “revealed the true face of the aggressor” and provided “traces of genocide”.
Ukrainians, they said, should still “look to the future with hopes of victory”, and they were grateful to Christians worldwide for offering help to the 4.5 million refugees abroad and the 6.5 million displaced inside their country.
“As Ukrainian Catholics, we are turning to the Russian nation; do not let evil become your deity,” the Bishops’ Conference said in a Holy Week message.
“Those who count themselves a Christian nation have erased the gospel through their actions, abandoning the commandment to love God and neighbour — this is why we ask for restraint and condemnation of the war by all those who still have some sense of faith in Russia.”
Russia was reported to have massed 40,000 troops for a new offensive against eastern Ukraine by midweek, after being pushed back with heavy losses from Kyiv. Western military analysts expect an all-out attempt to link up with occupied territory on the country’s southern coast.
The UN High Commission for Human Rights reported on Tuesday that it had documented 1842 civilian deaths and 2493 injuries since the Russian invasion began on 24 February, mostly from artillery, rocket, missile, and air strikes, but said that actual figures would be “considerably higher”.
The president of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, expressed sorrow after two Ukrainian Caritas workers and five of their relatives were killed in an attack on the Caritas office in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Vatican News reported on Tuesday.
AlamyThe Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, met the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, in Kyiv on Saturday. The leaders walked through Independence Square. During the visit, Mr Johson pledged more military aid for Ukraine
Addressing pilgrims in Rome on Sunday, the Pope appealed for an Easter truce “that will lead to peace through real negotiation” in the conflict, now entering its seventh week, saying that it was questionable what kind of victory lay in “planting a flag on a pile of rubble”.
The Primate of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, said that Ukraine was “surviving and fighting”. Calls for a truce over Easter, he said, which will be celebrated by most Orthodox Churches on 24 April, a week after the Western festival, were unlikely to be heeded by Russian forces.
“For us, the real truce will be Ukraine’s victory, when we get rid of the occupier,” Archbishop Shevchuk told the Expresso-TV channel on Tuesday.
The Lutheran president of the Conference of European Churches, the Revd Christian Krieger, said after visiting the Polish-Ukrainian border that the Holy Week message took Christians “to the heart of injustice, violence, and suffering” triggered by “hatred and greed”.
He also paid tribute, however, to the “incredible surge of solidarity sweeping across Europe” in response to the war.
More damage was reported to places of worship and church buildings in Ukraine, such as the Holy Resurrection, an Orthodox church at Zolotye, near Luhansk, which was hit by rockets and shells; and the seminary of the RC Kyiv-Zhytomyr diocese at Vorzel, which was said by its Bishop, the Rt Revd Vitaliy Krivitskiy, to have been “completely looted” by Russian troops.
Meanwhile, more Orthodox parishes were reported to have switched allegiance from the Moscow Patriarchate to Ukraine’s independent Church, as the European Parliament echoed mounting criticism of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in a 7 April resolution condemning his part in “providing theological cover for Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine”.
The 26-point resolution also praised “the courage of 300 priests of the Russian Orthodox Church who have signed a letter condemning the aggression and grieving over the ordeal of the Ukrainian people”.
AlamyA man sweeps debris inside an Orthodox church building in Chernihiv, Ukraine, after the Russians’ partial withdrawal. The building was hit by heavy shelling
In a separate appeal this week to Orthodox leaders worldwide, up to 200 priests from Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Church accused Patriarch Kirill of violating Orthodox teaching and “Christian morality” by supporting a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, and called for the Patriarch to stand before an international church tribunal.
The appeal said that Orthodox bishops, priests, and parishioners in Ukraine were expressing “unequivocal distrust” of the Patriarch, believing that he had “committed moral crimes, blessing the war against Ukraine and fully supporting aggressive actions of Russian troops”.
In a long interview on Monday, the acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Professor Ioan Sauca, confirmed that calls for the Russian Orthodox Church to be be suspended or expelled from the WCC (News, 8 April) would be “one of the very hot issues” when its central committee next met in June.
AlamyPeople hug at the station in Uzhhorod, western Ukraine, at the end of last week, some of the more than 7.1 million estimated to have been internally displaced as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
He said, however, that such a decision could be taken only “after serious discernment, hearings, visits, and dialogue with the churches concerned”, and said that no denominations had ever been directly excluded previously, despite demands made during the 1990s Rwanda genocide, the Balkan war, and other highly contested episodes.
“I still believe that the perpetrator can be changed, transformed by the power of dialogue and the work of God’s grace, by assuming faults and wrongdoings, repairing the damage and advancing towards the way of just peace,” Professor Sauca told the WCC’s online news agency. “If we exclude those whom we do not like or agree with, with whom are we going to speak, and how can we advance reconciliation?”