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Ukrainian Primate thanks UK for support

15 July 2022

Ukrainians want to live in peace, in the free world, Metropolitan Epiphany says

SAM ETTLEMAN/FCDO

Archbishop Yevstratiy and Metropolitan Epiphany interviewed last week

Archbishop Yevstratiy and Metropolitan Epiphany interviewed last week

THE Ukrainian nation is a peaceful one, “and we would like to live in peace with all our neighbours,” the Primate of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphany, has said.

Speaking to the Church Times during his visit to London last week, he thanked the UK for its support for Ukrainians, and set out a vision for his country’s future within Europe.

“The United Kingdom is among the countries in the first row of those from which we have had huge support, not just in words, but in deeds.

“We are grateful to everyone, but particularly to all Britons, for support, for prayer, for humanitarian aid, for caring about refugees — it’s so important.”

Metropolitan Epiphany described the start of the war: “We woke up because of the sound of sirens, and we heard the explosion from missiles and bombs, and we understood that war had begun. . .

“The Ukrainian nation is a peaceful one, and we would like to live in peace with all our neighbours. But we have a strong and clear decision: we would like to be indivisible part of European civilisation. And our choice is a big problem for Putin, because it prevents realisation of the neo-imperial project of Russkii Mir” (Russian World) (News, 25 March).

“We believe that, in the future, we will live as two neighbouring but separate Slavic nations,” Metropolitan Epiphany said. But he emphasised that Ukraine would “like to live in the free world: we would like to live in democracy, and we will do what is required to be members of the European Union and European society”.

Asked whether this would create tensions for a socially conservative Church, the Primate said: “We stand for rights and freedom. We are against persecution for any kind. But we must understand that society accepts some things and rejects some things, and the Church bases its positions on gospel teaching.”

During his visit to the UK, Metropolitan Epiphany and the Archbishop of Chernihiv & Nizhyn, Archbishop Yevstratiy, attended the Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief. They also met the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace (News, 8 July).

Metropolitan Epiphany described the part that his Church had played during the conflict: “From the very beginning of this invasion, our Church included itself in the process of defending our country. Every one of our parishes became a humanitarian hub, collecting and providing humanitarian aid, and hundreds of our priests became chaplains in our armed forces.”

Research by the Ukrainian poling company InfoSapiens suggests that the proportion of all Ukrainians who identify themselves with the independent Orthodox Church has increased from 38 per cent to 52 per cent since the Russian invasion. At the same time, the percentage who say they belong to the Moscow-affiliated Church has fallen from 15 to just four per cent.

“In these four months, more than 600 parish congregations voluntarily joined our Church from Moscow, and this process of unifying still continues,” Metropolitan Epiphany said.

“Everybody can see that Patriarch Kirill openly supports Putin in his aggression, and Ukrainians can see this, and change their attitude to the Russian Church.”

Although the Moscow Patriarch has publicly supported the war in Ukraine (News, 6 May), the leader of the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy, has spoken against the war since it began. In May, his Church declared itself independent of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The move has not been recognised by Patriarch Kirill, and Metropolitan Epiphany cast doubt on the decision, describing it as an attempt “to stop the process” of parishes’ moving to his own Church, “because they lost trust from Ukrainian society”.

He said, however, that he welcomed “all steps which aim to achieve unity”, and was open to dialogue with Metropolitan Onufriy “with no preconditions”.

In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica published last month, Pope Francis suggested that the invasion of Ukraine was “perhaps somehow provoked”. Metropolitan Epiphany said last week: “We understand the Pope’s position in this situation. Historically, the Vatican has a good relationship with Moscow.

“We would like to see much more support, and we would like to see a much clearer position. But we believe they need more time . . . and we are really grateful to the Pope, first of all for prayer.”

On the subject of moral leadership, Metropolitan Epiphany was forthright: “I think that everybody must name things as they are. Everybody must accuse and judge evil. We understand that it is hard, sometimes it is painful; but if we don’t speak the truth, we will be faced with bad consequences.”

He suggested that, had the world made “an appropriate response to Putin’s aggression in Crimea” in 2014, the current conflict would not have arisen.

Every leader must understand that the lives of ordinary Ukrainians are at stake,” the Primate said. “We have no time to wait: every day, every hour, maybe even every minute, somebody dies.

“We are praying, and believe that for God it is possible to change everything at once. We call Christians of all the world to continue to pray for peace for Ukraine, because our Lord can change everything for the better.”

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