THE Russian Orthodox Church has denounced moves by the authorities in Ukraine to ban churches with links to Moscow.
“Pressure on the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) from the Ukrainian authorities continues to increase: large-scale searches of its churches and monasteries have been under way for three weeks”, the Moscow Patriarchate’s spokesman, Vladimir Legoyda, said.
“Such pressure on the only canonical Church, not to mention the ban demanded by various officials, will not help establish unity and civil peace in Ukraine, but only inflame civil confrontation further, fragmenting society and plunging the country into the abyss of strife and discord.”
The official was reacting to a Bill in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, removing legal status from UOC parishes and institutions that profess loyalty to Moscow.
In a weekend social media post, Mr Legoyda said that Orthodox clergy had “renounced the world, devoting themselves entirely to serving God and his Church”, and would be undeterred by “absurd sanctions and prohibitions” in Ukraine, whose “cynical and godless” political order was again “persecuting the faith."
The Bill was defended, however, by Andriy Yurash, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, who said that state authorities had tried to ignore illegal actions by the UOC “for reasons of public peace”, but had warned religious organisations “with their centre in the aggressor country” to reposition themselves four years ago.
“We have always been told that Russia’s response to any specific actions against the Russian Church in Ukraine will be as harsh as possible,” Yurash told the online New Voice agency on Monday.
“But the harsh, terrible realities of this war have helped everyone understand the correctness of the steps taken, and the need for actions which will ultimately lead to a clear resolution."
The exchanges took place as Russia rejected a new three-point Christmas peace proposal by President Zelensky at Monday’s G7 online meeting, insisting Kyiv must first accept last September’s declared annexation of its Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson regions (News, 30 September).
As Ukrainian energy and water supplies came under fresh assault, G7 leaders said that they remained “more united than ever” in the face of Moscow’s “inhumane and brutal attacks targeting critical infrastructure”, and would keep working together to bolster Ukraine’s military capabilities and “maintain and intensify” economic pressure on Russia.
In their statement on Monday, G7 leaders said that they would help Ukraine “repair, restore, and defend” its critical energy and water infrastructure, and were determined that Russia would pay for damage inflicted during its “brutal war”.
They said that there could be “no impunity for war crimes and other atrocities”, and that President Putin and others would be held responsible for them under international law.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian parliamentary committee recommended going ahead with the ban on “entities and organisations retaining subordination to the Russian Orthodox Church”, to “ensure stronger national security in the sphere of freedom of conscience."
A separate Bill, enabling the recovery of properties from religious associations “affiliated with centres of influence in Russia”, has also been tabled in the Verkhovna Rada.
On Monday, a presidential decree imposed financial sanctions on seven more UOC metropolitans and abbots for “cooperating with the occupying authorities” and “justifying Russia’s military attack".
Ukraine’s SBU security agency said on Monday that it had found “anti-Ukrainian materials”, Russian IDs, and “propaganda literature denying Ukraine’s existence” during further searches of UOC churches and monasteries, although one UOC metropolitan, Theodosy (Snigiryov) of Cherkasy, said that items had been planted.
Ukraine’s Religious Information Service said that the proportion of Orthodox Christians publicly professing membership of the UOC had dropped to just two per cent, compared with 30 per cent before Russia’s invasion, suggesting the handover of UOC properties to the country’s new independent Orthodox Church was unlikely to provoke protests.
Patriarch Kirill of Russia, and the UOC’s leader, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), have not commented publicly on the projected ban, which Ukrainian parliamentarians say will apply only to UOC communities that profess subordination to Moscow.
In a video message last week, however, one of the seven newly sanctioned metropolitans, Antony (Pakanich) of Boryspil, condemned the “barrage of far-fetched and fabricated accusations” directed against his Church, and vowed legal action against it.
Appealing to Orthodox Churches abroad on Tuesday, the abbot of Holy Ascension monastery at Bancheny, Metropolitan Londyn (Zhar), said that the UOC was Ukraine’s only “canonical Church”, and that the proposed ban was a “sin against the Holy Spirit” by “atheists and communists".
The measure was defended this week, however, by Yevgenia Kravchuk, from Ukraine’s Parliamentary Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, who said that Russia’s Orthodox Church had “approved and blessed the genocide of Ukrainians”, and posed a threat to the Ukrainian state.
“We are not talking about banning the Ukrainian Church, which adheres to common sense and the laws of Ukraine, but organisations related to, or subordinate to, the Russian Church”, Mr Kravchuk said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The majority of Moscow Patriarchate parishioners associate with the Ukrainian Church, and do not want to associate with the Russian one. This is important to ensure, since we are not pressuring freedom of conscience or religion."