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Orthodox split widens after police raids

25 November 2022

Patriarch Kirill: war is ‘struggle against the Antichrist’


Pecherska Lavra or Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine, was searched for weapons and “sabotage groups”

Pecherska Lavra or Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, Ukraine, was searched for weapons and “sabotage groups”

DIVISIONS have deepened between Ukraine’s rival Orthodox Churches as police and security agents raided Moscow-linked monasteries this week. Meanwhile the Russian Orthodox Primate Patriarch Kirill once again urged Orthodox Christians to support his country’s “struggle against the Antichrist”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukraine’s SBU security service confirmed that it had conducted searches for weapons and “sabotage groups” at the historic Pechersk Lavra, or Monastery of the Caves, in Kyiv as part of efforts to “counter subversive activities by Russian special services” and prevent their “involvement in illegal activities to the detriment of state sovereignty”.

It said that similar raids had taken place at convents and diocesan offices belonging to Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, the UOC, in Korets, Rivne, Volyn, and other towns, “taking into account the Russian Federation’s armed aggression and the increasing risk of terrorist acts, sabotage and hostage-taking”. The statement said that the SBU also maintained “impartiality towards every religious denomination” and respected their constitutional rights.

The raids were condemned, however, as an “act of intimidation and persecution” against Russian-speaking worshippers and clergy by the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as by the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who told the RIA-Novosti news agency that the Ukrainian action was “yet another link in the chain of military actions against Russian Orthodoxy”.

The Church searches took place as further Russian missiles and drone strikes inflicted massive damage on Ukraine’s power grid at the start of winter, prompting a fresh aid donation of €2.5 billion from the European Union, and warnings of a further escalation in the nine-month war.

Preaching on Monday for Ukraine’s Day of Dignity and Freedom, the Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), accused President Putin of seeking to “use Church structures” for his own purposes, like Soviet and Nazi rulers before him.

“Although Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and other tyrants of the past are dead, the devil is tempting others to take their place. The current head of the Russian state has become such a tyrant of our time, a servant of the devil and guide to lies and evil,” Metropolitan Epiphany said at a Kyiv liturgy commemorating 2100 Ukrainians killed and injured in the 2013 “Euromaidan Revolution”.

“Whoever renounces freedom and dignity to be seduced by the devil is like the angels who were tempted and fell away from God. . . This is exactly what has happened to so many followers of the Moscow Patriarchate and its leader, who were deceived by the devil and induced to become servants of the Kremlin tyrant.”

Speaking on Sunday in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow, however, Patriarch Kirill said that the “future of the world” now depended on Russia, which was defending “values that place a barrier to apostasy”.

He said that he was grateful to President Putin for showing “unanimity on the key issues of our time” and said that his Church now stood “on the front line” and should remain mobilised as the “core of spiritual resistance”.

“Remembering what God’s word says about the coming of the Antichrist into the world, we can say that today it is Russia which is the restrainer — and this means all the Antichrist’s forces will be thrown at our country,” the Patriarch said.

“As a Church, we must take part in our Fatherland’s struggle against world evil, against this leprosy, this Antichrist movement. . . Therefore I call on everyone to pray for the unity of the historic Holy Rus and our Church, and for victory over all opponents, external and internal.”

Calls have continued across Ukraine for the UOC to be banned on national security grounds, despite the Church’s claims last May to have severed jurisdictional ties with Moscow.

With a total 33 Moscow-linked clergy facing criminal investigations for siding with invading Russian forces, according to the SBU, the Church has also been urged to impose canonical sanctions against collaborators and begin a dialogue with the independent PCU.

Claims of clergy collaboration were denied on Sunday by the UOC’s leader, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky). He told a student magazine that Orthodox priests who had “stayed with their people in occupied territories and helped them survive, sacrificing themselves, their image or their lives”, were “not collaborators, but real heroes of the people”.

This was denied, however, by the PCU’s spokesman, Archbishop Evstratiy (Zorya), who told Ukraine’s commercial TV channel ICTV that support for the ideology of a “Russian sphere” had been nurtured in the UOC over decades by Russia, and could be documented in sermons and brochures.

Ukraine, he said, now needed to “break the link between the UOC and Russian governing structures”, with more effective law enforcement.

He continued: “When people are indoctrinated for years into thinking that Moscow and the Russian sphere are a shrine to be defended, protected, and spread in every possible way, and that everything against this is a manifestation of Satan and the Antichrist, they become poisoned by this ideology and begin to work for the enemy.

“When they direct Russian artillery, rockets, and bombs at Ukrainian objects, they sincerely believe they are doing good.”

Ukraine’s Religious Information Service said that the Orthodox Patriarch Ilya II of Georgia had been the only foreign religious leader to send greetings to Patriarch Kirill on his 76th birthday last weekend, adding that Patriarch Ilya had also used the opportunity to demand a restoration of “peace and justice” between Russia and Ukraine.

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