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Condemnation continues among Churches as war in Ukraine drags on

27 May 2022

More calls for banning of Russian Orthodox at international forums


Metropolitan Epiphany of Kyiv & All Ukraine, pictured during a festive service in December 2020

Metropolitan Epiphany of Kyiv & All Ukraine, pictured during a festive service in December 2020

THE Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (PCU) has urged believers in his country to cut their ties with the Moscow Patriarchate and place themselves under his Church’s jurisdiction. The move comes amid growing calls for Russian Orthodox churchmen to be barred from international forums.

“Amid the grief and suffering brought us by the war, tragic current events have prompted many Orthodox in Ukraine to abandon former prejudices and enmities, forgive insults, and unite in one local Orthodox Church,” Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko) said in a sermon on Sunday.

“Our doors are open to all Orthodox with goodwill and a desire to serve God and the Ukrainian people. Our hearts are also open, and we do not want past misunderstandings to determine our future. With God’s help and joint efforts, we believe we can now achieve unity for the Church in Ukraine.”

Following up his call with a written message from his Synod, Metropolitan Epiphany urged Orthodox Christians to help to bring Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to account for “spreading heretical teachings” about a Russian sphere of influence, and for “blessing Russian troops” engaged in attacks on Ukraine.

The Primate of the Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, criticised Patriarch Kirill’s call for Russian schoolchildren to learn from “the many heroes sacrificing life and health defending the motherland”. He said that the Patriarch’s “instrumentalisation of Christian evangelism for ideological propaganda” had brought him “closer to Islamic State doctrine”, as he was using “the same arguments, dressed in Christian robes”.

“We hear about a metaphysical war against universal globalism, about how the Ukrainian people are influenced by a morally degraded West — how Ukrainians carry the seeds of the antichrist, and must therefore be killed,” Archbishop Shevchuk told an online conference in Milan on Tuesday.

“The atrocities against our civilian population are becoming an integral part of this ideological war. . . When we hear the cries and groans of crippled souls in Ukraine, the voice of innocent murdered women, children, and men calling from the earth to God, a cry breaks from the hearts of ordinary people: may God save us from such an Orthodox culture!”

On Tuesday, a delegation of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders from Britain, Poland, Italy, and the United States arrived on a prayer mission at the invitation of the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko.

The group, which includes the Bishop of Dorking, Dr Jo Bailey Wells, said that it would pray for a just peace and also ask the Russian government to permit a similar prayer vigil in Moscow.

Meanwhile, RC Bishops’ Conference in Germany cancelled talks planned for June with the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Greek chairman of the country’s Conference of Orthodox Bishops, Metropolitan Augustinus (Labardakis), warned of the “threat and catastrophe” of resurgent Orthodox nationalism. He told Germany’s RC news agency KNA, on Tuesday, that Russian parishes in Western Europe faced growing isolation.

In Lithuania, where the Russian Orthodox cathedral in Vilnius was daubed with slogans declaring Patriarch Kirill a “liar and sinner”, the Prime Minister, Ingrida Šimonyte, appealed last week to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, to help Orthodox communities wishing to transfer to his jurisdiction.

The Primate of the Orthodox Church of Finland, Archbishop Leo (Makkonen) of Helsinki, criticised last week’s communiqué from a meeting of Orthodox Churches in Cyprus, arranged with top-level Russian participation to prepare for this summer’s Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), for not identifying Russia as “the aggressor” (News, 20 May).

“Every bishop has a duty to bear witness to the truth and name things — not just in theological but also in social matters,” the Archbishop told the Orthodox Times. “Unfortunately, the bloodstained hands of those who bless this war had an impact on the content of this communiqué, and thus on its meaning.”

Debate has continued over whether the Russian Orthodox Church should be barred from attending the Assembly (Comment, 20 May). A final decision is expected when the WCC’s central committee meets in mid-June, the WCC’s acting general secretary, the Revd Professor Ioan Sauca, who is Orthodox, said.

On Tuesday, leaders of the World Baptist Alliance, which represents 51 million Christians in 128 countries, met Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), the Russian Church’s foreign-relations director, in Moscow for what the Patriarchate described as a “discussion of issues of co-operation”.

In a Kremlin speech on Monday, Patriarch Kirill vowed that his Church would “fight with all its might” against attempts to “separate the Church from the human soul” or push it to “the periphery of public or private life”.

He received glowing tributes from government and church leaders for his name-day on Tuesday.

In a statement this week, the PCU said that more than 400 parishes had “voted by absolute majorities” to transfer from the Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church (UOC) since the 24 February invasion; 14 had switched on Monday alone.

This was disputed, however, by the UOC, which said that many parishioners had opposed “illegal moves”, and vowed on Tuesday to resist the PCU’s plans to establish a “parallel monastery” at the historic Pechersk-Lavra monastic complex in Kyiv.

The agency said that 65 per cent of clergy in the UOC’s Sumy Eparchy had voted last week in a secret ballot to transfer to the PCU.

Ecology and human-rights groups have warned of environmental and health disasters in the country — which has 15 nuclear reactors — as well as disruption of the world’s grain and agricultural supplies by the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

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