ORTHODOX leaders have joined Churches worldwide in denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and appealing for peace, as thousands flee the country’s towns and cities to escape artillery barrages and missile attacks.
Metropolitan Onufriy Berezovsky, the head of Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, told citizens in a message: “Tragically, Russia has launched military operations against Ukraine — at this fateful time, I urge you not to panic, to be courageous and show love for your homeland and for each other.” He also urged prayers for the country’s “army and people. . .
“Defending the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, we also appeal to the president of Russia to stop this fratricidal war immediately. The Ukrainian and Russian peoples came out of the Dnieper baptismal font, and war between these peoples is a repetition of Cain’s sin. . . Such a war has no justification for either God or man.”
The Metropolitan issued the appeal as Russian forces battled their way into Kyiv’s northern suburbs on Friday, and city residents took to underground shelters to escape explosions and gunfire.
Ukraine’s new independent Orthodox Church, formed in 2018, circulated a special prayer for “defenders of the motherland”, and also appealed to the international community “to stop the aggression immediately”.
“Our common task is to repel the enemy, to protect our homeland, our future, and that of new generations from the tyranny the aggressor seeks to bring with his bayonets”, the Church’s 45-year-old leader, Metropolitan Epifanii Dumenko, said in a message.
“We pray with all those at the forefront of this fight against the aggressor. It is extremely important not to succumb to possible internal provocations, to maintain order, and carry out the orders of our state and military authorities.”
The RC Bishops’ Conference of Ukraine said that Russia’s “full-scale war against Ukraine” had marked “the beginning of a new page” in the country’s history, and called on citizens to “defend the motherland”, warning that “the prince of this world wins individual battles, forcing and manipulating us to believe lies and spread them”.
The head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk, pledged that Ukrainians would “lay down their souls and bodies for freedom”, and exercise their “natural right and sacred duty” to defend their “homeland and dignity”, adding that the country’s victory would signify “the victory of God’s power over man’s meanness and audacity”.
Condemnation of the Russian offensive came from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, who said on Thursday that he was deeply shocked by President Vladimir Putin’s “unprovoked attack on an independent and sovereign European state”, which would inflict “human-rights violations and brutal violence against our neighbours and, above all, the civilian population”.
The Romanian Orthodox Primate, Patriarch Daniel, also called for an “immediate end to hostilities”, and pledged “full solidarity” with Orthodox Romanians living in Ukraine. Patriarch Illia II of Georgia said that his own country knew from “bitter experience” the importance of territorial integrity, adding that he was watching events in Ukraine with a “pained heart”.
Greek Orthodox leaders in the United States and Australia also deplored the “brutal invasion”, while Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens said that his “thoughts and prayers” were with Ukrainians, “especially the young children and elderly experiencing the horrors of war”.
ALL these appeals for peace contrasted sharply with the position taken by Patriarch Kirill of Russia, who lauded President Putin’s “high and responsible service to the people” in a speech in Moscow on Wednesday for Russia’s Fatherland Defenders Day, and told his country’s armed forces they should have “no doubts they have chosen a very correct path”.
The following day, Patriarch Kirill told his clergy: “It is with deep and heartfelt pain that I perceive the suffering of people caused by these events — I deeply empathise with everyone who was touched by this trouble.
“The Russian and Ukrainian peoples have a common, centuries-old history dating back to the baptism of Russia. . . I believe this God-given community will help overcome the divisions and contradictions that have led to the current conflict.”
The Moscow Patriarchate’s website said that Russian Orthodox dioceses had offered help to refugees from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, i.e. members of the pro-Russian population.
A separate post on Friday dismissed a warning to nuns to leave their convent near Rivne “because of the alleged threat of bombardment by the Russian armed forces”, saying that it appeared to be “a provocation by local nationalists”.
The website of the Moscow-linked Orthodox church in neighbouring Belarus, which was used as a launchpad by 30,000 Russian troops, has made no mention of the war in Ukraine.
Christina Laschenko, churchwarden at Christ Church, the Anglican church in Kyiv, told the Church Times on Friday that she and her family had been unable to leave Kyiv and were unsure what to expect.
She reported that some members of the congregation had already moved with their children to western Ukraine. Others, including the parish treasurer, had remained in the capital. She said that she feared for the safety of a group of parish members living near a village targeted by Russian bombers on Thursday morning.
“We are close the central rail station in central Kyiv, and very afraid as we hear the sirens and see people fleeing to bomb shelters,” Ms Lapshenko said.
“As Christians, we strongly believe in the force and power of prayer, as well as in God’s will and peace, and it’s a great comfort to know that people are praying for us. But the worst eventuality for us and for the country will be if they capture Kyiv and kill our president, since this will cause total chaos.”
IN A statement on Thursday, the general secretary of the Geneva-based Conference of European Churches (CEC), Dr Jorgen Skov Sorensen, said that the crisis required the “attention and solidarity of the global Christian community”, and called on churches to “gather in prayer for people who possess the power to make decisions that will save lives and make peace possible”.
In a joint initiative with the Lutheran World Federation, World Communion of Reformed Churches and World Methodist Council, the CEC echoed a call by Pope Francis for Ash Wednesday, 2 March, to be marked worldwide as a day of prayer and fasting for peace.
Meanwhile, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, recalled the Pope’s Rome message on Wednesday expressing “anxiety and concern” that the Ukraine crisis could “destabilise peaceful co-existence” and “discredit international law”. He said that he feared “the tragic scenarios we all feared are coming to fruition.”
However, there was “still time for goodwill, still room for negotiation, still room for wisdom”, Cardinal Parolin said in a Vatican Radio message, “to prevent the prevalence of partial interests, protect everyone’s legitimate aspirations, and save the world from the madness and horrors of war.”
The Vatican’s press office confirmed that Pope Francis had visited the Russian embassy in Rome on Friday morning for talks with the ambassador, Alexander Avdeev, in what has been widely seen as an offer to mediate.
The RC Church in Poland, which is already sheltering up to two million Ukrainians, pledged to make its facilities available to help cope with the mass influx of refugees. Similar offers of help have come from churches in Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. All are expecting thousands to arrive in coming days.
In a statement on Thursday, UNICEF warned that Russia’s invasion risked “destroying whole generations” and endangering the lives of 7.5 million children.
Ukraine’s own Caritas-Spes organisation, which had put the numbers already displaced or needing help at 4.4 million before the invasion, confirmed that it had been forced to withdraw from front-line areas and expected the war to last several months.
In an appeal to world leaders on Thursday, Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, a grouping 16 Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant denominations, as well as Jewish and Muslim unions, conceded that its efforts to “prevent the outbreak of war” had now failed, and condemned the “unprovoked attack by Russia and Belarus on Ukraine”.
IN Russia, where hundreds were arrested by riot police during Thursday evening protests against the war in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities, the Evangelical Alliance called on President Putin to “consider and support” the peace efforts by Ukrainian churches, who “really represent their people”, and “not plunge our countries into fratricidal conflict”.
The Russian RC Bishops’ Conference said that it was “deeply shocked” that war had erupted, “despite huge efforts at reconciliation”, and urged the country’s Christians to “resist lies and hatred, and be a source of reconciliation, not of increased hatred and violence. . . This confrontation brings death and destruction and threatens the security of the entire world.
“The peoples of our countries are united not only by a common history, but also by the great common suffering that has befallen us in the past because of the madness of war. . . Let our contemporaries know that they will have to give strict account for the military actions they have taken. After all, the course of the coming centuries largely depends on their current decisions”.
A Polish RC priest told the Church Times that all the clergy he had heard from in Ukraine had opted to stay with their flocks, despite being offered a “free choice” to leave by their bishops.
A nun working in Odessa, Sister Anna Zajaczkowska, told the Polish Catholic Information Agency (KAI) on Friday that she and others had been advised to pack emergency possessions and tape their windows to prevent injury from flying glass.
And the Caritas director in the eastern city of Mariupol, Fr Roscislav Spryniuk,
told the agency that attacking Russian troops had fired on apartment blocks and at a local supermarket, adding that shops and cashpoints were now empty.
“Our only hope lies in God and in our armed forces,” the priest said. “Many residents have left for western Ukraine, but many who’ve remained are actively helping the army. Some have joined the territorial defence, while others are giving help to the needy, the handicapped, and refugees.”