THE Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), has expressed confidence that his country will prevail in its war with Russia.
“We are praying and doing our best to help our valiant army of warriors, volunteers, and people of good will — and we will certainly win, since we are united,” Metropolitan Epiphany said on Tuesday.
“Confident that God will continue helping us in our struggle, we will soon be celebrating Ukraine’s victory in this persistent struggle for freedom, and for the right to our independent state, with its own Orthodox Church.”
The Metropolitan issued the message from the St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastry, Kyiv, as Easter gifts and food packages were prepared for soldiers serving along the 600-mile front line.
The Eastern Holy Week was marred, however, by continued fighting, and there were further moves against Moscow-linked Orthodox communities.
The Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, also predicted a Ukrainian victory in the “genocidal conflict”; but he warned that many observers appeared “completely out of touch with reality” in their calls for peace, and failed to realise that this could merely “give a break to the Russian aggressor”.
“Today, we witness how the very concept of peace is profaned and distorted; for many, it is easy to talk of peace as some kind of philosophical or theological idea,” Archbishop Shevchuk said in a message on Sunday.
“There will be no real peace until the last occupier leaves our land — and we cannot seriously talk about it while our children are tortured in prison camps, while Russian bombs fall on Ukrainian cities and villages, while mass graves continue to be dug.”
There were up to 40 Russian air, rocket, and missile strikes against Ukraine in the early part of this week, and fresh clashes around Bakhmut and Avdiivka. In an evening address on television, President Zelensky said that the strikes had “once again confirmed that the Russian Federation is a terror-state”, facing “ever greater isolation from the world and humanity”.
Kyiv and Moscow are both tightening their conscription rules before a widely expected Ukrainian counter-offensive.
The Pope prayed in his Urbi et Orbi that God would “help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace”, while also shedding “the light of Easter upon the people of Russia”, and opening “the hearts of the entire international community to strive to end this war”.
The Ukrainian government protested for a second year running, however, when the Vatican matched a young refugee from Mariupol with a Russian contemporary who had lost family members during the invasion of February 2022, while delivering a message during Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum, in Rome.
“The joint participation of a Ukrainian and Russian distorts the reality into which Russia plunged Ukrainians; such a step undermines the principles of justice and common human morality, and discredits the concept of peace and brotherhood,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oleg Nikolenko, wrote in a Facebook message.
“Attempts to mark an equality of suffering between Ukraine and Russia are not conducive to reconciliation, which can only come with a Ukrainian victory, punishment of all Russian criminals, repentance for suffering caused, and a request for forgiveness. We expect the Holy See will follow an approach based on a deeper understanding of justice and responsibility.”
Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, the UOC, has continued to resist nationwide moves to requisition its churches and monasteries. These include Kyiv’s historic Pechersk-Lavra, or Monastery of the Caves, whose Father General, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebed), remains under house arrest for refusing a government order in late March to vacate the site (News, 6 April).
Regional councils in Volyn and Rivne became the latest this week to cancel the UOC’s property leases, pending government-backed legislation in Ukraine’s parliament to ban the Church because of its Russian connections.
Clashes took place in the UOC’s St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, in Kamianets-Podilskyi, as supporters of Metropolitan Epiphany’s OCU attempted to take over the building. Parallel moves were made to seize UOC churches in Lviv.
Ukrainian MPs have also threatened to evict the UOC from Ternopil’s historic Pochaiv Lavra monastery, while Metropolitan Antony (Fialko) said that he had been denied access to his own lodgings by OCU supporters at Khmelnytsky’s Holy Intercession Cathedral.
In a message on Monday, the UOC’s leader, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), urged church members to “protect the sanctuaries and monasteries by legal means”, without bearing “malice against people”.
The day before, in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow, Patriarch Kirill emphasised that his country was “on the side of the world” and had no wish to “become richer, seize other countries, or subdue anyone”.
He said that the war had been caused by “the complete absence of common Christian values” in the West, and that Russia was fighting to prevent Western “depravity” in areas such as gender difference from “becoming the norm”.
“Our present battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of darkness in this world, against spirits of wickedness in high places. . . Russia simply strives to preserve its identity, its faith, and system of values,” Patriarch Kirill said. “Holy Rus, thank God, preserves Christian values.”
Security is to be tightened in Kyiv and other cities for the Orthodox Easter. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians are expected to return from abroad for the festival, and there are no plans for a ceasefire.