THE Primate of the Ukrainian independent Orthodox Church has compared the fight against the Russian invaders to spiritual warfare against demons, predicting that his country would ultimately “achieve a great victory”.
“Seeing the realities of this visible war, we can better understand the invisible spiritual struggle which continues against the spirits of malice, who constantly seek to harm and destroy every person, keeping them in slavery and driving them to hell,” Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko) said in a sermon on Sunday in the western city of Chernivtsi.
“We see how the enemy works: speaking of peace while fuelling war, insisting he wishes to protect while bringing destruction and grief. He covers himself with bright Russian Church robes and talks about protecting faith, spirituality, and traditions — but under these robes lies delusion and embitterment, support for genocide, murder, and bloodshed.”
Preaching on the miracle of the Gadarene swine, the Metropolitan said that demons concealed their intentions with “attractive dreams”, while directing efforts at “spreading spiritual darkness, captivity, and torment”.
He said, however, that Russian plans to sow “bitterness and destruction” were being defeated by Ukrainian “common resistance” and a continued “hope for victory”.
“We must never forget that our enemy, the devil, has only one goal: to destroy us,” the Metropolitan said. “He is proud of his power, but his power is aimed only at increasing evil — just as the legion of demons mentioned in today’s Gospel reading gave inhuman strength to those captured by evil spirits.”
He delivered his message as Russian counter-attacks continued around the eastern town of Avdiivka, while heavy shelling was also directed against Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and as the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, urged the United States Congress to approve a new military aid package for his country.
The Russian Orthodox Church called on its bishops to do everything to support Ukrainian clergy who were “courageously raising their voices in defence of unity” with Moscow.
An open letter, signed by the Moscow Patriarchate’s administrator, Metropolitan Grigory (Petrov), said: “Persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Ukrainian state authorities has acquired a new character: discriminatory laws are being adopted against the canonical Church, as intolerance and hatred intensify.
“Clergy are subjected to brutal pressure through humiliating interrogations by special services and an inflamed mob, often uniting schismatics with the most exotic pagans and people alien to any faith. There are cases of arrests and beatings of God’s servants and blaspheming of sacred objects.”
The rival appeals appeared as the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada parliament pressed on with government-backed legislation to ban Orthodox parishes’ maintaining ties with Russia, and an early-November deadline for all amendments.
Speaking last weekend, the head of Ukraine’s State Service for Freedom of Conscience, Viktor Yelensky, branded the Moscow Patriarchate a “direct participant in aggression”, and said that many citizens were “outraged” that local religious organisations were still linked with it.
Legal experts have warned, however, that the projected law will face implementation difficulties if individual court rulings are required to establish whether the UOC’s remaining parishes, estimated at about 10,000, are “affiliated with centres of influence” in Russia.
In the latest foreign appeals, the Holy Synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Church said that it regretted that members of the Moscow-linked Orthodox Church (UOC) were being “persecuted by local authorities for their faith”; and the Chicago-born Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Awa III, of the Assyrian Church of the East, was quoted by the Moscow Patriarchate on Tuesday as deploring the “great evil committed by a godless government” in Ukraine.
The Synod of the Polish Orthodox Church said last week that it had also received news of the UOC’s projected delegalisation “with great incomprehension”, and had stopped co-operating with Poland’s predominant RC Church, in what, local media said, was a dispute over pastoral care for Ukrainian refugees.
Claims of persecution were rejected, however, during a visit to the US in late October by members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, including Bishop Ivan Rusyn, of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church, who warned an audience at the US Institute of Peace against Russian “propaganda and false narratives”.
In a statement, the Moscow Patriarchate said that the chairman of its Synodal Department for Interaction with the Armed Forces, Metropolitan Kirill (Pokrovsky), had visited Russian-occupied Crimea to discuss “spiritual nourishment for military personnel, Cossacks, and representatives of law-enforcement agencies”.
The Ukrainian Religious Information Service said that a Russian Orthodox library was being constructed in the port city of Berdyansk, as part of efforts to Russify occupied territories. Another UOC priest was jailed for treason at Shostka for supplying “military information to Russian intelligence”.
Visiting wounded service personnel at the Military Medical Centre in Dnipro, last week, Metropolitan Epiphany said that Ukrainians were paying a “very high price” for “God’s great gift of freedom and independence”, but would ultimately “achieve a great victory” after “cutting out the evil which thatinvaded the common home”.
In a Facebook message on Wednesday, he said he was also concerned about a spate of Ukrainian teenagers’ taking their own lives, after being unable to cope with the “constant stress, moral and emotional exhaustion, depression, anxiety, apathy, and uncertainty” brought about by the war.