CHURCH leaders have urged Ukrainians not to lose heart in the wake of Russian missile and drone strikes over the New Year, and have expressed confidence in a national victory during 2023.
“We did not want this war: it was insidiously and cruelly imposed on us by an enemy who invaded our land, shedding blood, sowing death and violence,” the Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said.
“But we did not break down and surrender, as the aggressor hoped, but have stood fast and therefore already won morally. . . We now stand on the threshold of not just a new calendar year, but of a new milestone in our people’s history, united as never before in our desire for victory and peace.”
The Metropolitan posted the message on Facebook as renewed air attacks caused power and heating outages in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, and as dozens of Russian troops were killed in a Ukrainian counter-strike at Makiivka.
He said that the past year had raised Ukrainians “psychologically and spiritually”, and united them in “moving away from Moscow” in favour of their own “language, Church, history, and traditions”.
The Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said that official casualty rates in the war, especially among children, were “much higher and sadly growing every day”, but that this weekend’s Eastern Christmas would mark a milestone “on the road to knowledge, enlightenment, hope, and freedom”.
In a message on Tuesday, he said: “The enemy appears to have changed tactics and is now trying to terrorise our civilian population, particularly through attacks at night so Ukrainians cannot rest. But the Lord, the sun of truth, will bless our children on the front line, enlightening Ukraine in its darkness of pain, tears, and despair.”
On Monday, the Russian Defence Ministry reported that 89 occupying soldiers had been killed in the Ukrainian attack at Makiivka, in Russian-controlled Donetsk, although Ukrainian military authorities put the toll much higher. They also said that they had also killed or wounded 500 Russian troops in a New Year’s Eve attack near Kherson, after liberating 40 per cent of the land seized by Moscow since its invasion in February.
Ukraine’s Latin Catholic bishops warned in an end-of-year message that Russians were still subjected to a “long-dominant anti-Christian ideology” aimed at “enslaving and subjugating a free and independent Ukraine”, and that prayers for their “awakening and conversion” would provide “the most effective weapon, stronger than bullets”.
At a service during the weekend in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow, however, Patriarch Kirill vowed that his Church would “stand on spiritual guard, leading its people to salvation” under the leadership of President Putin and his army, and said that he hoped that the coming year would “end divisions and schisms” and deliver Russia “from external enemies, visible and invisible”.
In a New Year message, he said: “If our Fatherland continues to develop like this, combining faith with education, culture, science, technology, and everything that provides material strength and well-being, then Russia will be invincible. It was Russia which saved the world from the terrible plague of fascism, and it was thanks above all to Russian victims that victory was achieved.
“Perhaps the Lord is calling us today, even without such terrible sacrifices, to ensure we help the world again find salvation through our spiritual life and faith.”
Up to three-quarters of Ukrainians support moves against their country’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, the UOC, a survey this week by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology suggests. About half reportedly favour an outright ban.
The UOC’s use of the Assumption Cathedral in the Pechersk-Lavra monastery in Kyiv, which a UNESCO World Heritage monument, was suspended on 31 December, pending the report of a government commission on the future of the 57-acre site; the Abbot, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebid), is currently under financial sanctions for his links with Russia.
AlamyPriests from the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery carry an icon of St Peter in Moscow on Tuesday
In a letter dated 20 December to President Zelensky, however, the UOC’s Holy Synod insisted that the Church had been Ukraine’s first to condemn Russia’s “military aggression”, and warned that “slanders, insults, and baseless accusations” directed against it would “inflame religious enmity and set citizens against each other”.
The letter went on to say that legislation currently before the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, to curb the UOC’s work infringed international law and the national constitution by “discriminating against believing citizens” and “violating the equality of religious organisations”.
The UOC’s website said that thousands of UOC clergy and lay members were serving with Ukraine’s armed forces, but reported that the mother of a deceased Orthodox soldier had recently been mocked at the soldier’s funeral, near Rivna.
“In ten months of war, more than 50,000 displaced persons have received housing and evacuation help from our dioceses, with almost 3500 tonnes of humanitarian aid given to victims of military operations, and over 180 tonnes to Ukraine’s armed forces and territorial defence soldiers,” the UOC statement said.
“Yet the UOC’s real help in overcoming this war remains virtually invisible in society. On the contrary, the raiding of its churches has intensified, helped by local self-government bodies, artificially increasing the enmity felt towards it.”
In a Facebook post on Monday, however, the independent OCU’s spokesman, Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zoria), urged UOC leaders to stop “living in a world of fictional prophecies and magical theology” and return “from the captivity of the Russian sphere” to “the real world in which the rest of the Ukrainian people live”.
Several Orthodox leaders were expected to attend the funeral in Rome yesterday of Pope Benedict XVI, including the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign-relations director, Metropolitan Antony (Sevryuk), and Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of Chalcedon, who represents the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
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