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Church leaders in Ukraine plead for war support

06 October 2023

Messages delivered as Zelensky meets ministers from EU

Alamy

Ukrainians in Kyiv take part in a minute’s silence, on Sunday, in memory of soldiers killed in the war

Ukrainians in Kyiv take part in a minute’s silence, on Sunday, in memory of soldiers killed in the war

LEADERS of Ukraine’s rival Orthodox Churches have praised their country’s armed forces for continuing to resist Russian occupation, amid warnings of a possible slowdown in Western military support.

“Our nation has faced many historical upheavals in its millennium of Christian statehood: the destruction and restoration of our capital; the rise and fall of our State, society, and Church,” the Primate of the Ukrainian independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said.

“Just as the Mother of God’s intercession helped us in the past, however, so we believe she will help us in future, blessing our people with victory in this struggle for truth and freedom, and driving foreign hordes from us.”

The Metropolitan issued the appeal on Sunday as the first Defenders of Ukraine Day was marked across the nation with commemorative prayers.

The leader of Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), also praised those “selflessly defending” Ukraine “against a treacherous enemy”. He said that his Church remained close to them “in fervent prayer, spiritual support, volunteer activity, and humanitarian mission”.

In a sermon on Sunday, he said: “Today we pray for God’s intercession and the protection of the most holy Mother of God for our defenders and protectors — in their sacrificial feat of protecting the Ukrainian people.” Legal moves continued against UOC clergy accused of supporting Moscow’s invasion.

“Our defenders, who include a significant number of our Church’s believers, stand in defence of one of the Lord’s most important gifts to man: the gift of freedom. At all times of the insidious war unleashed by the Russian authorities, our Church was with its people and army.”

The messages were delivered as President Zelensky called on European Union foreign ministers, on a joint visit to Kyiv, to maintain support for Ukraine, despite the omission of war aid from a weekend Congress spending Bill in the United States.

Speaking on Monday, the EU’s Spanish foreign-policy director, Josep Borrell, said that the bloc’s 27 member-states would remain “unwaveringly committed”, and outlined a new €5-billion defence and training support package.

Visiting the Black Sea port of Odesa, Mr Borrell also condemned the “barbaric destruction” of the Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration, in a Russian missile attack in July (News, 28 July), as another Orthodox cathedral, in Kherson, also suffered further rocket damage on Monday morning.

At an ecumenical peace conference in Hungary last week, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, criticised the Russian Orthodox Church for continuing to “bless conflict” in Ukraine. He said that it was unacceptable for religious leaders to “fan flames of hatred” instead of “acting as forces for peace and reconciliation”.

In a parallel announcement, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) said that it was admitting Metropolitan Epiphany’s OCU to full membership, despite vigorous Russian opposition. The CEC’s general secretary, Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen, described the move as showing a “spirit of solidarity” to help Churches to “play their crucial role in mediation and conflict prevention”.

In a new appeal, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations urged the EU, US, and NATO to continue supplying the country with air-defence systems, as well as F16 fighter jets and missile-interception radars.

“With the onset of cold weather, Russia will once again resort to energy terror, trying to destroy critical civilian infrastructure and energy facilities,” the CEC said.

“We call on the free democratic world to help protect Ukraine’s skies from Russian missiles and kamikaze drones. . . The war in Ukraine is not a reality TV show — every day, Russia ruthlessly kills civilians, and continues committing genocide before the whole world.”

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