The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Martyrs. Not 2,000 years ago. Not 100 years ago. Right now. In Ukraine. In full view of the entire world, the Zelenskyy Government in Kiev is accelerating its persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
As this situation intensifies, many lies are being spread to distract from the ongoing horrors. А member of the Western Rite Vicariate, a part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in America, has explored and debunked eight of the most egregious.
Lie #1 – There is no persecution. That is all Russian Propaganda.
This is easy to disprove, of course. A lot of people in the West still have contacts in Ukraine, including priests such as Fr. Michael Lillie, who recently published a post on his Twitter timeline on how Ukrainian authorities are applying the ungodly Soviet policy to the faithful of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
According to a letter from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and the Kiev Caves Lavra National Reserve, the UOC has until March 29 to completely vacate the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra. This is the holiest site in all of Ukraine, where the UOC has prayed and ascetically struggled for 1,000 years. The upper Lavra was stripped from the UOC in January.
Zelenskyy, in an evening address on 3/12/2023, confirmed that this injustice is being perpetrated on his orders.
There are more examples of persecution. Oleh Denysov is a lawyer from Ukraine and founder of the NGO Public Advocacy. He reached out to Orthodox Reflections from Geneva where he is speaking to the UN HRC, the UN Special Rapporteur of freedom of religion, and to other officials regarding UOC cases. Mr. Denysov has previously represented cases of the Jerusalem and Antioch Patriarchates, and dioceses of Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. He brought to our attention recent statements made during the ongoing UNHRC session accessible via the link. The documents detail the difficulties faced by the UOC, and the legal presentations requesting assistance from the UN.
Beatings, closing holy sites, arbitrary arrests, forcibly transferring property, interfering with the ability of the UOC to function, trying to forcibly name the UOC as a “foreign” entity – if those don’t count as persecution, then that word has no meaning.
Further, before leaving this topic, let us note that many supporters of Kiev and OCU have been remarking that the government had the “right” to evict the UOC monks from the Lavra because it officially owns the property. However, this line of reasoning obfuscates a very important point – with reserving the owner’s rights to these buildings the state actually testifies to the failure to fulfill obligations for the restitution of church property in full scope.
Lie # 2 – The (schismatic) Orthodox Church in Ukraine and its supporters are good people.
Where there is no love and compassion, there is no Orthodoxy. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in hearts given over to cruelty. However, we have seen multiple clergy associated with the Patriarch of Constantinople denying the basic human rights, even the very humanity, of the UOC. At Orthodox Reflections, we have also gotten multiple hate-filled responses from laity, usually associated with one Greek Archdiocese or another, flatly telling us that the UOC deserves to be martyred.
Many of these people, clergy included, are political leftists. They lament the burden carried by “marginalized” groups such as the LGBTQ and illegal “migrants”. They talk incessantly about democracy and human rights for everyone except for Ukrainian Christians.
Lie # 3 – The UOC is a “Russian” Church
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a Ukrainian Church headed by a native-born Ukrainian, Metropolitan Onuphry. As have been covered before, the UOC supports the Ukrainian War effort both materially and through prayer. In addition, at the UOC’s main council in May 2022, a number of decisions were adopted to break off all remaining ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. But the enemies of the UOC, both in and out of the Orthodox Church, refuse to recognize the truth, and instead pretend that faithful Ukrainians are really Russians.
Prior to 2018, all Orthodox Churches in the world, including Constantinople and Alexandria, recognized Metropolitan Onuphry as a brother hierarch and his Ukrainian Church as being the fully canonical, local Orthodox Church in Ukraine. This recognition was publicly confirmed as recently as the session of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambésy, Switzerland on January 21-27, 2016.
The so-called “schism” in Ukraine had persisted from the 90’s and was mostly a non-issue. Over 70% of Ukrainians belonged to the UOC under Metropolitan Onuphry, prior to the war. The people had chosen, and they had decidedly rejected joining the schismatic bodies known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). Millions still reject joining with them.
The OCU was created for political reasons. President Poroshenko brought to power by a coup, and two foreign actors – the USA, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, – all colluded to strip the UOC of its canonical status. A status that had been recognized just a couple years prior by the entire Orthodox world. To support this move, it was necessary to concoct and spread the lie that the UOC was “Russian” and the OCU was Ukrainian. This damnable lie continues to be repeated ad nauseum by apologists for the Ukraine government, OCU, American policy, and the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Lie #4 – The UOC refused to join the new “national” church because of Russian Ethnophyletism
The UOC was put under immense pressure to give up its independence and merge with uncanonical groups in 2018. At the time, the UOC made clear statements as to why this was not going to happen, and none of them had to do with allegiance to Moscow, which recognized the UOC as fully self-governing in any case. Among the reasons why the UOC refused to join in a forced union with the illegitimate bodies supported by Constantinople:
- The schisms began and persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements. While the UOC was self-governing, and thus not beholden to Moscow, approximately 20% of her flock were Ukrainian citizens who spoke Russian as their native language. The UOC did not want to yoke itself to a neo-Church movement that both preached and practiced ethnophilic hate. Further, the current legal persecution of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, and the destructive war with Russia, could have both been avoided by listening to the wisdom of the bishops of the UOC.
- The UOC synod argued that overcoming of the Church division should occur without the interference of state, political, and other external forces.
- At the time in 2018, the UOC Council of Bishops opposed attempts to change the name of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The UOC did not wish to be known as being of the “Moscow Patriarchate”, as forcing this name change was obviously an attempt to pretend it was a “foreign” church.
- The Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church contended that the decision of October 11, 2018 by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to remove anathemas and other Church prohibitions from the leaders of the schism, and the recognition of the validity of the pseudo-consecrations they celebrated while being in schism, is the result of a distorted interpretation of Orthodox canons.
Lie #5 – The UOC is full of FSB agents and traitors, so deserves to be shut down.
Despite massive “security sweeps”, there is no real evidence of treason within the UOC. Fr. Michael’s Tweet above illustrates the banal nature of so-called “proof” of UOC treachery – “The press routinely publishes libelous stories about the hierarchy of the UOC under such catchy headlines as: “Ultimate proof of Metropolitan Onuphry’s political allegiance to Russia.” And the ultimate proof turns out to be… a theological book from his personal library that was printed in Russia.” Other “evidence” seized from churches and monasteries has included service books in Russian, children’s books in Russian, old homilies in Russian, etc.
It would seem the government in Kiev is so desperate for a reason to persecute the UOC, that it is willing to ignore the fact that its own leader, President Zelenskyy, is a native speaker of the Russian language. He only learned Ukrainian as a 40-year-old adult. One wonders how much “evidence” of his pro-Russian sympathies could be found if his home were raided and his personal effects were searched?
Are there pro-Russian sympathizers within the UOC? Are any of them actively working, in some capacity, for Russia? Probably. But that also applies to any large Ukrainian organization. Now, is there any evidence that such pro-Russian activity is at all widespread within the UOC? Or that it involves senior clergy? None. But even if there are guilty individuals, punishing the entire Church for the actions of a few would still be a gross violation of religious freedom.
Lie #6 – The US is not responsible for the existence of the OCU
Any clear thinking person can see that the US was behind the Ukrainian coup in 2014, and also behind the establishment of the OCU. The quote below is from an article on The American Conservative website entitled Zelensky vs. the Ukrainian Orthodox Church:
The State Department and politicians of both parties carried out work to promote the new church. Two months before the creation of the OCU in 2018, Filaret and Epifaniy met in the United States with Joe Biden, who declared his gratitude for their work. State Department Ambassador for Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and special representative for Ukraine Ambassador Kurt Volker declared their support for this project.
Immediately after its creation, the OCU received its first official congratulations from the State Department and the U.S. Embassy. At the same time, Ambassador Brownback and the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt—who was also ambassador to Ukraine from 2013 to 2016—visited church leaders and Mount Athos to urge them to recognize the OCU. Both Ambassador Volker and Secretary Pompeo met with Epifaniy many times. All facts indicate that the promotion of the OCU was part of U.S. policy in Ukraine.
Lie #7 – The OCU is Orthodox
Created out of two anti-Russian, nationalist movements, OCU has provided a hospital abode for radical Ukrainian nationalists / Nazis. It is known for nationalistic iconography and for misusing iconographic images for propaganda purposes. OCU supporters are also known to burn icons from UOC holy sites, and to deface parishes. These are not the actions of faithful Orthodox Christians.
Further, the OCU is very accommodating to “woke” challenges to Orthodox Faith and morals. Many things illustrate this. OCU has a mutually supportive relationship with Zelenskyy, whose campaign platform included the free distribution of medical cannabis, free abortion in Ukraine, LGBTQ rights, the legalization of prostitution and gambling. Zelenskyy is so dedicated to “Woke” ideology, that he took the time, in the middle of his war with Russia, to make a video promoting Green Energy.
To no one’s surprise, the persecution and silencing of the UOC have led to the Ukrainian Government pushing forward on such Woke issues as same-sex “marriage”, complete with a new draft law submitted to the Ukrainian Parliament:
Lie # 8 – The Ukrainian people support the persecution of the UOC, and that matters.
Before the war, estimates were that 70% of the population of Ukraine belonged to the UOC. As a result of the war, many Ukrainians have fled to other countries. The UOC has responded by opening parishes abroad. Dozens of them. Further, millions of Ukrainian citizens still self-identify as members of the UOC, despite the persecution, or at the very least support the right of their neighbors to do so. It is evidenced by the recent procession of thousands of Ukrainians near the Lavra to protest it being closed to the UOC.
Even if the UOC constitutes a religious minority, freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. Some fundamental rights, such as the right to freely worship, cannot ever be overridden through “democratic” processes. Are American tax payers spending hundreds of billions of dollars, and risking possible nuclear war, to back religious persecution in Ukraine that we would never tolerate at home?
The right of the UOC to peacefully practice the Orthodox religion does not depend on its popularity with any segment of the Ukrainian people or government.