Speaking to Orthodox Times, the Archbishop of Donetsk and Mariupol of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Sergey Gorobtsov, said that the actions of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine have resulted in more believers attending the church who previously supported the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
According to him, this is a process that aims, slowly but steadily, to show the faithful, many of whom have not known any other church than the Moscow Patriarchate, that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine cares for the Orthodox faithful with its works, regardless of their nationality.
Father Sergey is the head of the Diocese of Donetsk of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, in addition to his church duties, he carries out important humanitarian work.
Church’s contribution is very important in this area as the population, and especially the poor, have suffered significantly from the war that broke out in 2014. In addition to the human casualties, infrastructure has been destroyed, the region’s economy is in poor shape, which has left many unemployed. There are many who need psychological support because of the war trauma.
“A person often comes to the Church to ask for help, that person is angry and abrupt. We treat him with warmth and attention and the same person changes before our eyes. Even people who were against Ukraine and the Church of Ukraine understand that they were wrong. This has been the case with so many that come to us. It is an arduous and slow process but it brings some results. “I believe that the current situation will change in five years,” said Father Sergey, referring to the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate has an overwhelming influence in the region.
“When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granted the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, there were certain parishes that wanted to join the Church of Ukraine. However, when they found out what was going on, the heads of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine began to put pressure and intimidate the specific parishes. And this pressure was successful,” he said, referring to the effort of the Russian Orthodox Church to restrain the transition of the faithful and the parishes to the new Church.
The work of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Donetsk and Lugansk, two war-torn areas following Moscow’s military intervention in 2014, is purely religious and humanitarian without interfering in political matters.
As for the areas occupied by the separatists, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine maintains a nursing home while there are 36 churches under its jurisdiction. However, there are major problems there due to the political situation.
“They cut off power and water, they create a series of problems so that our believers do not come. Still, they do not allow our priests to come to the occupied areas. There are only five priests left there. Recently a priest took us to the Donetsk occupied area to buy medicine for a relative and he was not allowed to return,” said Father Sergey.
However, he is optimistic about the future of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine even in a region like Donetsk and other parts of eastern Ukraine, in which the Russian Orthodox Church has great influence:
“We managed to break the stereotype that existed here; when someone goes to church, he must bring something with him. Still, we have no issues with the so-called dress-code. For example, we will not ask a woman to leave the Church because she wears jeans. There is a different approach than the one that existed previously and this is something that people get to notice. At the same time, our humanitarian action is constantly expanding,” he said.
“This Christmas alone I visited about 200 families handing out presents to more than 500 children. We also visited people who have had COVID-19 disease to offer them supplies and medicines. Recently, we opened a guestroom for women who have suffered domestic violence. We provide support for people who have moved from the occupied areas of Donetsk, helping them to stand on their own two feet and find work. As priests, we regularly visit hospitals and prisons. If we continue in this way, the people of Donetsk will definitely turn to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Time is in our favor,” concluded the Archbishop.