By Efi Efthimiou
In a harsh statement – which has not even been issued by the Moscow Patriarchate – Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia condemns the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to terminate the agreement to grant part of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onufriy (of the Moscow Patriarchate), as “state terrorism against the Church in Ukraine.”
Today, the deadline given by the Ukrainian authorities to the priests of the Ukrainian Church to leave the Lavra monastery of Kyiv expires, as it is considered to serve as a center of propagation of the ideology of the “Russian world”.
In fact, the abbot of the monastery has been awarded by Russian President Putin.
Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia, in a harsh message today, denounces both the Ukrainian authorities and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
He speaks of “a non-canonical schismatic structure that calls itself the Orthodox Church of Ukraine but lacks even the most basic characteristics of being a Church. Of course, even if numerical superiority were in favor of the non-canonical structure, that is, at the expense of the canonical Church, this would not change anything on the ontological level: the Church is the Church, and an illegal parasynagogue can only become a Church through repentance and the canonical process, not because someone wrote it somewhere”.
This direct attack by the Patriarchate of Serbia is addressed not only to the government of Ukraine and Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine but also to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who – as the only one who has the privilege of granting autocephaly – has given the Tomos to the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine.
Indeed, Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia emphasizes in his message that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onufriy “is recognized by all Orthodox Churches around the world, while only four Orthodox Churches, which constitute a very small percentage of the Orthodox world in terms of their number of believers, recognize the non-canonical schismatic structure.”
Among other things, Patriarch Porfirije stresses that the Serbian Orthodox Church “observes with deep concern the patience of the Saints in Ukraine, the pressures, violence, and persecution carried out by the current Ukrainian government against the canonical Church, and therefore, against the majority of its own citizens, given that this is the largest religious community in the country.”
In line with recent statements by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Porfirije speaks of persecution on the part of the government, “loyal reprisals of Soviet persecution against the Church” as well as violation of religious rights and freedoms in Ukraine.
Read below the message of Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is, as is commonly known, the only canonical and legal Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and at the same time the largest religious organization in that country. She is recognized by all Orthodox Churches around the world, as well as by all Christian Churches and confessions, while only four Orthodox Churches, which make up a very small percentage of the Orthodox universe in terms of their number of believers, recognize the non-canonical schismatic structure that calls itself the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but lacks even the most basic attributes of being a church. Of course, even if the numerical disproportion were in favor of the non-canonical structure, that is, at the expense of the canonical Church, this would not change anything on the ontological level: the Church is the Church, and an illegal parasynagogue can become a Church only through repentance and canonical procedure, not by someone’s stroke of a pen.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not a “warring party” but a living and active Church of God in unity of faith and liturgical communion with the Russian Orthodox Church and Orthodox Churches in general. Wars, just and unjust, are fought by states, not by Churches. The treatment of a Church as an enemy because its members belong to tragically conflicting sides is monstrous, as they are faithful members of the same Church. The Church always stands for peace, constantly praying for peace and doing everything she can for enmity and hatred between people and nations to make way for friendship and love. The Church does not divide people into “her own” and “alien”, “native” and “foreigners”; she strives, in the name of God Who is Love, to love everyone and pastorally care for the salvation of the souls and lives of all who need fraternal love and assistance.
The best example of such an attitude and behavior is given to us by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – her First Hierarch, His Beatitude Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Onuphry, her episcopate, clergy, monastics and faithful people. Therefore, the Serbian Orthodox Church, with deep concern, sadness and compassionate fraternal love, observes the “patient endurance of the saints” (Rev. 14:12; cf. 1:9) in Ukraine, and observes the pressures, violence and persecutions that the current Ukrainian government is carrying out against the canonical Church, and thus against the majority of its own citizens, given the fact that it is the largest religious community in the country. The persecutions culminated in recent days with the violent seizure of churches in favor of the pseudo-ecclesial schismatic structure, which has the status of a kind of “state Church” and an informal inquisition. The impending peak of terror has also been announced, a faithful reprisal of the Soviet persecution of the Church – the expulsion of two hundred and fifty monks and hundreds of professors and theology students from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the centuries-old spiritual source and center of Holy Rus (Святая Русь), the baptismal font of East Slavic Christianity and Orthodoxy in modern Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, with its holy sites, is not only a symbol and center of Orthodox Ukraine and, more broadly, the “Russian world” (however one may interpret that term), but also an inexhaustible life-giving source of spirituality for the entire Orthodoxy. Moreover, the spiritual and cultural treasure of the Lavra is an extremely important and visible element not only of the Ukrainian and All-Russian, but also of the world cultural heritage. In light of these facts, the decision of the current state leadership of Ukraine to expel Metropolitan Onuphry, the monastic brotherhood and the Spiritual Academy from the Lavra is nothing but a synonym for horrifying state terror against the Church, as well as the grossest violation of her fundamental rights, religious freedom and freedom of conscience in general. The behavior of the Ukrainian state leadership testifies that its real – and probably ultimate – goal is to erase the historical memory and all traces of original Orthodoxy in Ukraine in order to change the code and historical identity that the Church has painstakingly built and preserved over the centuries, from Saint Prince Vladimir to the present day.
Feeling and knowing that the only existing Orthodox Church in Ukraine, led by Metropolitan of Kyiv Onuphry, bravely and humbly carries her cross and ascends to Christ’s and her own Golgotha with hope, we are confident that the Crucified and Risen Lord – because of deep faith, forgiveness and love for all, even enemies by their own choice – will give strength to His Church to endure all the sufferings that it needs and must endure. At the same time, we raise our crying voice against the terrible injustice, against the state terror over the Church in Ukraine that “cries out to heaven”. We hope that Churches and religious communities, as well as institutions and organizations that care about peace, justice and some kind of order in the world, will condemn the flagrant violation of religious rights and freedoms in Ukraine.
Praying fervently to the Lord for the end of the fratricidal war in Ukraine and for the establishment of blessed peace there as soon as possible, with faith, hope and love we await the triumph of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ over the forces of darkness, evil and death. Before Your Cross we bow down in worship o Master, and Your Holy Resurrection we glorify!
Serbian Patriarch Porfirije,
President of the Holy Synod of Bishops