Ptycha: three years of prayerful standing

Three years ago, on the day of the celebration of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, the largest interfaith confrontation in the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the last ten years began in the village of Ptycha in the Dubno district of the Rivne region. Young men in balaclavas and with bats wanted to seize the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. That day, apparently, the Lady herself, with Her invisible presence, saved the temple from raiding.

However, a month later supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate insidiously, under the cover of night, cut the locks from the village church and broke into it. A special report by a UOJ correspondent discloses how the fate of the religious structure has changed during 2014-2017.

The scheme which Filaret followers applied in the village of Ptycha is now known to all who have ever faced their claims to the church. Then it all started with the so-called "referendum", which the supporters of the UOC-KP held on November 2, 2014, in the village club. Unsatisfied with the "voter" participation and fearing that they would be accused of falsification, the same evening local activists went round the village to collect signatures for the transfer of the existing community under the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Patriarchate.

– Even minor children were enlisted, as well as residents who left the settlement long ago, although they come from Ptycha, says local resident Olga. – After the collection of signatures across the village, a rumor immediately spread that the church would be taken over. Therefore, on the day of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God, we surrounded our temple and waited for the attack.

The supporters of the UOC-KP began their attack immediately after the meeting in the club, which was attended not only by local residents, but also by young men from different neighborhoods. Confrontation between the two religious communities continued until late at night. Twice, according to eyewitnesses, the Filaret followers tried to break through the defense, and twice the believers of the UOC pushed them outside the fence.

– When it got quite dark, the supporters of the UOC-KP drove away, leaving their people on duty, recalls the resident of Ptycha Vasily. – We also posted guards. From November 2 to December 26, our community, as expected, served in the church and carried a watch outdoors, although it was already getting much colder. Towards the morning of December 26, when the village was fast asleep, they cut the locks off with an angle grinder and broke into the church. Our rector's mother saw it all, raised the village, but it was too late – the Filaret followers posted the youngsters with bats around the temple.

From this moment the situation around the Holy Assumption Church resembled the field of an endless fierce battle, which has not ended so far, although much time has passed.

– Both supporters of the UOC-KP and believers of the UOC have found themselves in the church behind closed doors several times during the past three years, says Archpriest Victor Zemlianoi, the head of the Department for the Settlement of Interfaith Disputes at the Rivne eparchy. – Actually, all these times were accompanied by a fierce confrontation with the use of force, there were injured people, the doors of the temple were repeatedly damaged, and the fence was cut.

Twice during the interfaith conflict in the village of Ptycha, the church was sealed to stop clashes. For the first time it was done by the village chairman, later – by law enforcement bodies.

– Supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate have never respected the Ukrainian law, commented Archpriest Victor Zemlianoi. – Despite all the trials that have taken place during the three years, they still ignore the fact that the church in the village of Ptycha is the property of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

– Just think of it: for two years, 36 court hearings on the church in the village of Ptycha have been held, commented Yekaterina Ivaniuk, a human rights activist of the Rivne eparchy of the UOC. – Almost every time the initiators of submitting the case to the court were supporters of the UOC-KP. Moreover, they were tried not only by the whole community, but also individually. During this period of litigation, seven judgments have also been passed – all in favour of the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Whatever methods the UOC believers resort to in order to get attention from the officials and achieve justice. According to eyewitnesses, they frequented the police station on a weekly basis, asking the law enforcers to intervene in the conflict.

– We blocked the highway Kiev-Chop about ten times, remembers the local resident Alexander. – It was not a whim, but a forced measure. Today we apologize to all drivers who then got into certain inconveniences during their trips, but only so the local authorities took us seriously and agreed to a dialogue.

So far, the church in the village of Ptycha has been sealed, but the religious community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has the opportunity to guard it while inside.

– Anyone who looks at the Ptycha case superficially, without getting into details, can blame the believers of the UOC in disregard for Ukrainian legislation, but this is not so, says Archpriest Victor Zemlianoi. – Our people have the right to be in their church, because all the courts have proved that this is our church. In addition, our community and supporters of the UOC-KP have an oral agreement that we are on our watch in the church, and in return we allow them to pray in a church house.

Every Sunday the believers of the UOC have their prayers in the garage of the rector Nikolai Sysoniuk, which was temporarily fit for divine services. According to eyewitnesses, every time more than fifty residents of the village of different ages attend the makeshift temple.

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– During the long period of the church war in Ptycha, it became clear who really wants to pray, says local resident Oksana. – Our community has remained almost the same as it was at the beginning of the conflict. But those who forced us to change our jurisdiction remained in a very small minority. The explanation is simple: they did not use to attend the church actively and do not do it now. Moreover, their pastors are discouraging the creation of a truly friendly community. For the two years of interfaith confrontation, there has been a turnover of UOC-KP priests in Ptycha. They do not retain, because they cannot tolerate the attitude of their believers.

A few months ago, the religious community of the UOC had the opportunity to pray in the church during the akathists, which were led by Archpriest Grigory Stadnik, the second rector of the Holy Assumption Church in the village of Ptycha. But in their desire to claim someone else's property, supporters of the UOC-KP began to call the police every time they saw the light in the church.

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– We had to cancel services in the church so as not to provoke a conflict, says Archpriest Grigory Stadnik. – Even the police ask us not to serve, although during this time they have changed their opinion of the UOC believers too and treat us not as violators, but rather as victims.

– During the watch in the church, we do not turn on the light, only in a specially equipped room there is a table lamp, says local resident Vasily. – So two years in a row, day after day, we have been guarding our temple, praying individually near the church and in the church.

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On the street, to the right of the temple, local men put a small homemade tent, equipped a stove to heat and warm oneself on cold winter nights. In fact, they thought that such guard would be temporary, for a month or two. This year, realizing that the end of the conflict is not expected in the near future, they encased the tent with polystyrene foam and attached the doors.

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Women, who are most often on duty inside the church, take care of its cleanliness and decoration. There are always bouquets and wreaths of fresh flowers in the closed church.

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Prayerful standing of the religious community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is neither a fiction nor a fake, as the supporters of the UOC-KP say on the pages of social networks. Prayerful standing of believers in the village of Ptycha is realities, true and nonfictional. And although sometimes they, like all mortals, have periods of dismal and despair, Ptycha’s residents, having rallied, overcome these feelings and are ready again and again to fight for the upholding of the holy Orthodox faith and their church.
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What do you think Poroshenko creates under the guise of the Single Local Church?
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