At “Peace Without Frontiers” Forum Met Nikodim speaks of persecution of UOC

Metropolitan Nikodim of Zhitomir and Novograd-Volynsky spoke about the persecutions of the UOC faithful. Photo: vzcz.church.ua

At the International Congress of the St. Aegidius Community, Met. Nikodim reported on the persecution of UOC in recent years and steadfastness of believers.

In his speech at the International Forum “Peace Without Frontiers. Religions and cultures in dialogue”, which was held in Madrid from September 15 to 17, 2019, Metropolitan Nikodim of Zhitomir and Novograd-Volynsky spoke about the persecution of UOC believers, reports the press service of the UOC DECR.

Speaking at the section “Between Strength and Weakness. The Christian Martyrs of Our Time and the World,” the bishop noted that “most Christian martyrs have always suffered from state authorities - from the Roman Empire to the Soviet Union. Even today there are states in the world in which Christians are persecuted.”

He spoke about the reasons for persecuting Christians: “Very often these were politically well-founded reasons. In other words, Christians were persecuted quite legally from the point of view of state power. For example, in the Roman Empire, Christians were persecuted because they did not share the religious policy of the state, did not idolize the person of the emperor. In fact, they were persecuted for fighting for the freedom of religion, as we would call it today, and which is absolutely natural for us today, but this right was hard-won and watered with the blood of Christian martyrs.

Often, persecutions were waged against Christians under completely far-fetched pretexts. In the USSR, Christians were often unjustly accused of counter-revolution, of opposing the Soviet regime, of other political sins, although, in fact, everyone understood that Christians suffer precisely for their faith, which was officially allowed in the Soviet Union, but in reality the whole state system and ideology was directed against the Church and faith.

Thus, all Christian martyrs were confronted with an external force – whether it be the repressive power of the state or the aggression of some fanatical groups. But they contrasted this external power with Christian humility, non-resistance to evil and emerged victorious.”

“We live in a world where there is sin, evil, aggression, hatred and, accordingly, there is no peace between people. And there is nothing we can do about it. All this objectively exists in the world. But the Lord through the Apostle Paul shows us a way to behave in this world where sin reigns. ‘In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ (Rom. 6:11) With these words, the Apostle Paul urges us not to respond to sin, just as a dead person is not able to respond to external stimuli. At the same time, we are called to “be alive” or respond only to those messages that come from God,” the hierarch continued.

As an example, he spoke about the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in recent years.

Vladyka emphasized: “With the outbreak of war in the East of Ukraine in 2014, as well as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, a propaganda campaign against our Ukrainian Orthodox Church began in our country. The main accusation was that our Church has a canonical and spiritual connection with the Russian Orthodox Church, and, accordingly, allegedly with Russia as a hostile state. That is, there are political accusations that have nothing to do with the Church. This led to the violent seizure of the temples of our Church by radical groups and representatives of certain faiths. I describe this situation in our country not with the aim of blaming someone, but in order for you to understand the general context of the situation in the country and to further show how our believers have accepted these trials and reacted to them. Indeed, in fact, the reason for the persecution or trials is not so important as our Christian response to them.

So, in those villages where it was possible to defend our churches with the help of dialogue and without violence, we defended them. However, in those places where our communities could not defend their temple, they stepped aside and began to worship in rural houses or other adapted premises to avoid violence, and some of them subsequently began to build a new temple. Here I recall the words of the Saviour: "and whoever wants to sue you and take your shirt, give him your outer clothing" (Matthew 5:40). Believe me, these Gospel words are easy to read but not easy to accept. But when you accept these words and show humility, then your heart becomes calm and joyful, and the Lord shows many touching and even wonderful events.

I will give a few examples. After the seizure of the temple in one village in the Rovno region (vlg. Dmitrovka, Goshcha district, this is the western part of Ukraine), our community was out in the street. Then one woman gave for use the premises of her own new house, which she was building for her family, and she, together with her family, remained living in the old house. Imagine a person who has long dreamed of building a house, and this dream has almost come true. What faith you must have to give your dream to God! God in the person of the Christian community.

In the same region but in another village (vlg. Sudobichi, Dubno district), where our temple was seized, there was a man who helped in the church seizure. But after a while, the Lord touched his heart, and he realized his mistake. This man came, repented, and gave his plot of land for the construction of a new church for our community and even became an active parishioner of this community. It sounds like the story of Saul becoming Paul the Apostle! And there are many such stories.

Perhaps, for many of you, our reality may seem very strange, but it is our reality. And we are grateful to God for these trials because they help us to clearly understand what it means to be real Christians. One Greek priest, after visiting 12 of our communities, which were deprived of their churches and today are praying in adjusted rooms, said to his bishop the following words: "Vladyka, I experienced the first Christian feelings!"

Thus, the true power of Christianity is manifested in those days when the Church is outwardly weak and is undergoing trials or even persecution. In addition, we feel the power of Christianity even when we together serve to the weak of this world, I mean the poor and needy." “Undoubtedly, the foundation of peace between people and nations lies in the heart of every person. If a person’s heart is peaceful, then they will create the same atmosphere around them. When aggression, anger, hatred lives in a person’s heart, they will pour it all out. And peace in a believing heart reigns only when Christ enters there. As the Apostle Paul says: ‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil. 4: 7),” concluded the bishop.

As reported earlier, from September 15 to September 17, 2019, the delegation of the UOC took part in the International Forum “World Without Frontiers. Religions and cultures in dialogue”, which took place in Spain. With the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was represented at the event by Metropolitan Nikodim of Zhitomir and Novograd-Volynsky and Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, Deputy Chairman of the UOC Department for External Church Relations. 

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