Bishop tells about liturgical life of UOC parishes whose temples were raided

19 May 19:14
Archbishop Victor serves in a repurposed building in Khmelnytsky on May 6, 2023. Photo: Facebook page of the Khmelnytsky Eparchy of the UOC Archbishop Victor serves in a repurposed building in Khmelnytsky on May 6, 2023. Photo: Facebook page of the Khmelnytsky Eparchy of the UOC

Believers of the Khmelnytsky eparchy of the UOC, who were left without churches, preserve their communities and adapt other premises for prayer.

The communities of the Khmelnytsky eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, from which churches were taken away, are organizing their liturgical life in private repurposed premises and even organizing hierarchal services there. Archbishop Victor of Khmelnytsky and Starokostiantyniv spoke about this in an interview with the Information and Education Department of the UOC.

“Every other day, especially on weekends, we learn that there are attempts to seize our churches by force in this or that village, settlement or city,” Vladyka said. “Despite this, our believers maintain their communities united, and even if their churches are forcibly seized, they find other places, repurpose them for churches so as not to remain without prayer, without the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, without unity with all Orthodox Christians. Their liturgical parochial life continues.”

According to the hierarch, when for the first time after his recent appointment to the Khmelnytsky see he held a meeting of the deans of the diocese, one of the priests asked if he would go to serve in a house because the church had been taken away from the community.

“I replied that when I have the choice of where to go for some kind of holiday – to a standard church or to an adapted facility – I will always choose the latter,” the archpastor noted.

He spoke about his experience of similar house services.

“My first such service was in the village of Parkhomivtsy, Khmelnytsky district. The rector of that community invited me, and my suggestion was that I come and celebrate the Divine Liturgy as a priest. But the people—there is a very strong community there—said, ‘No, let Vladyka serve as a full bishop. We will learn to sing the episcopal service.’ So they spent a week rehearsing. The divine service was performed by the full hierarchal standard despite certain lack of space – this did not stop us. Of course, I will remember such services for the rest of my life,” the archbishop said.

Meeting the bishop, the believers of Parkhomivtsy laid out a path of flowers about 10 meters long from the gate to the entrance to the prayer house. “I have never seen such a thing in our beautiful metropolitan churches. It struck me. I didn’t even want to step on it in order not to spoil this beauty. But people said, ‘Vladyka, this is done so that we decorate our today’s prayer and worship,” the archbishop recalls.

Vladyka also spoke about the Divine Liturgy, which he served on the patronal feast with the Khmelnytsky community in honor of St. George the Victorious. As the UOJ wrote, supporters of the OCU seized the temple of this community on April 10. The service was performed in an adapted room – a fireplace hall of a residential building.

“People gave this room so that believers could gather there and pray. We had the bishop’s seat at the fireplace, and the whole wall was lined with firewood. There were more than a hundred people. Everyone could not fit into this room, people stood on the street. The believers received the Holy Gifts, wept, tears rolled down their faces. They were hurt by the fact that they were not able to pray in their church because it was seized,” the bishop said.

According to him, “in such parishes, people are united, they support each other, it is difficult to change their position, which is very heart-warming.”

“Our mission is to preserve our communities. If the people from whom the temple was taken away remain [in the UOC community] – and this happens in almost every case when a temple is seized by force – we must make every effort to ensure that liturgical parish life continues there,” the archbishop stressed. “We will pray wherever possible: in houses, in apartments, under an oak tree in the field, in the open air, because people are willing to pray and to be faithful to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. As a bishop, I will do everything in my power to be with people to the last, no matter what conditions we find ourselves in.”

As the UOJ wrote, Archbishop Victor (Kotsaba) reported that the St. George Church in Khmelnytsky, captured by OCU raiders, was closed even on the day of the patronal feast.

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