Four years of Primacy – four years of ordeals
On August 17, 2014, Metropolitan Onufry became Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. What challenges has he faced and how has he responded to them since then?
Ordeal of war
The most difficult ordeal is the conflict in the Donbass, which His Beatitude Onufry was not afraid to call a fratricidal war, despite the state ideology and the assertions of nationalists. He had a very heavy burden – to lead the Church, through which the front-line passes. In the territories beyond Kiev's control, there were thousands of believers, temples and monasteries. In conditions when political leaders try to seek the support of the Church in the internecine war, when they call for prayers for the victory of "us" and the defeat of "them," it is very difficult to call for peace and brotherly love. It is even more difficult to do that when the authorities regard it as a betrayal and accuse you of supporting the opposing side.
However, what can be more natural for the bishop of God than to encourage people to obey the commandments of God?! But in today Ukraine, political expediency often prevails over the Gospel. And in these conditions, special courage is needed to resist the temptation to do something acceptable to the authorities or society and remain faithful to Christ and His teaching.
The authorities and a significant part of the Ukrainian society want to make Metropolitan Onufry fight against those who are in uncontrolled territories. This is exactly what the leaders of the schismatics do. But Metropolitan Onufry calls for another – the struggle against sin: "... a man must extend a helping hand to his neighbour, divert his heart from lawlessness and seek in his life not his own personal truth, but the truth of God. May the Lord help us to fight against our inner sinful self, against our personal sin and go through our lives as along the path of the cross, then our road through Golgotha will lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven, where there are all the saints, all those who carried their cross, who lived their earthly life with dignity and with gratitude to God."
On May 8, 2015, during the ceremonial meeting of the Verkhovna Rada on the 70th anniversary of the Victory over Nazism, Metropolitan Onufry remained seated, while the President read out the names of Heroes of Ukraine who received this title during the ATO in the Donbass. This is an Act with a capital A., which few people are capable of. Metropolitan Onufry caused a flurry of indignation, reproaches, and accusations. But he followed his conscience.
How easy it was to get up from his seat and just stand together with everyone. As the press service of the UOC stated later: "Among those who were present in the parliamentary box for guests and, standing, welcomed the names of the heroes of Ukraine, there was no one who, like His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, has repeatedly visited the East of Ukraine burnt by the war."
It is very easy to stand up and declare yourself a patriot, it is much more difficult to be a patriot.
"We did not stand up because it was our sign of protest against the war as a phenomenon. We do not want the war to continue on our land. We do not want people to kill each other. We want peace and God's blessing on our land," Metropolitan Onufry explained his action.
His Beatitude did not rise, but no one in Ukraine did more than he did to relieve the suffering of people caught in the conflict zone. By his blessing, believers pray daily for peace in temples, raise funds, food, clothing, medicines to support both Ukrainian soldiers and the peaceful population of Donbass.
Hundreds of captured soldiers owe him their liberation. Hundreds of mothers were comforted by the return of their sons to their homes.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the only one that unites entire Ukraine, including the Donbass and the Crimea. The symbol of this unity was the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession of peace, love and prayer, which was held in 2016, with the blessing of Metropolitan Onufry.
From the east and west, from the Sviatogorsk and Pochaev Lavras, believers walked to the capital of our country to express faithfulness to the Church and the desire for peace in their country. All-Ukrainian Cross Procession was an event not only of Ukrainian but also world-wide scale. It showed that no malice and hatred can destroy our unity if it is unity in Christ.
Sooner or later, peace will restore in Ukraine. And in many respects, it will be the merit of His Beatitude Onufry.
Ordeal of violence
Over the past 4 years, more than 40 churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been seized by schismatics and Uniates.
Some churches were desecrated and looted, some – burned down.
What was Metropolitan Onufry’s answer to this?
"For the most part, these are people who do not realize what they are doing. But I want to tell these people that I do not take offence at them. And I pray and love them, and I wish them God's blessing. I think they will understand that they made a mistake. <...> The fact that the temples are seized is the continuation of a misunderstanding of our Church, an attempt, if not through word, then using violence, to make our Church what they would like to see it. No one who has fought or fights against the Church, no one has ever won." (from an interview with the newspaper "Segodnia" after the seizure of the church in the village of Kolodianka, Novograd-Volynsky district, Zhitomir region on December 27, 2016).
And the answer to the violence was the aid to the Orthodox communities driven from their churches in the construction of new temples. One of the directions of such help was the blessing of Metropolitan Onufry to create the "Favor" ("Tabor") Charitable Foundation, which raises funds for the construction of temples.
On July 26, 2017, the Holy Synod of the UOC urged all believers to respond to the call for help to those in distress.
Here is an example of a truly Christian answer to evil and violence! Here is the fulfilment of the words of Apostle Paul: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21)!
Ordeal of Tomos
On April 17, 2018, Ukrainian President P. Poroshenko announced the creation of the Single Local Church (SLC), a national religious organization whose main task is to affirm the independence of the Ukrainian state. To solve this problem, he sent an appeal to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, supported by the Verkhovna Rada and the schismatic "episcopate". The fact that the EOC will have to solve purely political tasks is said in clear text.
Could a true shepherd agree to turn the Church of Christ into an attribute of the state? However, to withstand this temptation, to withstand the pressure of the authorities, threats of radicals, harassment in the media, in order not to succumb to provocations and save the Church from desecration, one needs great wisdom and faith in God's Providence.
The ordeal of Tomos is not easy. It is accompanied, at times, by the lack of understanding: what is so bad about autocephaly? The persistent position of the Primate of the UOC arouses accusations of betraying national interests, aiding "the aggressor state" and other "sins". On the other hand, the approval of the SLC project would guarantee Metropolitan Onufry a quiet life, the favour of the authorities and a very likely primacy in this very SLC. And the task of the Primate is not only to withstand this temptation, but also to explain to people all the slyness of the SLC project conceived by the authorities. And Metropolitan Onufry does it.
"I, as a person, a priest, can say one thing – the way they propose (the SLC project, – Ed.) will bring us many restrictions. On this path, we will be second-class people; and on this path, it will be difficult to keep the purity of faith. Therefore, we must protect what we have. And our Church has everything that is needed for salvation" (from the sermon on the 5th Sunday after Easter).
Four years of the high priestly ministry of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry has been marked by many trials. And these trials revealed the true Shepherd of Christ's sheep, the true captain of the Church, who, without fear of storms and unrest, leads the souls entrusted to him to the Kingdom of Heaven.
We will raise our prayers to God for our Lord and Father, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry, and wish him a long life and remember the words of Apostle Paul: " Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they watch over your souls as those who must give an account. To this end, allow them to lead with joy and not with grief, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13, 17).