With Christ, love and spiritual joy: how believers live after seizures

Metropolitan Sergius (Gensitsky) with parishioners of the UOC of Radoshivka village. Photo: Ternopil Eparchy of the UOC

Instead of fighting the raiders from the OCU “to the death”, the UOC parishioners build new temples on their own and continue to pray for peace.

In early 2019, in Ukraine, especially in the western eparchies of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, almost every Sunday, a range of parishes were shaken by a wave of raider seizures. The “voluntary transfer”, which was reported by the media close to the case, was rarely both voluntary and transfer.

Today, the UOC speaks of a little more than 80 communities that have legally and peacefully changed their jurisdiction.

Instead of paying evil for evil and violence for violence, the parishioners of seized churches build new ones – often without outside help and in record time – and continue to pray for peace in Ukraine.

Radoshivka, Ternopil Eparchy of the UOC

St. Paraskeva’s Church in the village of Radoshivka, Ternopil region, fell into the OCU one of the first in the Shumsk district in January 2019. Here, as usual, the legal entity of the UOC community was reregistered into the parish of the OCU, and the temple was taken away.

Metropolitan Sergius (Gensitsky) of Ternopil and Kremenets with the community of the Church of the UOC in the village of Radoshivka. Photo: Ternopil Eparchy of the UOC

On the first date of the “ceremonial transfer of the whole village”, Radoshivka parishioners even noticed a film crew of one of the central Ukrainian channels, apparently preparing a report on how everything worked out in favour of the new church structure. However, a little surprise awaited the reporters: in the courtyard in the private territory, they saw a new church of the surviving community of the UOC, which somewhat ruined the idyllic script of filming.

According to the Ternopil Eparchy of the UOC, the construction installed in a private courtyard was presented by co-religionists from the neighboring Rivne region. “It was transported but we were short of time to equip it properly, and the next day was the Christmas service,” they recall in the eparchy. “Then we called on the priests and collected everything we needed – icons, an altar lamp, a chandelier, candlesticks. Vladyka Sergius (Metropolitan of Ternopil and Kremenets – Ed.) blessed the abbot of the neighbouring Zagaitsy Monastery to join in, and at Christmas 2020 there was the first service.”

Dunaiv, Ternopil Eparchy of the UOC

On November 8, 2019, in the village of Dunaiv of the Kremenets district, Ternopil region, the newly built St. Demetrius Church of the UOC was solemnly consecrated. In fact, the Dunaiv community recovered first among those who suffered from seizures by OCU supporters.

The consecration of the temple was timed to the patronal feast of the community. In the territory where a new church was built in a few months, almost the entire village gathered on a working day in the middle of the week. It was extremely difficult to squeeze into the room where Metropolitan Sergius of Ternopil and Kremenets consecrated the throne. The courtyard was also crowded.

The old St. Demetrius Church taken over by the new church structure, with one or two parishioners, a “priest” of the OCU and a sexton in the courtyard that day, could be seen through the field on a foggy morning. From time to time, the community, which declared itself a "majority", invited the villagers to the service with bell rings – without much result.

“Several people, who fell into schism, have already returned to us. We wish no one else would go through what our community experienced,” said Eugenia, a parishioner of the UOC community.

Shkrobotivka, Ternopil Eparchy of the UOC

The Holy Demetrius community of the UOC of vlg. Shkrobotivka in the Shumsk district, Ternopil region, like almost all the parishes of the canonical Church in this deanery, also suffered from raider actions by the OCU in February 2019. Having taken away the temple, the new "owners", as it turned out, did not disdain to appropriate the entire work of the "Moscow priest", who was keen on carpentry.

As the rector of the community, Father George Gontaruk recalls, having served in this parish for many years, in the winter he constantly made something for his church – a new altar stand or an icon frame. The whole temple, which the new church structure took to itself, is decorated with his handcraft. The hard-working nature of this man will certainly find application: the UOC community of Shkrobotivka has built a new temple, which is to be decorated with the onset of spring.

Rivne and Kyiv regions

In record time, the main frame of the future church of the Holy Protection Church in the village of Mali Dorogostai of the Mlyniv district, Rivne region, was erected. This parish includes three settlements, the former church was taken away by the raiders from the OCU. In just a few weeks, believers with their labor brought the construction to the stage of roofing.

On November 18, 2019, the new Holy Protection Church of the UOC was consecrated in the village of Boremets in the same district.

On November 21, 2019, immediately after the feast in Boremets, the consecration of a new church in the village of Bushcha of the Zdolbuniv district, Rivne region, was celebrated.

Archpriest Vasily Nachev, a clergyman of the Rivne Eparchy of the UOC and an eyewitness to all the events in Bushcha, from the seizure by OCU raiders to the construction of a new church, wrote on his Facebook page: “Believers of the Bushcha village prayed all the time after the seizure in the church house. And today, on the day of their patronal feast, they entered the new temple. Entered with Christ, with love and spiritual joy. People rejoiced at the opportunity to celebrate St. Michael Day in their temple. They thanked God for such mercy. Christ will never enter the temple with a crowbar. In what temple of Bushcha was Christ today, guess?"

On December 21, 2019, the house church of St. Spyridon of Trimython was consecrated in the village of Bobryk of the Nizhyn district, Kyiv region, rebuilt in place of the Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God seized by the OCU.

On January 5, 2019, the first service was held after the loss of the temple in the village of Kopytkovo, Zdolbuniv district, Rivne region. Construction began only at the beginning of December 2019 on the land plot donated by the rector of the community.

Topylyshche, Volodymyr-Volynsky Eparchy of the UOC

Without fuss and pathos – this is how you can characterize a quiet construction in this corner of the Ivanychi district, Volyn region. St. Michael's Church in the village of Topylyshche was taken over by the new church organization largely due to the transfer to the OCU of the previous rector. However, as it turned out, not the whole community agreed with this decision. The believers asked the eparchy to appoint a new rector here.

The ruling bishop, Metropolitan Vladimir of Volodymyr-Volynsky and Kovel, appointed here a priest who had already experienced all the hardships of the schism in the community – Archpriest Igor Margita, who preserved the UOC community in the neighbouring village of Grybovytsia during the difficult years of 2015-2017.

A few months later, the community, with the help of benefactors, raised money to buy an old house, on the site of which a new wooden house church appeared in the shortest possible time. The new church of the St. Michael community of the UOC was consecrated on November 21, 2019.

Baikivtsi, Volodymyr-Volynsky Eparchy of the UOC

The story of the “transfer” of the UOC community in the village of Baikivtsi of the Kovel districе, Volyn region, would be comical if in this case the outside observer did not feel sad for the OCU.

In a small village, there was neither a temple nor a registered parish – a legal entity. Representatives of the UOC present at the "meeting for the transfer to the OCU" kindly hinted to the activists of the new church structure that they, drawing up the protocol, were engaged in an empty-minded business. However, the parish was nevertheless accepted into the OCU. In practice, this resulted in the fact that the community and the priest of the UOC were no longer allowed into a corner in the local school, where they had a chapel.

The UOC community of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, almost entirely preserved, celebrated the first patronal feast after the "transfer to the OCU" in the newly acquired renovated house church. By November 4, 2019, during the spring-summer, here, with the help of sponsors and caring co-religionists, they had carried out all the necessary work and installed a small dome on the temple.

Rakiv Lis, Volyn Eparchy of the UOC

Before the emergence of the OCU, two priests served in the UOC community of the Holy Annunciation Church of vlg. Rakiv Lis of the Kamin-Kashirsky district, Volyn region. It so happened that the representatives of the newly formed church structure managed to lure the rector of the temple to themselves. In the populous village, however, there remained a large community of parishioners of the UOC who stood firm in the faith, united around the second cleric, a priest who became its rector.

The parishioners began to build a new temple of the Holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, Love and Their Mother Sophia.

Shyroke, Volyn Eparchy of the UOC

The Holy Protection Church of the UOC in the village of Shyroke of the Gorokhiv district, Volyn region, like many others in this district, fell to the raiders of the OCU in the winter and spring of 2019. Nevertheless, part of the community, along with the rector Igor Bondarchuk, resisted the schism and even one of the first in the region managed to rebuild itself.

The interior of the new church in the village of Shyroke. Photo: UOJ

In October 2019, the “Favor” Charity Foundation helped the community of Shyroke to cover the roof of the new church. In December, external work was completed.

Smoliava, Volyn Eparchy of the UOC

The St. Michael community of the UOC in the village of Smoliava of the Gorokhiv district, along with several dozens of parishes in these deaneries, also lost access to its church due to raider actions of the Gorokhiv "deanery" of the OCU. Rector Father Alexander Babiy refused to go under the wing of the raiders.

The house where the services of the UOC community of Smoliava village are held. Photo: UOJ

The survived community quickly recovered, bought a small house and started repairing it. People do not hide the fact that they are sorry for the efforts and money that they once invested in the arrangement of the former temple. However, the parishioners, recovered after the conflict for the church, are currently engaged in new creative work.

* * *

The parishioners and the clergy of the UOC parishes, who lost their churches due to the raiding of the OCU, thank the co-religionists and all those who care, who did not stand aside and helped the affected parishes recover.

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