The faithful: A miracle in Bashuky
The community, whose temple was seized in 2015, did not lose heart. At first they prayed outdoors, then in a hut. Thankfully, they have a new beautiful temple now.
In June 2015, in the village of Bashuky, Ternopil region, the church of the Holy Archangel Michael was taken from the UOC community. The militants of the “Right Sector” arrived in balaclavas and with the assistance of local “patriots” drove out the believers of their temple and let the supporters of the Kiev Patriarchate instead.
"My husband and I woke up when the bells rang. It was very early, after 4 a.m.," tells the parishioner of the temple Bogdana. "When we looked in the direction of the temple we thought that either someone died or something else happened. When the bells ring but there is no liturgy, it means some kind of alarm: a death or an incident.Then we saw a very big dark cloud above the temple and I said to my husband, 'Igor, let's go and check what’s going on.' When we arrived, we saw the cut off temple locks on the ground and the "Right Sector” members in balaclavas. We were prevented from entering the temple."
It was very difficult for those who tried to defend their temple (and these are mostly elderly women).
"So they began to tear me like a chicken may be torn apart by dogs. But I didn’t care," recalls the parishioner Galina. "Someone grabbed me by the lapels, someone gave me a blow on the head, someone shouted, 'Push her down the stairs!', another cried, 'Don’t hit her!' But I didn’t care. The only thing that hurt me was that they were driving our children out of the temple, and together with them – Christ Himself."
Supporters in the village of the Kiev Patriarchate explained their actions by the struggle "against Muscovites". So they called their fellow villagers who had lived their whole lives in Bashuky.
"They go against the state, against the Church. I cannot even find the right words to say what creeps and scums they are, these Muscovites, who came to our motherland Ukraine with the war. I shed blood on the Maidan, received two wounds at the front, I won’t allow it, I’ll lie down here, I'll rather let in Jews here but keep the Moscow junta out of the church!"
Believers were threatened with burning out their eyes and killing, at best – to be sent to Moscow.
Members of the community listened to all these threats and insults but were at a loss how people who call themselves Orthodox can speak and even think so.
"People started to fight Christ; they went to war with the Church of Christ," tells deacon Georgy, a member of the community. One thing is when people may fall out with each other, but another thing is when such people come to the temple, they no longer realize they are in a holy place so they can hit you, spit at you, plunder it or tear the holy cross off the priest’s chest."
At the confrontation near the temple, everyone declared their values. Supporters of the UOC-KP (now the OCU) chanted, “Glory of the nation, death to enemies!” Believers of the UOC responded to this, “Glory to God!”. The “patriotic” Bashuky residents objected, “No, glory to the nation! The nation is reborn.”
The "patriots" claimed that all confessions would soon get united, and the UOC would have no place among them: "Do you know that in September we will unite: Greek-Catholics, Ukrainian, Autocephalous, and Muscovites will be driven away from our land! We do not need Muscovites here! We do not need Muscovites and Janissaries – our fellow Ukrainians, who serve Russians, are Janissaries."
Believers of the UOC chose not to exacerbate the conflict and fight for their temple, which belongs to them by law. They decided to pray instead.
"We came to the church to have worship, but they did not let us in, they said, "We do not want the Muscovites to serve here." So we bought a table, took an icon, my son brought an icon (which was given to him as a gift when he got married), we put the icon of the Holy Virgin near the cross and served our first liturgy there.
So, on the street, the Orthodox served for about a month. But soon they received a small lodging for prayer. In fact, the parishioners had been looking after a paralyzed villager for several years. She left a small old house to them. Since they were not allowed to take anything from the seized temple, they furnished the house church via crowdfunding.
"A great number of the icons which you see here are icons donated to us by many people from different parishes. Someone donated icons, someone candlesticks, someone – a menorah, someone – the throne; our parishioners also raised and donated certain funds thanks to which we arranged this temple. Here are several icons on the icon stand, one of them being the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was brought from Cyprus by our parishioner. The icon of Spyridon of Trimythous the Miracle Worker was donated by His Eminence Sergiy of Ternopil and Kremenets."
Despite the constrained conditions, one could feel special grace in this small temple.
"Actually, not only I but everyone who is currently attending services could feel real peace despite the fact that the church is organized in a hut. Grace and prayer are almost tangible," shares the current rector of the temple Archprist Vitaliy. "Though there are not many people, there is a hut, a throne – still, for us it is a full-fledged temple where we can feel true grace and peace of mind in our souls after serving the Divine Liturgy."
But the community did not stop there. Although the atmosphere in their small house church was prayerful and grace-filled, still they wanted to have a full-fledged temple.
"We said, 'Well, if you do not want to give us a temple, give us the land and we will build one,' but they did not want to. Nevertheless, we did not give up, though there were not very many of us, but our Vladyka Sergiy encouraged us a lot. Therefore, we went only forward. And we went to the courts and in the end won by court actions a very good land plot on which our temple stands out in all its beauty."
In October 2018, a new temple of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was laid in Bashuky village.
With the help of the Favor Charitable Foundation, funds were raised to start construction, and then philanthropist Andrei Biba helped build a full-fledged large temple.
The community members were directly involved in the construction project.
"When the temple was being built – from June to November – each family took turns to prepare meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, which means that they provided complete ration to the construction brigade of up to 10 persons, sometimes more than 10," tells the rector of the community. "Therefore, every family did their best to cook some food for the workers. And then our men, whenever possible, assisted this construction brigade, they were a kind of auxiliary workers. Everyone from the smallest to the oldest did their best to take an active part for the benefit of the holy temple."
And so, on February 4, 2020, Metropolitan Sergiy of Ternopil and Kremenets and the clergy consecrated crosses on the domes of the new church.
Looking at the new temple and recalling their dejected state after the old temple had been seized, believers take all that is happening as a true miracle of God, His reward for the faithfulness and strength of their faith.
"When we decided to build a temple, it seemed so hard – when is the end? This is impossible, we thought, and we will have to serve for a long time in the hut. But you know, the Lord worked a miracle – though very little time has passed, we are now installing domes and setting up crosses. Faith was particularly perceptible among the folks when the temple was taken away, when the Orthodox believers began to glorify God with a single heart and with a single mouth. It appeared as a genuine conciliarity of our Church and our parishioners."
Metropolitan Sergiy calls the construction of the church for the persecuted community in Bashuky a miracle of their hands, their hearts and their faith:
"The flock of this village suffered and had to endure the test of faith, since they were not allowed to pray as they had been praying from time immemorial. But people believe in God, trust Him, hope and the Lord showed them His miracle. The temple was erected in our turbulent time, how can it be? Only by the miracle of God's love, which the Lord reveals to those who live by this love, endure everything with love, do not get embittered against those who have treated them unjustly. They cover all with patience, humility, prayer, and this new temple is the fruit of their prayer and love for God, Who revealed this miracle – the temple, in which the grace of the Lord will live, in which heaven will be on earth, while everything else will be given by the Lord."
Deacon Georgy tells about the miracle recipe of the UOC community which chose to "grin and bear" it before the raiders:
"If we believe in God and trust God and do good deeds not only to those who do good to us but also to our enemies, then the Lord will certainly help us to walk the earthly path and inherit eternal life, to be in the Celestial Kingdom together with the Lord."
His mother Ioanna adds up to his words, "I know this is the true faith, the right faith, and I cannot and do not want to accept or recognize any other faith."
“By mocking at us and offending us, they kindle the Divine flame in us. By cursing us when we go to the temple, they push us closer to God. By making our life unbearable on earth, they make heaven desirable for us.” St. Nicholas of Serbia.