“Visit to the Minotaur” or Why did the Synodals go to the President?

21 March 21:22
Members of the UOC Synod near the Office of the President are waiting for Zelenskyy. Photo: Metropolitan Anthony’s Facebook Members of the UOC Synod near the Office of the President are waiting for Zelenskyy. Photo: Metropolitan Anthony’s Facebook

Yesterday we witnessed a unique event: the Holy Synod of the UOC in full force came to the President of Ukraine. Why did the bishops do this, and what could their action mean?

On March 20, 2023, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church took place. Taking into account everything that is happening today around the UOC, the results of this Synod were awaited by the believers of our Church with bated breath. Probably, each of us wanted the synodals to find the right words and convince the President of Ukraine to stop the repressions against the UOC and prevent the monks of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra from being evicted from the monastery.

However, hardly anyone expected what happened in the end – the visit of the members of the Holy Synod in full force to the Office of the President.

Yes, Zelenskyy did not accept them. Yes, the Bishops, many of whom are already in their late 60s, stood in the cold for two hours, waiting for the head of state to meet with them. Yes, today one can find a huge amount of dirt poured out on our hierarchs for the decision to seek a meeting with Zelenskyy. But can we say that our hierarchs acted recklessly and wrongly? And what can their visit to the President of Ukraine mean? Let's figure it out.

Humiliation or humility?

Haters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church write that, having gone to Zelenskyy, the hierarchs of the UOC once again “cave under the authority” and “went to bow to the tsar-father”, thereby “humiliating themselves”. We will not give links to these quotes, but you can believe that we have chosen “the most soft-spoken” of them.

So did the hierarchs humiliate themselves by standing near the Office of the President yesterday?

Certainly. But only if they were not Christians and did not rely on the Gospel. It is strange that critics of our Church are increasingly forgetting the history of the Savior and His example, accusing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the person of Her Primate, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of unwillingness and inability to resist the authorities of Ukraine.

However, let's remember how Christ acted being in mortal danger for Himself? When “a multitude of people with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people” came to the Garden of Gethsemane in order to seize Christ, “one of those who were with Jesus, stretching out his hand, drew his sword and, striking the servant of the high priest, cut off his ear.” The name of this “one” is Peter. He was determined to defend his Master with weapons in his hands.

But what did Christ say to him? Did he bless you for such protection? Against. “With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’” (Matthew 26:47-51). These words, which the Lord said to the Apostle Peter: "for all who take the sword will die by the sword," we must always remember. Christ forbade being defended by force, forbade Christians to shed blood. He Himself voluntarily chose the way of the cross so that "the Scriptures would be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way."

It seems that our hierarchs also decided to follow the Lord along the way of the cross – to Gologotha. Someone may disagree with this decision (and already disagrees), someone simply will not understand it. But there will be those who will see in it an attempt to fulfill the commandment of the Savior: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). You should believe that this path will ultimately turn out to be the best and the most correct one. Because this way is not rational and secular, but Christ's.

Ukraine is not Montenegro?

In addition, many commentators who call themselves Orthodox believe that the most correct action in the current situation would be to protect the shrines, following the example of the Church in Montenegro.

Recall that in this country, immediately after the authorities adopted anti-church laws that allow them to take away the property of the Church, the believing people, led by Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral, took to the streets. For several months, every day, the clergy and ordinary parishioners of the Montenegrin Metropolis of the Serbian Orthodox Church took part in religious processions. It is thanks to this position of the Church that believers not only managed to defend their shrines, but also significantly influence the government in the country, essentially replacing it during the elections.

Today they demand the same from us – they say, take to the streets, bring the people out in support of the Church. It is easy to see, by the way, that such words come from the lips of people who are either based in Russia or who protect its interests while living in other countries. The purpose of such appeals is clear: the worse things get in Ukraine, the better it will be for them. It’s not a big deal for them that it will be "worse" for the Orthodox. After all, it is no secret that in the conditions of martial law, forceful dispersal of any protests is more than likely, while any internal instability, any serious civil conflict can become a decisive factor in the defeat of Ukraine.

One more thing that needs to be said: those who today criticize the actions of representatives of the Holy Synod of our Church do not understand or deliberately deny the fact that the majority of our hierarchs are really people who love the country and their people. And at the moment, they all want only one thing – that the war in this country should stop. Therefore, none of them will call for a violent confrontation. We are tired of blood.

Therefore, in this sense, Ukraine is completely different from Montenegro. There are no schismatics there, there was no war, there was no such public confrontation as we have. Montenegro does not lose dozens and hundreds of its sons every day, and, in the end, Patriarch Bartholomew did not come to Montenegro with a “peacekeeping mission”. This means that either a narrow-minded person or a person without moral and ethical principles can compare the situation with our Church and the Montenegrin-Littoral Metropolis of the SOC.

Why did the synodals go to the President?

The visit of the bishops to Zelenskyy is also justified by the fact that he is the President of the country, the Head of State, in which millions of citizens are believers of the UOC. Bishops represent these citizens, and represent them in reality, not on paper. Therefore, their willing to meet with the President in order to get across to him their position and that of the parishioners was quite consistent.

Before he became President and immediately after he was elected to the post of head of state, Zelenskyy came to the Lavra. He came by himself, without invitation. No one made appointments for him, but no one refused to meet with him. Therefore, yesterday our bishops were counting on the same sign of respect from Zelenskyy. As Metropolitan Augustine said, they wanted to meet with him and talk purely “humanly”. And this gesture is not only purely "human", but also purely "Christian". Remember how Christ says in the Gospel? “If your brother or sister[ sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17).

Zelensky did not listen. But is it possible to say that the hierarchs made a mistake when they acted by the Gospel and tried to talk to him? Of course not. The President was wrong. Because he decided to act not from the position of a political mind, but from a position of political strength.

The synodals wanted to personally deliver the appeal they had prepared into the hands of the Head of State. By and large, this appeal simply collects everything our Church, believers and clergy have been doing since the very beginning of the war in relation to the massacre that the Russian Federation unleashed against Ukraine.

The President was reminded that the first person to call on the people to defend the Motherland was Metropolitan Onuphry; reminded that many believers of the UOC today defend Ukraine with weapons in their hands; reminded about the huge humanitarian mission undertaken by the Church. Why did they do it?

As people of prayer, the hierarchs are sure that all the actions of the President are dictated by the fact that he is incorrectly informed. Of course, now many people write sarcastically that "the king is good – the boyars are bad." But the synodals did everything they could in relations with the authorities. Meeting and personal conversation is the surest way to convey objective information.

UOC does not want blood

At the same time, the appeal of the Holy Synod of the UOC contains one phrase that should make the Ukrainian authorities think: “The news of the groundless deprivation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the right to be in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra caused a huge wave of indignation among our believers. Every day we receive an increasing number of requests about the need to protect our shrines and our legal rights and to protect them in the future.”

Let us note that there are no threats here, there is only a statement that the hierarchs of our Church are being asked for a blessing to protect the shrines. What this defense can turn into, say, with the aggressive actions of radicals (such threats are coming) is not difficult to guess.

To sum up yesterday's meeting of the Holy Synod, one thing can be said – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has now embarked on the path of confession. We are well aware that the authorities will not stop at what they started and will not be satisfied with the intermediate results.

We are well aware that concessions to the authorities will lead to nothing good. Just as we understand that “agreement” will not work. Then why did one have to go to Zelenskyy yesterday?

Because the Lord commanded us so. The President of Ukraine had to be given one more opportunity to change his mind, to change his heart, to repent. He didn't want to. This is his right.

Nevertheless, we know very well that no matter what the situation is now, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will not disappear. After all this persecution, She will only get stronger.

Just as the apostles watched the crucifixion of Christ 2000 years ago and were sure that they had lost, today many of its critics are watching the repressions against the UOC. They now look like those Jews who walked past Golgotha, looked at the Crucified One and said, “You saved others, but you can’t save yourself? Save yourself! Come down from the cross!" But…

Christ did not descend from His Cross, but died. To resurrect.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which today ascended its Golgotha, will rise in glory exactly in the same way. It will rise again in order to become better and purer than it is today.

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