Because you are Christ's
The UOC is facing difficult times of trials. It’s no wonder as the Church has always been persecuted and hated. Why does this happen and what should we, believers, do?
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being criticized by almost everyone. Any action or word of the UOC or its clergy inevitably finds critics and causes dissatisfaction.
For example, if the Church participates in humanitarian projects, the believers are accused of trying to "redeem their guilt," "deceive people," or "buy themselves off". They are called "traitors of Ukraine" and "FSB agents in cassocks".
If a critic knows nothing about the Church's humanitarian and charitable projects, they accuse the believers of not being "patriots" and of "working for the enemy". In the end, they are all labelled as "traitors of Ukraine" and "FSB agents in cassocks".
It turns out that no matter what the Church does, it will always be considered guilty. What does this mean, and how should we act knowing this?
Christ and "love for the Homeland"
The preaching of Christ was a challenge to the Pharisees and Sadducees. His words about the Kingdom of Heaven disrupted the familiar course of their lives and he was perceived as a dangerous enemy and a strong rival.
The Jews lived in anticipation of the Messiah. Believing themselves to be the chosen people of God, they awaited a heavenly messenger who would destroy Roman rule over Israel. The Romans were seen by the Jews as occupiers. Many sons of Israel, claiming to be the "Messiah," rose up against Roman authority, inciting the people to fight and... lost. Judea was a rebellious province where the number of problems was directly proportional to the number of Orthodox inhabitants. For the Jews, faith in God was not an inner need of the soul and heart, but a means by which they hoped to regain their former glory, like in the time of Solomon. With all the shades of the purely national religion, Judaism aspired to world domination. However, not through missionary work, conversion of pagans or education activities, but through force: "We will overthrow the Romans, regain power, and build a state that will rule the world."
Because of this, the Jews often suffered, falling under the rule of the Philistines, then the Babylonians, and then the Romans. In addition, they were rebuked by the prophets, who pointed out that faith in God is a state of the heart, rather than a political instrument. It was with the same message that Christ came. However, His words that "the Kingdom of God is within you" were not only incomprehensible to the Jews but also served as a harsh challenge to their aspirations, traditions, and understanding of "love for the Homeland". The Jews believed that if you did not strive to overthrow the existing political order, you were a traitor to the Homeland, a traitor to the faith of the fathers. A person who spoke of repentance and the necessity of loving one's enemies, including the occupiers, could not be called a patriot. That is why the Pharisees saw Christ as an enemy. An enemy who had to be executed.
Christ and the "state"
But He was also seen as an enemy by the Romans. For pagans, religion was an appendage of the state. To be "religious" meant fulfilling one's duties as a loyal subject several times a year. Religion did not determine a person's inner life, did not have a positive influence on morality (rather the opposite), and had no connection with the soul or the heart of a pagan. Essentially, paganism, having lost its influence in daily life, firmly established itself in the "offices of power" and was only used for propaganda purposes. Priests were government officials who transmitted the state's point of view to the masses (by the way, does this sound familiar today?).
Therefore, the Romans could not understand how one could die for their religious beliefs. They could not comprehend why faith held such immense value for the followers of Christ. They could not and did not want to acknowledge that Truth is not an abstract principle but a fundamental reality, moreover, a Person—Christ Himself. They did not understand Him and thus sought to eliminate Him. Not because they hated Him. Christ was regarded by the Romans as someone who caused unnecessary unrest, stirred minds, and created obstacles to the peaceful existence of propaganda. Furthermore, He could not be considered a patriot in relation to the state because He denied paganism, which in the eyes of the Romans was equivalent to denying the state itself. That is why He had to be crucified. No person, no problem.
Christ and the "enmity of the world"
Regardless of the circumstances, both the Jews and the Romans saw Christ as an enemy, a dangerous man, and not a patriot. He was hated by those who sat in the "offices" of Pontius Pilate's praetorium and by those who dwelled within the precincts of the Jerusalem Temple. People who harboured irreconcilable hostility toward each other united in their hatred of Christ, and later, of Christians. And this history of hatred has continued to this day.
Today, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is also hated by many.
It is hated by those who consider themselves "true patriots" for its perceived lack of patriotism, and it is hated by those who believe that excessive patriotism is a bad thing. It is hated by officials with seals in their hands, and it is hated by people with angle grinders in their hands. It is hated in Kyiv and hated in Moscow. It is hated by those who consider themselves believers and by those who do not believe in any gods. Should we be surprised by this? No. "Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you," said the apostle John (1 John 3:13). And we should not be especially surprised if we recall the life of Christ and remember what He said.
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).
"Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets" (Luke 6:22-23).
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me" (Matthew 24:9).
In other words, the hatred directed towards Christ and His Church is a typical reaction of the world to faith in God. But how should we respond to this hatred? Should we react to it, try to justify ourselves, or simply surrender?
Act in a way that you won't be ashamed before yourself and before God
There is a parable that illustrates the situation in which the UOC finds itself.
A disciple asked his elder how one should respond to being judged by others. The elder decided to demonstrate the answer to his disciple, as they were passing through a small village at that time. "Sit on the donkey," the teacher said. The young man obeyed. "Look," the people said, "A young and healthy lad is riding a donkey, while an old and feeble man is walking on foot. What a shame!" Then the elder sat on the donkey, and the young man walked alongside. "Look," the people said, "The old man who should be nearing his death is riding a donkey, not caring for the boy who is walking beside him and hurting his feet. What a shame!" Then both the young man and the elder walked alongside the donkey. "Look at those two idiots walking on foot while the donkey is leisurely strolling beside them," the people said.
"Do you see," said the elder to the disciple, "No matter what you do, there will always be those who judge and find fault with you. Therefore, act in a way that you won't be ashamed before yourself and before God."
If we apply this parable to ourselves, we can say that despite slander, persecution and hatred, we simply need to continue being Christians and doing what Christ requires of us—to love our enemies, to pray for those who curse us and help those who wish us harm. This has always been the way.
On the other hand, St. Ambrose of Milan, comforting Christians suffering from persecution, said, "The Lord chose sufferings in order to die for us, so you should say of everything that He grants you: 'I will receive this cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord' (Psalm 116:4), meaning 'I will accept suffering.' Therefore, He asked those who desired to sit at His right and left hand: 'Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?' (Matthew 20:22). He accompanies you until the very end, follows you to martyrdom, and has prepared for you the palm of blessedness." In other words, no matter how harsh the conditions of our existence may be, the Lord is with us. And we are persecuted for one reason only—not because we are "not patriotic" or because we "do not love our Homeland," but because we are Christ’s.
And these are not the words of the author, but the words of Euthymius Zigabenus, who, when explaining to the believers why they are hated by everyone, responds, "Because you are Christ’s."
And if we look at what is happening to the UOC today, we can confidently say, "Yes, we are Christ’s. And we want to always remain so."