Why we should go to cross processions on the Triumph of Orthodoxy Day

His Beatitude Onuphry called on his flock to defend their Church. Photo: UOJ

The UOC Primate urged believers to go to cross processions in their cities on the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy in defense of the Church. Why is this so important?

Great Lent is not only a time of deep work on one's soul; it is also a period when attacks on the Church and on believers are particularly heightened. In 2019, Great Lent coincided with the climax of the presidential election campaign, during which the then President P. Poroshenko promoted the Tomos with all his might and vigor, tried to drive as many UOC communities as possible into the OCU and declared that the believers of the canonical Church had nothing to do in Ukraine at all. In 2020, Lent was subject to quarantine restrictions due to the coronavirus: the UOC was accused of non-compliance with epidemiological requirements, while the upcoming Easter was deemed as almost an impending catastrophe. This year of 2021, during Great Lent, these two phenomena – the persecution of the Church and the next wave of coronavirus – coincided. There are more frequent attacks on churches and believers; there is an explicit swivel of the authorities towards the OCU. This year, not some kind of Tomos will be brought to Ukraine – we will host the whole Patriarch of Constantinople! Accordingly, the persecution against the UOC may exacerbate even greater than it was under Poroshenko.

At the same time, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, in his Blessing to the flock for Great Lent in 2021, speaks primarily of repentance, humility and prayer. This is a reflection of the worldview of the Primate of the UOC: the greatest value is the human soul, the highest goal of life is a good response at the Judgment of God, the most important thing of a person on earth is acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

His Beatitude Onuphry: “The most important goal of fasting is humility before God. A person who is humble before God always strives for good. Lack of humility gives rise to pride, enmity, confrontation, wars, of which, unfortunately, there are a lot in our world today. We must always remember that all of us need to be transfigured through humility and sincere repentance."

Only after the words about the most important thing for the salvation of the human soul does Metropolitan Onuphry say that in the face of hostile actions from the state, believers should take an active civil position to defend their rights.

His Beatitude Onuphry: “We cannot but worry that, despite numerous requests and appeals, the laws that were adopted by the previous government, and which significantly limit the rights of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, have not been canceled in our state. I would like the voice of our believers to be heard. Therefore, I bless on the first Sunday of Great Lent, when the Triumph of Orthodoxy will be celebrated, to hold traditional cross processions and prayer standings in all diocesan centers of our Church on this day, taking into account the regulations in view of the epidemic situation. We must walk along the streets of our native cities with prayer on our lips and shrines in our hands in order to testify both our loyalty to Holy Orthodoxy and our love for our native Ukrainian land – our earthly Fatherland. We are citizens of Ukraine, and we have the right, won by the blood of our ancestors, to profess the Orthodox faith as bequeathed by the Apostles of Christ and the Holy Fathers."

Let's pay attention to the last words of His Beatitude Onuphry.

First, what does it mean to profess the Orthodox faith as bequeathed by the Apostles and Holy Fathers? This means, in relation to today's church situation, to believe "In the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." Due to the fact that the Church is one, there cannot be several churches in Ukraine that are equal to the Church of Christ. This means that a person who believes in the above definition of the Symbol of Faith should take the position that only one of the four religious organizations in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is the Church of Christ.

History tells us that Catholicism finally fell away from the Church of Christ in 1054, so we cannot recognize the UGCC as the Church of Christ, since it is a Catholic religious organization that recognizes all the heretical errors of the Vatican and obeys the Pope. As for the OCU, the two structures on the basis of which it was created in 2018 also fell away from the Church of Christ – the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) in 1919 and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate in 1992. In Ukraine, only the UOC is a true canonical Church that exists in conformity with the laws of the Gospel, according to the commandments of the Apostles and according to the instructions of the holy fathers. Belonging to this Church, professing Her unity, affirming that She is a part of One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is our right and duty as Orthodox Christians.

Secondly, His Beatitude Onuphry says that we not only have such a right, but this is the right having been won back with the blood of our ancestors. These are the Ukrainian Cossacks, who sacrificed their lives to prevent our people from being Catholicized in the form of a union. These are the confessors tortured by the Uniates. These are the countless new martyrs who suffered for the faith in the 20th century. If we do not defend our right to faith, if we sit back with folded arms, then we will prove unworthiness of the sacrifices that our ancestors made for Orthodoxy.

If we do not defend our right to faith, if we sit back with our arms folded, then we will prove unworthiness of the sacrifices that our ancestors made for Orthodoxy.

Of course, one can choose the path of non-resistance. One can defend the Church with intense prayer and fasting. This path is also consistent with the Gospel and the history of the Church during the times of persecution. But this path does not at all exclude the path of active manifestation of one's civic position within the framework of the Constitution and laws of our country. History knows a lot of cases when it was precisely an active position that brought the Church good and deliverance from external attacks. The recent case in point is Montenegro. The local authorities adopted a law according to which almost all the church property of the Serbian Orthodox Church was expropriated by the state with the possible transfer to a self-proclaimed schismatic organization: the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (analogue of the OCU). At the call of the hierarchy of the Serbian Church, the people took to the streets with cross processions, protesting against this lawlessness. The demonstrations were so numerous that on some days up to half of the country's population participated in them.

Religious procession in Podgorica in 2020

The Church is intrinsically apolitical and does not participate in election campaigns. Also, these protests were not intended to bring one or another party to power. The goal was to protect the Church and not give it over to be scolded by unscrupulous politicians who want to appease their political ambitions at the expense of the Church. The result of the events in Montenegro was the defeat of the parties hostile to the Church in the parliamentary elections, the formation of a new government and the abolition of the anti-church provisions of the aforementioned law.

But what if the population of Montenegro did not heed the calls of the hierarchy of the Church? What if everyone said to themselves – I’m sitting on the fence, I’d rather stay at home and pray? History, of course, does not know the subjunctive mood, but it is not hard to guess that the harm to the Church would have been enormous.

Today His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry calls on all believers to attend religious processions on the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Therefore, the question is no longer whether it is necessary to defend one's rights in this way, for this is about obedience to the hierarchy of the Church. The Apostle Paul wrote in one of his epistles: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Heb. 13:17).

The question is no longer whether it is necessary to defend one's rights in this way, for this is about obedience to the hierarchy of the Church.

At the end of February 2021, a Congress of representatives of the communities of the seized churches of the UOC took place in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, which received a very capacious name: "Faithful". The clergy and believers who lost their churches shared their misfortune, their sorrow with all those who were not indifferent. At times it was impossible to listen to stories about the atrocities committed by the supporters of the OCU without shuddering. It will just suffice to mention the assaults in Zadubrivka and Mykhalcha, when the defenders of the temples were beaten with truncheons, cut with knives and so on. De jure, these acts of violence are criminal offenses. Moreover, illegal transfers initiated by high-profile officials of Orthodox communities to the OCU are an abuse of power. It is unlikely that the believers of the UOC would have gathered in the Lavra for such a congress if their rights were duly protected by state law enforcement agencies. Yet, unfortunately, in many cases these bodies side with the invaders, rather than victims of violence.

Following the results of the "Faithful" Congress, its participants recorded a video message to the President of Ukraine with a request to protect their rights and stop discrimination against Ukrainian citizens on religious grounds.

 

There is no response to this video message yet, and there is no hope that such a response will ever follow. While the country's authorities are silent and law enforcement agencies are inactive, supporters of the OCU are breaking through the next bottom of their cruelty. On the night of March 13, 2021, six young people severely beat an elderly parishioner of the St. Michael's church of the UOC in Zadubrivka, Vasily Khashchiyuk, who was walking from the church after his watch.

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A parishioner of the UOC community in Zadubrivka village after the attack

Words don’t come easy to describe the abomination of this act! Six young guys beat up a man who, in terms of his age, could well be their father, let alone grandfather! Not a single man who had at least the slightest idea about honor and decency would have dared to do such baseness. Yet, the supporters of the OCU did not blink an eye. Several days have passed since then, but there is neither any condemnation of this heinous crime on this incident from the leadership of the OCU nor a statement about its legal assessment by the authorities.

Moreover, the demonstrative support from the authorities seems to give the supporters of the OCU the right to unlawful actions against the UOC and its faithful children. Of course, the pledges of Prime Minister D. Shmygal to Patriarch Bartholomew to comprehensively support the OCU and the brutal beating in Zadubrivka of Vasily Khashchiyuk are not directly related, but the information campaign against the UOC that has been unleashed recently, the pressure that the authorities exert on the UOC, those efforts made by officials to transfer Orthodox communities to the OCU – all this creates the ideological basis for illegal actions against the UOC and its parishioners.

Let us reiterate that we do not hear any backlash from the civil servants regarding the beating of Vasily Khashchiyuk. Crimes against the believers of the UOC do not seem to occur, their rights do not seem to be violated, and they themselves do not seem to exist. Therefore, our duty is to take part in the Cross Procession and show everyone that we are living, that we, as His Beatitude Onuphry said, "are citizens of Ukraine, and we have the right, won by the blood of our ancestors, to profess our Orthodox faith."

Our duty is to take part in the Cross Procession and show everyone that we are living, that we, as His Beatitude Onuphry said, "are citizens of Ukraine, and we have the right, won by the blood of our ancestors, to profess our Orthodox faith."

Unfortunately, the authorities only listen to the opinion of the street. And this is happening not only in our country. All over the world, we see the authorities of the state taking the people’s perspective the only when people take to the streets and show that they will not sit back and watch their rights violated. We do not mean at all any illegal actions with riots and rallies and resisting the police. The hierarchy of the UOC calls to recourse to our constitutional right to rallies and demonstrations so that the authorities listen to the legitimate demands of believers. We must all show that we do not agree that by adopting an anti-church bill, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being deprived of its name; we do not agree that our temples are forcibly seized by tough guys who have neither honor nor conscience; we do not agree with the fact that our communities are illegally re-registered in favor of the OCU.

There is hope that the authorities will listen! Political expert Ruslan Bortnik in an interview with the First Cossack youtube channel explained an interesting paradox: why do people vote for those candidates who promise peace in the country, the right to speak their native language, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and so on; however, after coming to power, these candidates begin to act in exactly the opposite way: they adopt the rhetoric of the "party of war", resume the persecution of the UOC, cultivate intolerance towards languages other than Ukrainian, etc?

We must all show that we do not agree that by adopting an anti-church bill, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being deprived of its name; we do not agree that our temples are forcibly seized by tough guys who have neither honor nor conscience; we do not agree with the fact that our communities are illegally re-registered in favor of the OCU.

According to the political expert, this is because the so-called nationalist electorate, although relatively small in number, is very active, ready to take to the streets, declare its active civic position, and defend its views, whereas the people of peace, justice, law and order, of whom the overwhelming majority sit at home and watch how their rights being violated. Thus, the active minority imposes its opinion on the passive majority. According to R. Bortnik, “If people, who want to honor the memory of the Great Patriotic War, use their native language or go to churches they choose, protested and went to rallies, all this crying shame would not occur.”

Therefore, our duty today is to fulfill the blessing of His Beatitude Primate of the UOC, Metropolitan Onuphry, and go to cross processions in our dioceses, to stop being a passive majority and declare that we will not allow the enemies of the Church of Christ to triumph over it. May God help us together with the prayers of our ancestors, who did not spare themselves for the sake of Christ and His Church!

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