"We must all stand together to defend our Church"

Vasily Makarovsky at a cross procession in Kyiv. Photo: V. Makarovsky

The head of the "Miriane" organization speaks about attacks on the UOC, the fight against anti-church laws and why it's necessary to stop being a silent majority.

Recently, news was published on the UOJ that the parishioners of the UOC have united into an organization to defend their faith and values. This public union is called “Miriane (Laity – Trans). Orthodox lawyers, members of the "Miriane", have already managed to draw up bills to protect the Church, which they intend to hand over to the people's deputies. To this end, they call on all Orthodox believers to gather near the Verkhovna Rada on June 15. We decided to find out from Vasily Makarovsky, the head of public union "Miriane", what kind of initiative it is, and what goals and objectives it sets.

- Vasily, why is the organization called “Miriane”?

- It's all simple. There are clergy of the Church, and there are its parishioners. The UOC has more than 12,500 parishes, thus all the people who visit these temples, all of us, are the laity.

- Well, it is clear that all believers are laymen. Why create a special organization?

- Because we need to change the life around us. What have we seen lately? Persistent attempts to destroy the Church, discrimination against Her believers, gradual destruction of the traditional family, the imposition of an ideology alien to our people, and much, much more. It's time for us to unite and oppose something to this. In fact, there are a lot of us, but the problem is that we are silent and passive. I recently met with Fr. Aleksandr Klimenko, and I liked his wording that the believers of the UOC are the “silent majority”, which actively reacts to events, but cannot influence them. Therefore, the "Miriane" was created in order not just to quietly resent something sitting on the sofa, but to be game-changers. You need to give people confidence that they can influence the course of events in their country. It’s not just faith, but opportunity. If we hear each other, if we unite and start acting, our life can be different.

To create a structure that could embrace all believers

- Can we approach it more specifically? How can a simple parishioner somewhere in the outback influence “the course of events in his country”?

- The possibilities of influence are precisely specific. We plan to create a ramified structure throughout Ukraine, which would unite all believers. Within its framework, one can create or sign a petition, report discrimination, incitement to hatred and get real protection, write a letter to the administration or the police, donate to a specific community from which the temple was taken away and be informed on what your money was allocated for, and much more.

In the regions, people will learn about each other, receive informational, legal support and help if they need it. Funds for mutual assistance and the implementation of charitable projects will be created.

It will also be a stepping stone for inter-Orthodox communication. We are planning to create a social network structurally replicating the diocesan structure. There you can find valuable information about the faith, various Orthodox contents, and more. When our site starts working, it will be possible to speak in more detail. Let's not get ahead of ourselves so far.

In fact, there are a lot of us, but the problem is that we are silent and passive.

- Yet, what are the main tasks of the organization?

- First of all, it is the protection of the Church from discrimination on the part of the authorities and radicals who are “spiritually nourished” by schismatics. Then comes the protection of the traditional family created by a man and a woman, the protection of children, countering the imposition of anti-Christian ideology of LGBT and gender, the fight against abortion. Well, the unification of the Orthodox into a single community capable of influencing life in the country.

I would like to emphasize the role of education. In our logo "Miriane" the first letter is depicted as an open book, which is no coincidence. One of our main tasks is to bring information to people: both general knowledge about the Orthodox faith, and information about what is happening around us now. For what? To know what dangers can confront us and how to resist these dangers. That is why our motto is: "From knowledge to action."

- As far as I understand, now your actions should be directed towards the protection of the Church. Are you already doing something specific?

- Yes, lay lawyers have prepared two bills to amend laws that hamper the normal life of our Church. On June 15, we will come to the Verkhovna Rada to submit these documents to the parliamentarians

- What are these bills about?

- The first is aimed at abolishing the forcible renaming of the UOC into Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. As you know, Poroshenko, making "vira" (faith) a trump card in his presidential campaign, waged an open struggle with the canonical Church. A few days after the formation of the OCU, he signed amendments to Law 2662-VIII, which oblige the UOC to be renamed. Now this issue is being considered in the Constitutional Court, and the law is not fully effective, but this, as we understand it, is temporary. In addition, even now the UOC cannot register new communities, appoint new abbots, etc., in a word, conduct full-fledged activities. The same law says that the UOC has no right to have chaplains in our army  despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of both conscripts and contract soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The second bill is intended to amend Law 2673-VIII, "thanks to" which the seizures and illegal re-registration of the UOC communities in the OCU took place. In simple terms, we want anti-church norms to be removed from the legislation.

- We know that many already intend to come to support you. But the question is – do you have a blessing for your activities? And how do you see the relationship with the hierarchy?

- Of course, there is a blessing. We visited His Beatitude Onuphry, and he blessed our initiative. At the same time, the Primate said that the public organization (“Miriane is a public organization) have just more tools for interacting with the authorities. After all, the UOC as a Church still does not have the status of a legal entity (each of its communities has such a status separately – Ed.) and cannot deal with the authorities as a single organization.

We visited His Beatitude Onuphrius, and he blessed our initiative.

In the regions, we will build relationships with the ruling bishops, help them in solving those issues that are easier and simpler for the laity to solve.

Should believers be concerned with the affairs of the Church?

- There is often an opinion among the Orthodox that only priests and bishops should deal with church-related affairs and problems. They are, they say, more competent, and indeed – why should believers have to do with all these issues?

- You see, in recent time there is some kind of passive consumer attitude among believers towards the Church, community, priesthood. Like, I come to the service, confess, receive communion and go home. Moreover, I should be “wowed” for doing that. Most of the parishioners don't care what happens in the church environment. Their stance is “all this policy” has to be done by the fathers, this is their business. But this should not be so. Only priests, clerics and a few active grandmothers cannot be engaged in church affairs, this is wrong. The Church is not people wearing vestments and surplice; the Church is a community. Even more – this is a Community, where everyone should be one family, a part of the future heavenly community.

Look at the villages where the seizures took place or there is a threat of seizure. Where the OCU adepts are trying to seize the temple (in the Chernivtsi region, for example), people organize round-the-clock watch in the temple. In the villages where the temple was taken away, the parishioners are looking for money, buying land and building a new temple. Often they even build it literally with their own hands: the foundation is poured, bricks are laid, etc. They try to do something that requires no special skills or qualifications.

The Church is not people wearing vestments and surplice, the Church is a Community, where everyone should be one family, a part of the future heavenly community.

Does this mean that the laity fail “to mind their own business,” and such problems should be dealt with exclusively by priests? Of course, not. They do what the members of a true Christian community should do. It is not the priest who humps everything, this burden is shared by all of the parishioners. This is normal, this is what a “sound community body” should be like.

- You say: "We were with His Beatitude", "We will build our roadmap", but can you clarify who these "we" are? So far, only Vasily Makarovsky is visible.

- Journalists are always eager to hear celebrities’ names (laughs) ... But there are no stars among us, and Vasily Makarovsky is not a star, either. There are people who act in behalf of the Church, and they did not appear out of nowhere. The "Miriane" was founded by the Brotherhood of the Holy Prince Vladimir, which was created with the blessing of His Beatitude and has been active for about five years. This Brotherhood is engaged in educational activities, protection of the traditional family. For example, an educational tour in Ukraine of Fr. Aleksandr Klimenko with a sermon on the protection and support of the family and traditional values was organized by this Brotherhood. The Brotherhood also created the Union of Orthodox Lawyers, whose members are engaged in protecting the Church. For example, the situation in Zolochiv, where the authorities stopped persecuting the UOC community, is largely the UOL lawyers’ merit.

In 2014, with the blessing of His Beatitude, the Brotherhood established the Favor charitable foundation, with the assistance of which 37 new churches have already been built for the UOC communities, which were deprived of their churches. In a word, there are people among the "laity" who are already doing concrete work for the benefit of the Church.

Believers must become one united brotherhood, together we can do a lot

- Well, what does it take to become a member of the "Miriane"?

- If you are a church-going Orthodox Christian, then you can already consider yourself a member of the "Laity". In order to join an active group, you need to go through the standard procedure for a community organization. This usually happens through the submission of an application stating your desire to become a member of the organization.

In general, we need to realize that it is not enough to come to the Liturgy on Sundays in some nearest church. It is important to understand that you are a part of the huge organism of the Church – the Body of Christ. If a person is exposed to danger or illness, the response comes from the whole body, rather than its separate parts. Remember the words of the apostle Paul: The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”? God has put the body together, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. What does the apostle say in the end? “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (1 Cor. 12:26).

Therefore, if you consider yourself a Christian, you must help the Church. Moreover, she now needs your help.

If you consider yourself a Christian, you must help the Church, She now needs your help.

- Metropolitan Augustin, speaking of your organization, drew historical parallels with the brotherhoods of the 16th-17th centuries, when the laity defended the Church from Uniate expansion and violent Catholicization. Do you see any connections here?

- Definitely, Vladyka made a very good point. The times of planting the union and the present are in many respects similar, and above all – in terms of the authorities' attitude to the Church. Both then and now state agents exert the strongest pressure on the Church, forcing the hierarchy to take "necessary" actions. Threats, intimidation, and even direct violence are the methods by which then the authorities of the Commonwealth "worked" with the bishops of the Church. In that situation, the role of lay brotherhoods in protecting their Church cannot be overestimated.

For example, the Zaporozhye Cossacks in full force, led by Hetman Petro Sagaidachny, were members of the Kiev Epiphany Brotherhood, thanks to which the Orthodox were able to preserve their churches. For a long time the Lutsk Brotherhood defended its churches from the Uniates. And the Lviv Brotherhood was the first to appear in the territory of modern Ukraine. 

Returning to the present, I can add that all believers of the UOC should become one united brotherhood. Together we can do a lot.

- You can now address the UOJ audience. What would you like to tell our followers?

- The first wish is not to be scared. Recently I met with a wonderful surgeon, and now a priest of the UOC, Fr. Rostislav Valikhnovsky, who said the following words, “If our future is dear to all of us, the spiritual one being in the first place, if the future of our children is dear to us, we must protect the spiritual inheritance we received from our ancestors. This moment can be called the moment of truth."

Anyway, the main thing we must remember is the words of the Apostle James: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

Now is the moment of truth. And we must all realize this and stand together to defend our Church, our family, the future of our children. Otherwise it may be too late down the line.

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