Cross Procession and Way of the Cross
In recent years, the Kyiv cross procession, dedicated to the Baptism of Rus Day, has become one of the main church events of the year. Why should we take part in it?
On July 27, 2021, “if is the Lord's will, we will live and do this” (James 4:15), there will be a Great Cross Procession in Kyiv from the Vladimir Hill to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, dedicated to the Day of the Baptism of Rus. In recent years, this procession has become one of the central events of the year for the UOC. What is its peculiarity, and what is the meaning of religious processions in general? Let's think about it.
A bit of recent history
In the past 2020, the Great Cross Procession did not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic. The hierarchy of the UOC made a difficult decision not to hold the procession, so as not to expose believers to the threat of contracting COVID-19.
And a year earlier, in 2019, the Great Cross Procession gathered the maximum number of believers – about 300 thousand people.
The peculiarity of that procession was that it took place after the presidential elections. Vladimir Zelensky won a convincing victory in April 2019, and the believers of the UOC, who had survived the entire set of repressions from the former President Petro Poroshenko, looked to the future with optimism. They believed the words of Zelensky, who pledged that he would not interfere in church issues. Of course, the main reasons for the scale of the Great Cross Procession that year were attached to the religious plane, rather than the political one, but, nevertheless, then believers hoped that the state would finally provide all confessions with equal rights and would not play the "national church" games. At first, Vladimir Zelensky was fulfilling his pledges. For example, in September 2019, he met at the Rivne airport with representatives of the UOC, received documents on the illegal seizures of churches from the hands of Archpriest Viktor Zemlianoy and promised to look into the matter. True though, some time later everything took a U-turn, but that was only later.
And in July 2018, the project of the future OCU and Tomos was still at the very beginning. P. Poroshenko traveled to Phanar and brought the news that the Patriarchate of Constantinople would nevertheless arrange a "single local" in Ukraine. On July 28, Metropolitan Emmanuel of Phanar, at the celebrations together with Poroshenko on the Vladimir Hill, said that the Patriarchate of Constantinople will not abandon its Ukrainian children to the whims of fate. At that time, Phanar meant by "children" not the believers of the canonical Church, but members of the UOC-KP and UAOC, who manifested their "Christian love" mainly by seizing other people's property. Back then, these seizures of the UOC churches were initiated by the schismatics. The authorities agitated for the "united local" project, but just a few expected that the state would become an "iron fist" to drive everyone into this project and virtually legalize the seizures. The Cross Procession in 2018 was held in a more or less favorable atmosphere and gathered about 250 thousand people.
In 2017, nearly 100 thousand people took part in the cross procession, and almost 3 million more watched the corresponding broadcast on the Inter TV channel.
Everybody felt uneasy that year, and Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) said on the eve of the cross procession in an interview: “I’ll tell you frankly. The Metropolitanate receives various calls. People call themselves representatives of various radical organizations. They are uttering threats. But the power of people's faith is greater than all these threats. The Lord will protect those people who will come to pray."
And in 2016, the Cross Procession, dedicated to the Day of the Baptism of Rus, was called “all-Ukrainian”, because it linked the East and West of Ukraine together. On July 3, the eastern column of the procession left the Holy Dormition Sviatogorsk Lavra and headed for Kyiv.
On June 9, the western column of the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession left the Pochayiv Lavra.
Thousands of believers were able to cover hundreds of kilometers along the Ukrainain roads.
And then the cross walkers from the two Lavras met on the Vladimir Hill in Kyiv on July 27, 2016.
The Cross Procession - 2016 was declared by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry as a cross procession of "peace, love and prayer for Ukraine." Exhorting the believers to take part in it, the Primate of the UOC said: “With deep sorrow in our hearts, we are all now experiencing a new tragedy — an armed conflict continues in eastern Ukraine, the innocent blood of our fellow countrymen is being shed. The most that our Church can do is to call for peace and intensify prayers for sending peace to our Ukrainian land, which we have been doing since the beginning of the armed confrontation." By the way, at about the same time, the head of the UOC-KP Filaret Denisenko paid a visit to the United States, where he demanded that Ukraine be provided with weapons to continue the war in Donbass.
Way of the Cross
However, no matter what time the cross procession might take place, whether it be the prosperity of the Church or persecution of the Church, it symbolizes the Way of the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ to Calvary.
It is described in every detail in the Gospel of Luke: "So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will say to the mountains, 'Fall on us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke: 23, 24-31).
Saint Innocent, Archbishop of Kherson and Tauride, in his book “The Last Days of the Earthly Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” writes: “An extraordinary sight has opened up! The one Whose conversations in the temple the people of Jerusalem always listened to with delight, Who seemed to be in command of all nature, giving healing to those born blind, exorcising demons, raising the dead, Who in a few days was respected as a descendant of David, as the king of Israel, passed through the extensive paths of Jerusalem in the midst of two villains, dragging a heavy cross behind Him! Now the words that Jesus Christ once said about His humiliated state should have been particularly fulfilled: 'Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me' (Matthew 11: 6)."
If we show that there are many of us, and that we will use all legal means to protect our rights, then those in power will no longer have such enthusiasm about infringing on our rights.
The Lord calls everyone to follow Him and does not hide that this path is the cross: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). Each believer bears their own cross in their life, but we can say that for the whole Church of Christ there is a time when Her life becomes akin to cross-bearing. These are times of persecution. A very striking and recent example of this is the persecution of the Church during the Soviet period, when thousands of new martyrs gave their lives to follow Christ.
Cross Procession - 2021
In today's Ukraine they do not blow up churches and do not lead priests to be shot, but the persecution of the Church in our country is palpable for every believer. After the first year of his presidency, V. Zelensky changed the religious policy of his team very dramatically. The trips of the first persons of the State to Phanar were resumed, calls to support the OCU project sounded again, followed by the violent seizures of temples. To understand the ambience in which the Great Cross Procession will take place in 2021, let us recall only some of the recent attacks on the UOC.
On June 23, 2021, a large-scale religious procession took place in Nizhyn in memory of St. John of Tobolsk. People walked with icons and banners and prayed for Ukraine. The nationalist radicals with the flags of Ukraine, the Right Sector and ... the United States poured urine on them, beat them with severed goat hooves and shouted the traditional: "Glory to the nation - death to the enemies!"
On July 18, 2021, in the village of Verbovets, Murovanokurilivtsi district, Vinnytsia region, there was an attempt to raid the Holy Protection temple of the UOC, during which activists beat the believers of the UOC, and the cross was torn off of the rector, Archpriest Alexander Luchin, who has been serving in the village for more than 20 years. Those who tried to defend their temple were threatened: "We will slaughter like pigs!"
The time of persecution is a difficult time for the Church, but it is also gracious, for the power of God is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12: 9). The procession of the cross during persecution is much more reminiscent of the Way of the Cross of the Savior than the procession in times of prosperity. And whoever participates in the procession in difficult times, feels more fully the closeness of the Lord.
Today is not the time to sit tight; today is the time to show clearly your loyalty to the Church.
This year's Cross Procession will take place amid growing pressure on the Church. We do not know what other trials the Lord will want us to experience for our salvation and admonition, but we know for sure that no one is mocked if he remains faithful to the Church of Christ. And today is not the time to sit tight, today is the time to show your loyalty to the Church clearly – in the face of those in power, and in the face of "hoof-bearers", and in the face of the media, slandering the Church. There are also some other persons before whom we must show that there are many millions of us, the faithful children of the UOC. These are the officials of the American administration who are playing the religious card in Ukraine alongside Patriarch Bartholomew with other Phanariots, who are trying to be at the helm of the Orthodox world to drag it into union with the Latins.
Without exaggeration, the fate of Orthodoxy in Ukraine will depend on the Cross Procession this year. If we show that there are many of us, and that we will use all legal means to protect our rights, then perhaps those in power will no longer have such enthusiasm about infringing our rights. If Patriarch Bartholomew sees that millions of Ukrainian citizens support the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which he “abolished” by his unilateral decision, then perhaps he will hesitate to take further illegal actions against the UOC and its Primate, His Beatitude Onuphry. If different “hoof-bearers” see that behind every temple and every believer there is the plentitude of the Church, then perhaps they will not so brazenly seize churches, and local officials will no longer illegally “transfer” communities to the OCU without any scruples.
In any case, it is our duty today to prove our faithfulness to the Church by deeds, to respond to the call of the hierarchy and to take part in the Great Cross Procession on July 27, 2021.
May God bless us!