UOC and “where were you for the eight years?”
With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, it's been fashionable to accuse the UOC and its Primate of tacit approval of the ATO in Donbas. Are these accusations true?
After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and notably after the Council in Feofaniya, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its Primate Metropolitan Onuphry were suddenly showered with accusations of having never protested against the war in Donbas and almost blessing it.
These accusations can be viewed as a backlash to the wave of "non-commemoration" of Patriarch Kirill, which the UOC initiated shortly after the Russian invasion. After all, the “non-commemorators” largely justified their actions by disagreeing with the position of the Patriarch, who, let’s put it so, did not publicly resent the RF's “special military operation.”
Now the thesis is being persistently promoted that His Beatitude Onuphry has not protested against the war in Donbas, which has lasted since 2014, and therefore Ukrainians should draw parallels and “calm down”.
For example, in one of his videos, Moscow priest and blogger Georgy Maksimov stated that he did not know the words of Metropolitan Onuphry demanding peace and an end to the war in Donbas, that His Beatitude was silent, even when the churches of the UOC were seized and destroyed. Consequently, since Metropolitan Onuphry was silent then, it means that now the Ukrainians cannot have any claims against the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
We are in no way justifying the “non-commemorators” and, moreover, we are not criticizing Patriarch Kirill – he has the right to act as he considers right for the Church. However, the thesis about the silence since 2014 of the UOC and His Beatitude Onuphry needs to be clarified.
After all, Maximov is not alone. Now, among the politicians, opinion leaders and bloggers who approve of the “SMO”, there are many who have been ranting the same phrase toward the UOC – “Where were you for the eight years?”. Its essence boils down to a set of standard questions-objections with which a certain part of people are trying to justify the warfare in Ukraine: why was the UOC silent all these years? Why was His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry silent? What did the UOC do to stop the ATO? How and in what way did the Church help the Donbas residents? We will try to answer all these questions.
Why was the UOC silent throughout eight years of the war in Donbas?
It is somehow even surprising that we have to recall the facts being obvious only yesterday that it was precisely because of the position on the Donbas issue that all its enemies in power and the so-called “patriots” blasphemed and continue to blaspheme the UOC.
Among the politicians, opinion leaders and bloggers who approve of the “SMO”, there are many who have been saying the same phrase in the face of the UOC – “Where were you for the eight years?”
From the very beginning of the conflict in Donbas, our Church has declared that its believers are on both sides of the front, and that the war itself is fratricidal in nature. It was the position of the UOC that allowed a huge number of people living in the conflict zone not to lose faith in God, not to lose their humanity and remain with the canonical Church. Moreover, they were able to make sure that the UOC is the only force able to “sew together” Ukraine torn by the war.
The attitude of the Church towards the conflict is perfectly demonstrated in the address of the episcopate of the UOC on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus: “Our special words today are addressed to those children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who live in the Donbas and suffer from hostilities: Brothers and sisters! You are not alone in your trials. Our entire Church now prays, empathizes, helps and will continue to pray, empathize and help you. Your afflictions and your pain echoes with pain in our hearts. According to the Apostle Paul, ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it …’ (1 Corinthians 12:26), i.e. within the Body of the Church of Christ. We express gratitude to the archpastors, pastors, monastics and all the laity of that part of Donbas, where the flames of war are blazing, for your courage, for being with your flock, for patiently bearing the trials that have befallen you. We pray to the All-Merciful God and believe that the war will end soon and God will wipe every tear from your eyes (Rev. 21:4).”
Well, it's not just words. Because over the 8 years of the conflict, the Church sent thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to the Donbas, constantly called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate, and took an active part in the release of prisoners. At that time, even the authorities, who were negatively disposed towards the Church, were well aware that without the mediation of the UOC, it would not have been possible to release the prisoners, since only our Church has moral authority on both sides of the front. And we do know the results. Hundreds of prisoners were released, which compelled even such an enemy of the Church as Poroshenko to thank the UOC for the most vigorous participation in this process.
At the same time, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reiterated that its mission “is to reconcile the parties amid conflicts and wars.” In addition, Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) noted that “if the Church in the current conditions tries to be with the people, with the citizens of Ukraine, on both sides front lines, regardless of their political or ideological views, if the Church retained the opportunity for dialogue that made this exchange of prisoners possible, then this should be appreciated." Nobody appreciated it, of course. Neither then, nor now.
For many years, the UOC was demanded to condemn the Russian Federation, call Russia an aggressor and take only one, “correct” side in the conflict in Donbas, to which the Church invariably replied that it was not Her function to give political assessments of the developments. Such a position did not allow, according to Patriarch Kirill, "to drag the Church into the conflict on either of the sides." Moreover, he stressed that “the peacekeeping feat of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church manifests its love for Ukraine, its true patriotism,” and “the events of recent years confirm that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remains the only force capable of uniting Ukrainian society.”
In fact, the Church really tried to unite this society, for example, through the All-Ukrainian religious procession in 2016. Then two huge columns of pilgrims came out of the Sviatogorsk and Pochaiv Lavras and, passing through 12 dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, met in Kyiv to demonstrate the ecclesiastical unity of Ukraine. However, that procession caused a real hysteria among militant politicians, the "patriots", and in the media. The cross walkers were not allowed into the cities, the roads were "mined", and physical attacks were staged all because the procession with the cross was against the war in the Donbas and for peace in the country.
The cross walkers were not allowed into the cities, the roads were "mined", and physical attacks were staged all because the procession with the cross was against the war in the Donbas and for peace in the country.
From all these selective examples, it becomes clear that the Church not only did not remain silent, but did everything possible to stop the conflict. But for some reason, those who support the current war in Ukraine have forgotten this. They also forgot what His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry did for 8 years to secure peace in the Donbas.
Was the Primate of the UOC silent?
From the very first days of the armed confrontation in the East, the Primate of the UOC blessed an intensified prayer for peace in Ukraine in every temple of our Church. During all the Great Lent that took place during these years, prayer for peace was enhanced by the reading of the Psalter, the Gospel and personal asceticism. A believer understands that prayer is not a formality, but the main weapon of a Christian, his/her main business and the most powerful means to achieve peace.
There were also direct appeals from the Metropolitan to politicians, including Poroshenko and Putin. For example, in 2017, His Beatitude asked “to influence the situation that has developed today in the Donbas land and to do everything to stop shooting at Easter and the next Bright Week. Moreover, he urged to carry out a spiritual Easter action 'Open the door for the priest' for all the captives."
The Primate of the UOC clearly demonstrated that in the war in Donbas he adheres to the position of peace and justice, even if this position caused flurries of negativity from the authorities and society.
“This war (in Donbas – Ed.) is civil. I know this from the bishops who serve there. The father is in the National Guard, the son is in the rebel army. A brother is on one side, another brother is on the other. This is a fratricidal war. But the Church, both after the revolution of 1917 and over 2013-2014, has always called for people to reconcile with each other, to forgive each other. Nothing good can be built on the basis of war and blood,” said Metropolitan Onuphry back in 2015, at the height of hostilities, when any denial of Russian aggression could cost a person very dearly.
Nothing good can be built on the basis of war and blood.
Metropolitan Onuphry is still remembered for his “sitting” in the Verkhovna Rada on May 28, 2015, when he did not stand up with everyone else during the honoring of the soldiers who died in the ATO and received the title of “Heroes of Ukraine”. Later, His Beatitude stated that he committed this act as a protest against the war “as a phenomenon” and added that the UOC wants it to stop: “We did not stand up, because it was our protest against the war as a phenomenon. We do not want the war to continue on our land. We do not want people to kill each other. We want peace and God's blessing on our land."
Unfortunately, people at that time were imprisoned for calling for peace, as happened with journalist Ruslan Kotsaba.
Achieving peace in Ukraine has always been the greatest desire of Metropolitan Onuphry. To be honest to the end, no one in Ukraine has done more than His Beatitude to alleviate the suffering of people who find themselves in the conflict zone. Material assistance, medicines, clothes, food – all kinds of aid were regularly sent to the East by tons of believers of the UOC with the blessing of their Primate. He always emphasized that the war in Donbas is “our pain.” For this reason, to ask Metropolitan Onuphry now where he was during the 8 years of the war in the East of Ukraine, one must be either a person without any conscience or completely amnesiac.
For our Church, the war in Ukraine did not begin on February 24, 2022, but back in 2014, when the first explosions took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. All these years, the Church has sympathized with all mothers – both with those who lost their sons in Donetsk and Luhansk and those whose sons were sent there to fight. All these years, the Church has done everything it could to achieve peace in these territories. She has not changed Her position even now, when the war has engulfed most of Ukraine. She did not change it because Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called chidren of God” (Matthew 5:9).