venerdì 25 febbraio 2022

Ukraine - church views change

(Peter Anderson)
During the early morning of February 24 in Seattle, I awoke to read the news of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.  When I looked at the official website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), the lead story on the home page was “Address of His Beatitude Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Onufry to the faithful and citizens of Ukraine.”  In this address, the head of the UOC-MP made such strong statements as the following: “At this tragic time, we express our special love and support to our soldiers who stand guard and protect and defend our land and our people.  May God bless and cherish them!  Defending the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, we also appeal to the President of Russia to stop the fratricidal war immediately.When I woke up this morning, I read the following headlines in the Seattle Times:  “Russian Troops Close in on Kyiv.”  I immediately looked at the official website of the UOC-MP and saw that the lead story on the homepage was:  “In Novozhyvotov in Vinnytsia Region, representatives of the OCU beat a priest and demolished the UOC house of prayer.” (link) The next story was:  “An act of vandalism was committed against a church in the Kherson diocese.”  A new story has now been posted on the official website of the UOC-MP: “In Mariupol, unknown individuals in uniform and with weapons robbed the cathedral and beat the priest and parishioners.”  As you may recall, Metropolitan Epifany, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), in his statement on February 22 specifically appealed to the faithful to prevent any violence against the property of the UOC-MP or its supporters. (link)

Earlier on February 25, the official website of the UOC-MP had posted an article relating to dioceses and monasteries providing help to refugees and victims and an article relating to the basements of churches in Kyiv being available as bomb shelters.  All of this is consistent with the appeal by Patriarch Kirill for the protection of civilians.  However, on February 25 there were no items posted related in any way to the defense of Ukraine or prayers for the defenders.  In today’s postings there is nothing that could in any way be construed as criticism of the actions of the Russian Federation or President Putin.  On February 24, Father Mykola Danilevich, deputy head of the DECR of the UOC-MP, posted on his Telegram channel an emotional and patriotic appeal that “Putin treacherously attacked our country!“  On February 25, he has said nothing more, but has simply posted on his Telegram channel the two articles from the official website relating to help for refugees and the use of church basements.  Clearly, there has been a radical change of approach by the UOC-MP between February 24 and 25.  We are left to speculate as to what caused this.

As expected, the OCU has not changed its views.  Today, Metropolitan Epifany, head of the OCU, issued an “appeal to the religious and state leaders of the free world - Ukraine needs all your help and support.” 

In the Vatican, there has been some change in approach.  On February 24, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State for the Vatican, issued a very cautious statement. (link) He refers to the appeal of Pope Francis for the parties to refrain from any action that causes even more suffering to the populations.  The cardinal states: “This appeal acquires a dramatic urgency after the start of Russian military operations on Ukrainian territory.”  In contrast to this cautious statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, together with the Archbishop of York, issued a statement that was very blunt:  “The horrific and unprovoked attack on Ukraine is an act of great evil.” (link) According to a statement from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Patriarch Bartholomew “condemns this unprovoked attack by Russia against Ukraine, an independent and sovereign state of Europe, as well as the violation of human rights and the brutal violence against our fellow human beings and, above all, against civilians.” (link) Metropolitan Tikhon, head of the Orthodox Church in America has stated: “I ask that the hostilities be ceased immediately and that President Putin put an end to the military operations.  As Orthodox Christians, we condemn violence and aggression.”  (link)

Today, Pope Francis took a dramatic step with respect to Ukraine.  This was reported in an AP article by Nicole Winfield, who has covered the Vatican for years. (link) She writes:

Pope Francis visited the Russian Embassy on Friday to personally “express his concern about the war” in Ukraine, in an extraordinary, hands-on papal gesture that has no recent precedent.

Usually, popes receive ambassadors and heads of state in the Vatican, and diplomatic protocol would have called for the Vatican foreign minister to summon the Russian ambassador.  For Francis, the Vatican head of state, to leave the walled city state and travel a short distance to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See was a sign of his anger at Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and his willingness to appeal personally for an end to it.

Vatican officials said they knew of no such previous papal initiative.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the visit, and the Vatican said Francis traveled to and from the embassy in a small white car.

“The Holy See press office confirms that the pope went to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See on Via della Conciliazione, clearly to express his concern about the war. He was there for just over a half-hour,” Bruni said.

We will have to wait and see what will happen from this initiative. 

With little hope that Ukraine will prevail militarily, some predict that the nature of the conflict will be changed.  It will be a struggle for the hearts of the Ukrainian people.  Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said today: “In this tragic time, all our hope is in God.  At this tragic time, the fate of Ukraine depends on our ability to self-organize and act responsibly and take responsibility for the future of our state.” (link) Father Cyril Hovorun,  a well-known theologian and speaker, who sympathizes with the OCU, stated on his Facebook page today:  “All Ukraine now is Maidan.  And not against Putin's proxy, as in 2014, but against their owner.  This is Maidan 3.0 - after 2004 and 2014.  I'm sure, like last times - we'll win, although it gets harder and harder each time.  And again the main subject is the whole Ukrainian community.  And now we stand for the dignity of Europe, which is not very concerned about this dignity.” (link)

Will the invasion bring the Ukrainian and Russian people closer together?  Will the invasion bring state actions against the OCU and its leaders?  Will the invasion result in greater support by the faithful of the UOC-MP for an autocephalous church completely independent of Moscow?  Much remains to be seen.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA