Russian-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church leader joins opposition to P…
Metropolitan Onufriy, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate, an Eastern Orthodox body aligned with the Russian Orthodox leadership, ordered his clergy in the besieged nation to pray Sunday for Russia’s defeat.
Metropolitan Onufriy’s prayer text stated opposition to the invasion.
“Let us pray that peace and silence will be instilled in our Ukrainian land, and that we will be saved from every enemy and adversary,” the prayer text, mandated by Onufriy’s declaration, read in part. “Grant us Your omnipotent grace: make the authorities wise, strengthen our army [host] with courage, help them in all that is good.”
Three days earlier, Onufriy, who was installed in August of 2014, delivered a message in which he said, “At this tragic time, we express our special love and sustain to our soldiers who stand guard and protect and defend our land and our people.”
The UOC-MP’s links with Moscow had suggested its leaders would sustain the invasion. But there now appears little daylight between Onufriy’s constituency and that of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The statements by Onufriy, shared with The Washington Times by the Orthodox Church in America, signal a stark departure from what observers of the Ukrainian religious scene had expected in the run-up to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
The UOC-MP had considered the Orthodox Church in Ukraine a “schismatic” group, according to a May 2021 U.S. State Department report on religious liberty in Ukraine. The two camps have sparred in recent years over the re-registration of Moscow Patriarchate parishes as being affiliated with the OCU, something that was tamped down under the Zelenskyy administration.
On Feb. 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted, “Kiev continues to prepare the destruction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” alleging the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was intent on this goal.
Now, according to a Feb. 27 address by OCU primate Metropolitan Epiphanius, the current situation calls for unity between the two camps.
“Interfaith peace is one of the main achievements of independent Ukraine,” Epiphanius said. “The feelings that are now evoked in the souls of Ukrainians by the name ‘Moscow’ are quite understandable. But I beg you, do not succumb to anger, especially the provocations of the enemy.”
The OCU leader said those with knowledge of those helping “the aggressor” should report them to military or police authorities.
“But I already see and know about many clergy and faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate that they have reconsidered their attitude to the leadership in Russia and stand by everyone in the defense of Ukraine,” Epiphanius declared.
Surprisingly, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church signaled concern on Sunday over the invasion and its effects.
“God forbid that a terrible line stained with the blood of our brothers should be drawn between Russia and Ukraine,” Patriarch Kirill said in a sermon at the Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow. He asked that “the Lord may give them strength and wisdom to repulse the attacks of the evil one while serving their people in faith and truth promoting peace by all possible ways.”
Some 73% of Ukraine’s population is affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox faith, which holds allegiance from 79% of Russia’s population.
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