Conflicts & War

Ukrainian rival churches seek united front against Putin’s war

By Isaac J. Martin

Odesa, Ukraine, Mar 21 (EFE).- Vladimir Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine, which has caused death and destruction, could have another, unintended effect: the union and reconciliation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is affiliated with the Patriarchate of Moscow, with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

At St. Michael the Archangel Convent in the port city of Odesa, Abbess Seraphima of the church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate tells Efe that Putin has become “Satan” himself and “buried his country” by launching the invasion against Ukraine.

“Putin said before the war that he would protect the people of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, but the result now is the opposite, since many churches that belong to Moscow have been destroyed,” Seraphima explains.

Dressed entirely in black, Seraphima points out that the country’s Orthodox faithful loyal to Moscow have also become “victims” of this “terrible war.”

In 2019, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church gained independence after more than three centuries under Moscow’s control, thanks to a decree signed by Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

“Reconciliation now is not a priority, since now there is chaos, there are many refugees, many businesses have been destroyed. But this issue will be on the table later when there is peace,” the abbess says, stressing they are not enemies of the Ukrainian church.

On the other side of Odesa at the Church of the Nativity, Bishop Athanasius says they are doing everything possible to try to keep both churches “united” during the war.

“We are open to communication, to dialogue and we don’t want to fight,” he explains to Efe, adding that since the beginning of the invasion, many bishops loyal to Moscow have stopped mentioning Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who stirred controversy after blaming “gay pride parades” for the invasion of Ukraine.

“It is time to make a decision, you can stay as enemies or step forward and be with us,” Athanasius continues.

Meanwhile, Seraphima, who is half Russian and half Ukrainian, defended Kirill, saying he is in a difficult position.

“He cannot tell Putin to his face that he is the devil,” says the abbess.

“The patriarch does well not to give his opinion or judge. Because suddenly, one day, he could die,” she adds.

Seraphima goes on to explain that Putin did not consult his church before the invasion.

“I am not surprised, because he does not listen to us. Perhaps he does not need the church.

“He (Putin) shows people that he prays, that he is in church, but he is using it. Before the war, that worked for him. People thought he was Orthodox, but now they are terrified. They have seen his true face.”

“A fascist, in the same vein as Hitler,” she says.

Vitaly Chernetsky, a professor of Slavic Language and Literature at the University of Kansas, tells Efe that this potential reconciliation between the two churches “will not be possible in the short term, since what is being lived is a traumatic experience.”

However, he says there is hope because some clergymen at the Moscow patriarchate are against the war, even though it is still a “minority.”

There is a “great transformation” taking place within the Ukrainian churches, Chernetsky concludes. “History is happening in front of our eyes and it is going very fast.” EFE

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