President Poroshenko of Ukraine took the initiative to meet with the members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) on March 21, 2019. Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and All Ukraine, the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was present. He was accompanied by Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary, and by Archpriest Mykolay Danylevych, the Deputy Chairman of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Department for External Church Relations.
Poroshenko thanked the organization for its service, for setting an example of unity in diversity, for its contribution to the army, and for helping in the release of prisoners and hostages. He highlighted the need to uphold the principles of religious freedom:
“As President, and as guarantor of constitutional rights, I will do my best to protect religious freedom in Ukraine. The issue of religious freedom should be the subject of our joint activities… Violence can never be a means to solve problems”.
Then Metropolitan Onufriy thanked the President for the opportunity to participate in this event. Here is his statement:
“During these blessed days of Great Lent, the Church calls for repentance, restraint, prayer, and reconciliation with our neighbors. The task of the Church is to take care of spiritual and moral issues, to lead people to God, and to preach love, forgiveness, and peace. The task of the State is to take care of the material side of human life, to uphold the law, and so on.
However, during this Lenten season, as well as for a long time before it started, very disturbing events have been taking place in the religious sphere of our country. I am referring to the seizure of churches, to the meddling in church affairs by government authorities, and other serious offenses. In particular, heads of village councils, of city councils and administrations, as well as deputies, have been convening meetings of territorial communities and arranging illegal votes in order to change the jurisdiction of religious communities. This is in direct contradiction with the Ukrainian Law #2683 (Bill 4128-d), which stipulates that only a religious community can do so by a two-thirds majority, not a territorial community as is currently being done. As a result, our churches have been seized by force, our communities are being thrown out into the streets, and they are being forced to pray in village houses. For example, our communities in Volhynia are already conducting prayer services in houses, most notably in the villages of Nichohivka, Krasnovolya, Telchi, Godomychi (in the Manevytskyi district); in the villages of Zhydychyn, Klepachiv, Berestyan, Kulchyn (in the Kivertsiv district); Berestechko, Pisky, Zvinyach, Skobelka (in the Gorokhiv district). And there are many more, these are just in the Volyn region. There are many more similar cases in different regions. Police often do not intervene, they just passively observe.
I want to emphasize that we are not the ones seizing churches, our communities are not the ones cutting locks to their own churches, as is sometimes alleged by the media. This is done by people who don’t go to Church. One of these blatant incidents recently occurred in the town of Baranivka in the Zhytomyr region: on Forgiveness Sunday, Oleh Kovalskyi, a deputy from the Radical Party, convened a so-called “Council”, and then sent about 400 people to seize the church of the Nativity of the Theotokos. About 150 parishioners who were in the church were beaten, pushed in the stairs, and thrown outside the church property.
And not a single official is being held responsible for such unlawful actions, for inciting inter-religious hatred, and for attempting to seize churches. Instead, a priest of our Church, who protects our places of worship and defends the law is being pressured. I am referring to Archpriest Viktor Zemlyanoy from the Rivne diocese. Criminal charges have been levelled against him, on the basis of Articles #161 (Part 1) and #300 ( Part 1). All these allegations are fake. Attempts are also being made to impose a pre-trial restraint on him. As far as we know, the pressure being exerted on our priest is being carried out on the orders of Vasyl Vasylyovych Bedriy, the head of the State Security (SBU) in the region of Rivne.
Similar criminal proceedings have also been opened in other regions of Ukraine. We believe them to be arranged, as a way of putting pressure on the clergy and on the faithful of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We consider such persecution in a democratic society as inacceptable, as it violates the right to freedom of religion.
The media are spreading fake information about the transfer of 450 parishes from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [to the new autocephalous Church, TN]. According to our data, only 42 parishes have actually decided to transfer, and 9 of them without their priest. The remaining 55 of the so-called “voluntary transfers” are actually seizures of churches, with violence done to their members. 137 cases were registered when the territorial community allegedly voted for the transition to the new Church structure against the will of the religious community. In these cases, our faithful together with their priests have remained and have been serving in their own churches, although local authorities reported that the community had “transferred” to the new Church.
Threats, intimidation, pressure on the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, discrimination and other violations of the rights and freedoms of our Church have already drawn the attention of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and have been published in their report dated March 12, 2019.
All that is happening now in villages in different regions of Ukraine negatively affects the reputation of both the government and President Poroshenko.
Therefore, I appeal to you, Petro Oleksiyovych, to instruct local officials to stop this artificial incitement to the transfer of church jurisdiction. This will put a stop to conflict among the people. I am convinced that all the negative developments affecting our Church and Orthodox believers in general, is not the true path that we must follow. This is definitely not the path that will lead us to unity. It is necessary to recognize the fallacy of this path, to draw conclusions from the mistakes, and to seek other ways to achieve church unity. The seizure and forced transfer of parishes only thwart the process of unity by several decades. We already experienced similar things in the early 1990s. If we cannot completely rectify the situation, we need at least not to exacerbate the problem any further.
Mr. President, I would like you to understand us correctly. We, that is, our Ukrainian Orthodox Church, are pro-Ukraine, we are for the State in its wholeness and unity. We are for tranquility, for peace, for mutual understanding, and for unity among our people. We have always defended and declared this position. All that I have mentioned above only hurts the State. Please do all you can to put a stop to it. I am convinced it is within your power”.
The President responded, saying that neither he nor any regional administration had given instructions with regards to the transfer of churches from one jurisdiction to the other. In the cases mentioned above, he advised to file lawsuits. He also suggested a separate meeting between himself and Metropolitan Onufriy to discuss these critically important issues.
In response to this, the Metropolitan handed over to the President a list of the seized churches, and a document describing other offenses committed against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The President instructed his assistants to study the situation and to react on a case-by-case basis.
AUCCRO members also shared with the Head of State their views regarding the need for the government support of the institution of the family and traditional values; and the adoption of the law on chaplains in the Army. They also expressed their common conviction on the unacceptability of violence related to the electoral process. Elections must be fair and honest, and all candidates who do not receive proper support from voters must have the courage to admit their defeat.
President Poroshenko thanked the hierarchs for the frank tone of the meeting and the sincere discussion which facilitates mutual understanding. After the official meeting, Petro Poroshenko briefly met with Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and All Ukraine.
Source in Ukrainian