Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky met a group of persecuted Orthodox Christians yesterday, listened to them, and promised to sort out their problems.
The president was on a working trip to Rivne to introduce the new head of the provincial government. The previous presidential administration, as well as the administration of the Rivne Province itself was known to have a hostile view towards Ukrainian Orthodoxy; the former head of the Rivne Province is even reportedly under police investigation for corruption connected to his abuse of the rights of the faithful.
As Orthochristian reported, upon hearing the President was coming to town, a group of Orthodox faithful and clergy peacefully assembled outside the airport, hoping for a chance to meet the president and inform him of their dire situation. The head of state did not ignore them, but personally came out to meet and hear them.
Now it is known exactly how the meeting went, and the takeaway was very positive.
Zelensky was greeted by over 200 faithful and 30 clergy—a great number coming from seized or persecuted churches.
These Ukrainian Christians were tired, some were even crying, not only because of the persecution they suffered under the previous regime, but because of centuries of systematic oppression of Orthodoxy from the allegedly “pious” western papist empires to the godless Soviets.
At that same time, OrthoChristian reported yesterday on the local government in the Chernivtsi Province supporting the seizure of churches.
The pain could be heard in their voices, when a Ukrainian grandmother presented Zelensky with the traditional Slavic bread and salt, saying:
We are happy to welcome you to our land of Rivne. We baked this bread with our own hands. We beg you to protect our Church and to support us, because we have no one else to turn to for protection. We were thrown out of our church. We serve on the streets.
Zelensky took the bread with his own hands and asked the people not to cry, and to share their contacts, information, and stories.
“I ask you to please not cry. You just write to us your problems, and we’ll sort them out,” the Union of Orthodox Journalists quoted him as saying.
In this situation, Zelensky very clearly looked the suffering people of Rivne in the eyes and made a promise to work out their issues.
So far, Zelensky has made a very positive impression on believers in Rivne, but the key will be whether his promises given to them are carried out in reality.
Zelensky has been noted by many observers to differ greatly in his attitude towards the Church as his predecessor, who was considered a major persecutor by the faithful.
This year, at the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession in which over 300,000 thousand faithful participated, the police acknowledged how greatly the canonical Church outnumbered the schismatics of the OCU. Unlike previous years under the former president, no major provocations were felt this year during the actual procession. Whereas ex-president Poroshenko, still meddling in religious affairs, marched at the front of the schismatic procession, Zelensky took a neutral position, not taking sides, calling for religion to unite and not divide Ukraine.
In response to this, Metropolitan Anthony, the Chancellor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church noted that while the church is always open to dialogue, true fruitful dialogue cannot take place under the background of church seizures; the point His Eminence emphasized was that while positive words are important, they are only genuine if backed up by actions.
This same mindset can be applied in this situation.
The faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are very grateful that President Zelensky met with them and said they would work out their problems together.
Now the faithful are expecting action to be taken, and these promises to be kept.