American Priest Travels to War-Torn Ukraine - Firsthand Report of Persecuted Church

The persecutions, be they soft or hard, which the faithful have been enduring from the hands of government forces and schismatics, supported and encouraged by the EP, have worked to deepen the already profound and pious faith of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. The Church in Ukraine is standing strong in the Orthodox Faith.

I have just returned from a two and a half week trip to Ukraine.

Although the trip entailed personal factors, one of my goals was to acquire a firsthand experience of the ongoing situation in Ukraine, specifically regarding the Church. To this end, I was blessed to have the opportunity to speak with some of the Hierarchs, clergy, and faithful of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

It bears reaffirming at the outset of this article that the canonical Church in Ukraine is fully independent, it has its own synod, it makes its own discussions, and so forth. It is a church administered by Ukrainians for the peoples of Ukraine, there is no outside interference. It maintains communion with the Moscow Patriarchate and operates as an autonomous Church. In fact, the canonical Church has more independence than the purported “autocephalous church” under Constantinople.

The history of the area of the world where Ukraine is located is diverse and complex. Yet, the natural ties between what is currently called Ukraine and Russia are deep and organic. Both of these modern countries trace their roots back to Kievskaya-Rus. Thus, a maintaining of spiritual unity is vital to the faithful of the Orthodox Church in those regions. It is probable that one of the goals of the “Tomos,” given to the schismatics, is to break this spiritual unity.

My travels did not take me west of the Dnieper river, I was mainly in the central-eastern area of Ukraine. It is in the western parts of Ukraine where the hard persecutions are taking place, this fact was verbally confirmed to me by the clergy I spoke with. Yet even in the eastern parts, there was intense pressure on the Church. One Hierarch said, “the situation here has not been simply worrisome but very scary.”

The clergy and faithful have endured under a relentless barrage of propaganda, most of all coming from government, media, and news outlets: Russian agents, Putin lackeys, Moscow spies, traitors of Ukraine and so forth. It is reminiscent of the propaganda used by the Soviets against the Church. Yet, there is no political agenda in the Church, they seek to serve Christ and His Kingdom; they seek to faithfully serve the people of Ukraine. They seek to maintain the spiritual unity of Orthodoxy which has informed and given life to that region for over one thousand years. For this, they suffer reproach and revilement.

The True Church in Ukraine holds to a truly Ecumenical (in the Orthodox sense) view of the Church; unlike the schismatics, they are unwilling to turn the Church into a petty tool for worldly and ultra-nationalist purposes. The Church is first and foremost a revelation of God's Eternal Kingdom in which the beauty of human culture finds its fullness. For the schismatics, it is but a worldly tool by which to advance shortsighted worldly agendas.

There is hope that with a new president the government may simply leave church matters alone. This would be a wonderful thing at the moment. The next stage in the former government's plan, in collaboration with the schismatics and the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP), was to seize nearly all the properties of the Canonical Church. A portion of the properties was then to go directly to the EP. This information was conveyed to me first hand by those who know.

Let the reader understand, the actions of the EP in Ukraine have brought nothing but greater turmoil and suffering to a Country which is already long-suffering. The “Tomos” has simply compounded and exacerbated the situation. It has healed absolutely nothing. It has caused greater damage and increased persecutions, it has fueled the already radical fires of extremist nationalism in Ukraine, it has been used as a justification to seize properties and carry out violence. The “Tomos” has only caused a greater fracturing within Ukraine, contrary to the EP's claim that the decisive factor that forced the Ecumenical Patriarchate to give autocephaly to Ukraine was the healing of the schism and the restoration of Church unity”. This statement is blatantly false, as I have witnessed firsthand.

Most Ukrainians are faithful to Christ Jesus and the Canonical Church. The majority of Ukrainians attend the Canonical Church. No one of the majority of Ukrainians, nor the Canonical Church asked the EP to grant autocephaly. The request came from a divisive group of schismatics, their minority following, and the very corrupt former President of Ukraine. This is hardly the healing of “schism.”

The persecutions, be they soft or hard, which the faithful have been enduring from the hands of government forces and schismatics, supported and encouraged by the EP, have worked to deepen the already profound and pious faith of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. The Church in Ukraine is standing strong in the Orthodox Faith. They have been put to the press and endured much, from the hands of foes and false brethren, and are holding fast. Their hope is truly in Christ the Lord and His Kingdom.

I am always overwhelmed by the most loving and heartfelt reception that I receive when I am there. The warmth and sincerity are very refreshing. Not to mention the opportunity to pray at the many holy places in Ukraine, but that is the subject of another post!

Dear reader, please keep our brothers and sisters in Ukraine in your fervent prayers. They are enduring a great struggle, but Truth will overcome in the end.

It would be good, it seems, to ask you to also pray for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, that it would come to its senses and repent of its divisive works in Ukraine.

May we remember the words of our Lord, “In the world you shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).


Fr. Zechariah Lynch & his wife Natalia

Fr. Zechariah is an Orthodox priest in Pueblo, Colorado, at the Archangel Michael Orthodox Church. He blogs at The Inkless Pen, and is a regular contributor at Russian Faith.

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