Patriarch Kirill of Moscow Cyril sent messages to religious and political leaders, as well as presidents of international organizations, concerning the pressure exerted by the Ukrainian authorities on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and State interference in ecclesiastical matters.
In the messages addressed to the primates of local Orthodox Churches, to Pope Francis, to Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church; to Olav Fykse Tveit, the Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches; to António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations; to Thomas Greminger, the OSCE Secretary-General; to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both as heads of State part of the “Normandy Format”, Patriarch Kirill drew attention to the massive cases of violation of the rights and freedoms of the hierarchs, clergy, and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
“The interference of the leaders of the Ukrainian secular state in ecclesiastical matters has recently acquired a character of overt pressure on the episcopate and the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. So much so that we can speak of the beginning of large-scale persecutions,” the primate explained.
He pointed out that this was due to the refusal of the Ukrainian Orthodox episcopate to participate in the “Unification Council, which received the support of the Ukrainian political leadership. At this Council, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the country’s largest Christian Church, will be officially replaced by a new religious organization created both by Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
“In order to compel the Ukrainian Orthodox Church episcopate to participate in the event [the Unification Council], a series of actions is being undertaken by the State power and law enforcement agents. They overtly violate the constitutional rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens,” the messages say.
In particular, Patriarch Kirill mentions how the hierarchs are invited to “interviews” and interrogations by the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine); how local authorities try to deprive the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of its legal rights to use the Kyiv and Pochayiv Lavras; the unfounded accusations of “betrayal of the State” and of “incitement to religious hatred” against the clergy; the massive searches in the diocesan headquarters offices, in churches and priests’ homes.
“The massive discrediting campaign of the Ukrainian Church continues in the government media. In violation of the rights of privacy and the prohibition to use personal data, personal information available to the State on the hierarchs and priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being published. In particular, personal information concerning a significant part of the episcopate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is published on the site “Mirotvorets” [“The Peacemaker”], with comments inciting to religious hatred,” explains Patriarch Kirill. He specifies that this site exists with the direct support of the Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The primate also says that representatives of the highest State authorities are making insulting and slanderous remarks concerning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its representatives.
The patriarch also mentions this revealing fact: “The hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church received from State officials the notification to attend the”Unification Council”, signed by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, despite the fact that the Ukrainian Constitution states that “the Church and religious organizations in Ukraine are separate from the State” (Article 35 of the Ukrainian Constitution). Therefore, any interference of the State in Church matters is unconstitutional”.
“We do not know yet what the next steps undertaken by the Ukrainian authorities will be; and what violations of fundamental and inalienable rights they will have recourse to against citizens, in order to achieve their objectives before next presidential elections”, the primate writes. But “the numerous acts of discrimination that have already taken place make us fear an even greater infringement on the rights and legitimate interests of the Orthodox faithful, and a multiplication of the sufferings they endure for their fidelity to canonical Orthodoxy”.
Patriarch Kirill called on religious and political figures, on presidents of international organizations, to do their utmost to defend the episcopacy, clergy, and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church against discrimination and pressure from Ukrainian authorities; and to defend the freedom of conscience and religion enshrined in international law.
Source in Russian