Priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) made an appeal to their leader, Metropolitan Onufriy, to immediately and definitively break with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in response to Russia’s missile attack on the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa, the Ukrainian TSN news outlet reported. 

The letter, which asks to convene a Council of the UOC-MP that would enact a definitive break with the ROC, was posted on the internet on July 23.

As at 10:00 a.m. on July 25, almost 300 signatures of priests of the Moscow-linked church have reportedly been collected.

In the open letter, the clergymen call Russia’s aggression against Ukraine “satanic” and the destruction of the Odesa cathedral “barbaric.” They condemn the support for the war shown by the head of the ROC, Patriarch Kirill.

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Three months after Putin’s full-scale attack on Ukraine, the UOC-MP declared its independence from the ROC on May 27, 2022. Implementation of the declaration was decidedly ambiguous. Many UOC-MP priests and parishes continued to commemorate Patriarch Kirill in the liturgy – an aspect of the ritual that is considered a solemn profession of subordination.  

Despite all this, today’s letter says, “In Moscow they emphasize at every opportunity that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remains a part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and our clergy, by and large, did not try to convince either Ukrainians or Russians that the opposite was true. So, it remained only to state that there was no real break with the Russian Orthodox Church.” 

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The open appeal demands that Onufriy convene a UOC-MP Council immediately, in which “a real, and not an ephemeral, break with the Russian Orthodox Church should take place.”

Any real break, the letter implies, would require the UOC-MP to address the ROC and Kirill directly, rather than ambiguously stating opposition to Kirill’s support for the war. “Both local churches as well as Moscow should be informed about this fact!” the letter stresses.

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Onufriy has long been a major figure on Ukraine’s religious landscape, with devoted followers among the congregation and the clergy. He is considered by many to be the key to any rapprochement between the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the UOC-MP, which is still viewed by many as Kremlin’s fifth column. 

“This church [UOC-MP] has developed a deep dependence on one personality, its primate Metropolitan Onufriy,” said Cyril Hovorun, an Orthodox Ukrainian theologian and archimandrite at Sankt Ignatios College in Stockholm, who for 10 years was the private secretary and closest theological counselor to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Hovorun also knows Onufriy personally and added: “He is a very charismatic figure, and an unpredictable one, even for himself. So, [the future of the Church] depends, I think, completely on him.”

The priests’ open letter petitions directly to Onufriy: “As the Primate, you cannot avoid serious decisions. In this time of [Ukraine’s] most difficult trials, we are ready to support you to the end, but act, do not be silent!” 

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The letter even goes so far as to warn their leader: “And understand: those who are dissatisfied, who thus far would not leave the Russian Orthodox Church under any circumstances, eventually will.” 

Even to this day, not all priests of the UOC-MP condemn Russian aggression, and some even support the war and pray for Putin.

After the rocket attack on the cathedral in Odesa on July 23, videos appeared on the internet in which the priests of the UOC-MP avoided attributing blame directly to Russia, preferring to call the culprit the “enemy of the human race.”

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