Metropolitan Meletii of Chernivtsi and Bukovyna (Valentyn Volodymyrovych Yegorenko), is the President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Despite the difficult times for Ukraine, he answered to our questions, describing the difficulties that faces clergy, claiming that ‘since the beginning of the military operations, our priests have been and remain with the people and are trying to give people comprehensive assistance and support in conditions of the war’.
Furthermore, he speaks about the aggressive activitymof the Orthodox Church of Ukraine against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church even now -during the war- and he talks about the position of the Ukrainian government to the Church issues, so far.
An exclusive interview to Peggy Dokou for news-politics.com
– Your Eminence, Ukraine is at the epicenter of the war. The flock has suffered enough over many years and now is suffering even more. Could you describe to us the current situation for people and believers, in particular?
The war made significant adjustments to the life of every Ukrainian, helped to separate the main and important from the secondary. When your life or the life of your relatives can suddenly be cut short through military fighting or shelling – you focus on the main things. As a bishop, I see this in people from the first days of the war.
From its very beginning, our Church, represented by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and all Ukraine, as well as through the words of local bishops, condemned the military aggression of the Russian Federation against sovereign Ukraine. His Beatitude blessed everyone to defend their own Motherland.
One should note that our people rallied strongly during this time, which was especially noticeable at the beginning, when air alarms and missile strikes were heard and visible, in fact, throughout Ukraine.
An exclusive interview to Peggy Dokou for news-politics.com
– Your Eminence, how difficult is it for clergy to continue their work in parishes and to maintain their role as a church in these conditions in Ukraine?
Since the beginning of the military operations, our priests have been and remain with the people and are trying to give people comprehensive assistance and support in conditions of the war. In the early days of the war, in almost all parishes, priests together with believers daily, and in some places hourly, prayed and supported people. Churches were opened permanently. The church buldings with a basement room served as a bomb shelter and a node for distributing food, medicines and clothes.
Concerning the priests in the local parishes, I should note that they are quite active. What I know personally can be formulated as follows: priests are the first volunteers and assistants to people in the concrete needs.
– The Orthodox Church of Ukraine continues its aggressive activity against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church even now?
Unfortunately, yes. This denomination simply cynically uses the situation that is tragic for our people and continues to seize our parishes by force in those regions of the country where there are no active military activities.
At a time when we all need unity among people, when the enemy is in the east and the south of the country, representatives of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are working to split our people inside the country, forcibly taking away parishes from us, raising slander against our Ukrainian Orthodox Church, against our parishioners who defend their country, against Ukrainians that are like themselves. The behavior of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is the trouble for our people.
No other denomination in the country (no Catholics, no Greek Catholics, no Protestants) behaves in the way. The only large-scale interfaith conflict in the country is generated by representatives of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and people sympathetic to them in concrete places. Such ideology of them and their behavior harm the security of our country.
Representatives of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine have been deliberately trying for many years and even now to label us a Church that is alien to Ukraine, deliberately calling us the “Russian Church in Ukraine”. This is despite the fact that we have always been, are and will be the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which consists of ethnical Ukrainians and citizens of Ukraine. This is a very dangerous semantic narrative that has already brought a lot of trouble to our country. It seems to me that our government begins to understand this problem.
For example, the Minister of Culture of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko has already said several times in his public speeches of recent months that both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are “our two Ukrainian churches”, that there is no “Russian Church in Ukraine”, but instead there is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. So, from the point of view of our state, there should be no “right” and “wrong” Ukrainians. All of them have the same rights.
At the same time, I would like to note that it is our Church that is the historical and traditional Church for Ukraine. It is unlike the newly created 4 years ago Orthodox Church of Ukraine that was based on the schismatic groups that had splitted from us. This probably explains their aggressive behavior towards our Church, from which they have broken away and whose name and history they want to deceive.
– In your opinion, does the Ukrainian government support the role of the Church so far?
I see that our government at the central level is trying to maintain unity between citizens in the current period of crisis and not to interfere in the church affairs. This is the right model of relationships between the state and the church, because according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the Church is separated from the state.
It seems to me that the state understands the important role of the Church. During these months of the war, the state saw the colossal moral and humanitarian potential of the Church, which supported its people in defense of the country.
Although at the regional level, in many regions of our country, there are many improper uses and facts of government’s interference in the church life, and often even direct illegal actions.
I hope that the current government will draw conclusions from the mistakes of the religious policy of the state power connected to the previous president of Ukraine and will no longer try to parasitize on religious theme.
– Are you optimistic, that in the time of New Year and Christmas, believers in Ukraine will be able to participate in celebrations as before?
We pray that the Lord will help us to win, to restore the territorial integrity of our country and will present the desired peace. I would very much like people at Christmas to feel in reality the fulfillment of the words of angelic singing, which accompanied the birth of the Savior, who brought “peace on earth and good will to human beings”. / news-politics