Ukrainian, Russian faith leaders battle over church ownership - Catholic Courier

Ukrainian, Russian faith leaders battle over church ownership

KIEV, Ukraine (CNS) — Ukraine’s landscape is dotted with golden, onion-domed churches and belfries; many of those churches were closed under Soviet communism, but have now been renovated and filled again with praying congregations.

In the eyes of the Russian Orthodox leadership, Ukraine’s Eastern Catholic Church — which shares a liturgical and spiritual heritage with the Orthodox — is a stumbling block to Christian unity and, more practically, a thief snatching church buildings and the faithful.

As a war rages in two of the eastern regions of Ukraine, the director of ecumenical relations for the Russian Orthodox Church traveled to the Vatican to address the Synod of Bishops on the family. He used the occasion to once again accuse the Ukrainian Catholic Church of stealing property in Ukraine and of helping fuel social violence.

Meanwhile, in Kiev Oct. 22, the deputy director of ecumenical relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — the church in full communion with Moscow — said church stealing was definitely a current phenomenon, but in his view the culprits are the independent Ukrainian Orthodox of the Kievan Patriarchate.

Viktor Yelensky, head of the Ukrainian Association for Religious Freedom, said as of late October only five Moscow-related Orthodox parishes had changed their registration with the government. He confirmed that they joined the Kievan patriarchate.

Despite the country’s complicated religious history, the leaders of Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities have found a forum for discussion and for public statements on social issues through the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religions.

The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, told reporters in late October that he was "surprised to be attacked in such an inappropriate way" by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk at the synod in the Vatican. "It was out of place and out of theme," Archbishop Shevchuk said.

However, Archbishop Shevchuk, Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Kievan Patriarchate and Father Mykola Danylevych of the Ukrainian Orthodox in union with Moscow agreed relations among Christians in Ukraine were never stronger than they have been over the last year of social upheaval, change and war.

The main stage at Kiev’s Independence Square — the Maidan — was filled with pop musicians and political and social activists until midnight every day from November 2013 to February 2014. But at midnight, the clergy took over, leading the demonstrators in prayer throughout the night. During the day, religious leaders stayed with the protestors, heard their confessions, fed them and celebrated liturgies from them in tents erected on the square.

"That kind of ecumenism was a social demand," Archbishop Shevchuk said. As they were protesting for recognition of their dignity, people thought church divisions were not as important as the united witness and service clergy could provide.

Meeting Oct. 21 with a group of reporters on a tour organized by the Ukrainian Catholic Church, U.S. Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, the Vatican nuncio to Ukraine, expressed his solidarity with Archbishop Shevchuk and questioned why the Vatican gave Metropolitan Hilarion an international forum — the synod — to make accusations about the archbishop and his church.

In Archbishop Gullickson’s opinion, too often with the Orthodox "we humor certain types of misbehavior — like that of Metropolitan Hilarion the other week at the synod." A line needs to be drawn, he said. "If my best friend starts picking on my little sister, I’m going to punch him in the nose because she’s my little sister."

"We allow the neighbor kid to beat up on our little sister all the time … and it needs to stop," he said, going so far as to suggest Pope Francis close the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.


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