LONDON: 20 March 2023
Statement by Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe on the persecution of Christians in Ukraine
Conscience does not permit me to remain silent over the grave and new injustices being wrought in the sacred land of Ukraine, adding sorrow upon sorrows as the grief of war is now conjoined with the tragedy of the most extraordinary and heartless persecution of Christians taking place in many parts of the country. While such persecution has been a reality already for many years, it has reached a pitch in recent days with new injustices being enacted in flagrant violation of Ukrainian law and international conventions on human rights.
In the present season of Great Lent, all Christians are called to examine their hearts and consciences, to discern what is good and what is sinful within themselves and in the world around them. In such a period of tragedy, this is all the more essential. Our position against the war presently being waged between Russia and Ukraine has been clear from the outset: bloodshed is evil, warfare is always a sign of man’s degradation, and the current war, which forces brother to draw his own brother’s blood and pits Orthodox Christians against fellow Orthodox Christians, ought to be opposed by all those of Christian conscience. I renew my appeal for all clergy and faithful of our Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe to continue in the path of aid that has been exemplified so powerfully amongst you since the war began: continue operating food banks in the parishes, to aid refugees; continue to raise funds and material supplies for those suffering in Ukraine itself; continue to welcome refugees from the war into your communities, homes, schools and hearts; continue to show love and piety towards all who are suffering. Work for peace in all things; pray without ceasing for the bloodshed to end.
Yet we cannot permit the tragedy of war to excuse, or render us blind towards, the appalling persecutions taking place within Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, headed by the pious Metropolitan Onuphry and his brotherhood of faithful hierarchs and clergy, strive for nothing but to worship God in peace and care for all the people of their homeland with open hearts and a simple, powerful faith. Yet in response to their apolitical love, they are receiving the most vicious attacks. Attempts by outside entities to politicize Church life by falsely linking the autonomous Ukrainian Church — which is independent and not under the thumb of any foreign entities — to political, military or state powers abroad is as false as it is malicious; attempts to set up a new “Ukrainian” false Church, under the influence of a patriarchate in Turkey and flagrantly political in orientation, is deceptive and a wound to Christ and His flock.
And in the current days, even the peace-loving monks of the Dormition Lavra in Kiev are being threatened with eviction: having already been evicted from one part of the monastery just before the Nativity of Christ, the monks are now threatened with complete expulsion from the monastery grounds by the end of the present month. The incorrupt relics of the saints kept in the monastery — most of whom labored and toiled spiritually in Ukraine — are being referred to by Government officers as “museum exhibitions”; schismatic false-Orthodox individuals are being brought in to desecrate Holy Altars with profane, non-Orthodox rites in mockery of the Church; priests are being evicted from nearby parish churches; peace-loving leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being groundlessly, illegally sanctioned; hierarchs are being intimidated with deprivation of citizenship and deportation, seminarians with eviction from their schools and academies, and the faithful with the stripping away of their canonical Church life.
Brothers and sisters, the last time the world saw such heinous persecution of Christians, the last time we heard such blasphemous words and witnessed the promulgation of such lies and and open hatred, was in the Soviet period — which, I call all to remember, was that of the fiercest persecution against Christians the world has ever witnessed, producing more martyrs for Christ in the twentieth century than in nearly the whole of Christian history before it. Shall the world stand by now, silently, as the same begins again in the twenty-first? Can any human person, whatever his or her personal religious beliefs or political persuasion, claim to stand for peace in the face of war, and at the same time pass over in silence the attacks and evils being undertaken against innocent Christians who have nothing to do with the war, but are being made its victims in even greater degree by persecutions within their own homeland?
The monks of the Lavra are not politicians, they are not enemies of any state or any people; they are humble individuals who have chosen a life of self-renunciation in following God, preserving the spiritual heritage of a site that has been sacred to Ukrainian Orthodox Christians — and Orthodox all across the world — for more than a millennium. They pray for all; they care for their fellow countrymen and pilgrims. The rise early in the morning to sing songs of praise to God Who created the world in peace; they stay awake late into the night in long vigils, praying for that peace and the reign of God’s mercy.
I call upon all those with any means of acting, to act in support of those being so unjustly persecuted before the eyes of the whole world. Continue to oppose the war, and join to this goal the earnest need to stop these tragedies. Speak to your political representatives, and make them aware of what is taking place and the need to put an end to it. Telephone your members of parliament, senators and congressmen; speak in contexts where you yourselves can raise the awareness of such matters. Appeal to all and to any who will hear, that peace must reign, freedom of religion must be protected, and the propagandist use of a tragic war to justify additional tragedies cannot be tolerated.
To all pious Christians, above all I exhort you to pray. Pray to our Almighty God that He will work a miracle amongst His pious flock in Ukraine. Pray that He will strengthen Metropolitan Onuphry and all the leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Pray that He will comfort the suffering faithful. Pray that they will feel the support of our love and the openness of our hearts to be united to them in their suffering.
And to the faithful children of this Diocese, I instruct that every parish is to serve a moleben with the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God — to whose dormition the Kiev Lavra is dedicated — every week with immediate effect, lifting up at its end the prayer for the end of civil strife in the Ukrainian lands. Those faithful who cannot make it into the churches for the service should pray it in their homes, in front of their holy icons, with their family and children gathered around them. Those who can do so every day, should make this sacrifice for our brethren. And on Wednesday 29th March, the day on which the Ukrainian state has said it will enforce its eviction of the monks from the Lavra and on which the Church especially repents through the recitation of the Great Canon of St Andrew, every parish is to serve a moleben to all the saints of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, with the prayer offered on bended knee; and every faithful Christian should be encouraged to fast strictly for the entire day. By prayer and fasting, the good intentions of the pious shall be heard by our loving God.
May God save His people, and bless His inheritance!
Bishop of London and Western Europe