BREAKING WORLD WAR III NEWS: ZELENSKYY MOVES TO RESTRICT THE ORTHODOX CHURCH LINKED TO MOSCOW. Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, warns the churchillian Ukranian leader, President Zelenskyy, to be very careful about restricting the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in your country, for this will backfire on you in multiple ways in the long run.
Zelenskyy seeks to weaken a key source of Russian influence as heavy fighting continues.
Ukraine’s government moved to curb the activities of the Orthodox Christian denomination historically linked to Moscow, aiming to cut off the most important remaining source of Russian cultural and religious influence in the country.
President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the move as deadly battles continued along the front line, with Russia making small advances near the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which has re-emerged as a major focus of the war.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, canonically linked to the Moscow Patriarchate, is one of the country’s two main Orthodox denominations and used to be the dominant one before many faithful and parishes switched to the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Viewed by Moscow as heretical, the OCU was recognized in 2019 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as fully independent from Russia, a major diplomatic achievement for Kyiv and a blow to Russian soft power. Most Ukrainian believers are Orthodox Christians, though Greek Catholics are predominant in the country’s west.
Mr. Zelensky’s crackdown on the UOC follows a series of raids by the Security Service of Ukraine. The intelligence agency has said it has found evidence of UOC priests possessing Russian citizenship, contacting Russian intelligence agents and owning literature denying the right of Ukraine to exist. One of these raids was triggered by a video filmed in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra cathedral, the seat of the UOC and one of the holiest Orthodox shrines, in which the faithful sang a hymn celebrating Russia’s “awakening.”
“We will ensure complete independence for our state. In particular, spiritual independence,” Mr. Zelensky said in his late-night address Thursday, after the country’s national-security council approved new steps against the UOC. “We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul.”
The national-security council, Mr. Zelensky said, has decided that the government would submit to parliament a draft law “making it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation to operate in Ukraine.” The government has also decided to examine the UOC’s canonical connection to Moscow and the grounds for its control of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, and to apply sanctions to UOC priests linked to Russian intelligence services.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, responded on his Telegram channel: “The current Ukrainian authorities have openly become enemies of Christ and the Orthodox faith.”
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last month that Ukraine was “waging war against the Russian Orthodox Church.” Mr. Putin has repeatedly said that Ukrainians and Russians are one people, and should belong to a “common whole.”
The State Department said Friday it is following developments. “We understand that President Zelensky stressed the principles of religious freedom in his decree today, and we expect that any actions will be fully consistent with international law protecting freedom of religion or belief,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
The UOC found itself in a precarious situation after its spiritual head, the Moscow and All-Rus Patriarch Kirill, enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion and ordered all believers to pray for a quick Russian military victory. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all belonged to the ancient Kyiv Rus, established in the ninth century, and the term Rus refers to all of these eastern Slavic lands.
The head of the UOC, Metropolitan Onufriy, ordered UOC priests after the invasion to drop prayers for Patriarch Kirill’s well-being from their liturgy and said the church was no longer organizationally subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate even though it retained a canonical religious connection. He also issued statements supporting the Ukrainian army in its fight against the Russian invasion, and labeled the war as “a repetition of Cain’s sin.”
Still, a large number of UOC priests, particularly in Russian-occupied territories, have been collaborating with Russian security services, according to the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU. On Friday, SBU investigators raided several UOC monasteries and churches in the Rivne, Zhytomyr and Transcarpathia regions, looking for more evidence of links to Moscow and aiming to “make it impossible for religious communities to be used as centers of the ‘Russian world.’”
Last month, the legislature of the Vinnytsia region in central Ukraine voted to ban the UOC, saying that the church “ideologically validates and supports the war, and justifies the war crimes that Russia commits on Ukrainian territory.”
Source: WSJ, Yaroslav Trofimov
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