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UKRAINE: Ukraine’s holiest site is battleground to erase Russian influence

Photo 1: Activists supporting the government’s effort to expel monks from the Lavra demonstrate in April. PHOTO: ROMAN PILIPEY/GETTY IMAGES

Photo 2: Adherents of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, accused by Ukrainian officials of retaining ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, gather in front of the monastery. PHOTO: ROMAN PILIPEY/GETTY IMAGES

UKRAINE: Ukraine’s holiest site is battleground in campaign to erase Russian influence

By Ian Lovett


Wall Street Journal (10.05.2023) – For years, Pavlo Lebid embodied the Russian Orthodox Church’s power in Ukraine’s capital.

One of the highest-ranking officials in the church’s Ukrainian branch, with the title “Metropolitan,” he rode around in luxury cars and was captured on video questioning the authority of police to ticket him. His portrait was painted onto a wall of a cathedral at the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, Ukraine’s holiest site, where he is abbot. Residents dubbed him “Pasha Mercedes.”

Now, Metropolitan Pavlo is wearing an ankle bracelet, charged with supporting the Russian invasion and confined to house arrest while Ukrainian officials try to wrest control of the monastery, known locally as the Lavra, from him.

The crackdown at the Lavra is the boldest step Ukrainian officials have taken in their effort to rid the country of Russian influences.

Since Russia first covertly invaded Ukraine in 2014, Kyiv has passed laws promoting the use of Ukrainian, instead of Russian, in media and public life. Statues celebrating Russian writers and artists have been toppled.

But the Russian-aligned church, officially known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been difficult to dislodge. Though the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a Kyiv-based denomination with no ties to Russia, is now the country’s largest religious group, millions of Ukrainians still belong to Moscow Patriarchate churches.

Moscow Patriarchate officials are fighting efforts to evict them. They say they cut all remaining ties with Russia last May, after Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, came out in support of the invasion, calling it a Holy War.

“We feel betrayed by our own government,” said Archimandrite Mitrofan Bozhko, a priest at the Lavra. “If some people committed crimes, then deal with them personally. Don’t ban the whole church. Our parishioners are on the front line fighting in this war.”

Ukraine-aligned religious figures say that many members of the Russian branch of the church are loyal citizens trying to practice their traditional faith. But they accuse top leaders of playing into Moscow’s expansionist ambitions.

“The Moscow Patriarchate uses the Lavra for spreading the ideology of the ‘Russian world,’ which is the basis for Russia’s invasion,” Archbishop Yevstratiy, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, said in an interview. “They use their influence in the Orthodox Church as a weapon of hybrid war.”

Ukraine’s security service, known as the SBU, says the Moscow Patriarchate remains a nest of spies and Russian sympathizers.

Since the full-scale invasion began last year, criminal charges have been filed against 61 Moscow Patriarchate priests. Seven have been convicted on charges that range from spreading Russian propaganda to spying on Ukrainian forces. A government investigation in January found no evidence that the denomination had formally cut ties to Russia or changed its governance structure, which has long recognized the Russian Orthodox patriarch as its top spiritual authority.

“This is about national security,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said recently on Ukrainian television. The leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate, he said, “have always directly or indirectly supported Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate has for centuries claimed religious jurisdiction over Ukraine. During the Soviet era, the Moscow Patriarchate was the only recognized church in the country. A new church, known as the Kyiv Patriarchate, sprouted following Ukraine’s independence in 1991.

That church was unrecognized by global Orthodoxy, and the Moscow Patriarchate remained predominant and retained control of many of the country’s holiest sites, including the Lavra.

The situation started to change after Russia seized Crimea in 2014 and secretly sent paramilitaries and then its regular army into eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had placed the Russian Orthodox Church at the center of his efforts to rebuild Moscow’s influence in countries such as Ukraine that Moscow used to rule. The Russian invasion turned many Ukrainians against it.

Congregations across the country began decamping to the Kyiv Patriarchate, which has an almost identical liturgy but considers independence from Russia one of its core tenets. That process accelerated after Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who as  270th Archbishop to the Church of Constantinople is the foremost Orthodox leader, granted Ukraine its own church in 2019.

The Moscow Patriarchate, by contrast, continued to hold services in Russian and, until last May, blessed Patriarch Kirill during public worship. Its priests dismiss the Kyiv-based church, known formally as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, as canonically illegitimate.

In Ukraine, the Kyiv-based church is winning out. Before the full-scale invasion began last year, 34% of Ukrainians identified as members of the Kyiv Patriarchate, while only 14% belonged to Moscow Patriarchate churches. Hundreds more churches have left the Moscow Patriarchate since then: A poll last summer found that only 4% of Ukrainians now identify as part of Moscow Patriarchate.

Though the Moscow Patriarchate has condemned the invasion, many Ukrainians question why the church didn’t distance itself from Russia far sooner.

“This is the 10th year of war,” said Yaryna Arieva, a 22-year-old resident of Kyiv. “All churches that work with Patriarch Kirill should be shut down.”

Even as its numbers have dropped, the Moscow Patriarchate retains influence, especially in Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking regions. Last year the Kremlin put Moscow Patriarchate churches at the center of its propaganda campaign, claiming that Russian Orthodox believers in Ukraine were being suppressed.

Archimandrite Afanasiy Burdyukh, a Moscow Patriarchate priest in Kherson, said that Russian-installed officials approached him shortly after they seized the city in March 2022.

First they asked permission to distribute humanitarian aid at the church, then showed up with a film crew to document it. Next they told him to say that Kherson was historically a Russian city in his sermons. Ultimately, he said, officials pushed him to encourage parishioners to vote in favor of joining the Russian Federation in the sham referendum held in September.

“Convince them that Russia coming is a blessing,” he recalls the men telling him. He added, “the Russians’ idea was that the church was a source of information that people would accept without question. It was important to them to control this source.”

Father Afanasiy said he never fulfilled these requests, but that many priests complied, including one from his church, Father Maksim Tarasenko.

“He would say, ‘We have the same past. We have the same motherland,’ ” Vitaly Stasiyk, a security guard at the church, said of Father Maksim, adding that he often referenced Kyivan Rus, a state founded in Kyiv more than a millennium ago that President Putin has invoked in his argument that Russia and Ukraine are historically the same country. Father Maksim didn’t respond to requests for comment.

When Russian forces pulled out of Kherson in November, Father Maksim fled across the river with them, as did many other Moscow Patriarchate priests. One Kherson priest was photographed at the Kremlin for a ceremony to commemorate the claimed annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

In the northeastern Kharkiv region, the rector of a Moscow Patriarchate church in Izyum has been accused of publicly blessing the Russian military convoy. Another priest, in the eastern Luhansk region, was convicted of high treason for sending information about Ukrainian military positions to the invading army; he is one of three priests who have been sent to Russia as part of a prisoner swap, according to Ukrainian military intelligence.

Ukraine is now trying to dismantle the Moscow Patriarchate.

Mr. Zelensky late last year ordered parliament to draft a law barring “religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation” from operating in Ukraine; a draft law has been introduced, but parliament hasn’t yet voted on the bill.

Last month, officials in the western city of Khmelnytskiy voted to evict the Moscow Patriarchate from their cathedral, after a priest and parishioners were filmed beating a Ukrainian soldier. Nine regional legislatures later voted to ban the Moscow Patriarchate entirely.

Moscow Patriarchate officials say the bans amount to an illegal attack on their religious freedom and have sued to stop the evictions.

Metropolitan Clement of Nizhyn and Pryluki, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, conceded that some priests have aided the Russian occupation, but said this makes the church no different from any number of other Ukrainian institutions—including the SBU itself.

“In Kherson, lots of police went over to Russia. But no one talks about banning the police—only our church,” he said. “It’s political persecution. The goal is to take from one denomination and give to another that’s supported by the state.”

He added, “The government wants to divert attention from the large number of casualties at the front with this soap opera with monks.”

The Lavra case is becoming a defining test of Ukraine’s efforts to root out Russian influences.

Founded in the 11th century on cliffs overlooking the Dnipro River, the Lavra is considered the cradle of Slavic Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox believers have long come from across Eastern Europe to see the remains of saints buried in the Lavra’s catacombs.

Like most historic churches in Ukraine, the property is owned by the state, but the Moscow Patriarchate has held the lease since Soviet times.

The investigation into the Lavra began last fall, after a video filmed there showed parishioners singing a hymn celebrating Russia’s “awakening.”

Metropolitan Pavlo is accused of spreading Russian ideology.

In a recording released by the SBU, he encouraged a woman to keep mentioning Patriarch Kirill during worship, which the denomination forbade last May, saying he’d do the same. On another tape, he says residents of Kherson were welcoming the Russian occupation. “There are already Russian flags everywhere and everything else,” he said, “and the people are satisfied.” A search of his home found a Russian coat of arms.

At a court appearance in April, Metropolitan Pavlo called the charges against him politically motivated.

From house arrest, he posted a video on YouTube calling on Moscow Patriarchate parishioners to fight to keep hold of their church buildings.

“Listen to no one. Keep your sanctuaries. Don’t abandon them. And woe to those mothers of children who destroy temples,” he said. “Church destroyers,” he warned, will be punished for seven generations.

In Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate priests at the Lavra are a cause celebre. Patriarch Kirill denounced efforts to evict monks. The Russian foreign ministry called for Metropolitan Pavlo’s release. “He is taking on the likeness of a martyr for the Orthodox faith,” the ministry said in a statement.

Ukraine’s government has already taken control of the Lavra’s cathedral, after the Moscow church’s lease expired at the end of last year. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine now holds services there.

Reclaiming the Lavra’s monastery, where the Moscow Patriarch holds a long-term lease, has been tougher.

Ukraine’s ministry of culture says the Moscow Patriarchate broke its lease by altering some of the Lavra’s historic buildings. The church challenged the ruling in court, and a judge dismissed the case. Metropolitan Pavlo repeatedly instructed the monks not to leave, and some 200 of them refuse to move out.

In recent weeks, parishioners have held vigil outside the Lavra to protest the monks’ eviction. Counter protesters often stand a few feet away, demanding the Moscow Patriarchate leave.

“The Ukrainian government thinks the Lavra is state property,” said Father Valery Kravets, a priest at the Lavra, during a recent protest. “But the Lavra wasn’t built by the state. It was built by the parish and monks.”

Nikita Nikolaienko contributed to this article.


Further reading about FORB in Ukraine on HRWF website

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RUSSIA: Moscow mosque plan pits Putin allies against each other

This photo illustration shows a mosque and a church. The rumored proposal of a mosque being built near a Russian Orthodox religious site in Moscow has raised religious tensions in the country. NEWSWEEK; SOURCE PHOTO BY GETTY

RUSSIA: Moscow mosque plan pits Putin allies against each other



NewsWeek (22.04.2023) – Far from the front line of the war in Ukraine, battle lines of a different kind were drawn when residents of a Moscow district opposed a rumored proposal for a mosque for 60,000 worshippers by a lake cherished by Russian Orthodox believers.

In February, people in Kosino-Ukhtomsky started to voice anger at the complex, which would include a Muslim center and educational facilities. President of the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, fiercely loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, called on anti-mosque demonstrators to “show your patriotism” by going to the trenches in Ukraine.

Prominent MMA fighters also weighed in opposing the mosque, while a video message by Chechens from the battlefield in Ukraine warned they could also wage war on the Orthodox protesters in Moscow.

After weeks of demonstrations, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced on April 5 the mosque would be shifted to a much smaller site elsewhere. The decision got the backing of Patriarch Kirill, who as head of the Russian Orthodox Church and another close Putin ally, has given a canonical justification for the war in Ukraine.


The spat over the mosque, “is a part of an ongoing surge in religious tensions, including those among Russian servicemen and mercenaries fighting in Ukraine,” Denys Brylov, head of the Kyiv-based European Centre for Strategic Analytics, told Newsweek. “This tension is largely caused by the influx of Muslim soldiers into the Russian army.”


Along with Putin’s arguments about about NATO encroachment on Russia and “de-Nazification” as reasons for the war, Kremlin propaganda has also portrayed the full-scale invasion as a fight for what Putin has dubbed the “unity” of Orthodox Christian Russians and Ukrainians.

Muslims make up roughly a tenth of Russia’s population and adherents of the faith fighting in Ukraine for Putin are dying in large numbers. Kadyrov’s forces, which are part of Russia’s National Guard, Rosgvardia, but directed by the strongman ruler, have a prominent profile thanks to their videos from the battlefield.

Olga Lautman, senior investigative researcher at the Institute for European Integrity, said there have been clashes between Kadyrov fighters and Russian soldiers.

“We’ve seen the tensions already over the past year escalate,” she said.

Cannon fodder

Brylov said that as well as Russian Muslims, a growing number of army personnel are migrants from former Soviet states in Central Asia. This follows a decree by Putin last September making it easier for foreign citizens who sign up for the military to get Russian citizenship.

“These amendments aim to make up for the attrition in the Russian army at the expense of migrant workers,” he said, adding that many migrants are tricked into signing military service contracts or sent to a war zone instead of being deported.

Two men of Tajik origin reportedly got into an argument with a lieutenant colonel on a military training ground in Russia’s Belgorod region in October 2022. Unconfirmed reports said they responded to an Islamophobic insult by opening fire and killing up to 22 people.

“Non-Slavic and non-Orthodox citizens of the Russian Federation are only second-rank citizens and just cannon fodder for Putin’s war on Ukraine,” Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, told Newsweek.


“The question is how long the ethnic political leaders of the non-Orthodox and non-Slavic populations of the Russian Federation will go on tolerating the instrumentalization of their peoples in the never-ending carnage of the ‘special military operation,'” Fautré added, referring to the Kremlin’s term for its invasion of Ukraine.

Muslims joining the Wagner Group of mercenaries headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin are on the increase, Brylov said.

“Discrimination against Muslims is not uncommon,” he said. “Although the number of Muslim servicemen grows, the Russian army does not provide Muslim servicemen with the necessary conditions for religious observance.”

However, there have always been tensions within the Russian armed forces.

“A lengthy history of the brutal hazing of new recruits is one issue, retaliation against superiors is another,” Robert Crews, history professor at Stanford University told Newsweek. “In the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, who gets sent where, and with what resources has been a major fault line.”


Initially, the Russian military turned to poorer regions with less political influence, which made it more difficult to avoid service.

“Non-Russian recruits, including those of Muslim background, have played a prominent role,” he said. “But it’s not clear that the Kremlin has treated them as cannon fodder because of their non-Russian ethnicity, though many observers have made this claim,” Crews said.


“Racism and Islamophobia are potentially unsettling elements in the Russian army, as in others in Europe and elsewhere,” he said, although the Kremlin’s position is that Islam is a “traditional” Russian religion, and that Muslims are essential to the war effort.

“Orthodox Christian symbols and imagery are dominant, but they do not exclude attention to Islam as a component part of a military that has been multi-confessional since at least the 16th century,” Crews said.

Muslim leaders in Russia have backed Putin’s invasion, repeating Orthodox Christian arguments about the “satanic” nature of the Western enemy. But troops of different faiths both being sold the idea of a “Holy War” could create a gap in logic that is tricky to bridge. Meanwhile, tensions can spill over between Muslim and non-Muslim personnel fighting for Moscow.

Brylov said that the idea that serving in the Russian armed forces is unacceptable, especially under contract, is spreading among some Russian Muslims, who may question the religious validation for the war.

“In the case of prolonged hostilities, lack of changes in the war zone, and, consequently, a growing number of dead Muslims, we can expect increasing dissatisfaction among Muslim servicemen,” Brylov said.

After the war, a growing number of Muslim combat veterans will become more influential both in the Russian armed forces and among military and law enforcement agencies, he added.

There are Muslims fighting on both sides in the war, with adherents from Crimea and Azerbaijan among those who have joined the fight on the side of Ukraine. Anti-Russian Chechens received support from the Ukrainian authorities, which have recognized the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria—the name of the de facto independent Chechen state that existed in the 1990s—as being temporarily occupied by Russia.

Kadyrov, Prigozhin and military bloggers have all been critical of the Russian defense ministry, pointing to different views on how Moscow should fight the Ukraine war as Putin’s efforts falter. Meanwhile, the dispute over the mosque in Moscow could be a prelude to tensions in Russian society after the war ends.

“Putin has been able to hold the different factions together through fear but over the past year, the Russian military continues to suffer these losses and humiliation on the front lines, and you are seeing more and more factions fighting,” Lautman told Newsweek. “And the fighting is spilling over publicly.”

Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov is pictured at the Kremlin in Moscow on September 30, 2022. The strongman leader of the predominantly Muslim Russian republic has publicly condemned protesters lobbying against a mosque in Moscow. MIKHAIL METZEL/GETTY IMAGES

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website

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RUSSIA: Churches collect 1 billion rubles for ‘people in need’ in occupied territories

Oleg Goncharov: the state is not pressuring the religions of the Russian Federation, they themselves collected a billion rubles in total for the victims of war (Credit: IRP)

RUSSIA: Churches collect 1 billion rubles (10 million EUR) for ‘people in need’ in occupied territories

The collaboration between religious groups and their own state in the invasion of a neighbouring country raises moral and theological questions

Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (21.03.2023) – On 28 February 2023, a webinar titled “Religious Factor in Modern Political and Economic Life of Europe” was held by the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of SciencesINION RAN , and the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

According to Roman Lunkin, Deputy Director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, religious organizations of the Russian Federation freely decided to collect funds “to help those in need during the Special Military Operation in Ukraine,” provide social and humanitarian assistance.

Social and humanitarian assistance in Russian-occupied territories

In an article published on 1 March 2023 by the Institute of Religion and Policy, and titled “Religions in the Russian Federation have raised a billion dollars for war victims,” Pastor Oleg Goncharov (Seventh-Day Adventist Church), Secretary General of the Russian Association for Religious Freedom and member of the Presidential Council, was quoted as saying:

“Basically, all associations focused on social assistance to those in need. Although there have been and are political statements from church leaders, everyone is united in the organization of humanitarian projects.”

“While most of the donations and other assistance are collected by the Russian Orthodox Church, Evangelical Protestant Churches have also made a significant contribution. Protestants have begun to regularly support residents of Mariupol since April 2022, various churches have had projects in Donbass since 2014. At Christmas, clothes and gifts were distributed in Lugansk.

As Goncharov noted, he was impressed by the trip to Lugansk in December 2022, where Orthodox, Muslims, Protestants, Jews distributed food to children and the elderly together.

According to Goncharov, “The churches are working with the Ministry of Defense on this occasion.”


  • Who were the providers of one billion rubles?
  • How were they collected?
  • Should religious communities collaborate with the Ministry of Defence of their aggressor country?
  • Isn’t this some form of complicity and support to the invasion of a sovereign country?


The “New Russian Territories” of the Russian Federation and Russian religions

Under cover of interreligious dialogue, the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill who fully support Putin’s war on Ukraine are now involving other Russian churches and religious groups in the “New Territories” ideology and the colonization thereof.

This is obvious in the article “New Territories of the Russian Federation were discussed by the bodies under the President of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.” published on 1 March 2023 by the Institute of Religion and Policy:

“The meeting, which was chaired by DECR Chairman, Head of the Commission on International Cooperation, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, was attended by:

Deputy Head of the Office of the President of the Russian Federation for Internal Policy Anatoly Vylegzhanin;

Head of the Department for Interaction with Religious Organizations of the Office of the President of the Russian Federation for Internal Policy Yevgeny Eremin;

Advisor to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Archpriest Nikolai Balashov;

Representative of the Russian and New Nakhichevan Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church Priest Gevorg Vardanyan;

Chief Bishop of the Russian United Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) Sergei Ryakhovsky;

Deputy Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation for International Affairs Rushan Abbyasov;

Deputy Archbishop of Shafig Pshikhachev;

Did Hambo Lama Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia Dashi-Nima Sodnomdorzhiev;

First Deputy Chairman of the Euro-Asian Division of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Christian Church Oleg Goncharov, as well as other members of the Commission and invited officials.

“New Territories”

Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), Secretary of the Department of the Inter-Christian Relations, told the experience of religious organizations of the Russian Federation in providing humanitarian assistance to residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.

According to Rushan Abbyasov, he conveyed to the audience the words of greetings on behalf of the Chairman of the SAM of the Russian Federation and JIM Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin.

In the context of discussing the first topic of the meeting related to the provision of humanitarian assistance to residents of the “new territories” of Russia, Rushan Abyasov said that with the blessing of Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the organizations he heads are doing a lot of work in this direction, as well as supporting our fighters on the front line and visit the wounded in hospitals.”

Interreligious dialogue

Archpriest Sergei Zvonarev, Secretary of the SPRC for Far Abroad, Executive Secretary of the Commission on International Cooperation, made a presentation on the prospects for the participation of traditional religious organizations of the Russian Federation in global interreligious meetings.

When discussing issues of international cooperation, he noted the importance of public diplomacy, Roushan Abbyasov spoke about the contribution of the SAM of the Russian Federation and the JIM to the development of Russia’s relations with the Islamic world, through the signing of Memoranda of Understanding, the implementation of joint humanitarian, cultural, religious and spiritual and educational projects.

Concluding the meeting, Metropolitan Anthony wished all those present blessed success in their future work.”


  • How can Russian Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and others accept in their soul and conscience to endorse Russia’s aggression of Ukraine, Russia’s invasion and colonization of Ukrainian territories.
  • How can they accept to work in the so-called ‘New Territories’ with the blessing of the ROC and the Kremlin?
  • How long can Adventist, Evangelical, Muslim, Buddhist… organizations in Europe and America tolerate the justification of the war and occupation by their brothers and sisters in Russia.

In the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, at a joint meeting on February 27, 2023, the bodies of the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the President of the Russian Federation – the Commission on International Cooperation and the Interreligious Working Group for the Protection of Believers from Discrimination and Xenophobia discussed Russian “new territories” and work there, as reported by the DECR.

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website

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RUSSIA/ FAKE NEWS CORNER: “Ukraine is a Catholic conspiracy”

RUSSIA/ FAKE NEWS CORNER: “Ukraine is a Catholic conspiracy, the Pope is a monster and a thief,” a Russian Orthodox leader says

Protodeacon Vladimir Vasilik defies ridicule by connecting the war to a plot by Pope Francis to incorporate Ukrainian Orthodox into the Catholic Church.

by Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (11.01.2023) – Protodeacon Vladimir Vasilik is not, as you may believe by reading its prose, a lonely madman. Not only is he a scholar who has published about Church history in respected Western journals, but he is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s powerful Synodal Liturgical Commission and a frequent contributor to church journals and magazines.

Vasilik took exception to Pope Francis’s Christmas message, where he invited those gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome to look at the “faces of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are living this Christmas in the dark, in the cold or away from their homes because of the devastation caused by ten months of war.”

While Pope Francis is usually more than moderate in his comments about the Ukrainian war, Vasilik expressed his anger that the Pope did not mention “the Russian brothers and sisters” who also die in the war. Thus, he took the opportunity to “unmask” the Pope and claim that the events in Ukraine ultimately are the results of a sinister plot by the Vatican.

Not only is the Catholic Church conspiring against Russia and Orthodoxy since the 16th century, Vasilik said, it has now become clear that the Vatican organized “the Maidan of 2014. For even the blind can see that the most ardent activists on the Maidan were Uniate Catholic priests [i.e., priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church].” Some of Vasilik’s colleagues—the Protodeacon is also an anti-cult activist—believe the 2014 Maidan had really been organized by Scientology, but it is true that they did write that Catholics also cooperated.

Pope Francis is singled out as the mastermind of particularly sinister plots. He became Pope in 2013, and in 2014 the Maidan Revolution happened, an event that in Russian propaganda made the invasions of 2014 and 2022 unavoidable.

Francis, according to Vasilik, is “the main beneficiary” of what is happening in Ukraine. Why? Because the war situation is giving the Ukrainian government the pretext to suppress the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and merge it with the branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

However, Vasilik says, “there are long-term plans for the unification of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Roman Catholic Church. The year is already known—2025—the year of the anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council, which Catholic heretics and Greek traitors to Orthodoxy are going to celebrate in such a perverted way. And they decided to choose Ukraine as a testing ground for such an alliance. The idea is simple—the creation of a single national church of Ukraine. First, schismatic groups are driven into the so-called OCU [the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in communion with Constantinople], and then the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is attached to it, not willingly, but by hook or by crook. And then all this is connected with the Uniates. Thus, a single Ukrainian church of the Eastern rite is being created.”

Pope Francis, Vasilik says, is a monster, “a crocodile who, when he eats his prey, sheds tears incessantly, but eats, nonetheless. In the same way, the Pope of Rome can weep, lament, mourn. However, this will not stop him from eating the Orthodox—his work is such, more precisely, his nature is such. He is not the Pope, not a father, but he is a thief, a real thief. And ‘the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy’ (John 10:10).”

Protodeacon Vasilik has some hope for the new year, tough. He hopes 2023 will bring peace. But peace, he explains, is “something we can acquire only through war.” Not the “commercial war” some Russian commanders fought in Ukraine—which explains, or so Vasilik believes, why they preferred to abandon Ukrainian cities rather than destroying their valuable infrastructures—but a full-fledged holy war. Either we win, Vasilik proclaims, or “we will disappear, as a country and a people. Or even disappear physically. In this case, we have only one choice: win or die. You cannot fight and trade at the same time. However, for some reason, these elementary truth did not sound convincing to some of our commanders. I wish then to sound the alarm for them, and tell them than in 2023 Russia will be renewed, cleansed of its sins—abortion, corruption, embezzlement, and the presence of atheists and cultists—, and finally of obscenity. Then, finally, Russia will become Holy Russia.”

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

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UKRAINE: Orthodox Church/ Moscow Patriarchate and their clerics under fire

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Moscow Patriarchate and their clerics under fire


By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers


 HRWF (15.12.2022) – For weeks, searches have been carried out in many parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in communion with Moscow Patriarchate (UOC/ MP) and have brought to light propaganda material in support of Russia’s war on Ukraine.


The Ukrainian authorities are also hunting Orthodox clerics collaborating with the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and the Russian occupiers in Ukraine.

At the same time, President Vladimir Zelensky gave orders to submit, within two months, to the Verkhovnaya Rada a bill that would prevent any religious organizations “affiliated with the centers of influence in Russia” from operating in the country. Besides, a bill, which would allow seizing property from the canonical Church, has recently been submitted to the Verkhovnaya Rada.


On Wednesday 14 December, Metropolitan Onufryi of the UOC/ MP in Kyiv desperately reiterated the “independence” of his Church from the Moscow Patriarchate, stressing that the updated Statute were sent to the relevant state bodies: the President of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Cabinet of Ministers and directly to the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience. This may however not be sufficient to convince the Ukrainian authorities and avoid a ban as the revised status does not specify that the UOC is seceding from Moscow Patriarchate.


A Ukrainian Orthodox priest sentenced to 12 years for high treason exchanged with the Russian Federation in a swap


On 14 December, the Main Intelligence Directorate confirmed that as part of an exchange of prisoners, Ukraine handed over a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Moscow Patriarchate (UOC/ MP) to the Russian side.

Earlier, the Russian media reported that Ukraine transferred the rector of the Lisichansky Cathedral, Archpriest Andrei Pavlenko , to the Russian Federation. The priest had been imprisoned for 8 months. A week ago he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for treason. He was accused of passing information about the Armed Forces of Ukraine to the Russians).

Part of the swap were 64 Ukrainian soldiers and a US citizen, Murekesi Suedi. These were soldiers, sergeants and officers who took part in the defense of the city of Bakhmut.


The Russian Federation claims that the exchange took place “thanks to the efforts of Battalion Wagner.”


The release of the American citizen was confirmed by U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.


Sources: Strana Today, The Odessa Journal, Dumskaya


SBU exposes a deacon from Zaporozhye, who campaigned for the region to join Russia 


On 10 December, the deacon of one of the churches of the Zaporizhzhya diocese of the UOC-MP, who campaigned for the annexation of the region to the Russian Federation, was exposed by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).


According to the press service of the SBU, the cleric publicly approved the holding of an illegal referendum, for which he activated a profile on the banned VKontakte social network and, on his own behalf, reposted calls from pro-Kremlin bloggers in support of a fake plebiscite.


Commenting on Russian publications, he agitated people to come to the polls and vote in favor of the aggressor. He also denied the existence of the Ukrainian people, their language and culture.


In addition, the deacon questioned the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within internationally recognized borders. He took materials from propaganda on the Russian social network, including “Russian Spring”.


During searches at the place of residence of the person involved, law enforcement officers found computer equipment as evidence of crimes. He was informed of suspicion for justifying the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and deliberate actions aimed at inciting national and religious hatred.


The issue of choosing a measure of restraint is being decided.


Source: Dumskaya



Ongoing searches of UOC/ MP facilities across Ukraine


The Ukrainian Security Service has recently been conducting regular searches at the UOC facilities in various regions of the country. The declared purpose of the measures is “to prevent the use of religious communities as a cell of the ‘Russian world.'”


In November, the priests of the UOC who were detained during the searches could be exchanged for captured Ukrainian soldiers, following the example of Viktor Medvedchuk.

The SBU conducted regular searches in the dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – now in the Transcarpathian, Chernivtsi, Rivne, Volyn, Nikolaev, Sumy, Lvov, Zhytomyr and Kherson regions.


According to the Union of Orthodox Journalists, the following temples have been inspected and searched:


  • Holy Ascension Cathedral (Uzhhorod);
  • Holy Intercession Сhurch (Uzhhorod);
  • St. John the Theologian Khreshchatyk Monastery (Chernivtsi district);
  • Assumption Monastery (Chernivtsi district);
  • Lipki Assumption Monastery (Lipki village, Rivne region);
  • The Iberian Icon of the Most-Holy Virgin Convent in the “Yusefin” tract (Sarny district);
  • Saints Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine and Helen Monastery (Kostiantynivka village, Mykolayiv district);
  • Holy Spirit Cathedral (Romny);
  • Archdeacon-Stephen Church (Romny);
  • Holy Trinity Church (Lviv);
  • St. Amphilochios of Pochaiv Church (Mostysk);
  • Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin (Boryslav);
  • Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ (Korosten);
  • Holy Transfiguration Cathedral (Ovruch);
  • Ovruch-Korosten Eparchy (Ovruch);
  • St. Basil’s Cathedral (Ovruch);
  • Saint Basil’s Monastery (Ovruch);
  • Church of the Icon of Kazan (Chornobaivka).


As reported in the telegram channel of the SBU, Russian passports, St. George ribbons, symbols of the Opposition Platform for Life and the “manuals” of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church “on spreading propaganda through believers” were found on the territory of the dioceses.

“During the inspection of church premises in the village of Chernobaevka, Kherson region, SBU officers found forms of passes to the occupation authorities of Russia.

In the diocese in the Lviv region, photos of hidden Russian documents “on ensuring interaction with the military commissariats of Russia” were found.

On the territory of churches in the Transcarpathian region there was a banner of the so-called “Republic of Subcarpathian Rus” with the text of the anthem of the “Podcarpathian Rusyns”.

On the territory of one of the monasteries in the Rivne region, a novice with a Russian passport and contacts in Russia was exposed,” the report says.


The SBU also held “counterintelligence searches” in the Chernivtsi-Bukovin diocese of the UOC. It was reported that “methods from Moscow” and documents indicating the presence of Russian citizenship of the diocese leadership had been found.

This is reported on the SBU website.


It was reported that correspondence between the heads of the diocese with “Moscow curators” has been established and “Pro-Kremlin literature” had been found in a large volume.


The SBU states that photocopies of the certificates of Russians who participated in hostilities against Ukraine were found on the computers of the diocese leadership.

Source and photos: Strana Today


Reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow

On 12, 13 and 14 December, Interfax Religion in Moscow voiced complaints of the Russian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vladimir Legoyda about the sanctions imposed by the Ukrainian authorities against some prominent figures of the UOC/ MP accused of being pro-Russian.

Among them are seven clergymen, including

  • Metropolitan Antony of Borispol and Brovary, manager of affairs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,
  • Metropolitan Panteleimon of Lugansk and Alchevsk,
  • Metropolitan Luka of Zaporozhye and Melitopol,
  • and Metropolitan Melety of Chernovtsy and Bukovina.

The Security Service of Ukraine’s sanctions lists also include

  • Archbishop Paisy of Konstantinovka (vicar of the Gorlovka Diocese),
  • Archimandrite Ioann (Prokopenko) of the Zaporozhye Diocese,
  • and Archimandrite Alexy (Fyodorov) of the Kherson Diocese.

The sanctions against the clergy envisage the blocking of their assets and withdrawal of capital outside of Ukraine, restrictions on trade operations, etc. They are also deprived of Ukrainian state awards and other awards and the right to buy land plots, privatize state property and intellectual property rights.


Metropolitan Onufry of the UOC/ MP desperately reiterates the ‘independence’ of his Church from the Moscow Patriarchate

On 14 December, at the annual meeting of the clergy of the Kyiv Eparchy, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry reiterated the independence of the UOC, recalling that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church dissociated itself from the Moscow Patriarchate at the last Council, which took place in the monastery in Feofaniya a few months ago.


“The Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church approved changes to the Statute on the management of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In particular, the provision that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church was removed from the Statute of the UOC. In this way, it not only enshrined the administrative independence of the UOC, which existed before that, but also the separation from the Moscow Patriarchate. According to the accepted changes, the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is no longer a member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, while the resolutions of the councils of the Russian Orthodox Church are not considered binding for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Also, the paragraph on commemoration of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus at divine services in the temples of our Church was removed from the Statute. In accordance with the conventional form of commemoration, the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church commemorates all Patriarchs of Local Orthodox Churches, the diocesan bishop commemorates the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, while parishes and monasteries commemorate the diocesan bishop. Such a tradition exists in other Local Orthodox Churches,” said His Beatitude. Source: Union of Orthodox Journalists. See the full speech here.

The Primate added that copies of the updated Statute were sent to the relevant state bodies: the President of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Cabinet of Ministers and directly to the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience.

Photo 1: The SBU conducted searches in the diocese of the UOC. Photo: SBU

Photo 2: Investigated material (SBU)

Photo 3: His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. Photo: news.church.ua

Further reading about FORB in Ukraine on HRWF website

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