LVIV, Ukraine (CNS) — The Ukrainian government said it would sanction members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate.
After a Dec. 1 meeting of the National Security and Defense Council, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the government also would review if the church met the legal criteria for use of one of the main shrines of Ukraine, the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, or Kyiv Monastery of the Caves.
“Unfortunately, even Russian terror and full-scale war did not convince some figures that it is worth overcoming the temptation of evil. Well, we have to create conditions where no actors dependent on the aggressor state will have an opportunity to manipulate Ukrainians and weaken Ukraine from within,” Zelenskyy said.
The security council instructed the Ukrainian parliament to draft a law making it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in Russia to operate in Ukraine, reported Religious Information Service of Ukraine.
In addition, the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience was told to ensure the religious examination of the management statute of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for the presence of a church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate and, if necessary, to take measures provided for by law.
“We need to raise the status and strengthen the capabilities of the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience,” Zelenskyy said. “This structure will be reformed, which will enable it to really protect the rights and legitimate interests of the Ukrainians and the state.
“With these and other decisions, we guarantee Ukraine’s spiritual independence,” he added.
“I would like to emphasize: In 1991, our state embarked on the legal and democratic path. We will continue this path. Only legal steps. Balanced decisions. And national interests,” Zelenskyy said.
In early 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople formally signed a “tomos” recognizing the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was formed by members of three separate Orthodox communities, including one formally tied to the Russian Orthodox Church for more than 300 years.
However, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which oversaw the largest branch of Orthodox faithful in Ukraine, strongly objected to the move and announced later that year that his church was breaking its eucharistic communion with Constantinople.
As the war began and, especially, as it progressed and evidence of war crimes grew, Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church tied to the Moscow Patriarchate, increasingly distanced himself from Moscow and assured his Ukrainian faithful that the church was with them. But questions remain about how committed Metropolitan Onufry’s clergy are to defending Ukraine’s right to exist.