War rages in Ukraine, but Mykhailo Tereshchenko is embroiled in his own spiritual battle. This Orthodox priest, whose parish is attached to Moscow, fears seeing it disappear.
Mykhailo Tereshchenko is a member of the Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which pledges allegiance to Russian Patriarch Kirill. But he himself, who considers himself a Ukrainian patriot, is shocked by the invasion of his country by the army of Vladimir Putin.
“This war has brought nothing good”, explains Father Mykhailo in his church in Kozelets, about 80 km north of kyiv: “It has brought us only pain, destruction and death. He sighs as he recalls the first days of the war, during which he sheltered in the basement of his church, between the icons and the tomb of the founder of his parish, civilians fleeing the fighting.
“Nearby there are villages where a lot of people died, whose houses were destroyed. This pain is also ours,” adds the priest.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, placed the priests of the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate at odds. This has retained many parishes across Ukraine, despite the recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2019 of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine, ending more than 300 years of Russian religious tutelage. But Patriarch Kirill’s absolute support for the Russian invasion is reshuffling the cards.
On February 27, Kirill said he saw a fight against the “forces of evil” opposed to the historical “unity” between Russia and Ukraine. Then, in April, he called for unity around power against the “external and internal enemies” of Russia. Words that provoked indignation in the West and made Pope Francis react, who reproached him for being “Putin’s altar boy”.
For Ukrainian priests like Mykhailo Tereshchenko, the situation is untenable. Continuing to swear allegiance to their superiors in Moscow is increasingly difficult, but severing ties with the Russian Church risks causing unrest within their parish.
Hard to believe
“What the patriarch said is hard to believe, gets carried away Mykhaïlo Terechchenko: Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians. We are all Slavs. And yet he gives his blessing to go and kill his people. »
The head of the Ukrainian Church attached to Moscow, Metropolitan Onuphry, has so far refrained from criticizing Kirill, but his social media accounts are filled with images of funerals of Ukrainian soldiers and messages in support of the kyiv army. Onuphre had also called for a procession at Easter to try to rescue Ukrainian soldiers trapped in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, besieged by the Russian army.
As for the Ukrainian priests who have already broken with Moscow, Kirill’s statements confirm in their eyes what they have long asserted about Russian religious authorities and accuse him of blasphemy. “Kirill’s behavior and statements are simply terrifying”, asserts the priest Oleksandre Chmouryhin of Saint Vladimir’s Cathedral, one of the main ones in the Ukrainian capital. “It’s propaganda (…) which serves the war. It has nothing to do with Christianity. »
In Ukraine, some are now calling for the outright banning of the Church attached to Moscow. A bill to this effect, not yet adopted, was presented in March to the Ukrainian Parliament which would ban the Russian Orthodox Church from operating in the country and allow the seizure of its property.
And some have already turned their backs on the Russian Church. “All Ukrainians must unite and carry out one mission: to help Ukraine to victory,” said Daria Kolomiec, a 33-year-old Kyiv resident.
But Patriarch Kirill also has defenders in Ukraine and even in the heart of kyiv. “I’m worried,” admits Iryna Guen, 34, who compares Putin to “Satan” before a mass in a church attached to the Moscow Patriarchate.
But, she insists, “Kirill has no connection” with the actions of the Russian president. “He is not involved in that”, adds the young woman.
And for priests like Mykhailo Tereshchenko, the war forces them to confront questions that have troubled their parishes for years. “I want us to have our own Ukrainian Church – independent of Moscow and any other state,” the cleric explains. Nothing can be done with violence, only with love. »
War rages in Ukraine, but Mykhailo Tereshchenko is embroiled in his own spiritual battle. This Orthodox priest, whose parish is attached to Moscow, fears seeing it disappear. Mykhaïlo Tereshchenko is a member of the Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which pledges allegiance to the Russian patriarch Kirill. But himself, who considers himself a…