Death of a 1000 Year Old Christian Church?

Orthodox Easter is celebrated several weeks after the feasts of Christian Easter and Passover. Once again last Sunday  it was  celebrated by hundreds of millions of Christians around the globe for whom it is a day of great hope and joy, and Christ’s victory over death is a promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him. However, dark clouds gathered during this Lenten season.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the one-thousand-year-old home of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, is being threatened with extinction. The Government in Ukraine has presided over a crackdown on freedom of religion. The secret services have beaten and arrested priests on false and spurious charges. 1500 churches have been illegally seized by the state. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Parliament is considering legislation that will ban the UOC and curtail its religious activities. These attacks on the UOC are carried out on the pretext that the Church is connected to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Yet the UOC has made clear its independence and has actively supported Ukraine during this time of war. Any residual link to the Russian Orthodox Church is a matter of canon law, and has no effect on the daily activities of the UOC. Despite this, the Ukrainian Government has persisted in its vindictive campaign. It has set up a new state-backed church to lure believers away from the UOC. Yet, millions of Orthodox Ukrainians remain loyal to the UOC. Indeed, Orthodox Christians the world over recognise the UOC as the sole canonical church in Ukraine, and recognise its leader, Metropolitan Onufriy, as a great ascetic and a serious man of God.

The attack on religious freedom in Ukraine comes at a time when there is a broader challenge to press freedom globally. It has been nigh on impossible to get the media to report accurately on the situation in Ukraine. In the past decade, there has been a massive reduction of investment in serious journalism.

To be frank, it costs too much money to maintain editorial standards, buttressed by careful research, objectivity and good training in basic skills. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion began, the Western media has uncritically supported Ukraine. It has failed to scrutinize the reality of the situation in the country, where six million Orthodox Christians are about to lose their spiritual home.

Neither has the Western media reported on the rampant corruption, the lack of free speech and the absence of rule of law. More shocking still, the US Government has barely made a peep about Ukraine’s many domestic troubles. Indeed, the US seems to believe in the Potemkin Village that acts as a democracy in Ukraine. The hypocrisy is stunning, and Ukraine gets a pass for behaving in ways reminiscent of Putin’s Russia. Meanwhile, I am attacked left, right and centre for defending the UOC and seeking to uphold freedom of religion in Ukraine.

Supporting Ukraine’s victory in the war should not mean we ignore its failings and do not call the country to account. Just in recent days, Father Arseniy, an elderly priest was arrested and jailed for a sermon he preached. I ask you to read the sermon on our website, You will see there is nothing seditious in it, and nothing that threatens national security. Yet Father Arseniy now sits in a prison cell, unable to celebrate the greatest feast of the Christian calendar. On this Orthodox Easter say a prayer for the UOC’s priests and all of God’s children in Ukraine. Not only do they have to deal with Russia’s aggression, but the attacks of their own government on religious freedom and their Church too.