Metropolitan Onufriy, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate, an Eastern Orthodox body aligned with Russian Orthodox leaders, ordered his clergy in the beleaguered nation to pray for Russia’s defeat on Sunday.
Metropolitan Onufriy’s prayer text declared his opposition to the invasion.
“Let us pray that peace and silence will be instilled in our Ukrainian land, and that we will be saved from every enemy and adversary,” reads part of the text of the prayer, mandated by Onufriy’s statement. “Give us your almighty grace: make the authorities wise, strengthen our army [host] courageously help them in all that is good.
Three days earlier, Onufriy, who was installed in August 2014, delivered a message in which he said: “At this tragic time, we express our special love and support to our soldiers who stand guard, protect and defend our land and our people. .”
The UOC-MP’s ties to Moscow had suggested that its leadership would support the invasion. But now there seems to be little daylight between the constituency of Onufriy and that of the Independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Onufriy’s statements, shared with The Washington Times by the Orthodox Church in America, signal a sea change from what observers of the Ukrainian religious scene had expected on the eve of the February 24 Russian invasion.
The UOC-MP had considered the Ukrainian Orthodox Church a “schismatic” group, according to a May 2021 US State Department report on religious freedom in Ukraine. The two sides have squabbled in recent years over the re-registration of Moscow Patriarchate parishes as affiliated with the OCU, which was stifled under the Zelenskyy administration.
On February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed, “Kiev continues to prepare the destruction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,” alleging that the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy intended to achieve this goal.
Now, according to a February 27 speech by OCU Primate Metropolitan Epiphanius, the current situation calls for unity between the two camps.
“Interfaith peace is one of the main achievements of the Ukraine,” Epiphanius said. “The feelings that are now evoked in the souls of Ukrainians by the name ‘Moscow’ are quite understandable. But please do not succumb to anger, especially to enemy provocations.
The OCU chief said those who knew those helping the “aggressor” should report them to military or police authorities.
“But I see and already know that many clergy and faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate have reconsidered their attitude towards the leadership in Russia and stand with everyone in defense of Ukraine,” Epiphane said.
Surprisingly, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Sunday expressed concern over the invasion and its effects.
“God forbid that a terrible line stained with the blood of our brothers be drawn between Russia and Ukraine,” Patriarch Kirill said in a sermon at the Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow. He asked that “the Lord give them strength and wisdom to repel the attacks of the evil one while serving their people in faith and truth promoting peace in every way possible.”
About 73% of Ukraine’s population is affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox religion, which holds the allegiance of 79% of the Russian population.