On March 11, the head of the ROCU, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), released an address to his faithful. It was published on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine, entitled “Blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy for Lent 2021.” In the address, Onufriy blesses his parishioners “on the first Sunday of Lent, when the Triumph of Orthodoxy is celebrated, to hold traditional processions and prayer stands in all of our Church’s diocesan centers.”
This blessing was apparently released due to Onufriy’s concern that “so far, despite numerous requests and appeals, our government has not repealed laws passed by their predecessors, which significantly restrict the rights of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church believers.”
Therefore, according to the Russian metropolitan in Kyiv, ROCinU believers should “walk the streets of their hometowns with prayer on their lips and shrines in their hands, in order to testify to our standing with the Holy Orthodoxy and our love for our native Ukrainian land, our earthly Homeland.”
The stated goal looks decent at first glance, but such a blessing is a clear indication that the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is starting to implement in Ukraine the “Montenegrin church scenario”. It should be recalled that last year the Serbian Church in Montenegro held numerous mass rallies in the form of processions across the country’s cities protesting the laws on church property initiated by President Djukanovic. Russian intelligence operatives took active part in those events. Their goal, beyond the declared one of “defending believers’ rights” was also to discredit the sitting government.
It should also be recalled that Onufriy and his subordinates personally took part in the said “processions”. As we assumed, it was probably just a rehearsal, or a stunt to gain experience from their Serbian counterparts. Now ROCinU clerics are set to organize a similar event on March 21.
Last month, ROCinU spokesman Archpriest Mykola Danylevych openly stated on the propaganda-laden Pershi Kozatskyi channel on YouTube that they were ready to take millions of their believers to the streets if their rights were violated. But then Danylevych didn’t elaborate on when exactly his religious organization would launch their Serbian counterparts’ scenario earlier played out in Montenegro. As we can see, his chief didn’t make us wait long for his decision, so he’s now moving from words to action.
But what made Onufriy take such a step? After all, there’s no “persecution” as such, while the “law on renaming” is still being blocked by a court ruling. That is, there are no significant grounds for protests at the moment. Perhaps, the ROCinU decided that if there’s no persecution, one should be staged.
The decision on holding processions amid the mounting third wave of the coronavirus pandemic will provoke a negative reaction on the part of local authorities – mass gatherings remain banned. Therefore, a conscious provocation is actually being plotted. It appears, Russian clergymen couldn’t care less about quarantine restrictions and even the health of their parishioners when it comes to their church’s “title.” Therefore, any resistance or prohibition from local authorities to hold such events will be regarded as “persecution” and oppression of rights of the “canonical church”. And this narrative will be massively circulated across Russian propaganda resources from the appropriate perspective.
And this is precisely the main purpose of the announced events. The main objective is to disrupt the forthcoming visit to Ukraine of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, scheduled for August 2021. This month we’ll only see a rehearsal of mass protests, which will probably be organized in July, when Ukraine celebrates the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, and in August, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Moscow Patriarchate is currently assessing its strengths and capabilities, while their Kremlin supervisors seek to assess the capabilities of their “fifth column” in Ukraine.
So far, ROCinU’s plans have been bringing no desired result. The so-called forum of “representatives of seized communities” bore no fruit to its masterminds. The law on renaming has not been repealed, revenge has not been taken, and public trust has not been restored. In essence, the forum was just an informational warm-up for future protests. The event was pretty much aimed to provide for the required substantiation of their future insidious plans.
Having seen that no one is actually stopping them in their path, Russian clergy are now trying to showcase before the authorities their influence in Ukraine. In fact, the Russian-controlled church is starting to play a long game of perseverance against the sitting government. While until now the Moscow Patriarchate would only send appeals and demands to the authorities, now it is entering into a fierce “fight” with the government, as if saying: “If you don’t want to hear us out, we’ll make you reckon with us.” Therefore, it is not in vain that Onufriy expressed hope in his address “that the voice of our faithful be finally heard.”
The timing though is quite unfortunate: during Lent, Church usually calls for ascetic feats and prayers, rather than outright confrontation with the authorities. So Onufriy is deliberately pushing believers to sin.