Friday, May 24, 2024

    Crimea. Modern-day persecution of Christians

    “Quo vadis, Domine? (Where are heading, Lord?),” the Apostle Peter asked Jesus Christ when he suddenly saw the risen Savior on the outskirts of Rome. “To Rome,” Christ replied, telling him of massive persecution that had taken place there. Then the apostle followed Christ and accepted his martyrdom… If we transpose that situation into our time, the number of countries where Christians suffer would be greater. And Crimea is certainly among the places where such persecution is ongoing…

    Of course, the conditions in which the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has found itself on the peninsula are far from those of the times of Nero or Diocletian. However, the very idea that in the XXI century. Christians are being persecuted in Europe is terrifying as such – but this is a sad reality.

    After all, what do you know about Crimea? It’s about the war, occupation, and Russia’s “little green men” – perhaps that’s what comes to mind of most people. But there are those who have some pleasant memories associated with summer vacations as the Autonomous Republic had been the most popular tourist destination in Ukraine until 2014.

    OCU Metropolitan Mykhailo of Lutsk and Volyn has just such recollections:

    “I used to travel to Crimea. I have a colleague there, Archbishop Klyment. I would just have to stop by and say hi. He would take me around his temples, tell me about his life. So first we drive around and then we spend two more days at the seaside. This is what my vacation would look like pre-2014, this is how I vacationed in Crimea,” the bishop told the Apohovoryty show on April 22, 2020.

    Klyment (Kushch), mentioned by the Volyn cleric, has held his position since 2000. In 2012, he became archbishop, and then metropolitan in 2020.

    Therefore, the archpastors of Volyn and Crimea have been friends for a long time, but the conditions of their service are radically different. The Volyn diocese is one of the largest and most influential ones in the whole OCU, while that in Crimea is the smallest. The western Ukrainian diocese is one of the main helpers of the Army as many chaplains come from here, while the one operating on the peninsula needs help itself.

    Although Orthodoxy has always been the dominant religion in Crimea, Metropolitan Klyment’s diocese, founded in 1993, has never been as large as Volyn’s. The reason is simple. Most of the inhabitants of the peninsula are Russian speakers or ethnic Russians, loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, in the pre-occupation period, the Crimean diocese united as many as 50 parishes, hosting 11% of all parishioners in the Autonomous Republic.

    However, with the onset of the Russian occupation, the life of the diocese has changed dramatically. Due to various kinds of pressure, most clergymen fled this Ukrainian region, while almost all temples were confiscated in favor of the ROC. Out of almost 50 parishes, only five remain in place…

    “The UOC-KP became sidelined simply because they refused to operate in the Russian legal field. Due to the lack of registration, the schismatics began to lose churches in Crimea one after another,” the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote, describing the developments.

    Among other things, by the unlawful “verdicts” of local “courts,” the OCU church in Yevpatoria was ruled to be demolished and the cathedral – seized, although prior to the occupation and annexation, the parishes of the said churches were the largest. However, today, due to the international outcry, these plans have not yet been realized… The occupying power seized the diocesan administration and simply plundered the Cathedral of the Apostles Volodymyr and Olha…

    Meanwhile, the focus on violations of believers’ rights in Crimea is high indeed: both on the part of Ukraine and international institutions. The situation on the occupied peninsula is mentioned in reports by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, the OSCE, and many rights watchdogs. And it is very important that the National Association of Journalists of Ukraine also drew attention to the issue in its project “Focus on Crimea.”

    Yet, the Putin regime’s methods of pressure have become increasingly brutal over time. On August 8, Russian police raided the Ukrainian monastery of St. Dymytriy of Solun in the village of Balky, Bilohorsk district. The satraps didn’t even care about the fact that liturgy was being celebrated as they raided the premises, thus committing a sin as per the church canons.

    Anyway, the service was disrupted, and a police report was drawn up on Archimandrite Damian for the allegedly “illegal” missionary activity. On August 23, the priest was fined RUB 15,000 for what’s essentially was… worship. And this is being done by occupation authorities of a country where faith in God is officially enshrined in the Constitution and where there’s an article in the Criminal Code prosecuting insults to the feelings of believers. However, the occupation authorities couldn’t care less about the feelings of OCU believers.

    However, the reasons why the Kremlin hates the OCU so much are far from religious.

    “After 2014, Ukrainian schools were shut down, as well as the Ukrainian theater and the Ukrainian media. Only the church remained. It has become the national and cultural center for Ukrainians,” Metropolitan Klyment explained in a recent interview with the Ukrainian Interest online outlet.

    The policy of the Russian government is that there is no Ukraine and no Ukrainians in Crimea. As absurd as this comparison may seem, the Kremlin sees our country in the same way as it does the Kremlin-occupied territories of Donbas: just a piece of territory without a separate identity or history, which was allegedly “artificially torn away from the Motherland.”

    The spread of the Ukrainian language even in the free territories of our state sparks aggression and sharp rejection in Russia. The Russian foreign ministry constantly emphasizes the alleged violations of the rights of Russian speakers. There are at least two reasons for such statements: the desire to stop de-Russification of Ukraine and the hope to “come to their defense” sooner or later.

    In general, any process that distances Ukraine from Russia is an extreme annoyance to Moscow. It has made it much more difficult for all the inhabitants of the areas from the Carpathians to the Don to be assimilated post annexation, which the aggressor government is still harboring hope of. It is clear that the very existence of an independent Ukrainian Church is no exception. We can at least recall the meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of the Russian Federation at the start of the process of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church in 2018 and constant attention to the issue by the diplomacy, led by the odious Sergei Lavrov!

    It is really hard to remain under the oppression of the occupation power, and despite all obstacles, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine still remains the only island of Ukrainianhood in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar Crimea. Worship services are held in Ukrainian, and Metropolitan Klyment does not hide the fact that the OCU does not recognize the occupation administration and neither does it allow discussions on whom the peninsula belongs to.

    “We have always been and remain a pro-Ukrainian organization with a clear stance: Crimea is Ukraine,” the bishop said in an interview with Krym.Realii on October 1, 2019. The Orthodox Ukrainians of Crimea, like the ancient Roman believers, endure severe persecution, trusting in the Lord.

    Despite all intimidation, the community of the Cathedral of the Apostles Volodymyr and Olha, as per the hierarch, has only grown and strengthened. And this year’s Easter celebration in Simferopol turned into a real manifesto of faith and patriotism.

    So this is a look at the Crimean realities in terms of religious situation. In Volyn and Crimea, as we see, it is diametrically different.

    Source: The Volyn Newspaper. Authored by Roman MARCHUK