MATTINGLY | Pascha’s messages show Orthodox pain inside Ukraine | faith and values

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Terry Mattingly | On religion


With the onslaught of horrors pouring out of Ukraine, it was not difficult to distinguish between the messages issued by the Eastern Orthodox rulers of Russia and Ukraine to mark Holy Easter, the holiday known as Easter in the West.

The epistle of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill offered hope for this life and the next. But his text contained only one possible reference to the fighting in Ukraine, which the United Nations says has claimed the lives of at least 3,000 civilians.

“In the light of Easter, everything is different,” wrote the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. “We are not afraid of sorrows, afflictions and worldly troubles, and even the difficult circumstances of these troubled times do not seem so important in view of the eternity granted to us.”

But the opening lines of the message issued by Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv and All Ukraine placed this Easter in a radically different context – a clash between good and evil, right now. It was published on April 25, the day after the celebration of Easter by Orthodox Christians according to the old Julian calendar.

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This letter was particularly symbolic since Metropolitan Onuphrius leads the oldest Orthodox body in Ukraine, one that maintains close ties with the giant Russian Orthodox Church.

“The Lord has visited us this year with special trial and pain. The forces of evil have gathered on us,” he wrote. “But we do not grumble or despair” because Easter is “a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, truth over lies, light over darkness. The resurrection of Christ is the eternal Passover in which Christ our Savior and Lord brought us from death to life, from hell to paradise.

The contrast between these messages highlighted a complex reality in Orthodox life after Russia invaded Ukraine, a land cruelly oppressed by the Soviet Union but with strong Russian roots through the “Baptism of Rus” in 988. It was then that, following the conversion of Prince Vladimir, there was a mass baptism of the people of kyiv — celebrated for a millennium as the birth of Slavic Christianity.

Metropolitan Onuphrius and other Orthodox hierarchs with historical ties to Moscow openly opposed the Russian invasion while trying to avoid attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church. The Bottom Line: The leaders of the ancient Orthodox churches will ultimately have to, on a global level, resolve these conflicts.

Thus, in an earlier statement, Onuphry addressed his words to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Defending the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, we call on the President of Russia and ask him to immediately stop the fratricidal war. A war between Russia and Ukraine, he added, is “a repeat of the sin of Cain, who killed his own brother out of envy. Such a war has no justification either from God or from men.

It was no surprise that an even more blunt pascha message was issued by the leader of the Independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was launched in 2018 by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul. This action intensified decades of conflict with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy.

Even during Easter, “the enemy continues to shed innocent blood on our land,” wrote Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine. During Holy Week, “the Russian troops not only did not stop their crimes, but they, as inspired by Satan himself, increased the bloodshed. Throughout Lent, Russia, which considers itself a bastion of true Christianity, has destroyed our towns and villages, killed innocent people and destroyed everything it could.

“Isn’t that alone…proof enough that it is not God’s blessing but a curse on the cause of Russia, its leaders, its troops, its people poisoned by lies?”

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Onuphry closed with images related to his calls for global unity in efforts to help the refugees driven out of Ukraine and the millions trapped in the fighting.

“There are earthly angels in the world today, mighty spiritual warriors who, through faith in the risen Christ, overcome evil,” he wrote. “Such sacred ascetics are often around us, but we are not interested in them because we do not see them. We believe that the world lives for the sake of our economic, political, scientific and other achievements, but in reality the world lives for the sake of those righteous people who have made room for the risen Christ in their hearts.

Terry Mattingly directs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

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