Religious agitation could make future reconciliation in Ukraine impossible, he warned
The "architects" of international conflicts hate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) because it could serve as an instrument of reconciliation between the Russian and Ukrainian people, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has said. That is why there are demands that it be persecuted, he believes.
In a speech on Thursday, Kirill expressed "deep grief and righteous anger" over what he called "attempts by incumbent authorities in Kiev and their foreign backers to use the UOC as a weapon of incitement of Russian-Ukrainian hatred."
Future reconciliation "will be impossible" without an apolitical Orthodox church in Ukraine, the Patriarch predicted. "That is why [the UOC] faces such hatred from the modern architects of world conflicts," he explained.
He lamented the "unprecedented persecution" of the UOC by the Ukrainian government, which he compared in "scale and cynicism" to the anti-religious campaign that the Bolshevik government launched after seizing power in Russia in 1917.
Orthodox priests and faithful in Ukraine are facing fabricated criminal cases, slander in the media, seizure of property and desecration of their sacred places, Kirill claimed. There are even calls for an outright ban of the UOC, he added.
Religious tensions among Orthodox Christians have existed in Ukraine since the early years of the country's independence. Some priests split from the UOC to form a "Kiev patriarchate," which the Moscow patriarchate condemned. Later, in 2018, some UOC clerics and schismatics formed a new "Orthodox Church of Ukraine."
Then-President Pyotr Poroshenko touted the recognition of the new church by the Turkish-headquartered Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as a key achievement of his presidency.
In his speech on Thursday, Patriarch Kirill criticized Constantinople for its role in fostering divisions among Orthodox Christians. Moscow cut spiritual and diplomatic ties with Constantinople over its Ukraine decision.
In November last year, the Ukrainian security agency (SBU) launched a crackdown against the UOC, raiding monasteries and churches, searching for evidence of collusion with the Russian government. The service claimed that the church could be sheltering Russian agents and weapons stockpiles.
On Wednesday, Zelensky imposed the latest round of personal sanctions targeting UOC clergy, including several bishops.