8 Lies Told by Enemies of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

As this situation intensifies, many lies are being spread to distract from the ongoing horrors. Below, we explore and debunk eight of the most egregious.

Lie #1 – There is no persecution. That is all Russian Propaganda.

All over social media, and even in some corners of cable news and government offices, people are denying that any persecution is actually taking place. The whole thing is simply “Russian propaganda”. Everything is nice and democratic. Whatever “shifts” occur of people and/or property, from the UOC to the OCU, are voluntary.

This is easy to disprove, of course. A lot of people in the West still have contacts in Ukraine, including priests such as Fr. Michael Lillie, who recently published this on his Twitter timeline:

“I just got off the phone with one of our sources in Kiev and I feel sick.

Here’s what he told me: “The authorities took the Soviet model of 100 years ago and are applying it to the faithful of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We have no rights, we have no protection, nobody wants to help us anymore. People believe we are traitors to our country just because we are loyal to our Church.” Here are some other things he mentioned:

-The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is considering the complete cancellation of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This means they want to legitimize what they’ve been doing anyway for years now: so that the government has every legal right to confiscate any and all property of the UOC.

-The police, courts, and the law have also been effectively cancelled. Nobody who is a canonical Orthodox Christian has any rights under Zelensky’s democratic regime

-A canonical Orthodox Christian can be relieved of their citizenship, property, bank account, civil rights, freedom ‒ whenever the president wishes. This is in a country where 7,000,000 citizens (twice as much as the population of the country of Georgia) self-identify as members of the canonical UOC. Which means – lots of property to take over.

-The press routinely publishes libelous stories about the hierarchy of the UOC under such catchy headlines as: “Ultimate proof of Metropolitan Onuphry’s political allegiance to Russia.” And the ultimate proof turns out to be… a theological book from his personal library that was printed in Russia.

I’m not asking you for money in this e-mail. I just hope that you take a minute to pray for the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They are martyrs in the making. Please pray for them now. And please tell others about what’s going on.

You do not need eyewitness accounts, however, as the persecution is being carried out in full view of the entire world.  According to a letter from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and the Kiev Caves Lavra National Reserve, the UOC has until March 29 to completely vacate the Holy Dormition-Kiev Caves Lavra. This is the holiest site in all of Ukraine, where the UOC has prayed and ascetically struggled for 1,000 years. The upper Lavra was stripped from the UOC in January. Now the 100 or so monks will be completely thrown out on the basis of hate-filled lies.

Zelenskyy, in an evening address on 3/12/2023, confirmed that this injustice is being perpetrated on his orders.

The “terrorist state” is not occupying the Lavra. There are no Russians there at all. Everyone there is a Ukrainian citizen.

The schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine heartily approves of all these actions. To them, Metropolitan Onuphry and his Church are their implacable enemies. The OCU will support whatever actions the government takes, as they will be among the greatest beneficiaries. The blood of martyrs may soon be upon them.

There are more examples of persecution.  Oleh Denysov is a lawyer from Ukraine and founder of the NGO Public Advocacy. He reached out to Orthodox Reflections from Geneva where he is speaking to the UN HRC,  the UN Special Rapporteur of freedom of religion, and to other officials regarding UOC cases. Mr. Denysov has previously represented cases of the Jerusalem and Antioch Patriarchates, and dioceses of Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. He brought to our attention recent statements made during the ongoing UNHRC session accessible via this link. The documents detail the difficulties faced by the UOC, and the legal presentations requesting assistance from the UN. Here is some detail on persecution presented in a document, ON ARBITRARY DETENTIONS AND DISAPPEARANCES OF CLERGY OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH:

Among them it is worth highlighting the mass beating of believers of the UOC by law enforcement units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in Katerynivka village, Ternopil region; armed seizures of the temple in Ptycha village, Rivne region[3]; causing bodily harm to a number of parishioners and clerics of the UOC during other clashes[4]. Of particular note is the fact that since 2015, local governments in different regions have adopted a variety of decisions containing discriminatory rhetoric in relation to the UOC. Those include decisions of regional, district and village councils demanding to ban the activities of the UOC[5], decisions on the forced transfer of property of the UOC to other persons[6], as well as a bill, eventually approved by the Parliament of Ukraine, which established an obligation to change the names of all religious organizations of the UOC by indicating in the names their affiliation to the aggressor state – the Russian Federation[7]. It should also be noted that the state authorities at the central level blocked the possibility of making changes to the charters of the monasteries and dioceses of the UOC. As a result, over the past 3 years, the central structures of the UOC have not been able to legally appoint their leaders, even in the event of their death[8].

Beatings, closing holy sites, arbitrary arrests, forcibly transferring property, interfering with the ability of the UOC to function, trying to forcibly name the UOC as a “foreign” entity – if those don’t count as persecution, then that word has no meaning.

Further, before leaving this topic, let us note that many supporters of Kiev and OCU have been remarking that the government had the “right” to evict the UOC monks from the Lavra because it officially owns the property. This line of reasoning obfuscates a very important point – the Lavra should have been transferred to the ownership of the UOC many years ago. The following quote is from the document, ON THE UNLAWFUL DEPRIVATION OF THE KYIV- PECHERSK LAVRA OF THE RIGHTS TO CHURCHES OF THE UOC MONASTERY:

The legal entity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – The Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (Monastery) – is part of the confession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. From the moment of its foundation, this monastery sought to reclaim its ownership or use of churches historically belonging to the Orthodox denomination. The state bodies of Ukraine satisfied the petitions of the monastery, transferring to it the churches and buildings that are part of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra complex, mainly on the rights of rent and free use. At the same time, the state reserves the owner’s rights to these buildings, which actually testifies to the failure to fulfill obligations for the restitution of church property in full scope.

Lie # 2 – The (schismatic) Orthodox Church in Ukraine and its supporters are good people.

I have been asked many times how I can know for certain that the UOC is the true Church in Ukraine and not the OCU. There are many reasons I believe that, but one reason for me stands above all others. OCU, and those who support it, have hearts made of stone. They could watch Metropolitan Onuphry, his clergy, and his flock murdered in the streets and cheer or, at the very least, find a way to justify the murders.

Where there is no love and compassion, there is no Orthodoxy.  The Holy Spirit does not dwell in hearts given over to cruelty. You may be officially “Orthodox”, you may be ordained, you may even be a Patriarch – but to partake in such evil puts you firmly outside the Body the Christ.

We have seen multiple clergy associated with the Patriarch of Constantinople denying the basic human rights, even the very humanity, of the UOC. What happens to fellow Christians in Ukraine is of no consequence to these men. All that matters is that the world bows down to the will of their master in Istanbul.  At Orthodox Reflections, we have also gotten multiple hate-filled responses from laity, usually associated with one Greek Archdiocese or another, flatly telling us that the UOC deserves to be martyred. On the subject of the UOC, these people are so vicious as to border on the malevolent.

Many of these people, clergy included, are political leftists. They lament the burden carried by “marginalized” groups such as the LGBTQ and illegal “migrants”. They talk incessantly about democracy and human rights for everyone from Iranian women to Hungarian dissidents. For everyone that is, except for Ukrainian Christians whom, they seem to believe, are unworthy of any compassion whatsoever.

Lie # 3 – The UOC is a “Russian” Church

On this past Sunday of Orthodoxy, Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria concelebrated with Epiphanios, the imposter who pretends to be primate of the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine. After the liturgy, the Patriarch delivered a homily in which he touched upon the issues in Ukraine, and his own issues in Africa with the Russian Church. You can read the whole homily in either Greek or English here.

If you read the whole thing, you will quickly note something rather odd. Judging by the homily, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and her ruling primate, Metropolitan Onuphry, do not exist. Neither they, nor the immense persecution they are suffering, are ever mentioned. They are completely memory-holed, and instead the ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine is framed as Ukrainian (OCU) versus Russian (Moscow Patriarchate).

This is a lie by omission, but a lie nonetheless. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a Ukrainian Church headed by a native-born Ukrainian, Metropolitan Onuphry. As we have covered before, the UOC supports the Ukrainian War effort both materially and through prayer. According to official data, the church renders great assistance to the army, internally displaced persons, and the needy. The UOC assistance to the army has reached nearly a million dollars, and more than 180 tons of humanitarian aid have been delivered for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Hugely impressive numbers given that people in Ukraine are the poorest in Europe. In addition, at the UOC’s main council in May 2022, a number of decisions were adopted to break off all remaining ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.

But the enemies of the UOC, both in and out of the Orthodox Church, refuse to recognize the truth, and instead pretend that faithful Ukrainians are really Russians.

That is not the end of their lies. The excerpt below is from the speech of Patriarch Theodoros (emphasis added):

Nevertheless, Your Beatitude, at this solemn and unifying moment of communion between us, in the context of Your Peaceful visit to us, during which we welcome You as equal and Canonical Primate of a martyred Church, large in numbers, after the absolutely correct Canonical and rightful transfer of Autocephaly under the All-Holy Ecumenical Throne and its Serene Primate, His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Your Most Holy Metropolis of Kiev and all Ukraine.

The OCU under Epiphanios is not a martyred Church. It is part of a governing structure that is carrying out Christian persecution. An integral part, by the way. So much for love thy neighbor as thyself – a duty of charity owed to even the rankest of sinners. Much less to innocent Orthodox Christians.

Further, we have seen many say the same things as the Patriarch does above, that the Patriarch of Constantinople had the “obligation” and the “right” to end the schism in Ukraine by gifting the people of Ukraine a “local autocephalous” church. Absolute lies, all of it.

Prior to 2018, all Orthodox Churches in the world, including Constantinople and Alexandria, recognized Metropolitan Onuphry as a brother hierarch and his Ukrainian Church as being the fully canonical, local Orthodox Church in Ukraine. This recognition was publicly confirmed as recently as the session of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambésy, Switzerland on January 21-27, 2016. At that meeting, “His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine” was officially recognized as a canonical member of the gathering. In his keynote address at that meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greeted the participants: “Your Beatitudes and beloved Brothers in the Lord, Primates of the local most holy Orthodox Churches and venerable representatives of brother Primates precluded from participating in this Synaxis, together with Your honorable entourages…”

The so-called “schism” in Ukraine had persisted from the 90’s and was mostly a non-issue. Over 70% of Ukrainians belonged to the UOC under Metropolitan Onuphry, prior to the war. The people had chosen, and they had decidedly rejected joining the schismatic bodies known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). Millions still reject joining with them. Below is footage of a massive protest against taking the Lavra from the UOC:

The OCU was created for political reasons. During Poroshenko’s presidential campaign, he ran on a platform of “army, language, faith.” Having his own personal Church would benefit his campaign, and the future growth of Ukrainian nationalism. Or so he (incorrectly as it turned out) thought at the time. The US backed this move wholeheartedly, while applying pressure to the Patriarch of Constantinople to betray Metropolitan Onuphry, and his Church, by granting a tomos of autocephaly to illegitimate, uncanonical “churches”. In truth, the Patriarch, always eager for more power and to be at the service of Globalist forces, probably needed very little convincing. The US, of course, saw this move as a way to isolate Russia, remove a pillar of Russian “soft power”, and further legitimize the post coup regime. Never mind the fact that the UOC was a self-governing church run by Ukrainians and for Ukrainians.

So a president brought to power by a coup, a foreign nation, and a foreign patriarch all colluded to strip the UOC of its canonical status. A status that had been recognized just a couple years prior by the entire Orthodox world. No one involved in this decision-making cared one bit about the millions of Ukrainians who belonged, happily and faithfully, to the UOC. They did not matter at all, even though they are, just like Metropolitan Onuphry, Ukrainian citizens.  To support this move, it was necessary to concoct and spread the lie that the UOC was “Russian” and the OCU was Ukrainian. This damnable lie continues to be repeated ad nauseum by apologists for the Ukraine government, OCU, American policy, and the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Lie #4 – The UOC refused to join the new “national” church because of Russian Ethnophyletism

Metropolitan Onuphry is a native-born Ukrainian from the West of the country. His native language is Ukrainian. Which makes the charge, that he refused to merge with the newly formed OCU out of dedication to Russian ethnophyletism, more than a little bizarre. The UOC was put under immense pressure to give up its independence and merge with uncanonical groups in 2018. At the time, the UOC made clear statements as to why this was not going to happen, and none of them had to do with allegiance to Moscow, which recognized the UOC as fully self-governing in any case. Among the reasons why the UOC refused to join in a forced union with the illegitimate bodies supported by Constantinople:

  • The schisms began and persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements. While the UOC was self-governing, and thus not beholden to Moscow, approximately 20% of her flock were Ukrainian citizens who spoke Russian as their native language.  The UOC did not want to yoke itself to a neo-Church movement that both preached and practiced ethnophilic hate. Further, the UOC felt that getting along with Russia was essential to peace. The current legal persecution of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, and the destructive war with Russia, could have both been avoided by listening to the wisdom of the bishops of the UOC.
  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Church saw this process of restoring the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy as potentially transforming the Church into an element of politics and/or propaganda. This would contradict the nature of the Church. The UOC synod argued that overcoming of the Church division should occur without the interference of state, political, and other external forces.
  • At the time in 2018, the UOC Council of Bishops opposed attempts to change the name of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The UOC did not wish to be known as being of the “Moscow Patriarchate”, as forcing this name change was obviously an attempt to pretend it was a “foreign” church.
  • The Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church rejected the decisions of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from October 11, 2018 regarding the Ukrainian Church issue as invalid. The UOC hierarchs contended that the decision to remove anathemas and other Church prohibitions from the leaders of the schism, and the recognition of the validity of the pseudo-consecrations they celebrated while being in schism, is the result of a distorted interpretation of Orthodox canons. As noted by the UOC hierarchs, “The history of the Orthodox Church knows no instances of overcoming a schism by simply legalizing it. Having made such an anti-canonical decision, having recognized schismatics in their existing orders, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, according to the rules of the Church, itself embarked upon the path of schism. In this regard, the Eucharistic communion of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Patriarchate of Constantinople is currently impossible and discontinued.”

As we noted, the UOC has broken with Russia and has criticized the Russian Church, including Patriarch Kirill. Further, as noted, the UOC materially and spiritually supports the Ukrainian War effort. Despite massive “security sweeps”, there is no real evidence of treason within the UOC. Fr. Michael’s Tweet above illustrates the banal nature of so-called “proof” of UOC treachery – “The press routinely publishes libelous stories about the hierarchy of the UOC under such catchy headlines as: “Ultimate proof of Metropolitan Onuphry’s political allegiance to Russia.” And the ultimate proof turns out to be… a theological book from his personal library that was printed in Russia.” Other “evidence” seized from churches and monasteries has included service books in Russian, children’s books in Russian, old homilies in Russian, etc.

It would seem the government in Kiev is so desperate for a reason to persecute the UOC, that it is willing to ignore the fact that its own leader, President Zelenskyy, is a native speaker of the Russian language. He only learned Ukrainian as a 40-year-old adult. One wonders how much “evidence” of his pro-Russian sympathies could be found if his home were raided and his personal effects were searched?

Are there pro-Russian sympathizers within the UOC? Are any of them actively working, in some capacity, for Russia? Probably. But that also applies to any large Ukrainian organization. One dimension of this war is actually a civil war between Ukrainians that has been going on since 2014. Now, is there any evidence that such pro-Russian activity is at all widespread within the UOC? Or that it involves senior clergy?

None. But even if there are guilty individuals, punishing the entire Church for the actions of a few would still be a gross violation of religious freedom. Collective punishment of innocent individuals is never considered appropriate in the modern world. Is that kind of action consistent with a war for “freedom” and “democracy”?

Loyal Ukrainians in the UOC simply cannot understand why their own government is doing this to them:

Я підтримую УПЦ. I am the member of Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Now our church helps our army and people. Our Church and we pray for our country and soldiers. And it’s very terrible that the government of Ukraine doesn’t see our efforts and persecute our church. Please help us to protect our Church and Metropolitan Onufrii. Please let the world know about this problem and help us. I want to thank to everybody who supports our Church and to thank to everybody who created this petition. God will help all of you!

Lie #6 – The US is not responsible for the existence of the OCU

Any clear thinking person can see that the US was behind the Ukrainian coup in 2014, and also behind the establishment of the OCU. The quote below is from an article on The American Conservative website entitled Zelensky vs. the Ukrainian Orthodox Church:

The State Department and politicians of both parties carried out work to promote the new church. Two months before the creation of the OCU in 2018, Filaret and Epifaniy met in the United States with Joe Biden, who declared his gratitude for their work. State Department Ambassador for Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and special representative for Ukraine Ambassador Kurt Volker declared their support for this project.

Immediately after its creation, the OCU received its first official congratulations from the State Department and the U.S. Embassy. At the same time, Ambassador Brownback and the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt—who was also ambassador to Ukraine from 2013 to 2016—visited church leaders and Mount Athos to urge them to recognize the OCU. Both Ambassador Volker and Secretary Pompeo met with Epifaniy many times. All facts indicate that the promotion of the OCU was part of U.S. policy in Ukraine.

US influence was essential to the creation of OCU, with no thought given to the desires or needs of actual Ukrainians. US money and weapons are essential to protecting and sustaining the Zelenskyy Government while it persecutes the canonical UOC. Before God, the US is just as guilty of Christian persecution as those men carrying out the actual beatings, arrests, and property seizures.

Lie #7 – The OCU is Orthodox

As noted above, the OCU was founded for political and foreign policy (US support) reasons. Created out of two anti-Russian, nationalist movements, OCU has provided a hospital abode for radical Ukrainian nationalists / Nazis. It is known for nationalistic iconography and for misusing iconographic images for propaganda purposes. OCU supporters are also known to burn icons from UOC holy sites, and to deface parishes. These are not the actions of faithful Orthodox Christians.

Plus, the OCU actively supports, and even participates in, the persecution of Orthodox Christians. This is, by definition, anti-Orthodox behavior. In addition, OCU treats its “autocephaly” as a kind of idol that it worships. This probably contributes to its haughtiness and lack of empathy. OCU takes all it can, rather than humbly seeking to serve.

Further, the OCU is very accommodating to “woke” challenges to Orthodox Faith and morals. Many things illustrate this. OCU has a mutually supportive relationship with Zelenskyy, whose campaign platform included the free distribution of medical cannabis, free abortion in Ukraine, LGBTQ rights, the legalization of prostitution and gambling, outlawing personal ownership of weapons, and “Green” energy.  Zelenskyy is so dedicated to “Woke” ideology, that he took the time, in the middle of his war with Russia, to make a video promoting Green Energy

To no one’s surprise, the persecution and silencing of the UOC have led to the Ukrainian Government pushing forward on such Woke issues as same-sex “marriage”, complete with a new draft law submitted to the Ukrainian Parliament:

Many commentators claim that the OCU and the UOC are equally Orthodox, so there is no reason to prefer one over the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you need additional evidence of that, remember that the OCU is heavily backed by the US national security state which only backs Woke groups and governments that are opposed to traditional Christian values. 

“Woke” is an eclectic mishmash of Greenism, socialism, open immigration, radical feminism, Critical Race Theory, Transgenderism, LGBTQIA+ radicalism, anti-natalism, COVIDism, abortion, sanctification of “People of Color”, and Globalism. If a conservative Christian country, leader, or Church (such as the UOC) believes such traditional things as homosexuality or abortion on demand are morally objectionable, the US fully believes it has the right, nay the obligation, to use federal government resources to rectify the situation in the name of “democracy”. The United States must be considered the world leader in compelling global conformity to Woke political and moral values.

If the US fully supports the OCU, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Patriarch of Alexandria, while actively helping in the persecution of the UOC – those facts alone should tell you all you need to know about who is actually preserving the traditional Orthodox Faith.

Lie # 8 – The Ukrainian people support the persecution of the UOC, and that matters.

Before the war, estimates were that 70% of the population of Ukraine belonged to the UOC. As a result of the war, many Ukrainians have fled to other countries. The UOC has responded by opening parishes abroad. Dozens of them. Further, millions of Ukrainian citizens still self-identify as members of the UOC, despite the persecution, or at the very least support the right of their neighbors to do so. We noted above the recent procession of thousands of Ukrainians near the Lavra to protest it being closed to the UOC. Comments like this one in support of the UOC are common on our Website.

Even if the UOC constitutes a religious minority, freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. You cannot strip people of their human rights by a “democratic” vote in a parliament or via Presidential fiat. Some fundamental rights, such as the right to freely worship, cannot ever be overridden through “democratic” processes. Are American tax payers spending hundreds of billions of dollars, and risking possible nuclear war, to back religious persecution in Ukraine that we would never tolerate at home?

The right of the UOC to peacefully practice the Orthodox religion does not depend on its popularity with any segment of the Ukrainian people or government.

Nicholas – member of the Western Rite Vicariate, a part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in America

Please Make Your Voice Heard

Orthodox Reflections is sponsoring a petition supporting the UOC. The petition has been signed by almost 3,400 people globally. To sign the petition, click hereTo read the petition verbiage, click here. To see the list of signatures, please click here. To view organizations who have received the petition so far, click here. For media links to coverage of the petition effort (that we know of), click here.