Article by: Halyna Tereshchuk
Lviv – Russia is interested in inciting an inter-religious conflict in Ukraine: to transfer the conflict between the Ukrainian public and the external aggressor to religious grounds. However, nobody will be able to start conflict in the religious community, said head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) Svyatoslav Shevchuk on Thursday in Lviv. He came to the city to meet with Eastern Catholic clergy from Europe and commemorate the 25th anniversary since the UGCC came out from underground.
Head of the UGCC Stvyatoslav Shevchuk thinks that there is understanding between the churches and religious organizations which has not been seen for 25 years now. However, this situation does not sit well with everybody, therefore there is interest in inter-religious conflict.
For example, at the last Catholic Synod in Rome for family issues, which involved representatives of the Orthodox Church, the metropolitan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Ilarion Alfeyev accused the UGCC of starting civil war in Ukraine, refused to acknowledge the right of the UGCC to exist, accused the Greek-Catholic clergy of communicating with representatives of non-canon churches, which, in his opinion, causes irrevocable suffering to the Orthodox community within the Moscow Patriarchate.
UGCC head Svyatoslav Shevchuk thinks that the Russian church made another aggressive attack on the Greek Catholic Church.
“The UGCC is celebrating 25 years of freedom, and in 25 years the rhetoric from our northern brother has not changed at all. The very fact that our Church exists constitutes a challenge. Someone wants to transfer the conflict present in Ukraine to religious grounds, and, by doing so, incite inter-religious conflict,” emphasized UGCC head Svyatoslav Shevchuk.
According to the head of the Greek Catholics, the Russian metropolitan bishop’s speech yielded a negative reaction from those present at the Synod, in particular, the Pope.
Head of the UGCC was misunderstood
Svyatoslav Shevchuk reacted to the Russian metropolitan bishop’s words in an interview to Catholic media, wherein, he says, he tried to explain the contact between UGCC and the Orthodox Church, in particular, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate. However, the biggest reaction in Ukraine was caused by his words that it is no mystery to anyone that “the single canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine, so such which is fully in touch with global Orthodoxy, is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church together with the Moscow Patriarchate. There are other Orthodox clerical communities, which during Ukraine’s independence, at various times and for various reasons, separated from this Patriarchate; other Orthodox Churches are considered non-canonical.”
Much of the congregation and the clergy of the UOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate viewed the words of the head of the UGCC negatively.
“If someone does want to find out the whole story, what I really was saying, I was trying to defend and explain the essence of our contacts. I want to emphasize that we have deep respect to all religious, in particular, all Orthodox Churches. We respect the Orthodox side the way it is. Such comments should not cause worry at any side. We have to ensure the deepening of our relationships,” notes Svyatoslav Shevchuk.
Religious peace in Ukraine irritates Russia
Religion expert Andriy Yurash thinks that the UGCC has to clearly explain its position, explain the words of the head to the Kyiv Patriarchate UOC believers. He thinks that an uncomfortable situation has emerged. Maidan in Kyiv did a fantastic thing: it united all the religions. Therefore, Russia will try to start inter-religious arguments in Ukraine and manipulate thoughts and words.
“When everything is peaceful in Ukraine in the religious sense, they have to remind us of myths that have nothing to do with historical realities. This is not targeted at Ukraine as much as the world, to organize arguments and conflict between the Churches,” the expert noted.
Moscow will do everything possible so that Orthodox Ukrainians do not unite into a single Church, using its influence of world Orthodoxy, said head of the Kyiv Patriarchy Filaret at a briefing on October 22. According to him, Constantinople and Moscow are competing for first place.