With Whom to Stand?

There is, generally speaking, in the Western world a sad silence that reigns with regard to topics like the persecution of Christians. One such example in recent decades has been the mass persecution and destruction of Christian populations in the Middle East. A number of years ago I gave a small talk in which I tried to raise awareness about the persecution taking place in the Middle East, although the information is now a few years old, it adequately reflects my point – “In Egypt well over 100,000 Christians have fled due to persecution, in Syria around 450,000 are displaced or have fled, in Iraq the Christian population was at about 1,500,000 before the Iraqi war, since then more then half the Christians have fled due to violence, roughly around 750,000. These numbers alone surge past one million.”

During the past decades I was hard pressed to find even a general Christian voice addressing the violence against Christians in the Middle East – the crucifixions, the beheadings, and other such barbaric acts at the hands of the various Islamic groups, some of which were and are supported by the U.S. Government (the idea of “moderate” rebels in the Middle East is a joke, many of these “moderates” have brutally tortured and slaughtered Christians, and to be fair, other Muslim groups that differed from them). Western society is generally self-absorbed and cares little for those who truly suffer. I’ve pointed this out in the past, people in other counties can die in droves, who cares! But refuse to bake a cake for a homosexual event and you are a person worse than Hitler! But I digress …

The willingness to stand with the persecuted, even if separated by an immense distance is vital. Are we remembering them, praying for them, and if possible offering material support? St. Paul says in Hebrews, “Remember those in prison, as though in prison with them” (13:3), speaking specifically of those jailed and suffering for the faith. Elsewhere he relates this spiritual reality, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor. 12:26). We as Orthodox Christians should strive to hold in our hearts those suffering for the Faith.

As our brothers and sisters continue to suffer in the Middle East (and elsewhere), a new persecution is taking place. It bears a sinister aspect, for it is being implemented by those who pose as Christians. I am referring to the events in Ukraine. It bears repeating, the only true Orthodox Church of Ukraine is under Met. Onuphry.

Bishop Viktor (Kotsaba) of the Church in Ukraine said recently in an interview, “Today the Orthodox believers of Ukraine have been taken for ransom in the political games of the heads of the state, who have drawn Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople into these processes. This has led to numerous conflicts based on religion. The international community should know that the church buildings of our thousand-year-old Church are being seized and the faithful are being brutalized. Government officials are forcing the clergy of the UOC to transfer to the so-called ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine’ supported by the government on all levels … Furthermore the Ukrainian security forces are calling the clergy into interrogations, and our bishops are only able to cross state borders after prior questioning along with increased examination by special state agencies.”

I have written in other posts regarding the spiritual bankruptcy of the false church currently under Mr. Epi (Epiphany), which is ultimately under Pat. Bartholomew. They have banded together with government forces to persecute the true Faithful in Ukraine. These persecutors of the Truth are boldly moving forward in great part because the Patriarch of Istanbul (Ecumenical Patriarchate) in an act fiat proclaimed them “legitimate.” Now the legitimate fruit of these spiritual tombs is becoming manifest.

A troubling question arises, why has the EP not condemned the brutalization of the clergy and faithful under Met. Onuphry, in Ukraine? It is safe to conclude, if I am able to read and be relatively informed about the situation there, the authorities in Istanbul are able too. Thus, pleading ignorance is not an option. An even more troubling scenario arises, the spike in persecution is directly related to the actions of the EP in Ukraine. Thus, since, as of yet, no firm condemnation of the persecution has been issued by the EP, one is left to wonder if it condones the persecution? At best (if such a phrase applies to these situations), the EP is culpable because its group, the group under its authority, is actively persecuting those who are faithful to Traditional Orthodoxy in Ukraine. If the EP is such a concerned Archpastor for “his children” in Ukraine, why is he allowing the majority of them to be harassed and persecuted?

Thankfully a few Orthodox national Churches have had the courage to issue a condemnation of the persecutions and confirm their strong support for Met. Onuphry and the Orthodox faithful, such as Serbia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Others also have spoken.

I wonder sometimes, how long may we as the Orthodox world turn a blind eye to this outright persecution of the faithful in Ukraine at the hands of those who claim to be “Christians?” It seems, at times, there is (in America at least) a timidness to speak firmly on the matter because there is a desire to maintain “unity.”

What unity do true Orthodox Christians have with those false ones, and their supporters, who are beating up priests and the faithful, seizing church buildings, desecrating icons, and generally terrorizing the Church in Ukraine?

What unity do we have with those persecuting our brothers and sisters in Ukraine?

What unity do we have with a “church” promoted by government officials who are apostate (Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, a main force behind the pseudo-church, openly communes from Uniates)?

What unity do we have with those who have uncanonical ordinations (and thus mysteries)? Most of the “clergy” in the pseudo-church were never truly ordained, they are essentially apostate laymen dressing up as clergy. Moreover, we could ask – do we, as Orthodox believe that the EP has the power, with only the stroke of a pen, to make uncanonical ordinations valid? This is a vital issue.

Ultimately, many of the ecclesiastical issues are beyond me as a simple parish priest, and yet, I do have a conscience and I must also answer to the Lord, as must we all.

Blessed are you when men persecute you,” says the Lord. I have yet to read a passage that says, “Blessed are you when you persecute others.”

Although separated by a vast distance, my heart and prayers are with the Faithful Orthodox under Met. Onuphry in Ukraine. And I will endeavor in some small and feeble way to stand with them; I will not have fellowship with the godless persecutors and those who offer them “legitimacy.”

What can we do? Pray, speak up on their behalf, offer material support if possible, and refuse to have “unity” with blatant persecutors of the Faith.

Ultimately truth will prevail, and persecutions will only strengthen the True Church. Heaven will remember as heroes those who hold fast in truth, and will reveal those who use Christianity for evil gain to be what they are – “Late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots” (Jude 12).

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