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A Prayer for Peace in Ukraine

An all-Ukrainian cross procession for peace, initiated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate -MP), is taking place in Ukraine. Many thousands of people have joined the procession in the polarized regions of eastern and western Ukraine in an expression of peace, civil reconciliation and an end to the civil war that has wracked eastern Ukraine. The procession started from two opposite parts of Ukraine. In the East, processioners departed from the Holy Assumption Sviatohirsk Lavra in Donetsk region (approximately 150 km to the north of Donetsk city) on July 3. On July 9, another procession started in Western Ukraine, from the Holy Assumption Pochaiv Lavra in Ternopil region. The two processions will meet in Kyiv on July 26, 2016. They will join on Vladimir Hill and will walk together to Holy Assumption Kyiv-Pecherska Lavra, where solemn masses will be held.

A lavra is a monastery of the highest rank in the Eastern Orthodox Church. There are three lavras in Ukraine, belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP). That is why this cross procession is highly symbolic and will unite Ukraine – pilgrims from the east and from the west will walk through all Ukraine, congregating in Kyiv, the heart of Ukraine.

Cross processions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) have been held in Ukraine every year, to commemorate the baptism of Kievan Rus by Grand Prince Vladimir (Volodymyr in Ukrainian) in the year 988. To avoid frictions between believers belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and Kyiv Patriarchate, Kyiv city authorities decided to split celebrations in Kyiv into two days – on July 27 Orthodox parishioners of Moscow Patriarchate walk in procession through Kyiv, and the next day, on July 28, the parishioners of Kyiv Patriarchate do it.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate emerged in 1992 as the result of a schism within Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This was an effort to create an independent, truly ‘Ukrainian’ Orthodox church. Prior to 1992, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church existed within the Moscow Patriarchate as a self-governing church with the rights of wide autonomy, which it preserves today. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate is headed by Patriarch Filaret, a former Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In 1995, he proclaimed himself “Patriarch of Kyiv and of all Rus-Ukraine”. In 1997 he was excommunicated from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate for his schismatic actions.

According to the 2011 data of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) remains the largest in Ukraine. It has 12,340 parishes, 191 monasteries and employs 9,922 clerics. By contrast, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate has 4,482 parishes, 49 monasteries and 3,088 clerics. It is not recognized as a canonic church.

Since the beginning of civil war in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate took a neutral position, not taking sides and serving the needs of parishioners on both sides of the conflict. Many experts believe that the church of the Moscow Patriarchate is one of few institutions which could preserve Ukraine as a country. Because of its pacifist position, the church has been harshly criticized by ‘patriotic’ Ukrainian politicians and public figures for being an ‘agent’ of Kremlin, an outpost of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The primate of the Church His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy, has addressed the faithful by saying that the most that the Orthodox Church can do is to call for peace and to intensify prayers for peace to be granted to the Ukrainian land, something that the Church has being doing since the beginning of the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The primate noted that in spite of the peace-making mission of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, there are forces within Ukraine that try to portray the Church as inimical to Ukrainian society. An inter-confessional war is being ignited in the peaceful part of Ukraine, provocateurs direct their actions against clergy and parishioners and provocations have being made against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a whole. A unifying force of prayer of believers can work miracles, so every Christian should make a conscious effort to participate in the procession. Contemplation alone is not enough, said the primate. Who can walk – walks, who can walk only it their locality, join the procession, who can feed pilgrims – it is also your participation in the great common cause. The all-Ukrainian cross procession is a procession of peace, love and prayer for Ukraine, stated Metropolitan Onufriy.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists reports that over 10,000 people started the procession on July 9, 2016 from Pochaiv Lavra in Western Ukraine. Video can be seen here. Around 1,000 people started the procession from Sviatohirsk Lavra on July 3. Video can be seen here.

On July 10, the cross procession from the east reached Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. Over 10,000 people walked through the streets of the city wearing icons. Old, men, women with little kids and babies walk for peace in Ukraine.

Some Euromaidan ‘activists’ have stated that this cross procession is a “huge provocation” by the Russian FSB (security police) and that authorities should check all who participate in this procession. Euromaidan activists have also been discussing the need to disperse this “biological mass”.

The head of the Information Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, archbishop Evstratiy on his page on Facebook on July 11, after reading many posts on Facebook, noted that Ukrainians are afraid of the cross procession because they perceive it as a procession of the “Russian world” to Kyiv and may end up as a large anti-Maidan protest. The Archbishop came to a decision that the cross procession should be allowed to continue, but some precautionary measures should be taken so as to not play into the Kremlin’s hands. For instance, any “Russian, monarchic, or separatist’ symbols, such as Saint-George ribbon (symbol of Soviet victory in WWII) or a portrait of tsar Nicolai II, should be videotaped or photographed and reported to the police; participants in the procession should be verified whether they are Russian citizens or have connections with ‘separatists’.

The current speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Andriy Parubiy, a co-founder in the 1990s of the neo-Nazi party Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, stated that he knows for sure about a “scenario” that the Kremlin has prepared for July 27 in Kyiv, when the cross procession will reach the city. An expert on Ukrainian religious matters, speaking in a TV program, stated that by organizing the cross procession, the ‘Moscow church” wants to demonstrate its force and influence in Ukraine.

The head of the Ministry of Interior, Arsen Avakov, commented that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate has a right to do this cross procession as long as it does not threaten others. He added that Ukrainian security forces will ensure peace and security during the procession and warned radical nationalist forces to avoid any attempts to violently disrupt the procession.

The Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform has published opinions of several Ukrainian experts summarized in the telling title: “Cross procession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate – a mass Russian provocation. What our answer will be?”.

A leading Ukrainian newspaper, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, reports on the procession making frequent use of the term “Moscow Patriarchate” to stress the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is ruled from Moscow. The newspaper also places the word “procession” in quotation marks. Ukrainska Pravda, the main media outlet of Euromaidan, also resorts to quotation marks when republishing reports from the cross procession in Kharkiv. Anton Herashchenko, the deputy of Verkhovna Rada, an advisor to the head of the Ministry of Interior, called upon Ukrainian media to ignore the whole event because, in his opinion, media coverage will draw unnecessary attention to the procession and will transform it from a simple action into a big event.

Herashchenko, like other so-called Ukrainian experts, believes that the cross procession was planned in Moscow. He called it a “pop-parade”, the Russian word “pop” being a pejorative word for an Orthodox priest. In Herashchenko’s opinion, Moscow curators and organizers of the cross procession hope that Ukrainian patriotic forces will react to the procession violently, and as a result Russian media will be able to show to the whole world how the rights of Orthodox believers are violated in Ukraine.

In Herashchenko’s posts on Facebook, there is not a single word about the genuine intentions of the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) in organizing this cross procession, which is to make a collective prayer for peace and love. By calling it a “Kremlin provocation”, Herashchenko and others like him are fomenting interfaith hatred in Ukraine, which needs words of reconciliation, not war.

The extraordinary cross procession is a prayer for peace by thousands of common Ukrainians who want to put an end to a fratricidal war. In Ukraine, where the Euromaidan political elite embraced right-wing nationalism as its official ideology, it is up to ordinary Ukrainians to reunite a country, torn by civil war. Thousands of Ukrainians are walking for peace. Let us hope their prayers will be heard.

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Halyna Mokrushyna, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and journalist. Her research interests include the challenges of the post-Soviet transition in Ukraine; social and economic inequality in the post-Soviet context; historical and cultural divisions within Ukraine; social memory and politics of memory; relations between Russia and Canada and the broader context of the post-cold war world and relations between the East and the West. Her articles on these subjects were published on Counterpunch, Truthdig, and Truthout websites.

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