"I call on everyone to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression. I call on you to fight for Ukrainian statehood, to support the armed forces … Together we can stand. With God's help, we will win this fight," Metropolitan Epiphanius, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), said in a statement posted on the church's website Tuesday.
After the Soviet Union fell, Ukrainian Orthodoxy split between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which remains under the authority of the patriarch of Moscow, and factions that sought total independence, which they achieved in 2019 with the creation of the OCU. The Russian Orthodox Church, which had controlled the Ukrainian church since the 17th century, does not recognize the OCU's independence.
According to data from 2021, almost three-quarters of Ukrainians identify as Orthodox. Of those, 25 percent belong to the UOC-MP, while 58 percent belong to the OCU. An additional 12 percent identify as "just Orthodox."
"Ukraine is proud of interfaith and interethnic peace. No matter how hard the Kremlin tried to inflame the opposition over the years, it failed," Epiphanius said, urging members of the OCU not to engage in violence against the members or property of Russian-aligned churches. Such "provocations," he said, would be "in the interests of the aggressor."
He also called on members of the Russian-aligned UOC-MP not to "wait until your leaders dare to break the silence." Instead, he said, they should speak up personally and "say something in defense of peace, in defense of Ukraine" in order to show the "aggressor" that "you are not waiting for him."
Epiphanius and the OCU have repeatedly spoken out against Russian aggression, but the UOC-MP's website was devoid of commentary on the crisis until very recently. "The [UOC-MP] has consistently supported and continues to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine. … War is a grave sin before God," said Metropolitan Onufriy, who heads the UOC-MP, on Tuesday.