Moscow, December 14, Interfax - Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has forwarded messages to the heads of Orthodox Churches, the pope, the Anglican Church leader, the president of France, the German chancellor, and the leaders of other countries over the Ukrainian authorities' pressure on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Kiev's interference in church life in Ukraine.
According to the Moscow Patriarchate's website, Patriarch Kirill called on the clergy, politicians and the heads of international organizations to make every effort to protect the bishops, priests and followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and defend freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed by international law.
"The interference by the leaders of the secular Ukrainian state in church affairs has recently assumed the shape of undue pressure being exerted on the bishops and priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This allows me to speak of the start of all-out persecution," Patriarch Kirill said.
Pressure intensified after bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church refused to take part in the Kiev-endorsed "unification assembly", at which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is the largest church in Ukraine and has 13,000 parishes, more than 200 monasteries, and millions of followers, is expected to be replaced by a new religious organization created by the Ukrainian president together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Kirill said.
Priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been summoned by the Ukrainian Security Service for "discussions" and interrogations, the metropolitan of Donetsk has been banned from entering Ukraine, and attempts have been made to strip the canonical church of its legal rights to use the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra and the Pochayev Lavra, he said.
There have been attempts to prosecute bishops and priests based on unsubstantiated accusations of "high treason" and "incitement of religious enmity," he said. Searches have been carried out at diocesan administrations, churches, and priests' homes, Patriarch Kirill said.
"State-controlled media outlets are continuing their large-scale campaign to discredit the Ukrainian [Orthodox] Church. Personal information about bishops and priests has been published, in violation of the right to private life and the ban on the publication of personal information," he said.
Ukrainian government officials at the highest level even resort to public remarks about the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that "foment interfaith enmity," Patriarch Kirill said.
President Pyotr Poroshenko himself is not hiding his hostile attitude toward the church, publicly threatening to banish Ukrainians who are unwilling to join the new "autocephalous church" from the country, he said.
"We do not know what further steps the Ukrainian authorities will take, what further violations of fundamental and essential human and civil rights they may decide to commit in order to complete the objective set in the run-up to the presidential election. But the multiple instances of discrimination against the Ukrainian church that have already taken place prompt one to fear even greater encroachments on the rights and legal interests of Orthodox believers and the increase of their suffering for their loyalty to canonical Orthodoxy," he said.
"Grave interference by the state authorities of Ukraine in church life is happening right before our eyes, basic human rights, including the fundamental right to freedom of conscience, are being violated, and there is an obvious attempt to use the church to achieve political goals and in the election campaign," Patriarch Kirill said.
The messages were sent out ahead of the unification assembly scheduled to take place in Kiev on December 15, where it is expected that a church independent of the Moscow Patriarchate will be created.