World Council of Churches team visits Ukraine

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)St. Andrew's Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Kiev. Photographed on October 2, 2014.

A World Council of Churches delegation led by the WCC's general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit is visiting Ukraine from March 17 to 20 to explore supporting peace initiatives in the country.

"We hope that this visit can be seen as an expression of how the whole ecumenical family prays and acts together for justice and peace for the people of Ukraine," said Tveit.

"We go together to see, to listen and to discern what our future steps together can be," he said, the WCC said in a statement avialable on March 17.

The delegation will meet the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) which is the WCC member church in Ukraine, as well as with other churches and religious communities in Ukraine.

Advertisement

Religion has been part of the battleground in Ukraine for some time, eurasianet.org reported in January.

It ensued long before the Euromaidan movement gained power in Kiev, Russian troops snatched Crimea and separatists plunged eastern Ukraine into civil warfare.

The struggle has been rooted mainly in differences over church polity, rather than doctrinal disputes, eurasianet.org noted.

Its origin can be traced to the Soviet collapse in 1991.

Having regained statehood at that time, Ukraine's new political leadership helped some Ukrainian clerics declare ecclesiastical independence from the Moscow in 1992 by establishing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate.

In ensuing decades, followers of the Kyiv Patriarchate jockeyed for ecclesiastical control with adherents of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which remained loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate of Patriarch Kirill, who is seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

ORTHODOX WRANGLING IN UKRAINE

The wrangling was mainly confined to the matter of dividing church property, and the Kyiv Patriarchate made gradual, but steady inroads.

Still, the Moscow Patriarchate today still retains influence over about three-quarters of the approximately 16,000 Orthodox Church parishes in Ukraine.

At the same time, the ratio of Orthodox believers' loyalties in Ukraine was believed to be evenly split, 50-50, between the Kyiv and Moscow patriarchates in 2012 according to eurasianet.org.

Over the past year, as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia intensified, religion has emerged as a proxy for the political struggle.

The Kyiv Patriarchate has supported the Westward-oriented outlook of the Euromaidan movement.

At the same time Putin and Russian church leaders, have appropriated Orthodox religious motifs in honing a messianic message designed to help justify Russia's Crimean land grab, eurasianet.org reported.

The WCC group will also talk with high-ranking Ukrainian political leaders.

On Feb. 13 the WCC had welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire agreement for eastern Ukraine negotiated in Minsk as a "first step towards peace."

"We express our sincere appreciation to all parties to these negotiations for this first step together towards peace, and to the leaders of Germany and France for their facilitation of the negotiations," said Georges Lemopoulos, WCC acting general secretary.

Despite the signing of the Feb. 12 accord, heavy machine-gun and light artillery fire pounded a district of Donetsk, the biggest city of eastern Ukraine, on March 16 and pro-Russian rebels said there has been no lull in the fighting since the cease-fire, Reuters news agency reported.

Spartak, adjacent to the city's flattened airport, is one of several eastern Ukraine sites to experience continued hostilities between the rebels and Ukrainian government forces since last month's cease-fire, brokered by France and Germany in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

The cease-fire is broadly holding in the rest of the region.Reuters news agency reported.

A United Nations report on March 9 said there are reliable indications of an ongoing influx of heavy and sophisticated weaponry to armed groups in eastern Ukraine comprising foreign fighters, including from Russia.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued its 9th report March 2 on the situation of human rights in Ukraine based covering the period from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15.

ANGELA MERKEL

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Russia will face fresh sanctions from the EU if the deal to end the Ukraine war is not fully implemented, the BBC reported at the time of the February accord.

The ceasefire was due to come into effect from Feb. 16 under the agreement, which also aims at a removal of the heavy weapons responsible for many of the 5,000 casualties in the conflict that broke nearly one year ago.

In a statement on Feb. 13 the WCC's Lemopoulos said, "The deaths and damage - and the confrontation and distrust within the international community - resulting from the conflict in Ukraine must be brought to an end."

The WCC said that elements of the new ceasefire agreement "offer building blocks for a peaceful and principled resolution of the situation."

"In the meantime, the WCC urges all parties to the conflict to continue their steps towards peace, to maintain a commitment to dialogue and diplomacy."

The church grouping that represents more than 500 million Christians said it wants the fighting parties to "refrain from further violence that only can cause greater human suffering in Ukraine and deepen the rift in the social and political fabric of the region and in the wider international community."

Copyright © 2015 Ecumenical News