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METROPOLITAN THEODOSIUS: “The status of a UN human rights defender provides for a wide range of opportunities to convey true information about the persecution of the UOC to the international community”

– Your Eminence, you became the first hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to speak from the highest international tribune – the United Nations. How did this come about ?

– Perhaps, by the Providence of God. Knowing about the many gross violations of religious freedoms in our country, international human rights organisations approached me several times with a request to speak at the UN Human Rights Council. They asked me to inform international diplomats firsthand about violations of the rights and freedoms of UOC believers, to act as a religious expert, a lecturer at the Theological Academy and a UOC hierarch who is being persecuted for his religious beliefs and canonical position.

– Do you think your speech will make an impact?

– I have no doubt that it will, and it has already given impetus to the coverage of this topic around the world, the topic of the current persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It seems to me that this case is finally moving forward. Tell me, is it even conceivable to think that in the twenty-first century, in the centre of the European continent, religious persecution of the scale that is now taking place in Ukraine could happen ? It is beyond the imagination of normal people. The last time our Church experienced such persecution was during the time of General Secretary Khrushchev. But even Khrushchev did not think of passing a state law (!) prohibiting the Church. And that is exactly what is now being done against the Church. Religious persecution is an absolute evil. And evil must be fought, it must be dragged into the light. Evil does not like light and does not like publicity. In the light of day, evil is forced to squirm, justify itself, and retreat.

– Your Eminence, your video messages in defense of the Church from house arrest have become a great support and strengthening of faith and hope for many believers of the UOC. At the same time, it was on the basis of these video messages that a new criminal case was formed and initiated against you, for which you were almost imprisoned, but the people pleaded with you. Tell us, do you plan to continue recording videos in support of believers?

– If the Lord blesses me and gives me strength, then of course. This is now, in a sense, my duty, my debt to believers. A duty to the clergy, who did not stand aside when I was in dire need of prayerful help and support. You said correctly that the people prayed for me. And I am indebted to the people. But one should speak only when there is something to say. And only when it is time to say it. And most importantly, one should say only what will benefit the Church, protect it and strengthen the faithful. And, in addition, we still have to restore the equipment used for making video recordings, because during the last search, the SBU representatives seized all the remaining computers and phones so that there was nothing left to record on. They also scrupulously searched for outlines of my theses for video messages, which was a separate item in the search warrant.

– What else were they looking for?

– According to the investigating judge’s ruling, they were looking for anything that would allow me to make video messages to the faithful. But, apparently, their unspoken task was also to block my ability to promptly resolve the affairs of the following Cherkasy eparchy, which I manage. They seized everything that allowed me to work remotely with eparchial documents: the eparchial computer, hard drives with eparchial documents, even a primitive push-button telephone. All of this had nothing to do with the “offense” they were investigating, but they , nevertheless, seized it all. And bear in mind that the previous search was conducted by the same SBU officers as this time. So they already knew exactly where everything was, as they say, they were easily ” well oriented with the terrain”.

– How did the security forces behave during the search? Were they not acting with brazen impudence ?

– Barely within the limits of decency. After all, everything depends on the cultural level of each person, regardless of their profession, whether they are a security officer, a postman, or a priest. It was the same here. Some of them calmly fulfilled the procedural task, while others told me that “there is no God, but there is something there…”, that “Church Slavonic is a dead language”, tried to reproach me for having my textbook on Pastoral Theology published in Russian, for having “not enough patriotic symbols” in the house, for simply having a portrait-icon of the holy martyr emperor Nicholas II. So I was forced to provide the SBU staff with a free lesson about the Constitution of Ukraine and human rights, the history of European monarchies and the basics of Orthodoxy. God willing, at least some of it was useful.

– Your Eminence, let’s go return to your speech at the UN Human Rights Council. After this speech, you acquired the status of a UN human rights defender. What significance does this have ?

– The status of a UN human rights defender opens up a wide range of opportunities to convey truthful information about human rights violations to the broader international community. In our case, first and foremost, we are talking, of course, about the persecution of the UOC. This status is regulated by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. In addition, the status of a UN human rights defender allows for the use of UN resources for their protection, which has a special mandate, regulations and protection procedures for persons who contact the UN on human rights issues. Simply put, a UN human rights defender is under special attention not only of the Human Rights Council, but also of the international human rights community. His or her voice is heard more readily , and repressions against him or her will be met with a tougher response. At the same time, human rights activities should not be confused with legal advocacy. This is a different format and a different area of work. Although they can and should complement each other, sometimes as part of human rights groups and organisations. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church needs such protection of its rights now more than ever.

– Vladyko, how do you plan to realise your new status as a human rights defender?

– The work has already begun. The legal department of the Cherkasy Eparchy sent a 10-page appeal to the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights with a detailed factual description of violations of the rights of UOC believers in our eparchy in recent years. The 10-day period in which the Ombudsman’s office could return the document to us for revision has already expired, so now we are waiting for the results of the Ombudsman’s work to protect our rights. I hope that they will be objective and adequate. In addition, based on the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, we plan to convene a broad human rights group in the near future to defend the rights and freedoms of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. First of all, we invite hierarchs, clergy and laity who are ready and able to defend their Church during persecution. It is also possible that if nothing changes with the freedom of conscience in our country in the near future, one of the priorities of our work will be the preparation of materials for the case to prevent the crime of genocide against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (religious group) on the basis of the relevant Convention adopted by Resolution 260 (III) at the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1948. I hope for assistance and legal support in this process from international law firms and human rights organisations. But, of course, the most important thing in any undertaking, and even more so in a God-pleasing deed, which is testifying to the Truth and defending one’s faith and the Church, is the blessing of God and help from the Lord. Therefore, I am asking believers – the clergy, monastics, and Orthodox laity, wherever they live – to prayerfully support the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is suffering persecution, to beseech the Lord for its salvation, purification, and renewal. The joint fervent prayer of the faithful is a great power that attracts God’s favour on the longsuffering land and works miracles.

Interview conducted by Deacon Serhiy Heruk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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