Bishop Josyf Milyan: ‘I hope the UOC-MP head reacts to events in Bila Tserkva and Khmilnyk’

Thursday, 06 September 2012, 21:44
“I think that the events in Khmilnyk and Bila Tserkva are interrelated. Bila Tserkva has always ‘been in the forefront’ in the militancy of representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). We often hear from representatives of the Orthodox Church that a UGCC church is being built only through the corpse of an official. As for the events in Khmilnyk, Vinnytsia Oblast, the UGCC has operated there since Soviet times. Redemptorists, who returned from Siberia to Ukraine, had permission to go to Galicia, so during the entire Soviet period they resided in Khmilnyk. This means that the underground UGCC operated there,” said Bishop Josyf Milyan, Auxiliary Bishop of the Kyiv Archeparchy.

Recently in Khmilnyk, a wave of protests from the clergy of the UOC began in response to the City Council’s decision to grant the parish of St. John the Evangelist of the UGCC permission to work on paperwork to build a temporary chapel. According to the Orthodox clergy, historically Khmilnyk never had any Greek Catholics, so there is no need to construct a “small church.” Bishop Milyan says that UGCC Redemptorists are buried in Khmelnyk, which means that “we came here not only now, and are not starting something new but continue to be here.” The Khmilnyk parish has about 20 people who pray in a Roman Catholic church.

Also, a few days ago representatives of the community of the UOC in the village Mala Vishanka (near Bila Tserkva in the Kyiv region) wrote a letter to the Prosecutor of the Bila Tserkiva district. The Orthodox parishioners cite a number of reasons why a Greek Catholic church should not be constructed in the village. As of today the Bila Tserkva Main Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in the Kyiv Oblast refused to institute criminal proceedings against members of the UGCC for they have not violated any laws.

We were able to talk to Fr. Vasyl Mizyuk, the pastor of the Greek Catholic parish of St. Mykhailo in Mala Vilshanka and the parish of the Nativity of Christ of Bila Tserkva. One of the arguments UOC representatives used against the construction of the UGCC Church was that there are fewer that three Catholics in the village. In fact, according to Fr. Mizyuk, about 15 parishioners attend Sunday liturgies, and many more during major holidays. The priest said that before the UGCC community was officially registered, in the village there was no church: neither Orthodox nor Catholic. “Occasionally an Orthodox priest came from the neighboring village when it was necessary to carry out the rite of blessing or burial. But people wanted to attend church on a regular basis.”

Father Mizyuk also described how the Greek Catholic community formed in the village. “Greek Catholics from Bila Tserkva went on a pilgrimage to Our Lady Zarvanytsia with several other villagers from Mala Vilshanka. Impressed by the pilgrimage, people asked me about the UGCC and invited me to their village. I went to them, we prayed together, I talked with them about our church. The next time I served a liturgy there,” says the pastor. After that, the people themselves began to seek a space to pray together every Sunday. Later, after the legal registration of the community, the villagers asked for a building, which had long been neglected. “The people did there own repairs, cleaned, installed electricity,” says the priest.

Learning of this, representatives of the UOC began to come to the village and tell people that they were deceived. Then some left the UGCC, others remained. Subsequently, there were already two parishes registered – one UOC and one UGCC. It is interesting that representatives of the UOC conduct their worship in the same building as the Greek Catholics. Moreover, the Orthodox tell the Greek Catholics that the land plot that is designated for the construction of the UGCC church was intended for the construction of a club, which, in their opinion, is “more important than the construction of a church.”

Father Mizyuk said that in Soviet times, the place where the UGCC church is to be built was supposed to be the site of a House of Creativity. However, since the Soviet Union fell, it wasn’t constructed. The land of the construction site of the UGCC church does not belong to the village but to the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of Ukraine (AASU). “Through the Presidium of the AASU we received permission to build a UGCC church. Knowing this, the Orthodox in the village have begun to protest, to write letters to the village head, the village council, to shut down our community,” said the pastor.

According to law experts, the Constitution of Ukraine states that all religious organizations are equal. According to the Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,” a religious organization that is properly registered may establish and maintain a place for worship or for religious gatherings. In addition, a religious organization is prohibited from interfering in another’s activity.

Commenting on the above events, Bishop Milyan said that during the night of July 7-8, 2012, after he visited the Greek Catholic parish in Zolotonosha, Cherkasy Oblast, in the UGCC chapel a cross was torn down and a sculpture of the Virgin was damaged. “I think that this was a planned action. I hope that the police find the perpetrators of this act vandalism,” said the bishop.

"In my opinion, Patriarch Volodymyr (Sabodan), head of the UOC-MP, who is a man of peace, must respond to these events and intervene in Bila Tserkva and Khmilnyk. After all, UGCC representatives do not commit such actions and observe their equal position in relation to other churches. Each church must work hard and strive to fulfill the task that Christ has set before us – to proclaim the good news of the salvation of man, love others and work for them, regardless of their religious affiliation,” concluded Bishop Milyan.

UGCC Information Department

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