WCC delegation visits Ukraine

By agency reporter
June 13, 2016

To renew relations with churches and religious organisations and to explore possibilities of joint promotion of peace and reconciliation in Ukraine, a staff delegation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) visited Kyiv 6-8 June 2016. The visit was the fourth such visit by the WCC to Ukraine since the conflict erupted in  2014.

WCC representatives last visited Kiev in June 2015 when they held a number of formal meetings, including with a contact group established by the All Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organisations (AUCCRO) following a March 2015 ecumenical delegation visit to Ukraine led by the WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.

On this most recent occasion, the delegation consisted of two representatives: Peter Prove, WCC director of the Commission of the Churches for International Affairs, and the Rev Daniel Buda, executive secretary of the WCC Faith and Order Commission. The host and co-organiser of the visit was the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).

During the visit, the delegation – aiming to receive a full picture of the current situation in Ukraine in the religious field – had a number of formal meetings with representatives of Ukrainian churches as well as with officials from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission for Ukraine.

On 6 June, the delegation met with Metropolitan Mytrofan, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC, and its staff. Prove recalled a statement made earlier by Mytrofan that the UOC “is being pressured by political actors to take one side or another in current political conflict. But the church does not take any side, because it has to remain the church for all, and to bear witness for peace and reconciliation, following Christ’s example.” Prove said that he was moved by this commitment, and expressed the hope that the UOC would continue to withstand the pressures upon it, and to raise its voice for national reconciliation.

During the meeting, Metropolitan Mytrofan described the ongoing critical situation in the temporarily occupied territories and the changes in the religious landscape since the last visit of the delegation to Ukraine. He highlighted especially two recent draft laws registered in Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which would allow changes of jurisdiction and affiliation of religious communities by local referenda not limited to the members of those religious communities, and would impose constraints on religious communities or organisations that are based in or affiliated with an ‘aggressor state’.

Prove expressed great concern over these legislative initiatives and underlined that they “may adversely affect the essential ministry and religious freedom of some church communities in this country”.

In a 7 June meeting with the AUCCRO contact group – currently consisting of the Rev Valeriy Antoniuk, head of All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Baptists and current Chairman of the AUCCRO, Archpriest Mykolay Danylevych, deputy chairman of the DECR UOC, and Anatoliy V. Raychynets of the Baptist Church and Deputy General Secretary of the Ukrainian Bible Society – the issue of the draft laws was further discussed, with Prove observing that such legislative initiatives could lead to dangerous consequences in the future by separating the churches from each other, and weakening their common witness for peace and reconciliation.

The WCC delegation also visited the office of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission for Ukraine, and met with Alexander Hug, deputy head of the Mission.

Archpriest Vladyslav Dikhanov, head of the Synodal Department on Social-Humanitarian Matters of the UOC, provided the WCC representatives with an overview of the humanitarian situation resulting from the conflict, and of the church’s efforts to respond to people’s suffering and need.

At the conclusion of the visit, Director Prove stressed that the context of the current conflict, the churches have a unique potential for collective witness and action for peace and reconciliation in Ukraine. He urged the government of Ukraine “to reconsider and refrain from any measures that would impede this potential.”

* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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