Priests are leaving Crimea, and not many feel like filling their place.

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Head Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) in his Feast of the Transfiguration sermon in Dobromyl’s St. Basil’s monastery called upon the monks to preach in Crimea and the Donbass region. “Only when the monks went to Canada, America, Brazil, and Argentina on Andrey Sheptytsky’s call to renew human souls, this Order itself witnessed an inner renewal. (…) And today I’m appealing to our fathers of St Basil’s monastery, I’m calling them to Donbass, Crimea, calling them to where our Church’s body is suffering most,” the Major Archbishop said.

What’s the ground for such an appeal?

Sviatoslav’s call represents a reaction to serious issues with congregational direction on the territories not under Kiev’s control.

The congregation there dramatically lacks Greek Catholic ministers. Priests are leaving Crimea, and not many feel like filling their place. For once, UGCC’s Assumption parish minister Father Joseph on July 30 declared his unwillingness to preach in Sevastopol and left. It’s not the only case in three years. Some priests even ask for deportation, eager to escape from the hateful peninsula. As a result, the flocks feel unwanted, they decrease in membership. Seeing that for many priests ministering is not a mission and obedience, the youth and middle-age members leave their congregations, and, what’s most terrible, with their children. Thus, the size of the Sevastopol parish dropped from 100 to 40 people.

Believers constantly need confessors, to whom one can come with their spiritual needs, who can spiritually assist in dealing with the lasting issue of places of worship, building their own cathedrals. However, not even five of the UGCC 5,000 ministers dare to take a long-term mission in Crimea to guide those being in need of it – the same Greek Catholics as anywhere. The priests are terrified, bad living conditions and inconveniences repel them.

“Why doesn’t the beneficence of Andrey and Clement Sheptytsky, Theodore Romzha, Josaphat Kotsylovsky, Grigory Khomishin, Nykyta Budka, Pavel Goydich, Gregory Lakota, Ivan Lyatyshevsky, Vasily Gopko encourage our fathers who just “don’t want” to preach in Crimea?” believers ask.

The Crimea UGCC Dean Father Bohdan Kostetsky admits that living in Crimea, especially with family, is not easy. But if the congregation also faces these or that problems, isn’t it the duty of the pastor to be side by side with it? What’s more, the priests, coming as “tourists”, whether because of their light-mindedness or patriotism violate Russia’s migration legislation. As a result, they are fined and have to seek the flock’s assistance to pay these fines. If the pastors recognized their duty, and personal responsibility for their congregation, they would have avoided these problems. They would be able to stay with their believers legally for more or less long term, be granted a patent, permission to stay or even Russian passport, and wouldn’t have to leave their congregation.

Clearly, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church ministers face a choice between their political beliefs, patriotism and the interests of the Church and believers. But Father Bohdan hasn’t fled from the place he preaches at! Instead, he endures all the hardships for the sake of the Church. It means one can overcome anything by the grace of God. As Major Archbishop Sviatoslav said, the UGCC also considers the fostering of the congregational guidance on the territories not under Kiev’s control its priority.

The Crimean Diocese as part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) testifies to the fact that the “most patriotic church” sees no harm in formal obeying the regulations established by the local authorities in Crimea. The “only Ukrainian church of the peninsula”, as Archbishop Clement of Simferopol and Crimea has called his diocese, is busy registering new dioceses under Russian law. Apart from it, as many as four UOC-KP priests reside permanently in Crimea. It also ages since Archbishop Clement himself has a Russian passport.

The crucial idea is what lies behind the activities – sincere worries about the Church or trade profits. The latter is more than well-founded as Orthodox Spiritual Center of Crimea, LLC (set up by the UOC-KP Crimean Diocese in Simferopol) has shown. The company is notorious for a high-profile scandal which even made Ukrainian President as well as U.S. diplomats comment upon it. The 112.6 square meters large Center turned to be a platform for trade of drugs, food, audio, video equipment, and home appliances. The city administration demanded the rent set for a non-cultural organization should be paid out and the premises be vacated. However, no payment was received, and Clement had the trade smoothly go on. As soon as court enforcement officers executed the court’s decision on disposition, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate raised a fuss about a cathedral seizure.

Unfortunately, the incidents like that pave the way for rumors about Crimean-wide persecution of Ukrainians. Little wonder similar hearsays should also justify the unwillingness of Ukrainian genuinely patriotic priests to regularize their status in Crimea.

Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, the evil has been commonly intriguing and plotting behind a mask of the good to finally distort and discredit it. Nevertheless, what would have happened if every single man had believed in this lie and given up charitable deeds just because someone did the good with evil on his mind to achieve mighty ignoble purposes?

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