Cross procession to Pochaiv: Why lawless prohibitions do not work

27 August 2023 12:32
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Neither the lawless prohibitions of the authorities nor the threats of the radicals stopped the processionists to Pochaiv. Photo: UOJ Neither the lawless prohibitions of the authorities nor the threats of the radicals stopped the processionists to Pochaiv. Photo: UOJ

Despite all the prohibitions, intimidation, and attacks, the processionists reached Pochaiv. Why were the authorities unable to stop them?

The procession from Kamyanets-Podilsky arrived at the Pochaiv Lavra. It arrived, as it had every year for the past 200 years. However, in the current year of 2023, it was perhaps the most challenging cross procession in its entire history.

Prior to its commencement, the authorities of Kamyanets-Podilsky in the Khmelnytsky region, announced a ban on the procession.

Mayor of Kamyanets-Podilsky Mykhailo Positko: “We must do everything to prevent this (cross procession to Pochaiv – Ed.). And there is information that despite the prohibition, such a provocative action is still planned. I consider it a provocation."

Buses carrying pilgrims coming from all over Ukraine were stopped by the police and turned back. A completely wild incident occurred to believers from Rivne. 12 kilometers before reaching the city, their bus was stopped by the police and the SBU. The driver's license was confiscated, and then, escorted by a patrol car, they were forced to leave the Khmelnytsky region.

All pilgrims who still arrived at the Kamyanets-Podilsky Cathedral and traditionally set up tents, awaiting the start of the procession, were driven out of the cathedral by the police. The authorities then involved military commissars who were handing out conscription notices to men among the faithful. There were particularly many soldiers near the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Dovzhok, on the outskirts of Kamyanets-Podilsky, from where the procession was starting. Nevertheless, despite everything, about three thousand processionists still set off for Pochaiv.

Many more pilgrims joined them along the way. By the halfway point, their numbers had grown to over ten thousand. Yes, these are not tens of thousands, as in previous years, but given the current situation, this was still a significant number. Their journey was extremely difficult. First, there was unbearable heat, then it started to rain, then heat again. But that wasn’t the main challenge. Huge problems were created for them by the authorities, the police and local activists.

On August 21, just like the previous year, the authorities of Volochysk prohibited the passage of pilgrims through the city. The next day, the Ternopil Regional Council announced a ban on the passage of the procession through the region. The UOC recalled that the cross procession is a prayer to God, a divine service, and no one has the right to prohibit it except through a court decision. But that didn't stop anyone.

Here is the entrance of the cross procession participants into the Ternopil region. People are literally walking through the police line. The police are shouting that the procession is prohibited, while the activists are yelling threats.

Police Officer: “... about the prohibition of the pedestrian march in the region. We suggest stopping and not moving on. Police officers are conducting photo and video recording."

Here, people are shouting at the pilgrims that they are murderers. And this is how people were forced to turn off the road into the fields because the police had blocked the highway.

And this is despite the fact that a more peaceful gathering of people is impossible to imagine. There are no factual or moral arguments for a ban on the prayers of the UOC believers. After all, pilgrimages of other denominations take place without any problems at all.

In recent months, Greek Catholics have held dozens of their own processions with a fairly large number of participants. Roman Catholics freely organize their religious processions too. Moreover, Ukrainian authorities agreed to receive 30,000 Hasidic Jews in Uman. This is despite the fact that the city’s mayor said she cannot ensure their safety in the event of rocket shelling.

Why does the government so openly persecute the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? After all, religious processions to Pochaiv have been going on for many years and there has never been an incident that could threaten anyone's safety.

The answer is evident. Through the processionists, the authorities are targeting the Church. There are simply no other options. But why?

After all, all these people are not Martians or even Russian FSB agents. These are Ukrainians who, just like the "prohibitors", live here, in their own country. These are IT specialists, military, doctors, teachers, engineers, drivers, and many others. What is the government trying to achieve by persecuting all these people?

You illegally banned them, yet they still went on. You blocked their roads, yet they quietly walked around. You fueled activists with hatred, yet they only prayed in response.

Many in Ukraine perceive the UOC’s cross processions as a manifestation of dissent, a show of force. But that’s not the case. People in the cross procession exist in a different space and time. For them, prohibitions, screams, and blocked roads are just trials that God allows on their path. Just like heat, hunger, or tired legs. And they endure everything meekly because they are walking toward their beloved Mother of God. Because God gives them such support and grace that make all obstacles seem small and insignificant. Those who have experienced this even once will go again and again regardless of any prohibitions.

And they will take his children with them. Children in the cross procession, including the very tiny ones, are another enigma for the secular world. How can they be dragged through the heat and rain across fields, without rest and normal conditions? Yet these children, like their parents, look happy. Because, just like their parents, they feel God's grace and bliss. And this means that when they grow up, they will take their children to the Mother of God.

Participants in the cross procession to Pochaiv and the believers of the UOC overall are a part of the Ukrainian people. A very peaceful and docile part. But no pressure, no prohibitions will make these people renounce their faith. All these efforts of the authorities are in vain, just like the efforts of the Bolsheviks were in vain. Not because these people are heroes. They just know for sure that they are where Christ is, where the Mother of God is. And in life, nothing else matters.

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