"The whole world will know the truth about the persecution of the UOC"

30 October 2023 18:13
Metropolitan Feodosiy (Snigirev). Photo: UOJ Metropolitan Feodosiy (Snigirev). Photo: UOJ

The legal proceedings against Metropolitan Feodosiy (Snigirev) continue. However, today, we will talk to the bishop about his status as a UN human rights advocate.

Metropolitan Feodosiy of Cherkasy and Kaniv is one of several UOC bishops against whom criminal cases have been initiated for less than convincing reasons. Metropolitan Feodosiy has been under house arrest for many months, and in the fall of 2023, he could have been in pretrial detention. Furthermore, the hierarch spoke via video link at the United Nations, where he discussed the government's repression against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

–  Your Eminence, you have become the first bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to speak from the highest international forum—the United Nations. How did this become possible?

– Apparently, it was God's providence. Given the flagrant violations of religious freedom in our country, international human rights organizations contacted me several times with a request to address the UN Human Rights Council. They asked me to inform international diplomats firsthand about the violations of the rights and freedoms of the UOC faithful, to speak as a religious expert, a teacher at the spiritual academy, and a UOC hierarch who is persecuted for his religious beliefs and canonical position.

–  Do you think this speech will have an impact?

–  I have no doubt that it will and has already contributed to shedding light on the current worldwide issue of persecutions against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And it seems to me that this matter has finally started to make progress. Are religious persecutions even imaginable in the 21st century at the heart of the European continent, such as what is happening in Ukraine now? It doesn't fit in the minds of normal people. The last time our Church faced such persecution was during Khrushchev's time. But even Khrushchev didn't dare to pass a state law that prohibited the Church. And now they are attempting to do that.

Religious persecution is an undeniable evil. And evil should be fought against; it needs to be brought to light. Evil does not like the light, and it shies away from exposure. Evil is compelled to wither, justify itself, and retreat when exposed to light.

–  Your videos in defense of the Church from house arrest have been a great source of support and strength for many UOC believers. At the same time, it is based on these video addresses that new criminal charges were filed against you, nearly landing you in pretrial detention. The people prayed and your freedom was secured. Do you plan to continue recording videos in defense of the Church?

–  If the Lord blesses it and gives the strength, then, of course? I do. In some sense, it's now my duty and obligation to the faithful people. A duty to the clergy who didn't stand aside when I urgently needed prayerful assistance and support.

You rightly pointed out that the people's prayers secured my release. I am indebted to the people. But one should only speak when there is something to say and when it's time to say it. Most importantly, we must speak only what will be beneficial to the Church, in Her defense and for the strengthening of the faithful.

Additionally, I need to restore the equipment for video recordings because during the last search, representatives of the Security Service of Ukraine confiscated all remaining computers and phones, leaving me without the means to record more videos. They meticulously searched for notes of my theses for video addresses, which was a separate item in the search warrant.

– What else did the law enforcement officers scour for during the search?

– According to the ruling of the investigative judge, they were looking for everything that allowed me to make video addresses to the faithful. But apparently, their unofficial goal was also an attempt to block my ability to manage the affairs of the Cherkasy Diocese, wich I oversee, remotely. They confiscated everything that allowed me to work with diocesan documents remotely: the diocesan computer, hard drives with diocesan documents, and even a basic button phone. None of these items had any relevance to the alleged "violation" under investigation, but they were all seized.

You should also take into account that the same SBU agents conducted the previous search at my place. So, they already knew perfectly well where everything was, as they say, they "had local knowledge."

– How did the law enforcement officers behave during the search?

– Generally, within the bounds of decency. The human factor is always relevant; much depends on each person's cultural level, regardless of their profession, whether they are law enforcement officers, postal workers, or priests. It was the same here. Some of them carried out the procedural task calmly, while others told me that "there is no God, there's something out there," that "Church Slavonic is a dead language," they tried to reproach me for my textbook on Pastoral Theology being published in the Russian language, that there was "insufficient patriotic symbolism" in the house but instead, there was a portrait-icon of the holy martyr Tsar Nicholas II. So, I had to provide these officers with a kind of educational course (sensitization) on the Constitution of Ukraine and human rights, the history of European monarchies, and the fundamentals of Orthodoxy. God willing, something will be of benefit.

– Your Eminence, let's return to your speech at the UN Human Rights Council. After this speech, you were granted the status of a UN human rights advocate. What does this mean?

– The status of a UN human rights advocate opens up extensive opportunities to convey truthful information about human rights violations to the broad international community. In our case, it primarily concerns the persecutions of the UOC. This status is regulated by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Advocates.

Moreover, the status of a UN human rights advocate allows for the mobilization of UN resources for its protection, and the UN has specific mandates, regulations, and procedures for protecting individuals who interact with the UN regarding human rights issues.

In simpler terms, a UN human rights advocate is under special attention, not only from the Human Rights Council but also from the international human rights community. Their voice is heard more quickly, and there will be a more rigorous response to repressions against them.

It is important not to confuse human rights advocacy with legal advocacy. These are different formats and different lines of work, although they can and should complement each other, sometimes within human rights groups and organizations. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church now more than ever needs this kind of protection of its rights.

– How do you plan to actualize your new status as a human rights advocate?

– The work is underway. The legal department of the Cherkasy Diocese has submitted a 10-page appeal to the Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for Human Rights with a detailed factual presentation of violations of the rights of UOC believers in our diocese over the recent period. The 10-day deadline for the ombudsman's office to return the document for revision has already expired, so now we are waiting for the ombudsman's results in protecting our rights. I hope they will be objective and adequate.

Furthermore, based on the Declaration of the United Nations on Human Rights Defenders, we plan to convene a broad human rights group in the near future to defend the rights and freedoms of the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

In the first place, we invite hierarchs, clergy, and laity who are willing and capable of defending their Church during times of persecution. It is also not excluded that if there is no change in the freedom of conscience in our country in the near future, one of the priority areas of our work will be to prepare materials for a case of preventing the crime of genocide against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (a religious group) based on the relevant Convention adopted by Resolution 260 (III) at the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948.

I hope for the assistance and legal support in this process from international law firms and human rights organizations. But, of course, the most important thing in any matter, especially in a godly matter, such as bearing witness to the Truth and protecting one's faith and Church, is the blessing of God and help from the Lord.

Therefore, I earnestly request devout individuals – clergy, monastics, Orthodox laity, wherever they may live, to prayerfully support the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is currently enduring persecution, and implore the Lord for Her salvation, purification, and renewal.

The collective fervent prayer of the faithful is a great power that attracts the mercy of God to the suffering land and works wonders.

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