Belarusian Chaplain In Ukrainian Army: a Priest At War Is First Of All a Priest
In January 2015 a new decoration had been established by Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate – the medal “For Self-Sacrifice and the Love to Ukraine”. The servicemen, clergy and volunteers are decorated with this medal.
On January, 22nd a chaplain of UOC KP f. Sergey Gorbik, Belarusian, former member of Minsk “Talaka”, resident of Ukraine had been decorated with this medal. A KRYNICA.INFO reporter had a talk with f. Sergey.
– Father Sergey, since the beginning of military actions in the Eastern Ukraine you had being a chaplain. There is little known about the Orthodox militia in the ranks of which Belarusains are also fighting, among them a well-known writer, Catholic, Uladzislaw Akhromenka. Please, give us more details abou it.
– The formation of our unit began in the early March of 2014, when Russia had occupied Crymea and it bcame evident that the war would soon start. Just then, at one of the meetings of the Maidan in Khmelnitsky, the Metropolitan of Khmelnitsk and Kamenets-Podolsky (UOC KP) Anthony (Makhota) made a speech containing such words “I am also liable to call-up and I am ready to say that we will protect our homeland by creating the “Orthodox Podolska Sich” unit. We are ready even if we are not liable to conscription. They tell me that I am 40 and I am too old for that. But I think that today all men must be ready to be conscripted despite their nationality, age, etc”.
And thus, on the next day we received more than 350 applications for Orthodox militia. That is why a special committee had been organized that soon became a unit’s HQ. And because the organizers were the UOC KP believers the name of Orthodox militia was retained.
Talking about the organizational details, a public organization “Orthodox Podolska Sich” was created. In those times, in March of 2015 it was the only way of a quick legalization. The first task of the unit was the aid to the Ukrainian border troops.
– To the borders troops, – because of the supposed Russian invasion?
– There is B. Khmelintsky National Academy of the border services of Ukraine in city. The students of this establishment (many of them natives of Khmelnitsk) were sent to the defense of the Ukrainian-Crymean border to the first line of defense where they faced harsh conditions, not only material but the spiritual ones. That is why in March-April of 2015 the first convoy of our unit went to the Ukrainian-Crymean border. We brought only a humanitarian aid but also a church tent.
By the way, Belarusian writer Uladzislaw Akhromenka, who was among the first Orthodox militiamen, also participated in the convoy. This is a proof that we have no confessional restrictions, but, of course, most of us are the UOC KP believers.
During our first visit we had established a field church where the UOC KP priests kept vigil and gave liturgies, The first liturgy was served His Eminence Anthony.
It became evident very soon that border troops nedd not only a humanitarian aid but men as well. That is why a public formation “Podolska Sich” was formed the members of which after a month of academy training joined the defense of Ukrainian border.
That is how we have two branches, a volunteer branch and a military one.
– Where and how operates the unit now?
– Our unit consists more than of 1000 people. But due to the specific kind of our tasks, the military branch consists of only several dozen trained people. We are a public formation for protection of the state border and public order. That is why our squads serve where they are placed by the Ukrainian State Border Service. I can only say that those places are not quiet… Even our humanitarian convoys had been shot at but, thankfully, there were no victims.
Talking about the other militia units I can say that any of them has a specific task. Especially because they belong to different structures, e.g., “Donbass” to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and “Aidar” to the Misnistry of Defense. But, for example, we are interconnected on the personal level as well, the “Aidar” commander visited Khmelnitsky for a common meeting.
– Are there many priests in militia?
– There is still no official chaplain position in Ukraine. The bills regulating it are only in the preparational stage. That is why presence of priests in army is a result of personal agreement between officers and priests. But the priests are needed in army, that is why we are here.
Talking about our unit, I am not only a chaplain, I am also the head of the press service. Usually priests have to combine their ministry with other responsibilities, e.g., you drive a humanitarian aid to the servicemen and on the same time you serve a liturgy, consecrate the equipment, confess, give communion… Some priests, constatntly attending battalions, help at the hospital, etc.
– How do you describe a priest’s civic duty in the wartime? For example the priests in IRA were not only confessing… and it boosted the morale.
– First of all, a priest at war is… a priest. People come to you with their problems (and not only of a spiritual kind), with their pain. Talking about “morale boost” it is often made by the mere presence of a priest. According to the Orthodox (and Catholic) canon, a priest can not take arms, shoot and kill. But war is war. Nobody will give you a personal bodyguard and at some moment a situation may come when the priest has to take arms… However, the presence of an unarmed priest is more encouraging the same priest with an assault rifle in his arms.
– Is involvement of Belarusians in military actions a myth created by Belarusian TV to scare the citizens?
– Let us in the first place determine whom we will call “Belarusians”, because in Ukraine there are more than 250 thousand Belarusians, many of them being on the frontline.
If we talk about the citizens of the Republic of Belarus, of course, neither thousands nor even hundreds of them are fighting. From my point of view, there are amout several dozen Belarusian people fighting in different militia units. Of course, there is no such thing as “Belarusian squads” how several Belarusian media tried to portray.
– Father Sergey, how do you see the prospects of relations between Ukraine and Moscow Patriarchates, is there any chance for neutrality?
– The main and the only perspective that Ukraine needs as air is a creation of a Local Orthodox Church. The Oecumenical Constantinople Patriarchate, the representatives of which had visited Ukraine and met with all Ukrainian Orthodox branches, takes the same postition.
The Kyiv Patriarchate todya is the main centre and force of creation of Ukrainian local Orthodox church and the Patriarch Filaret is the undisputable spiritual leader of Ukrainian society. Since the spring of 2014 all public pollsshow that the number of Orthodox worshippers associating themselves with the Kyiv Patriarchate otweighs the number of those who associate themselves with the Moscow Patriarchate. The number of Kyiv Patriarchate parishioners grows every month. At the same time we are not against dialog with the representatives of Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine… but only on the basis of creation of a united local church.
At the same time, the Moscow Patriarchate is totally against the autocephalic status of Ukrainian Orthodoxy and Patriarch Cyrill supports the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Many archpriests and priests of Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine support terrosrists. The Orthodox Ukrainians see that and make their choice – dozens of parishes have converted to the Kyiv Patriarchate and servicemen refuse services of the MP priests.
Despite these facts the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate tell us about the “aggression from the Kyiv Patriarchate”. But when rural and urbam communities do not want to belong to the Moscow Patriarchate how is it an aggression from the Kyiv Patriarchate? The Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine had fully discredited itself from the people’s viewpoint and that is only the Moscow Patriarchate’s fault.
– What is the status of relations between the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukarianian Autocephalic Orthodox Church, is there a prospect of a union?
– UAOC today consists of ca. 800 parishes, 95% of them situated in three regions: Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, but even there they are lesser than the parishes of the Kyiv Patriarchate, besides, they have no seminaries. All Ukrainian experts and analysts in religion notice full decline of this jurisdiction.
The Kyiv Patriarchate had many times called the archpriests of UAOC for union. Unfortunately, all these efforts faced a “human factor”. The UAOC archpriests place their personal ambitions above the needs of Ukrainian Prthodoxy. That was seen by the priests and the parishioners alike, that is why process of union comes “from the basis” with separate archpriests (sometimes with their dioceses), priests and parishes joining the Kyiv Patriarchate.
Several days before the head of UAOC, Metropolitan Methodius (Kudryakov) departed. UAOC lost its spiritual and administrative leader. Perhaps, the archpriest council of UAOC will listen to the voice of reason and will place the interests of Ukrainian Orthodoxy above their own ambitions in such hard time for Ukraine. Many people hope for that and the Patriarch Filaret called for the union: “I want to address the archpriests of UAOC who according to the church charter will gather to discuss the future of their Church. In the time of Russian aggression the internal unity of the Ukrainian people is highly important. A constructive dialog about the the unity between our Churches, about overcoming of the existing contradictions and the alliance of all adherents of Autocephality of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church may become our common significat comtribution to the struggle for better future of Ukrainian people”.
– Recently a Quinquagesima has been celebrated. How can one forgive an enemy?
– War is an absolute evil and we all know who is the fater of all evil. He who begins the war out of sinful, mercenary motives or out of pride, deserves all blame possible and he who enters the war to protect his compatriots or brethren in faith enters the war rightfully and makes no sin. The participation of a Christian is bound measure and if he enters the war to protect the Christains and the sanctuaries Lord blesses him for an exploit.
Our forgivness of the enemy consists of fighting without hatred, out of necessity. Our love to the enemy consists of our efforts to turn them to our side, but we must not tolerate the evil they bring. Being on the frontline, I have seen many times the ability to forgive. Our soldiers do not torture the prisoners, do not defile the corpses of the enemies. They do not kill even those prisoners who marked themselves with bloody crimes, but give them to the court. The soldiers bind the wounds, the doctors treat the wounded prisoners… Keep also minf how our soldiers behave in the liberated cities and villages. They give food, medicine, humanitarian aid to the civilians even when they support the enemy. This is the humanity of those who fights on the side of the Truth of Christ, this is the ability to forgive and to obey the Testament of Love.
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