Statement of the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora at the Celebration of 32nd Anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence

(UOC-USA) As we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of Ukrainian Independence, we find ourselves in perhaps the most critical moments of all Ukrainian history. We witness yet another genocidal invasion of the nation by the armed forces of the Russian Federation whose main target are the innocent civilians – mostly senior citizens and their grandchildren – sleeping in their beds at night. We hear the often repeated by Russian dictators, allegation that there is no such nation “Ukraine” and no such people “Ukrainians”, followed by the promise of the present dictator at the beginning of his invasion, that “when we are finished, there will not be a single person left anywhere who will self-identify as a Ukrainian. Finally, we hear the promise made by the prime hierarch of the government’s “church”, promising in a Holy Day sermon that any soldier who dies fighting in the invasion of Ukraine murdering self-identified Ukrainians will earn forgiveness of all their sins, equating them to the holy martyrs. Shortly thereafter, he began deposing his own clergy who prayed for peace rather than for victory over Ukrainians as he ordered them to do.  

We witness millions of men, women and children fleeing from their homes and the invaders to nations all around the world. We witness nations, some of which have been known as “traditional” enemies of Ukraine, opening wide their borders, their hearts, their minds and souls in welcoming and supporting Ukrainian refugees on a scale rarely seen throughout world history. We witness the millions of our fellow citizens here in the United States of America and South America who have worked diligently to collect the funds necessary to support those remaining in all regions of Ukraine – millions contributed to our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA because of their trust in our ability to maintain transparency in the distribution of aid to all who desperately need it.

We witness the world’s greatest nations supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the defense of their nation, astounding the world with their success and professionalism. We witness the profound oneness of mind throughout all the “nation” – the people – of Ukraine. These are people of God who have, throughout all their lives, remained faithful to God trusting that His “Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”. We witness men of all ages serving in the Armed Forces defending the nation with their every bit of energy and certainty in their righteousness. We witness a man who portrayed an “accidental” president on television elected as the “real” President of Ukraine, becoming an inspiration for not only his nation, but for nations all around the world, uniting his people into one mind about who they are and what they will always be. 

Yes, we are at a critical moment of Ukrainian history because the President and his government face what can become overwhelming pressure to negotiate and end the conflict not of their own making by making sacrifices of land and people. We are at a critical moment because the President and his government face additional pressure to deal with critical issues existing at all levels of society that may do more to undermine Ukraine’s future than any unjustifiable invasion. 

We are not politicians and have no desire to be politicians. We, along with you, dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, are people of God whose responsibility is to pray for all the people of God throughout Ukraine. We have worked closely with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in our Christian aid programs and we call upon the Church, its clergy and its people to once again become the active conscience of the nation of Ukraine. We call upon the Church of Ukraine to put forth at all times the necessity of standing in humility before God in the Holy Trinity seeking strength to follow the Guidance of the Holy Spirit in the way we relate to one another and the Grace to profess our love for one another under all circumstances.

Pray, dear brothers and sisters in our Lord, pray more fervently than ever before in your daily life. Pray for peace, pray for understanding, pray for open hearts, minds and souls that will be able to rebuild Ukraine so that like the proverbial Phoenix, she will “rise up from the ashes” to fulfill her destiny among the forever free nations of the world. Pray for the leadership of the nation and the Church that they may always be one with the people they serve.

We extend our deep gratitude to all who have stepped up in our parishes and as individuals to help in helping the people of Ukraine. Your unconditional love has worked miracles! Yes, we are at a critical moment as we celebrate this 32nd anniversary  of Ukrainian Independence – and celebrate we do because we have learned so much about the citizens of Ukraine, but also because of how much we have been blessed and enabled in our assistance to them. May the Grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Remember your faith as part of your daily prayers: “The Father is my Hope, the Son is my Refuge, the Spirit is my Protection.” Pray this and believe.

In our Lord’s All-Encompassing Love, 

+Antony, Metropolitan of the UOC of the USA and Diaspora 

+Jeremiah, Archbishop of the South American Eparchy 

+Daniel, Archbishop of the UOC of the USA and Western Europe 

The Joy of the Cross

Fr Gregory, Sermon for Lenten Vespers (Sunday, 2023 March 19), Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Madison, WI

Thou Hast Filled All With Joy

On the first Sunday of Great Lent when we sing:

We venerate Thy most pure image, O Good One;

and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God.

Of Thine own will Thou wast pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh

and deliver Thy creatures from bondage to the Enemy.

Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to Thee:

“Thou hast filled all with joy, O our Savior,

by coming to save the world.”

Let’s think for a minute about the last line of the hymn: through His Cross, Christ has filled all creation with joy.

About joy, Fr Alexander Schmemann writes, “One cannot know that God exists and not rejoice.”

He goes on to say,

Only in relation to joy are the fear of God and humility correct, genuine, fruitful. Outside of joy, they become demonic, the deepest distortion of any religious experience. A religion of fear. Religion of pseudo-humility. Religion of guilt: They are all temptations, traps – very strong indeed, not only in the world, but inside the Church. Somehow “religious” people often look on joy with suspicion.

From one point of view, it is easy it is for me to lose my joy. How easy it for me is to be scrupulous in my theology and my worship, my daily prayers and fasting, to say nothing of attention to the myriad failures of the Church and the surrounding culture. The demons don’t lack opportunities to distort the Gospel, to tempt me to embrace fear rather than love, to embrace pride rather than humility, to embrace guilt rather than repentance.

To see why this is, we need to go back even further; we need to go to the beginning.

In the Beginning

After our fall, in the quiet of the late afternoon, God is strolling in the Garden “in the cool of the day” and, noticing the absence of our First Parents, calls out “Where are you?” (Genesis 3: 8,10). 

Commenting on these first moments St John Chrysostom says that God “was not unaware of the truth when He asked them.” Instead, the saint goes on to say, God “knew, and knew very well.” God asks our First Parents not to condemn them but to remind them of his “loving-kindness” and to invite them “to make admission of their faults.”

What happens next is so well-known that we almost don’t need to repeat it. 

To God’s offer of forgiveness, the First Adam “instead of confessing what he had done, which would have helped him” and us, he plays the victim, complaining about “what had been done to him, which did not help him [or us] at all….Adam … failed to confess his folly and blamed the woman.”

And not only her: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). The Man doesn’t accept responsibility for his sin; he doesn’t simply blame the Woman. He blames God and “cunningly tried to attribute his sinning to God Himself.” There is “nothing,” St Augustine says, “as characteristic of sinners as to want to attribute to God everything for which they are accused.” And the source of this? Pride, “for man wishing to be like God, that is, to be freed from His dominion, as God is free from all dominion, since He is Lord of all,”

Now, betrayed by her husband and the bond of conjugal charity broken, the Woman nevertheless follows the example of the Man: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v. 13).

“Eve too, instead of making supplication with her tears and bearing the fault herself so that mercy might take hold of both her and her husband,” St Ephrem the Syrian says, she blamed the serpent, and so both she and her husband are “found wanting in remorse.”

Looking to our last moments in the Garden, St Dorotheus of Gaza says Adam “has not the guts to accuse himself” and Eve refuses to “humble [her] soul and be forgiven.” He then speaks to both and asks

What are you doing you, wretches? Kneel in repentance. Acknowledge your fault, take pity on your nakedness. But neither one nor the other stooped to self-accusation, no trace of humility was found in either of them.

Dorotheus then turns to himself and all of us and say

…look now and consider how this was only an anticipation of our own state! See how many and great evils it has brought on us–this self-justification, this holding fast to our own will, this obstinacy in being our own guide.

Events unfold quickly from here.

The serpent is condemned and our First Parents are expelled from Paradise. But all is not lost. 

The Promise of a Redeemer

God promises a Redeemer, a Child of Adam and Eve.

So the Lord God said to the serpent:

“Because you have done this,

You are cursed more than all cattle,

And more than every beast of the field;

On your belly you shall go,

And you shall eat dust

All the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her Seed;

He shall bruise your head,

And you shall bruise His heel” (vv. 14-15)

The promised Redeemer is, of course, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. And this brings us to our veneration this past two days of the Cross.

It is in our worship that we find not only what we believe but how we are to live: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, a Latin phrase that means the Church’s worship (lex orandi) determines what we are to believe (lex credendi) and how we are to live (lex vivendi).

For us, as we heard last night at Vespers, the “Cross of the Lord” is a light that illumines our “hearts” and is the source of “hope” that wipes away “our tears,” releases us from “the snares of death,” and is the road to “everlasting joy.”

Say “YES!” to Joy

One last thing.

Think back to the encounter between God and our First Parents. Fallen–and more importantly, unrepentant–they hide from God. And when they could no longer hide from Him, they lied to God, blamed first each other and then, finally, God Himself.

And when on that first, dreadful Great and Holy Friday, our willingness to blame God reaches its final and terrible conclusion: for their own transgressions, creatures crucify the Creator. When finally we have God in our hands we don’t hide from Him, we don’t lie to Him or blame Him; we murder Him.

In response to our crime–to my crime–the sun turns dark and all creation is silent.

The silence of Good Friday brings to mind the silence of Annunciation when all creation held its breath as it waited to see if Mary would consent to receive the Son of God in her womb. This hopefully silence reveals our true dignity–we can say “Yes!” to the God Who has first said “Yes!” to us.

And the silence of Good Friday? It reveals the depth to which we can sink–that we can say “No!” to Him Who never says “No!” to us.

On the Cross, at that moment when each of us in our every sin says “No!” to God (see Hebrews 6:6), He once again says “Yes!” to us. And so we only a moment ago turned away from God now sing:

Come, O Adam and Eve, our first father and mother,

who fell from divine glory

through the envy of the murderer of man!

Bitter was the pleasure of the Tree of old;

but see, the honored Tree of the Cross draws near!

Run with haste and embrace it in joy,

crying out with faith:

“Thou art our help, O most-precious Cross!

We eat thy fruit and gain incorruption!

We are restored again to Eden, having received great mercy!”

My brothers and sisters in Christ! 

As we begin the second half of the Great Fast, let us like Adam and Eve, come and “run with haste” to embrace the joy of the Cross and go to Holy Confession! Let us say “Yes!” to God Who in each Yes!” to us in Holy Communion. Let us enter into the joy of our Lord (Matthew 25:23).

A Prayer for Ukraine in time of War

Here’s the prayer I said at the recent rally here in Madison commemorating the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Almighty Lord, hear the prayers of Your children and look down on our ancestral and spiritual homeland, Ukraine, in this time of great tribulation. 

Bless and strengthen her soldiers, all civil authorities, the government, and all her people, who are confronting the Russian aggressor on land, at sea, and in the air. 

Bring to nothing the unrighteous and brazen aspirations of those who wage war against Ukraine. 

We pray to You, O Master of peace and of our tranquility, that as smoke vanishes, so may our enemies vanish, and as ashes are scattered by the wind, so may their evil thoughts to destroy the Ukrainian state be scattered. 

O Lord, pacify those who oppose Your commandments and decrees. Restore to them the memory of Your word: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” and make them remember that they also call themselves Christians. 

Help us, O God, our Saviour, and deliver us, for the glory of Your name, and may the words spoken by Moses be fulfilled in Ukraine: “Be of good courage, stand firm, and see salvation from the Lord, for the Lord fights for us.”

Send the formidable leader of Your heavenly army, the Archangel Michael, to help our courageous defenders, so that they may destroy the diabolical plans of the aggressor and save Ukraine.

Great God, God Almighty! We, your sinful children, come to You with humility in our hearts and bow our heads. 

Father we ask You, forgive us our sins and hear our prayers, accept the supplications of our hearts, and, grant Your mercy to all who come to You in their need.  

We beseech You, O God, on behalf of the soldiers and defenders, for our brothers and sisters, for widows, orphans, those disabled and the infirm, for those under occupation and in captivity, for those in difficult living conditions, for refugees — and for all those who need Your mercy and help. 

Truth-loving Lord, do not let her enemies destroy Ukraine, her people, her cities, towns, villages, or holy places. We beseech You to grant her victory in Your name and bring about a just and lasting peace. 

And so once again, Almighty Lord, we ask You to hear the prayers of Your children and look down on our ancestral and spiritual homeland, Ukraine, in this time of great tribulation.  

Once again we ask You to bless and strengthen her soldiers, all civil authorities, the government, and all her people, who are confronting the Russian aggressor on land, at sea, and in the air.  

Once again, we ask You to bring to nothing the unrighteous and brazen aspirations of those who wage war against Ukraine. 

For You are the defense of the defenseless and the hope of the hopeless, the victory of those under attack, and the salvation of all who trust in You, and to You be the glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Based on Moleben to the Lord for Victory Over the Enemy

Lenten Proclamation of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

CATECHETICAL HOMILY at the Opening of Holy and Great Lent


By God’s mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

To the Plenitude of the Church

May the Grace and Peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Together with our Prayer, Blessing and Forgiveness Be with All

Most honorable brother Hierarchs and blessed children in the Lord,

By the goodwill and grace of the all-merciful and all-benevolent God, already living in the blessed and reverent period of the Triodion, tomorrow we enter Holy and Great Lent, the arena of fasting and “venerable abstinence” that eliminate the passions, during which the depth and wealth of our Orthodox Tradition and the vigilant care of the Church for the spiritual progress of its children are revealed. As we are reminded by the Holy and Great Council of Crete (June, 2016), “the Orthodox Church, in strict conformity with the apostolic precepts, the synodal canons, and the patristic tradition as a whole, has always proclaimed the great significance of fasting for our spiritual life and salvation” (The Importance of Fasting and its Observance Today, para. 1).

In the life of the Church, all matters have a solid theological foundation and soteriological reference. Orthodox Christians share the “common struggle” of ascesis and fasting “giving thanks in everything” (Thess. 5.18). The Church invites its children to run the race of ascetic exercises as a journey toward Holy Pascha. It is a central experience of the life in Christ that genuine asceticism is never despondent, since it is imbued with the expectation of resurrectional delight. Our hymnology speaks of the “spring of fasting.”

In this sense, far from the trappings of Neoplatonist dualism and the alienating efforts to “mortify the body,” genuine asceticism cannot conceivably aim at the eradication of an “evil body” for the sake of the spirit or the liberation of the soul from the torment of its shackles. As emphasized, “in its authentic expression, ascesis is not directed against the body but against the passions, whose root is spiritual because the intellect is the first to fall to passion. Thus, the body is hardly the great opponent of the ascetic.”

The ascetic endeavor pursues the transcendence of egocentrism, for the sake of love that “does not seek its own” and without which we remain enslaved within ourselves, in the “insatiable ego” and its unquenchable desires. Being self-centred, we shrink and lose our creativity, as has been said: “Whatever we give is multiplied; and whatever we retain for ourselves is lost.” For this reason, the wisdom of the Fathers and the experience of the Church associate the period of fasting with the “showering of mercy,” with good deeds and philanthropy, which are the evidence of surpassing self-love and acquiring existential fullness.

Such wholeness is at all times the characteristic of life in the Church. The liturgical life, ascesis and spirituality, pastoral care and good witness in the world, are expressions of the truth of our faith, interconnected and mutually complementary elements of our Christian identity, which share the eschatological Kingdom as a point of reference and orientation, as well as the completeness and fulfilment of the divine Economy. While church life in all its expressions reflects and depicts the coming Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is the mystery of the Divine Eucharist that above all, as underlined by the late Metropolitan John of Pergamon, recently of blessed memory, “expresses the Church in its fullness” (The Image of the Heavenly Kingdom, Megara 2013, p. 59). “Pure communion,” the rendering of our existence into that of the church, as participation in the Holy Eucharist,’ is the “end” of fasting, the “crown” and “prize” of ascetical struggles (see John Chrysostom, Homilies on Isaiah VI: On the Seraphim, PG 56.139).

Today, in an age of desacralization of life, when humankind “attributes great importance to entirely insignificant things,” our Christian mission is the practical elevation of the existential depth of our Orthodox “triptych of spirituality,” as the inseparable unity of liturgical life, ascetic ethos and solidarity, the essence of the revolution of values in the fields of ethos and civilization constituted by faith in Christ and the divinely-granted freedom of the children of God. We consider it of paramount importance that we should live Holy and Great Lent as a revelation and experience of the true meaning of freedom “for which Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5.1).

With these thoughts and sentiments of love and honor, we wish you, our most honorable brothers in Christ and spiritual children of our Mother Church throughout the world, a smooth course in the arena of fasting, invoking on all of you the grace and mercy of Christ our God, who always delights in the ascetic struggles of His people. To Him belongs the blessed and glorified power of the Kingdom, now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Holy and Great Lent 2023

+ BARTHOLOMEW of Constantinople

Your fervent supplicant for all before God


To be read in churches on Cheesefare Sunday, February 26, 2023, immediately after the Holy Gospel.