Berezhnoy was similarly removed from a position at the Kyiv Theological Academy, run by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at the famous Kyiv Perchersk Lavra, not long after signing a petition that supported peaceful dialogue between the pro-European Maidan protesters and state military groups in 2014.
He was reassigned to a pro-Russian parish in Kyiv, where the head priest expected him to sign a different sort of petition — this time to protest the establishment of a new Ukrainian church with nearly the same name: The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (as opposed to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church) aimed to exist outside the authority of church leadership in Moscow.
“When I saw how the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine was fighting with our civilization and society, with their brothers and sisters in Christ, I understood this was not the right way,” said Berezhnoy. “You have only two choices,” he added, “keep silent or help to support this Russian ideology.”
So he left. In 2019 Berezhnoy joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which had been granted Tomos — self-governance — by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul early that year, flying in the face of Moscow’s refusal to recognize the new church.
“I am so proud about this decision,” Berezhnoy said.
But what might seem like convoluted church politics came with high personal cost for Berezhnoy, whose wife was the daughter of a prominent priest with ties to the Moscow Patriarchate.
When his in-laws heard the news that Berezhnoy had joined the independent, or autocephalous, church, they cut ties with him. Then his wife did too. He occasionally sees his adolescent son, who he says understands his decisions well. “You know this Russian world and this Russian propaganda,” said Berezhnoy, his usual pep diminishing slightly, “also targeted the hearts of my relatives.”
Three years later, and under the continued pressures of war, the young independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine continues to play a high-profile role as a partner to the Ukrainian government in opposition to Russia, both politically and religiously.
“We honor the choice of our forefathers — the choice of the true, Orthodox faith, which joined us to European civilization back in the 10th century,” read the official Twitter account of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine’s Metropolitan Epiphanius on Thursday, the feast day of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus.
“There are tendencies, indeed, in this (independent) church to act in a way which is not very different from Moscow in terms of aligning with the state and the process of nation building,” Hovorun said. “But unlike the Moscow Patriarchate, the autocephalous church is more democratic and much more open-minded.”
“I consider our world as one whole great mosaic,” Berezhnoy explains to the soldiers waiting to leave Kyiv. “Each nation is like a piece of glass. And without any (one) of the glass pieces, our picture is not whole.
“God cares about every nation. And when we have more nations, when we have different people with their points of view, this mosaic becomes more wonderful.”
This article originally appeared here.