Prayers Near Frontline
A copy of the Tomos was received by the Starobilsk community of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Religious services are held temporarily in the city's former fire station. This is the 15th parish in the Luhansk region to receive the official church document on autocephaly
“I never went to church. I believe in God but I never went to church. This is the first church I attended, the one I chose. It was probably time,” he said.
For now, the Orthodox parish in Starobilsk does not have its own church building, so services are held once a week in a building of the local fire department.
“The church community asked us for premises. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They had nowhere to go. We gave them a room they now use. We help them with what we can,” Mykola Mova, a representative of the Starobilsk Self-Defense Force said.
Over the past five months, the “church room” inside the fire station grew from a few believers to nearly fifty. Services are conducted by Father Volodymyr Mahlena. He was one of the first priests in the Luhansk region who left the Russian Orthodox Church.
“I never hid the fact that I used to be a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. But when the Tomos was granted, I realized that you cannot have it both ways. I knew it would be hard, to change your life when you are 51,” he said.
The head of the Luhansk eparchy, Bishop Athanasius, brought a copy of the Tomos, the document that granted the Ukrainian church independence. The Starobilsk Church became the 15th community in the Luhansk region to receive it.
“For the Starobilsk religious community, this is the first step and a very good one. They will understand that they are not alone. There are many like us. And according to some polls, there are around 10 million believers,” he said.
“Every person has a passport. Only those who are under_age do not. We are of age. We were included in the list of churches. We are the 15th church on it. Our believers can now proudly say that if you do not believe us, come and see, we have a document,” Mahlena said.
Mahlena is worried that soon parishioners will not have enough space in the fire department building. The number of them grows by the day.
“We have to develop. If people see that things here are going well, they will come. Our parish has to grow,” parishioner Natalia Ivashko said.
Parishioners hope that a Ukrainian Orthodox Church building will be constructed in Starobilsk soon.