THE MOVEMENT TOWARD UNITY OF UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES
INTERVIEW: Patriarch Filaret on the status of the UOC-KP
by Marta Kolomayets and Danylo
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly
KYIV - Pronounced an anathema by the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in Moscow on February 20 for instigating "divisive activities," Patriarch Filaret, the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), recently talked to The Ukrainian Weekly and "Pislia Mova," a weekly Ukrainian television news program about this act and its consequences in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Orthodox leader, who once served as the ROC's exarch in Ukraine, broke away from the Moscow-based Church after Ukraine declared its independence in 1991. For this move, he was defrocked by the ROC in 1992. That same year he united with Patriarch Mstyslav of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, forming the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate.
After the death of Patriarch Volodymyr (Vasyl Romaniuk) in the summer of 1995, Metropolitan Filaret was elected the patriarch of the UOC-KP, the second largest Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which encompasses more than 3,000 parishes in Ukraine, Russia and abroad.
In a declaration issued by the synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate immediately after the ROC's February 20 decision to excommunicate and execrate Patriarch Filaret, the primate and six bishops of the UOC-KP state that "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate is a national pomisna (particular) autocephalous Orthodox Church, and no other particular Church, in this case the Russian Orthodox Church, has the right to interfere in the UOC-KP's matters."
Thus, "any resolutions, decisions or acts by the Russian Orthodox Church have no bearing - be it canonical or legal - on the UOC-KP," the declaration points out.
In a subsequent statement, issued by the Committee in Defense of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, on February 26, the position of Patriarch Filaret and his intention to unite all the Orthodox Churches functioning in Ukraine today is clearly defined: "Patriarch Filaret cares about the creation of one singular particular Orthodox Church in Ukraine, separate from the Moscow Patriarchate. The Moscow hierarchy, among them traitor Ukrainian bishops, see this as a divisive act. The Ukrainian state has the right - similar to the right of other Orthodox countries - to have its own particular Orthodox Church. [For example, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Russia, Serbia.]
The two-page release asks: "In whose interests is it for Ukraine not to have its own Particular Church? Ukraine or Russia's?"
It goes on to explain that the process of creating one Orthodox Church in Ukraine has already begun. And it is precisely for this reason that the ROC has begun using scare tactics threatening the hierarchy of the UOC-KP with intimidation and excommunication. [According to the Committee in Defense of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, Patriarch Filaret is not the first to be damned by the Moscow Church. Hetman Ivan Mazepa also was excommunicated because of his attempts to build a Ukrainian state.]
This process of creating one Church must begin at the grass-roots level - from the faithful and parish priests - according to the statement.
In a related development, on March 5, a group of right-centrist deputies, including Mykola Porovsky and Pavlo Movchan, met with Patriarch Filaret at his residence to announce the formation of a new group in the Verkhovna Rada an association in defense of canonical Ukrainian Orthodoxy. The group's goal is to introduce "normative" acts in Parliament defending the rights of Ukrainian Orthodoxy and helping to unite Orthodox Churches in Ukraine into one particular Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
During the meeting, the deputies said they would work with the UOC-KP to establish a dialogue with President Leonid Kuchma, help spread the UOC-KP position among the other Orthodox Churches in the world and organize a meeting of the three Orthodox leaders in Ukraine.
They also said they would ask that such national landmarks as the Kyiv-Pecherska Lavra and Pochayiv monasteries be returned to the UOC-KP and that St. Andrew's Sobor be designated as the main cathedral of the armed forces of Ukraine.
At the end of the meeting with the deputies, Patriarch Filaret declared that their vision is one: to unite into one particular Ukrainian Orthodox Church. "Those who are against one Ukrainian Orthodox Church should be considered enemies of Ukraine, traitors of the Ukrainian state," he emphasized.
* * *
Below is an edited transcript of the interview with Patriarch Filaret conducted on February 28 at his residence.
Q: What effect did the decisions of the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church have on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate?
A: I think that naturally, the decisions of the Sobor of the ROC will have an effect on the development of Church life in Ukraine, and these decisions were first and foremost intended to impede the process of unification of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and the creation of one particular Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Recently, Moscow has begun to feel that Ukraine wants to have its own particular Orthodox Church, (independent of Moscow); fearful that this may become a reality, the bishops of the ROC decided to attack the patriarch. But, in fact, this step was directed at the bishops of the UOC-KP, as if to show them that this kind of intimidation awaits them as well if they proceed with the creation of one particular Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
However, regardless of these steps taken by the ROC, I think the unification process will come from the grass-roots level, from the faithful, from the parishes and the parish priests, because recently, more and more of the Orthodox population is beginning to feel that it has been fooled, betrayed by the name of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate], which covered up the latter part of its name, its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate.
But, when the people learned that their parish belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, they would often leave and look for a parish run by the Kyiv Patriarchate. So, we now have a strong force in our Church that is beginning to fight for the creation of one particular Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Q: How did you receive the news of the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church?
A: We reacted calmly; our synod immediately drafted a declaration, which stated that the decisions of the ROC carry no weight with us, and they have nothing to do with the UOC-KP, because we are a particular Church and any particular Church cannot interfere in the matters of another particular Church.
I also heard that at the sobor, the ROC - the Moscow Patriarchate - considers itself the mother Church in regard to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and regards Ukraine as its canonical territory. If we are to look at history, it is Kyiv that can claim this role, for in 1448 the Moscow Metropolia split off from the Kyiv Metropolia. So, in this case, Kyiv is the Mother Church and Moscow is the daughter. Evreryone knows quite well that the Christianization of Rus' took place in Kyiv - and not Moscow, and that Kyiv was the center of the metropolia, and even those metropolitans who later traveled to Moscow had the titles of Kyiv.
Q: What is your reaction to the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States has joined the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople?
A: Well, first of all, this is their own decision. Of, course, we would naturally like the Ukrainian diaspora to belong to the Ukrainian Church, to the Kyiv Patriarchate, but, they decided to join the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This unification is beneficial to us, in the sense that a hierarchy that Moscow does not recognize and does not regard as an Orthodox hierarchy has been recognized and accepted by Constantinople.
Thus, if the ecumenical patriarch has now recognized a Church and its bishops, which in 1942 were declared uncanonical, this means that, from the point of view of Ecumenical Orthodoxy, our Kyiv hierarchy also is canonical, as are all Orthodox Churches.
Q: What strategy will the Kyiv Patriarchate pursue in relations with Constantinople?
A: Our first mission is to create in Ukraine one particular Orthodox Church. Our second issue will be the recognition of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church. It will come naturally once one united Church is formed, even if one portion of the faithful remains under the Moscow Patriarchate. I do believe that the majority of the faithful will become part of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and this will be the basis on which other Orthodox Churches in the world will recognize the Kyiv Patriarchate as an autocephalous Church, equal among other Orthodox Churches.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot ignore one-third of all the Orthodox faithful. And that is how many live in Ukraine - 35 million believers - one-third of all Orthodox faithful.
I think that those who will not want to recognize our Church - be it the Ecumenical Patriarchate or those in Ukraine - will only bring harm to Orthodoxy, not only in Ukraine, but throughout the world.
We will nurture relations with the ecumenical patriarch directly as well as through the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, now under Constantinople. We do not see any obstacles in the future as to the recognition of the particular Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Q: What kind of relations do you have with other major religious confessions in Ukraine?
A: We have always tried to have good relations with the [Ukrainian] Greek-Catholics in Ukraine. We have already had joint memorial services, most recently for Olena Teliha, where a Greek-Catholic priest served with me. Both our Church and the Greek Catholic Church share a common goal: to defend the independence of the Ukrainian state and in this matter we work together.
As regards Roman Catholics in Ukraine, we have normal relations.
As a matter of fact, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate is the only one with which we have problems, precisely because it is united with Moscow. And I think problems will continue until we create one particular Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate is no longer on our territory.
For example, only after the fall of the Ottoman Empire did the great Constantinople Church fall and divide into various particular Churches - Serbian, Romanian, Greek, etc. So, I see the same situation after the fall of the Soviet Union. This is all a natural progression, because the Orthodox Church is structured on particular Churches that are united, not administratively, but into one Orthodox faith, one set of canons and Christian love among each other.
Q: At this time, would you bless the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ukraine?
A: This is a very complex question. I'm not quite sure the conditions for his visit are right at this time. But, on the whole, the holy father can come to Ukraine, if conditions are right and such a visit would benefit not only the Roman Catholics, but the Ukrainian Church and the Ukrainian state. We are all Christians - we are Christians and they are Christians - and given that we are preparing to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ, we must show brotherly love and understanding between the Churches and our people.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, March 9, 1997, No. 10, Vol. LXV
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