Patriarch Filaret notes progress in raising public awareness of Famine-Genocide
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - Patriarch Filaret Denysenko, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate, said on December 10 that he was satisfied with the progress made in raising the level of awareness of the Great Famine across the globe and the extent of the commemorations that occurred in Ukraine on the 70th anniversary since the man-made tragedy.
In an exclusive interview with The Weekly, the head of 19 million faithful in Ukraine noted that, while he couldn't state that the Ukrainian nation had commemorated the tragedy in unity, awareness in the affected regions - the eastern and southern oblasts - was much higher and the tributes offered much more widespread at the local and regional levels.
"The broadness and the depth of the commemorations was much more extensive," said Patriarch Filaret, who hails from the eastern region of Donetsk.
Patriarch Filaret emphasized that some backtracking had occurred in the last decade, since the 60th anniversary observations, particularly the fractured way in which the political and religious elements of society had marked the tragedy this year.
The Ukrainian religious leader explained that while the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate had sent a representative in 1993 to the event organized by his Church, no one from the UOC-MP, which is part of the Russian Orthodox Church, showed for this year's commemoration.
He said he also was disappointed that no government officials attended the prayer service that he led in concelebration with Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, before the Great Famine Memorial in central Kyiv, located on St. Michael's Square at the foot of the belltower of St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral.
The 70th anniversary tribute to the 7 million to 10 million Ukrainians, mostly Orthodox faithful, who perished as a result of a policy of mass starvation to bring the Ukrainian farmer to his knees and into collective farms, officially took place on November 22. In 1998 President Leonid Kuchma had declared the fourth Saturday of November as Remembrance Day of the Victims of Famines, Repressions and Forced Migrations.
Ukrainian state and government leaders held a separate wreath-laying ceremony an hour prior to the beginning of the prayer service this year, mostly because the prayer service was co-organized by the Our Ukraine political bloc, which stands in political opposition to Ukraine's current leadership.
Patriarch Filaret noted that the country's leaders have an unproclaimed bias in favor of the UOC-MP, and decided religious policy among the various confessions of Ukraine in a way that seemed to favor the Moscow-controlled Church.
"Although the government officially calls for a single, united All-Ukrainian Church, unofficially it supports the UOC-MP," explained the head of the UOC-KP.
He said that the UOC-MP did not have an official representative at this year's commemorations of the Great Famine because the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government continued to downplay the significance and even the fact of the Great Famine, especially lately, when the tragedy that Stalin and his henchman had inflicted on the Ukrainian nation had become better known around the world.
"Inasmuch as Russia does not want to recognize that there was a murderous famine, much less accept that it was genocide and a catastrophe for the Ukrainian nation, and inasmuch as the UOC-MP is part of the Russian Orthodox Church, I believe that the ROC simply did not allow its Ukrainian brethren to take part in any actions that made Russia out to be responsible," explained the Ukrainian patriarch.
Patriarch Filaret expressed the view that perhaps the greatest result of the 70th anniversary tributes was the increased level of awareness around the globe as a result of a concerted effort by Ukrainians in the homeland and abroad. He emphasized the significance of the United Nations statement on the Great Famine and explained that, while the international body had not gone so far as to describe the calamity visited upon the Ukrainian nation in 1932-1933 as genocide, it did at least call it a national tragedy that led to the murder of millions perpetrated by the Soviet leadership.
Turning to the matter of the fractured status of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, Patriarch Filaret said he believes that political forces supporting the UOC-MP had caused the breakdown of negotiations on a union with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, after an initial agreement in principle was reached between the two Ukrainian confessions and signed in the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople.
"That agreement was never implemented and Archbishop Mefodii halted any further talks," explained Patriarch Filaret, who did not want to name the political figures responsible for pressuring the UAOC head to abandon negotiations.
The head of the UOC-KP said that because the UAOC has splintered again, he sees little hope for the future of that particular Church. He noted that many UAOC parishes in Dnipropetrovsk and Vinnytsia oblasts had gone over to the UOC-KP, even without their respective bishops following suit.
Turning to the situation between the Kyiv Patriarchate and the rival Moscow Patriarchate, the UOC-KP leader said he did not believe that any type of consolidation with the UOC-MP could come any time soon.
"It is more a political question than a religious question. Russia will not let go of the UOC-MP," explained Patriarch Filaret. "No single document will reunite the two Churches. It could only happen through an evolution. It could happen gradually with individual parishes joining the UOC-KP."
Finally, assessing the state of relations with the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the UOC-KP leader said they are good. However, he called the chances of the Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches ever uniting - a thought expressed by UGCC Cardinal Husar - "nearly impossible." Cardinal Husar has talked of the need to eventually reunite and return to the Roman Catholic Church, with which Constantinople broke in 1054.
"To talk of the chance of establishing an all-Ukrainian 'Pomisna' Christian Church is muddying the waters because there are several Christian confessions in Ukraine, including Protestants," explained Patriarch Filaret. "This however, could occur with the Greek-Catholic Church if the Orthodox Church of Ukraine first achieved reunion, but only if both parties agreed to return to the situation as it stood in the 16th century, before the Union of Brest" (by which a portion of Ukrainian Orthodox bishops and their faithful declared their allegiance to the Church of Rome.)
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 14, 2003, No. 50, Vol. LXXI
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