After Euromaidan’s events the issue of creating a single local Orthodox Church in Ukraine rose very sharply. In the media the information appeared that many priests of the Moscow Patriarchate reacted very negatively to the desire of Ukrainians to defend their independence from Russia. Is it really true? And what do they think about the current position of the Orthodox Church in society?
Metropolitan Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky and Vishnevsky Alexander
) spoke about these issues in the exclusive interview given to "Vector News
".- Your Eminence, you had been staying long enough near the now deceased Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr, so you know very well the situation both within the Church and around it. How can you describe the current position of the Church in the society?
- It could be described as a transient one. Metropolitan Volodymyr was a supporter of gradual but systematic expansion of the canonical rights of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. During his life, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was gradually moving to the full canonical independence. The new leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has new Canonical priorities. The new course of the UOC is directed towards preserving church unity within the Moscow Patriarchate. I pay with due respect to our Primate - His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphrius, who – without any hint of exaggeration - can be called a man of prayer and a man of the Church. However, from my point of view, the future of the Orthodoxy in our country is associated with the restoration of church unity and the acquisition of the autocephalous status of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
As for now, the Moscow Patriarchate is the largest Orthodox Church in the modern world. And we should realize that this Church affects - and will affect in the future - both Ukraine and the Orthodox world as a whole. But it is one thing to take into account the interests of the influential church structure in the Orthodox world, and the other - do not be the subject of action. The detractors of the UOC now call it the "Ukrainian branch" of the Moscow Patriarchate. In this formulation, one can easily feel the prejudiced attitude.
I have no doubt, however, that this particular purpose, set by imperial circles in Moscow: to deprive the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the rights which it has achieved over the past 25 years and turn it into a disenfranchised branch of the Moscow Patriarchate. Ukraine made its historic choice. In 1991, the Ukrainian independence led to the collapse of the Soviet empire. Later there was a "rollback" in dogmatizing a multi-vector policy, acting as a constant balancing position between Russia and the West. Everyone tried to balance - from Leonid Kravchuk to Victor Yanukovych. The latter, however, was too stout for maintaining the necessary balance right. Yanukovych lost his balance, and the country was, in fact, given to the external control. The revolution of 2014 was a response to the geopolitical "blockage". The people of Ukraine categorically refused to live in the new Soviet Union or be a part of the new Russian empire. Yanukovych fled, and Russia first invaded the Crimea, and then went to war in the Donbas region. The period of "balancing" ended.
Ukrainian society has already made its choice: the European direction. Now it is high time for the UOC to make its own choice. However it could be difficult and painful, we should do it - for the future of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. We need to look for and find our own place in the Orthodox world.- Today, one can often hear that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church takes a weak pro-Ukrainian position, many accuse it of being unpatriotic. Do you agree with this assessment?
- The position of the Church is often interpreted by the society because of the symbolic actions of its leaders. One of these symbolic events took place on May 8, 2015: Metropolitans Onuphrius and Anthony did not stand up during a solemn session of the Supreme Council, when the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko was reading out loud the names of the heroes. Later Metropolitan Onuphrius explained: "We did not stand up, because it was our protest against the war as a phenomenon in general." But in Ukrainian society this act received primarily a negative assessment.
And regardless of the intentions of the Head of our Church and the bishops accompanying him, in the eyes of society he did not become a symbol of protest against the "war as a phenomenon" but, on the contrary, a symbol of the "unpatriotic" Ukrainian Orthodox Church. I want to stress that I'm not drawing my own conclusions, I am just trying to formulate the attitude to this case from a large part of Ukrainian society.
The war put the UOC in a very difficult position. As the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate, we must retain the canonical loyalty to the upper hierarchy of our Church: His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. And as the citizens of Ukraine it is our duty to maintain the loyalty to our country, which became a victim of Russian aggression. Before the war, these two "loyalties" were not particularly contradictory. But today we are facing a difficult choice, because the Orthodox Church in Russia has not taken special - different from the supreme secular authority - position in relation to the events in Ukraine. Russia's aggression was not convicted neither by the Moscow Patriarchate, nor by our Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The situation in Russia is not easy.
The Russian Orthodox Church enjoys there such system preferences, that many analysts say that Orthodoxy is the state religion in modern Russia. But the state status is not synonymous with the freedom for the Church. Quite the contrary. Therefore, we should not expect the Patriarch Kirill’s condemnation of Putin's policy towards Ukraine. Even regardless of the fact what the Patriarch himself thinks about it.
On the other hand, the hierarchs of the UOC do not dare to make a collective statement. The media has voiced the positions of the individual bishops of our Church, who gave a clear moral assessment of the occupation of the Crimea and the war in Donbas region. But the UOC in general did not raise its voice, which undoubtedly influenced the fact that many people began perceive our Church as "a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church," and one of the institutions of the so-called "Russian world".
But I still want to emphasize: the opinion that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is "the Church of collaborators," where there is no place for Ukrainian patriotism and where only the Russian identity is dominating, is a mistake. In our Church there are patriots of Ukraine - both at the level of the episcopate, and among the priests and the laity.- The President of Ukraine has repeatedly talked about the need to create a local Ukrainian -independent from the Moscow –Church. He raised this important issue during the meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. What is your opinion about this issue? Are the Ukrainian Churches (as we well know, that there are three of them) ready for such a step?
- Formally, in Ukraine there are even more church communities, positioning themselves as the Orthodox ones. But really only two religious communities are significant in the society. This is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the self-proclaimed Kiev Patriarchate.
Today Ukraine desperately needs its own canonical independence. Ukrainian Orthodoxy is rapidly losing its competitiveness. We are being displaced by Protestant denominations. In the educational and other social projects the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is ahead of us: it was able to create in Lviv the powerful educational and intellectual center - the Ukrainian Catholic University. Alas, today the Orthodox hierarchs in Ukraine are not ready to create a unified and canonically independent Church. But we do not have another alternative - only the restoration of the Church unity.
There is no other alternative - only gaining the autocephaly by the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Only legitimate canonical autocephaly, recognized by the fullness of the Orthodox world, can become the basis for the Church's unity and bring Ukrainian Orthodox Church to a new quality level.- But the desire to create the local Church meets strong resistance of Moscow. Patriarch Kirill, the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly stated in public, that Ukraine does not need a local Church. So will Ukraine be able to overcome the resistance of the Russian Orthodox Church?
- History has shown that all the local Churches passed through the same difficulties. Constantinople did not want to "let go" the Russian Church and the Churches of the Balkan region. From a psychological and a canonical point of view, it was even more difficult for Constantinople to provide autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in the territory of the Greek Kingdom (1850). The document declaring the autocephaly of the Church of Greece (tomos) was signed by His Holiness Patriarch Anthimus IV (Tamvakis). And it was not an easy decision to be taken. After all, it was a canonical independence, not of Russians, Bulgarians or Romanians but of Greeks living in the territory of the Greek Kingdom. People who were not only of the one with the Patriarch Anthimus faith but also his brothers by blood, the same Greeks, like himself. Now Moscow does not want to "let go" Ukraine. To keep it tight in the fist, the argument is put forward about the common cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Patriarch Kirill has repeatedly stated that "before God," or "from the standpoint of basic values" Russians and Ukrainians are "one nation." Similar statements are heard now from the lips of the secular power in Russia. "Historically, in Russia and in Ukraine one nation lives, which is currently divided," – was said in early February by Nikolai Patrushev, the Russian Security Council Secretary.
We refrain from commenting on this thesis. But the act of Patriarch Anthimus testifies: no historical or cultural argument can justify our indifference and unwillingness to heal the rift. The Orthodox Church of Greece declared its independence from Constantinople in 1833. The unilateral - in violation of the canons - proclamation of the jurisdiction independence led to a schism, which lasted for a long period (17 years).
But in the end, Constantinople found the strength to accept the fait accompli and legalized the autocephaly of the Greek Church. And in 1850, the love of the Mother Church covered canonical "self-proclamation" and "unauthorized" independence of Athens. Something similar is needed today to be done today by the Church of Moscow. The schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy has been lasting for the past 27 years. It is time to leave space for the Christ's love to act and heal the wounds. The Moscow Patriarchate has to find the strength to voluntarily "release" Ukrainian Church and facilitate the provision of legal canonical autocephaly of our Church from Constantinople.- Not so long ago, Attorney General of Ukraine Vitaly Lutsenko said that now an investigation is going on, related to the previous government’s attempts to forcibly change the leadership of the Church. We are talking about Metropolitan Volodymyr. What can you say about this?
- Unfortunately , neither high rank, no unique human qualities have not saved His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir from the unbearable hardships at the end of his earthly path. Yanukovych positioned himself as the "Orthodox President". He attended public worship, kissed the hand of Metropolitan, received the Communion during the Liturgy, which were served by His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir. But for Yanukovych it was important to re-win the presidential elections in March 2015, At the same time the UOC, whom the President "patronized", was given the role of one of the political instruments.
It was planned that thousands of our Church temples would turn into propaganda points in 2015 ...
That was the plan of Yanukovych. But reposed in God, His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir, the then-Head of our Orthodox Church, totally disagreed with it. Metropolitan Vladimir perfectly remembered that the Church interference in the electorate process in 2004 resulted in image losses, so he was categorically not going to repeat the past mistakes.
Seeing that Metropolitan Vladimir wound not help him in the election campaign, Yanukovich began to think about changing the Head of the Church. At this time his eye was caught by Archbishop Anthony (Pakanich) - a man with an intelligent appearance and a soft, insinuating voice, the Rector of the Kiev Academy. Classic "learned monk", who has a taste for clerical, bureaucratic job, Archbishop Anthony was promoted by Metropolitan Vladimir and his team.
Moreover, Metropolitan Vladimir even kept an eye on him as his possible potential successor. Of course, against the backdrop of the Metropolitan Vladimir with his innate aristocracy and European culture, Archbishop Anthony looked somewhat ... provincially. A lot of people pointed out to Metropolitan Vladimir this and other shortcomings of his "favorite". But His Beatitude believed that the main thing is not in the psychological or cultural "wrapper", but the essence of man and what he aspires to. All went to the trustful - from hands to hands - power transfer. But then the political intrigues intervened in it. More precisely, it was the President Yanukovych, who did not want to wait for a natural course of events and decided to speed the things up.
At first, Yanukovych's team thought to solve the problem "in an amicable way." Metropolitan Vladimir began to receive the hints that he was supposedly too old and feeble to hold the office of Primate. Metropolitan objected, citing the church tradition and the fact that - under the Charter for the management of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - the Primate is elected for life (section V, paragraph 2). Metropolitan Vladimir did not allow anybody to put pressure on him. Even the President of the country. Once Metropolitan realized that Yanukovych decided to put Archbishop Anthony as the Primate during his lifetime, he changed his attitude towards this figure. It was not even a personal insult. Metropolitan Vladimir realized that if they had passed a church power in the hands of Archbishop Anthony, the church would have inevitably become one of the "assets" of the Donetsk clan. "The old man persists, he is stubborn" – politicians said at the time of Metropolitan Vladimir in Yanukovich’s circles. Apparently, it was at the same time, that at the level of the President, it was decided to force the Metropolitan Vladimir to resign from the Primate position by using pressure and force.- And here you were under attack?
- I was the personal secretary of Metropolitan and the person whom he most trusted. Therefore, in the last years of the life of His Beatitude, I was constantly nearby: helped him organizationally and psychologically. Metropolitan Vladimir's health was then already very weak. How much he could live depended on how effective he could be treated. And there I was, so to speak, a key figure. By the will the Holy Synod, I - as a personal secretary of Metropolitan Vladimir - was responsible for his treatment (see the decision of the Synod of 23 December 2011, the magazine ¹76 -. Ed.).
I had to be removed from His Beatitude. And to achieve this aim, the "case of nuns" was used, in which I was a witness. I was detained, threatened to be put in prison, was forced to give confessions. But very soon I realized that the police were not interested in the fate of the nuns and the truth itself – they wanted to isolate me from Metropolitan Vladimir. In fact, I became a hostage. Almost for half a year I had been deprived of freedom of movement. I was not allowed to live at home or near Metropolitan Vladimir.
Instead, I was living under escort on different objects, including the hotel complexes, where I was put under psychological pressure, they conducted "explanatory" work on me. I was deprived of all means of communication. Any form of communication with the outside world was forbidden. I was constantly under escort of the special division of the judicial police of the Internal Affairs of Ukraine "Griffin". But in this situation I was worried most of all not about my own destiny but about the fate of Metropolitan Vladimir. He struggled to help me as much as he could. The Primate used all the channels of communication and connections that he had. But from everywhere Metropolitan received the same information: "The Bishop Alexander will be released when you will agree to retire." In other words, when Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev will be able to take the chair and become the Primate.- It turns out that Metropolitan Anthony was a direct participant in this conspiracy?
- This question should be answered by the investigation. I can only affirm two things. Firstly, together with Yanukovych, Metropolitan Anthony (on the picture – standing left to Yanukovich) was one of the main "beneficiaries" of this dubious enterprise. Secondly, neither Yanukovych nor Zakharchenko nor Novinsky did not have sufficient knowledge in the field of church administration in order to negotiate with Metropolitan Vladimir. Let me give you the following example. As a place where Metropolitan Vladimir could live after the retirement, Yanukovych's team chose two monasteries: Pochaev Lavra and Zimnensky women’s convent. Metropolitan Vladimir was offered the corresponding high title, something like "Holy Àarchimandrite of Pochayiv Holy-Assumption Monastery and Svyatogorskyj Assumption Zymnensky Monastery". But only a person who had the necessary experience of church government was able to formulate such a canonical offer.- And how do we know that the government wanted to put in the place of the Primate precisely Metropolitan Anthony?
- Three years have passed since one memorable meeting for me. It happened in the office of then-Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko. It was there, from the mouth of Zakharchenko, whose subordinates restricted my freedom, and I heard the demand of the Yanukovich regime: "Complete removal of Metropolitan Vladimir to rest and the election of Metropolitan Anthony as the Primate." At the same time, somewhere around the 5th of September, 2013, there was another working meeting – it happened not in the police office, but in the house of Metropolitan Anthony.
The meeting was attended by several people: Archbishop Anthony, Vadim Novinsky, deputy Andriy Derkach, me and another priest. Then in the presence of Metropolitan Anthony, I was told that after the meeting between Yanukovich and Archbishop Anthony it became possible to achieve the following arrangements: Metropolitan Vladimir retires and becomes the Holy Archimandrite of Pochayev Lavra and Zimnensky monasteries, and I (six months after the election of Metropolitan Anthony to the position of the Primate) will be given the opportunity to serve on one of the dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.- Memorable scenes ... But why Yanukovych's team was so eager to put Metropolitan Anthony at the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? Did they want to have "a man of trust"? Or, in your opinion, there was the so called Russian "footprint", and first of all, Moscow was interested in Archbishop Anthony?
- Firstly, I would not contrast here the political interests of Moscow and Donetsk clan. In general, Yanukovich was a pro-Russian politician. Sometimes he had fits of patriotism. For example, one day, being in Lavra, he asked confidently one hierarch: "Is it possible to remove from the UOC the shameful prefix “of Moscow Patriarchate"?
But just for this purpose they needed a Church curator of the President - in order to protect him from such a way of thinking! For Yanukovych and his team, Metropolitan Anthony was "a man of trust". The rumors had it, that supposedly, Archbishop Anthony was the "spiritual father" of the President. Spiritual fatherhood is a deeply personal relationship. And I do not dare to condemn Archbishop, if he really took confession of Yanukovych and gave him spiritual advices. The priest should take a confession from anyone, let it be even the hardened criminal.
But I absolutely do not understand the other. Why Metropolitan Anthony agreed to participate in the pressure on the Primate of our Church? At that time Metropolitan Vladimir was seriously ill. It was clear that his life is moving towards the decline. Why did they decide to offend the old man at such a time? Why was it necessary to agree on the most important and unspoken condition of Yanukovych: agitation, in exchange for the post of the Primate? "Why did you bring him to me?" – asked me with a bitter feeling Metropolitan Vladimir in one of those days. He meant some flattering characteristics, which I once gave to Archbishop Anthony, offering his candidacy for the high church positions. It was one of the most bitter issues that I have ever heard from His Beatitude. And yet, as a Christian, I cannot entirely blame the other person, I cannot be blind, not seeing my own fault in what happened. Archbishop Anthony played a central role in this sad story. But I do not wish him evil, I am not looking for the opportunities to take revenge for the past events or things made. It seems, once Oscar Wilde said, that every saint has the past, every sinner has the future.
Interviewed by Sergei Kozlov
, "Vector News