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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Church is not silent

1 April, 2014 - 11:16
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

The church is today in the thick of the events. People need and are seeking support from the church. This is the subject of an interview with Sviatoslav, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Galicia, primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate.


Major Archbishop SVIATOSLAV: “The Russian World’s aggressive steps is a reaction to the very active and successful construction of a Urainian world”


My personal impression is that the Pope speaks very little and very cautiously about Ukraine. Is he afraid of Russia’s wrath? Or is my impression erroneous?

“I think your impression is erroneous. Why? Because the Pope has spoken quite a lot about Ukraine. But, obviously, he speaks as befits an Ecumenical Archpriest. He is not supposed to judge certain concrete actions of one government or another. He speaks out as Church Pastor on behalf of God’s people. He has been expressing himself very clearly and concretely in the last while. In his latest Angelus prayer, he very clearly explained the nature of Ukraine’s domestic conflict – it is a conflict between the authorities and civil society. In other words, I think the Pope made a very bold and clear-cut analysis of all the events we associate with the Maidan. On the other hand, the Pope finished his sermon with the idea of common good, which is the key idea of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine. And I think that if we had all heeded the Pope’s words, we could have easily avoided many mistakes, including those we are making today.”

When you were elected primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), you said it was necessary to build a “Ukrainian World.” Meanwhile, we have almost become part of the “Russian World,” and only a miracle did and does save us yesterday and today. Why have we lost several years?

“We have not lost several years. I think these very aggressive steps of the Russian World are a reaction to the very active and successful construction of a Ukrainian world – both in the native and worldwide. So, in my view, we have by no means been wasting time. Suffice it to recall the blessing of the Patriarchal Cathedral in Kyiv, a historic event in the organization of a Ukrainian world, when thousands of pilgrims and representatives of the international religious community came to the capital from all over the globe to celebrate this occurrence. So I am glad that the Ukrainian world is developing and organizing. We are trying not to waste time no matter what circumstances may await us in the future.”

Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church Synod refused to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Is this silence a minor sin or a turning point in the history of Christianity?

“I think it is the sign of a certain weakness. For whenever the church stands too close to a governmental body and the symphony of state-church relations turns into sort of a domination of one over the other, then, obviously, the church becomes unable to tell the full truth in certain historical circumstances. I think what we see now is just the case.

“I sincerely wish the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the Russian Orthodox Church to breathe to the full capacity of their ecclesiastical lungs. Then they will be able to be full-fledged witnesses of Christ’s truth without any expedient interests associated with the ideology of one government or another.”

Why has the UGCC been so inactive in the Christian social teaching over the past few years? Maybe, we have turned Christianity into a magic way of self-defense, while the Gospel truth and our life are more and more drifting apart and the UGCC is putting up with this?

“I do not agree with you. For example, in the past ten years, our church has spoken out, perhaps more than anybody else, in various epistles and sermons about the foundations of societal construction that follow from Christ’s Gospel. There was not a single presidential or parliamentary election, where we did not make some kind of address.

“Suffice it to recall our church’s teaching last year, when our society debated on a wide range of problems in Ukrainian-Polish relations connected with the Volyn tragedy and on the interpretation of patriotism and national construction. Our church was doing its best to make itself heard at the time.

“Taking into account the addresses, comments, and even direct condemnations on our part in the past few months, I will dare say that we have never remained silent about any evil or untruth.

“It is obvious that the voice of the church is becoming understandable and interesting today precisely because of its social doctrine. For when the church speaks out on concrete things that concern everyday life, the common evangelical truths become easier to grasp because they can be implemented in real life.

“For example, when there was such a sad event as summary conviction of peaceful protesters, I called upon judges not to forget why they are addressed ‘Your Honor.’ They must not lose honor, and they must hand down fair rulings. And I must say they heard that voice, even though it was not simple for many of them to do so.

“So the church was not and is not silent.

“Obviously, things are never too good. This is why the Apostle Paul says Timothy: ‘Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.’ In particular, when extraordinary events or sociopolitical upheavals occur, ecclesiastical declarations of this kind are needed much more than in peaceful time. But we are going to teach people and witness the Catholic Church teachings, especially its social doctrine.”

Thank God, the church is in the thick of the events – I mean not only ours but all of them: Orthodox, Protestant, etc… People are seeking and asking for the presence of church. Whenever there is no visible sign of presence, people begin to ask why there is no church or why the church is silent.

“To respond to this invitation today, all the churches must think over a model of their presence in society in order to be able to accompany our people in the most adequate way on their current historical path.”

Our politicians are too “dirty” and politics is too “sick.” Does the UGCC believe that true Christian democracy is possible in Ukraine?

“The UGCC does believe that Christian democracy is possible, but it will never become part of the political process. We have said more than once that we support no political parties or politicians. But we are trying to educate Christians capable of doing fair politics.

“As you have broached this matter, I would like to mention the two following points.

“‘Lustration’ is a household word today. It alarms me very much to watch the public debate on this topic. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to turn lustration into a banal settlement of scores.

“To be able to fairly lustrate the moral background of a politician or an official, we must first establish moral rules and criteria by which this should be done. Otherwise lustration may turn into an instrument of the outright humiliation of man.

“And I think the church must say its word here. We are working today to suggest the moral principles on which the lustration law will be based. For example, we need to study the experience of other countries, particularly Poland. We can see clearly that a lot of mistakes were made during the lustration there, so we can take them into account and lay down new rules which will, on the one hand, protect the dignity of a human being and, on the other, help build a political society based on honesty, transparency, and openness. Purification must not turn into reckless and disorderly ‘witch hunting.’

“Besides, we can see today that the new leadership is trying to pursue its own portfolio-distribution policy. All the churches and religious organizations have supported and legitimized the new government from the ecclesiastical and moral angle. I would call it government of national salvation. De facto, it faces an extremely difficult challenge to salvage the Ukrainian state, bring it onto a new level, and make sure that all the now ruined governmental bodies function well. For example, it is necessary to re-create the Ukrainian army and other elements of the state structure.

“But the leadership is making a lot of mistakes, particularly in portfolio distribution, which may be linked to the abovementioned question of lustration. I am in touch with many people who are signaling to me that job placement is often done without due care about concrete individuals. The church always protects the individual, and one must take a very delicate approach to the question of replacing civil servants and judges. How did they work at that critical time? We were all aware of a system under which people could be deliberately forced to commit infringements or crimes and then kept firmly in hand. So a person cold fall hostage to the criminal system and become an accomplice in the crime. Yet there are a lot of honest people who did not give up even in such critical moments. I think we must find these honest people if we are to upgrade our society. They really exist.

“Obviously, the national salvation government faces a task to save not only the state, but also good specialists and people in general. We must save the sound-minded forces that form the moral foundation of our society. Relying on this kind of people, we must reestablish governmental bodies and organizations. We should not hasten to condemn people groundlessly. When making a decision, one must take a very delicate and balanced approach to every individual.”

Three years after being enthroned as Metropolitan of Lviv, the young Andrei Sheptytsky issued a program message, “On the Social Question.” When are you going to issue a similar major message?

“Oh, thank you a lot! I think Metropolitan Sheptytsky was really very sensitive to the social question, for he empathized with his people. He saw the conditions in which Galicia lived, particularly on the eve of World War One. He saw that the church was to fill gaps in various social conditions and help make it economically possible for Ukrainian peasants to successfully develop in their own land. It was just the time when Ukrainians began to migrate abroad on a mass scale. Metropolitan Andrei wrote his keynote address in response to the existing challenges.

“When shall I write my message? I think I will do so. But social circumstances are changing so fast today that our Synod and I personally are trying to respond to separate problems and requirements. As for a meaningful overall expression of the church’s position, I think we should wait a little until we see a new wave or a new stage in the development of our society. For it is clear that what we could have said last year is no longer important today, as we are living in a different situation. But I am sure our church will always be sensitive to the social question. And it is a secondary matter whether a message will have to be written or the Catholic Church will be preaching its social doctrine in some other way. Anyway, the voice of the church will sound as before.”

You know that the Ukrainian churches, especially the UGCC, is our last barricade because everything else either has been lost and decayed, e.g., the state, or is inactive and totally exhausted, e.g., civil society. Why not give our state and society a shoulder to lean on in an open and straight manner in order to save the nation as Andrei Sheptytsky and Petro Mohyla used to do?

“I would change the figure a little. You are talking about the last barricade, as we were in a state of siege, when the last defensive line is resisting the enemy invasion, but my vision of the situation is different. There is such a thing in medicine as ‘basal layer,’ i.e., a thin layer of cells that in turn produce cells for another one. For example, there is a basal layer in the skin, which brings forth the cells that can emerge on the surface and become a protective layer, which skin really is. I would say the church has always been the basal layer of society.

“As long as the church exists, so does a healthy foundation in society. The church gives those ‘other’ cells to the societal body from its own midst. This may be public figures or politicians, academics or thinkers, or figures in other sphere of culture. This is the way Metropolitan Sheptytsky saw the place of church in society. In this case the church will remain the church, but it will be a generator of healthy forces for society.

“I know that when we see today that some governmental structures are shaky or outright corrupt, i.e. ruined, everything gets back again to the basal layer. Give us new people! Show us who can do it! And I think the church can give present-day society a shoulder to lean on in this very way. There are a lot of people like these. Obviously, we do not want to offer special protection to anyone, but there are very many good Christians – not necessarily priests or bishops – who can really perform a lot of functions in society. The church should remain the church, a mother and teacher, the ‘basal layer,’ and a societal foundation that will prop up a sturdy building, the house the metropolitan wrote about.”

When will the UGCC cease to be a provincial and backwater element in Ukraine and in the diaspora? When are we going to see a really modern, European, and evangelical church?

“Again, you are judging our church too harshly.”

I judge everybody harshly.

“I would say our church is now far from being backwater. Obviously, the existing reality leaves a certain imprint on its life and service in one country or another, which is normal. The church always depends on the circumstances under which it lives and is composed of the people who live within a certain cultural framework. But, having seen our church in Argentina, Brazil, the US, and Canada, I must say it is far from being backwater.

“As for the modernity of a church, it is a very delicate matter. For modernity can be interpreted in different ways – both positively and negatively. I personally view modernity of the church as ability to effectively shepherd its flock nowadays. To be modern does mean to flout traditional forms of life or service because continuity of the church tradition is an ecclesiastical treasure. But new effective methods make a church modern. A modern church is a church that can speak in a modern language to a modern individual. I think our church is applying quite successfully the modern methods of soul shepherding. Again, has it done enough for this? No, I wish it had done more and better. But in the current conditions, our church is trying to shepherd the souls of people as effectively as possible.”

Is Putinism fascism? What is the church to do in Ukraine and worldwide in response to Putinism?

“I would not like to comment on the term ‘Putinism,’ for it is too new for me. What I can say in no uncertain terms is that any misanthropic ideology, no matter under what ‘-ism’ it is disguised, is alien to the Christian. Whenever one tries to subjugate another person, nation or state by force and thus show his superiority over somebody else and win some authority for himself, it is certain that Christians will view this with great prejudice or skepticism. Yet there is no shortage of these ‘-isms’ in the East, the West, Asia, and Latin America. This is why we, Christians in Ukraine, Russia, and Europe, must do our utmost to prevent new ‘-isms’ from threatening peace in Europe and throughout the world. For everything that leads to a conflict, a face-off, and an aggression can never come from the Divine Word, the Gospels. For our God is the God of peace.”

Patriarch Filaret issued a very strong-worded and frank message the week before last about the aggression in Crimea. What about your reaction?

“We are reacting similarly. Naturally, we do not react with the written word alone – we are trying to show our civic stand and make use of our international contacts. As we are a church that lives in various countries worldwide, we appraise events from different viewpoints.

“It is no secret today that the annexation of Crimea has in fact broken the entire system of global security. When Patriarch Filaret and I attended a prayer lunch with President Obama a month ago, when we mingled with senators and representatives of various countries, we said: what is going on in Ukraine will touch not only Europe, but also the whole world. They looked at us as if we were odd – the Maidan is in Ukraine and what does it have to do with Europe and the United States? But even then I said that it was not only a Ukrainian question. The world is so interlinked today that the confrontations that Ukraine had then and has now may expose very deep-seated and perhaps so far invisible contradictions in the international community. So when I speak of this now in various European and American circles, nobody laughs any more. It is clear to all that this aggression is extremely dangerous.

“In my opinion, all of us, including churches in Ukraine and elsewhere, throughout the world, must do our utmost to ward off a new war – not only a cold war, but also a war that would be a conflagration that will claim human lives.”


Patriarch FILARET: “God is on the side of truth, and since Putin and the Kremlin committed an act of falsehood, they will be defeated by God”



Is it correct to say that Vladimir Putin crossed the line from Russian nationalism to Russian fascism?

“I do not want to compare Putin’s nationalism to fascism, but the whole world saw that he is following Hitler’s path. Hitler also started with annexing Austria under the pretext of the unification of the German people, and the Sudetenland under the pretext of protecting Germans in Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Putin acts in the same way when he ‘protects’ Russians in Crimea, even though they do not require any kind of protection, because they live freely in a free state of Ukraine. Methods that Putin uses remind those of Hitler. Just as Hitler committed aggression by attacking the USSR, Putin committed aggression in Crimea.

“So the truth is on Ukraine’s side today, just as it was on the side of the USSR in 1941. The whole world took side of the godless Soviet Union, because it was a victim of aggression. Likewise, the world took side of Ukraine as a victim of aggression.

“What did Hitler’s aggression end with? With a complete defeat of Hitler himself, and Germans who supported him were depressed for decades after that, because they felt ashamed for supporting fascism. The same will happen to Putin and the Russian people, they will be ashamed too. To be more precise, it will happen to that part of the nation which is triumphant over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“Why will this happen? Because God cannot be on the side of falsehood. And since Putin and the Kremlin committed an act of falsehood, they will be defeated by God.”

Is it right for Patriarch Kirill not to protest against the aggression in Crimea and Russia’s violent, aggressive policy?

“As a Patriarch, as a servant of the Church, he has to take side of truth. Was aggression committed in Crimea, or not? The whole world says it was. That is why as a Patriarch he must do that, even though he cannot cause Putin not to commit aggression. At least, he has to make a statement he condemns it. Just like Holy Phillip, Metropolitan of Moscow, condemned tsar Ivan Grozny for injustice and cruelty. But since he is not doing that, he is sinning.”

Suppose (purely theoretically) that Ukrainian fascists take hold of the government in Ukraine. Would you protest against them?

“Absolutely! Just as I protested against Yanukovych, I told him twice he was acting unjustly. He was preparing Ukraine for joining the EU as an associated member, but when the time came to sign the agreement, he did not do it, he deceived the people. I also told him he was serving only a part of Ukrainians, a specific group, but not the whole nation.”

Why did you award Oleh Tiahnybok with an order? Many say that his nationalism is close to fascism.

“I awarded him for the protection of Ukrainian statehood, not for his radicalism. He was not the only one who received an order, I awarded many people, not from the Svoboda Party, but from other ones. Even from the Party of Regions, those who stand for the state of Ukraine. I also awarded those who supported a united Autonomous Orthodox Church.”

You would not award fascists, would you?

“I do not consider Tiahnybok to be a fascist. Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Yaakov Dov Bleich expressed the same view recently too. Russians consider him to be a fascist, but he is not, he is a radical defender of the Ukrainian state.”

But would you award him if he were a fascist?

“No, if he were a fascist, I would not award him.”

Would you protest if there was a government in Ukraine that would violate the rights of national minorities and carry out aggressive policy against neighbors?

“I already said that I explicitly expressed my protest in a conversation with the president, and I would also do so in a case described by you. The Church has to stand strong on the principle of truth, because if the Church does not testify to the truth, it does not perform its mission.”

Can unseemly methods, for example, physical violence, be used for achieving political goals?

“If an enemy attacks our fatherland, do we defend it? Yes, we do. So when it is about protecting our fatherland, the Church blesses the use of weapons. The Church blessed the people who went to defend our fatherland against Hitler in World War II.”

And what about political struggle?

“Weapons and violence must not be used in it, politics has to be free from them. But if your children are attacked, are you going to use force to defend them? Are you? So force can be used, but in exceptional cases.”

Is it possible that God is not blessing Ukraine because of the amorality of our politicians?

“There is no doubt we are sinful. That is why God punishes the people, He punishes individuals for sins. Look, the vast majority consider themselves to be Christians, including politicians. Those who used to rule the country, the former president and his entourage, considered themselves to be religious, they built churches, kept holy relics at home. But they did not act as Christians. And there are a lot of such people among Ukrainians, they call themselves Christians, but their way of living is not Christian. That is why God punishes us, but only to help us improve.

“If we talk about Ukrainian society, how can it not be sinful if the whole world knows about corruption in our country? Should we receive punishment for these sins? Perhaps, we should. But what is the punishment for? To make amends. And the Maidan that happened is the power aimed at eliminating all the faults that exist in our country and society, and find the free and democratic path of development, liberty, and independence, the path of serving people. At Maidan, I heard the words that I support: ‘If you want to obtain riches, go into business, but if you are going into politics, you must serve people, and if you do not want to serve people, do not go into politics.”

There is a popular opinion that politics is a dirty business, where people always fight for all kinds of selfish interests, and so politics that adheres to some ideals and moral principles cannot exist.

“I cannot say that politics built on moral principles is impossible. If it is impossible, then why are we trying to reach the impossible? If we want this, then such moral politics is possible, and it is possible to carry out politics based on moral principles in Ukraine. Is it not a moral principle that Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in the name of non-proliferation? Is it politics? Yes, it is. Is it moral? Of course! Sacrificial politics. That is why I cannot say that things are totally bad in Ukraine. Because not a single country except for Ukraine carried out the act signed in 1994. We were the world’s third largest nuclear power, and now we are suffering for it.”

Is the unity of all Orthodox bishops in Ukraine possible?

“Yes. Only one thing is needed for that, and it is will. Good will is enough to unite into an Autonomous Orthodox Church under the circumstances.”

What should the formal center of the union be?

“A Council must be a formal center. A Council should take place, which will register the unification of all the Churches in one. But in order to do this, it is necessary to separate from Moscow, from the aggressor.”

Under what condition will Ukraine get its autocephaly?

“Ukraine has autocephaly: history shows that it is not received, but declared. What is received is the acknowledgment of autocephaly. And acknowledgment is possible when Churches unite into one Autonomous Church. Then there will be no obstacles for world Orthodoxy to acknowledge the Autocephalous Ukrainian Church.”

Are you prepared to resign for the sake of unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy?

“No, I’m not. Uniting into one Church means a lot of work. It takes a lot of knowledge, and not every bishop is capable of it. I will not resign, and not because I cannot give up my post for the sake of a unified Church. I can resign, but only when there is a man who will take the burden. Not just anyone who will say, ‘I can,’ and will do nothing, but a man who is really capable of doing things. Then, in the name of a unified Autonomous Church, I would give up my see.

“However, I cannot find such a figure. Moreover, when I hear talks about resignation, no names are mentioned. Who is that successor that will carry the burden? They say someone will be elected. Who is this ‘someone’? This is not discussed, because no one can mention a person who would be deemed truly worthy by the united Church. And since I see no successor, I do not resign. Another reason is that I did not vest myself with this service. I am a monk, and this is my duty. An obedientiary may not refuse a duty.”

Do you think you will be canonized after your demise?

“I do not care, like I just do not care about the anathema, pronounced against me by Moscow. I am concerned with another question: will I be able to join the blissful eternal life, for the rest is temporary and worldly. I pray and do my best so the Lord forgives all my trespasses, willing or unwilling, witting or unwitting, and accepts me in His Kingdom when I die. This is what matters the most for me.”

Is it morally justified to pray for the Patriarch of the country which assaulted us so brazenly and cynically?

“I think that from the moral viewpoint it is unfair to pray for such a Patriarch, who essentially supports aggression against his flock. When Yanukovych used arms against the people and killed more than a hundred innocents, our Church stopped praying for the government. On the next day he fled.”

Do you think he [Patriarch Kirill. – Ed.] should stop praying for Russia’s government?

“Yes. Patriarch Aleksii did not pray for the government during the August Putsch. The Patriarch was celebrating Mass at the Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral and declared that he stopped praying for that government. So could Moscow Patriarchs cease praying for criminal governments? Yes, they could.”

Some say they are grateful that he supports Ukraine with his silence if not with words or deeds. Isn’t silence also a crime?

“Silence is complicity.”

Why was the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church bolder during the revolution? Can it be this unified Autonomous Church for Ukraine?

“It is up to the people and history to judge who was bolder and less bold during the revolution. What matters is that our clergy, the clergy of the UGCC, other Churches and religious organizations stood with the people. I do not think that the UGCC has done more for Maidan than the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate. The heroic deed of St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery is known to the whole world, and this was a unique feat. However, assessing in terms of ‘more’ or ‘less’ would mean dividing the people, who need unity now like never before. The greatest contribution was made by those who died, for they displayed an ultimate measure of love, by sacrificing their lives.”

Do you have a feeling that Orthodoxy’s historical time is over, both worldwide and in Ukraine?

“No, I don’t. Saying that Orthodoxy’s time is over would mean saying that truth is over, that it exists no more. What makes Orthodoxy powerful? It confesses unblemished truth. Despite knowing many faults and sinners, the Orthodox Church alone has preserved unblemished truth. God Himself says that He is the truth, so we cannot say that the truth is over.”

Is a new renaissance of Orthodoxy possible in Ukraine? Just like it was in the time of the Holy Metropolitan Petro Mohyla?

“It is, for should such a renaissance of the people and Church be impossible, all our calls for repentance and renewal would be in vain.

“Speaking of the renaissance in Petro Mohyla’s time, we emphasize that it happened when the Ukrainian Church, the Kyivan Metropoly, was virtually independent. And when it became dependent on Moscow, it declined, for the Russian Church stripped it bare. Thanks to what it took from Kyiv, Moscow was able to introduce scholarship and develop theology. That is why now we reiterate that independence is crucial for the renaissance of the church.

“We also urge everyone to repent their sins, and not only individuals, but entire nations, when they trespass. It means that renaissance is possible, and an example of it could be seen in the renaissance of the former Soviet nations. During and after the World War II we saw spiritual renaissance of the Ukrainian people and other nations of the former USSR, which had fallen away from God.”

What can save Ukraine?

“God can, and people who turn to Him and convert. God turns a wish into an action instantaneously. But for this people must convert, pray, and repent their sins. God can turn black into white instantly, just like He did this for the crucified robber. Black became white, and a robber is the first to enter Paradise. Not Abraham, Adam, David, or the prophets. And today God can save Ukraine, but for this a prayer of repentance is needed, and repentance must be implemented in people’s personal lives, in public life and in the life of the state.”