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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

Father Heorhii KOVALENKO: “We can feel the pain of splitting. This might be the reason why we are so severe”

22 May, 2013 - 17:48
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

The latest events in the religious life of our country, in particular, those connected with the 1,025th anniversary of baptism of Rus’-Ukraine, recognition of sacraments performed by the UOC KP, etc., have become reason to meet with the head of Synod Information-Enlightenment Department and Press Secretary of the Primate of Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Archpriest Heorhii KOVALENKO.

Recent Synod of Bishops of UOC KP removed all accusations from Archbishop Oleksandr (DRABYNKO). Will the positions of head of department of external liaisons of the church and chief editor of the official website of the church be returned to him? Will rehabilitation be as loud as blames?

“Some time before His Beatitude issued a corresponding order on the staff positions. Thus Archbishop Oleksandr has been appointed managing editor, whereas I became the chief editor of the official website of UOC KP. And Archbishop Mytrofan is head of the external liaison department of the church.

“In my opinion, the decision on removing all previous accusations from Archbishop Oleksandr (Drabynko) is proof that certain mechanisms of riding out the crisis are functioning in the church.

“We survived through the complicated 1990s, when conflicts and collisions led to splits and separations. At times from aside it looks as if political mechanisms are being applied here. However, the mechanisms that work in the church differ from the political ones.

“For example, the information campaign regarding the disease of our primate has been too much politicized. Although we took a deliberate step to completely reveal the information concerning the state of health of His Beatitude, our sincerity has been appreciated. For some people the official truthful information was insufficient, and then information incompetent resources and commentaries of incompetent analysts appeared in newspapers, TV screens, and especially in the Internet.

“But one should understand that the church is living a life of its own and resolves its questions not in the political-state scope, but in the evangelical context.

“I believe the fact when episcopacy, having prayed to the Holy Spirit, gathers at one table, discusses the problem, and then approves the decision that is acceptable for everyone can serve an example for Ukrainian politicians.”

At the abovementioned Synod the invitation text to the anniversary of baptism of Rus’-Ukraine that will be sent to Patriarch Kirill was approved, too. It is known that Patriarch Kirill refused to take part in any actions where Patriarch Filaret will be present. At the end of April Vice Prime Minister Kostiantyn Hryshchenko met with the primate of UOC KP to discuss the organization questions of the festivities that will be held on the state level. Does it mean that the head of the ROC will be limited to the actions organized by UOC?

“At the moment there are two programs of festivities: governmental and church one. Speaking about the participation of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, we mean the church or church-governmental program, if state officials will take part in it.

“For some reason everyone was quick to forget that when we were celebrating the 1,020th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine, His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew came to Ukraine with the same demands as Patriarch Kirill’s. He did not take part in the services, refused to meet with the head of UOC KP. However he spoke about the need to reunite Ukrainian Orthodoxy. So, he spoke about the same things His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr has been speaking for 20 years by now. Therefore there is no position of Moscow. There is a position of Ecumenical Orthodox Church. And its severity is another way to remind society and ‘dissenters’ of the need to resolve this problem. For when we start simply meeting, without concelebrating, without any church, liturgical, or Eucharist unity, the UOC KP will be already a different kind of church, a non-Orthodox church. And so far we remind that those are dissenters, consider that they belong to us, and wait for their return.

“I think representatives of Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate should not have raised this wave, so to say, Patriarch Kirill is outraged by the participation of Patriarch Filaret in the festivities. Maybe they should make an anniversary present to the Ukrainian society – come back to the united church, or at least make some steps in this direction.”

What kind of steps?

“Those should be church steps – in the canonic sphere. Taking the catechism of the Orthodox Church which must be read by every orthodox believer, it reads that the unity of church is determined by the unity of faith, sacraments, and hierarchy. At the moment there is only unity of faith between UOC and UOC KP. (But still there is a question, for we believe in the Unified, Holy, Cathedral, and Apostolic Church.) There is no unity of sacraments because of lack of Eucharist-liturgical communication. After all, there is no unity of hierarchy, for the Ecumenical Orthodox Church does not recognize the hierarchy of UOC KP.

“So, the more church things we all have the more chances we stand for church reunion, for there are often calls to unite, for example on the state-political level.

“The church is called to speak about eternal things. It exists in the world, but it is not from this world. Yes, we are citizens of Ukraine. We have a political position of our own. But as a priest I think it should be expressed in the booth for secret voting. After all people should not see that we are politicized, they should see that Gospel is the only bias we have. And the more evangelical, rather than political things we have, the sooner the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy will be restored.”

Not so long ago you blamed Greek-Catholic Church for recognizing the sacraments performed by UOC KP. Is not this a monopolization of the Spirit?

“I remember the answer given by the head of UGCC. His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) refers to documents of RCC which regulate the attitude to sacraments beyond the unity with Roman-Catholic Church. We also have an all-church document on the attitude to Heterodoxy. However we still consider the dissenters as ours. In other words, we do not say that Rome Catholics or Greek Catholics are not Christians. They are living their own life, liturgical in particular. But if the dissenters call themselves Orthodox, they cannot demand to be treated as Heterodox. We do not treat UOC KP as outsiders. We feel the pain of splitting. That must be the reason why we are so severe.

“Apparently it is hard to glue a cup that was broken. But it is possible – not by human efforts only, but with God’s help. But this demands some humbleness from both sides, as well as a sincere desire of unity which would overcome their own interests and all fleshly problems dividing us.”

Father, does the UOC pray for Ukraine?

“We always pray for the state and the people. The Orthodox Church has this in its teachings, in particular the teaching on symphony. The church considers that in ideal the state and the church should cooperate. The first is dealing with daily problems of people, the second one – with their souls. The state defends its citizens, including the church, whereas the church prays for the state and helps it. I have described an ideal version which will never be achieved. But God did not promise us the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

“During the Great Lent I have listened to recordings of the Holy Writing in my car while standing in Kyiv’s traffic jams. I was especially touched by Jeremiah’s Book. While reading it, one can draw many parallels with our history, even directly with the Holodomor. It also teaches us. The prophet says that people should humble themselves before the state defeats and captivity. Later God will release them for their humbleness.

“Anyway there is a Biblical attitude to life. And if it is combined with sincere patriotism, this is the ground for existence of a state, people, man, and their future. Holy martyr Volodymyr, Kyiv Metropolitan, first new martyr of the 20th century of our church said that love to your homeland should not be stronger than love to God. At the same time our patriotism should be based on respect to patriotism of another person. I have recently contemplated over the word ‘a friend.’ Etymologically it means another person, and at the same time – dear person. So, another person who is dear to you. You ought to love others like you love yourself. Of course, this is Christian etymology rather than classical.”

The Bible also reads that when Israel sinned, God’s patience was exhausted, and He sold it into slavery. In Ukraine state officials go to church, at least on big holidays, and nearly 70 percent of Ukrainians think they are believers, meanwhile our country leads in Europe in terms of pace AIDS is spread; people get ill with cancer more quickly; it is one of the centers of heroine distribution. Judging by all this and political-economic situation, aren’t we getting closer to this trap, in your opinion?

“I am not a prophet to predict the future. I only read prophecies.

“Unfortunately, we rarely see faith in action which would be shown by 70 percent of Ukrainians. For faith must change life. The Holy Writing says about living and dead faith. The Bible writes that demons believe and tremble too, but at the same time they continue to be servants of Satan.

“So, a believer should cognize his/her faith based on God’s ten tables. And not to be called believers, but be believers, one should try to keep to them. If we scan the Ukrainian society for keeping to the Decalogue, we will see that people to not keep practically to any of them. What do we expect from God? What blessings?

“On the other hand, the current situation is a kind of a missionary challenge for the church. Therefore the church does not start with what a person should do, but with education of a person. On the whole, we must not judge. On the contrary, we must love people, doing everything for them to go the path of salvation. We have inherited a complicated post-atheism legacy, so we need to help people to be Christians not only on Sunday in a church, but with their families, with their friends, and at work.

“There is one more thing. It pains when people do not believe in sincerity of others. I have no tool to measure whether a state official or ordinary person are sincere in their search of God. One should rejoice when another person is looking for God. At a defined moment God will touch his heart. One must not bring political component into the relationships with coreligionists. Unity in Christ is not determined by any political, economic, social, or racial parameters. God wishes salvation to all of us, and we have to wish it to.

“Speaking about power that be, apparently for them the tables ‘Don’t steal’ and ‘Don’t lie’ are the most actual, whereas for many others – ‘Don’t envy’ and ‘Don’t judge.’

“Believe me, when at least half of those nearly 70 percent of Ukrainians who declare they are believers will truly become those, the social situation will change. There is no other way. God unmistakably decides on the destinies of states and people. But not without our participation. He does not enforce.”

By Nadia TYSIACHNA, The Day