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

Archbishop Ihor: Ukrainian Church traditionally closer to people than authorities

30 March, 2016 - 18:17
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

The Day has been closely following the situation with Ukrainian Christianity, interconfessional relationships, and problems relating to the spiritual mission of the Church in modern conditions. Although separated from the state, the Church remains part of society, taking an active part in the discussion and settlement of acute problems.

In the following interview, Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko) of Kharkiv and Poltava (Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, UAOC), a man of encyclopedic knowledge, interesting interlocutor, shares his views on this situation, addresses these relationships and problems, and tells about little-known events in the history of the Church. Archbishop Ihor is the author of a number of books on the history of the Church, Ukraine, and national literature of the Baroque period. He took part in the organization of the Cultural Heritage (Spadshchyna) Society, Ukrainian Language Society, and the first (UAOC) parishes in eastern Ukraine.

Naturally, a number of subjects were broached during the interview, including Archbishop Ihor’s attitude to the possibility and ways of instituting a single Local Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the path traveled by the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, its relationships with other Christian confessions, particularly the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; how the Ukrainian people has preserved its Christian world-view for so many centuries, and the mission of the Church in today’s Ukraine.

Most Rev. IHOR: “There is the most pressing psychological problem of how to rid ourselves of the synodal concept – one born before the Russian Revolution – of the Church as an institution meant for the clergy. What impedes the organization of normal church communities in the east and center of Ukraine the most is that people are not prepared to recognize themselves as members of such communities and assume responsibility for their development.”

Larysa IVSHYNA: “A friend of mine from Donbas said he had wanted to help one such community, but that people didn’t even know how to make the sign of the cross the right way. The tradition had been completely destroyed, so perhaps one ought to start by teaching the ABCs of faith?”

Most Rev. I.: “We’re all used to the idea that Donbas is an urbanized and atheisticized area, but I saw elderly women among the parishioners in Poltava oblast who didn’t know how to cross themselves. Later I told myself that they had been Komsomol members in the 1930s-1950s. In this sense, it is easier to deal with the younger generation and middle-aged individuals and there isn’t that much of a difference between the west and east of Ukraine. A man I know critically assessed this difference and told me about his fellow countrymen in Halychyna, ‘They figure they know everything. People in the east know that they don’t know everything and they are prepared to learn more.’ Within the Church, as anywhere else, keeping an open mind and being prepared to change for the better is very important.”

L.I.: “What plans did you have in the 1990s? Did you consider your life in the religious context?”

Most Rev. I.: “I’d go to church and the alternative was very simple: the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The situation worsened considerably in 1992 when it transpired that there could be several Ukrainian Churches and that they wouldn’t be on friendly terms with each other. In the early 1990s, the most dangerous delusion for all of us was the communist myth about the ‘bipolar’ world, that we were living under atheistic communism contrary to the Christian society in the West. Western society, however, identified itself as a post-Christian liberal civilization that alienated itself from the Church almost as much as the communists did. The issue of the Local Church was not raised in the early 1990s because it seemed self-evident. Patriarch Mstyslav often said, ‘Recognize yourself, then everybody will recognize you.’ In 1995, the UAOC actually lost autocephaly in the Diaspora and placed itself under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, albeit with a degree of self-government. Ukraine displayed a mixed attitude to the event as there arose problems in the relations with the Ecumenical Patriarch, in conjunction with the predominant status of the Moscow Patriarchate resulting from the Kremlin’s support and manipulation of the Church. The current dramatic process of preparing a Pan-Orthodox Council is proof that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has limited capacities as an independent entity.”

Ihor SIUNDIUKOV: “We know that Ukrainian history is rich in dramatic, bloody events that marked the relationships with its neighbors, with the Polish Catholic Church and Moscow Orthodox Church. Today we are witness to serious Christian interconfessional problems in Ukraine. What do you think has kept our people strong enough to preserve the Christian spirit and tradition, to keep Jesus Christ in their hearts and His might in their dedication?”

Most Rev. I.: “Strange as it may seem, one of the underpinning principles of sober-minded faith is the believer’s awareness of the limited role being played by the Church. The Church is not the goal but a means of achieving Redemption. The Church is an antinomic, theanthropic institution, it belongs to Heaven as its reflection on earth, and to the earth. I know of a number of young individuals who zealously joined the Church, only to find themselves bereft of healthy religiosity. In contrast, my grannies were devout believers, although all churches in my small town had been ruined in the 1930s, but after WW II they felt very skeptical about the parish priests, saying they were all commie fakes. I think that a hallmark of healthy religiosity is one’s ability to surmount the barriers in one’s relationships with the Church, to feel the presence of Jesus Christ in church as the primary power, and that all problems one brings to church are secondary.

“There used to be a strong tradition in Ukraine when the Church was independent of the state and that was the significant difference between the Kyiv and Moscow religious ways. In the Kyiv Principality, the Church was officially under the auspices of the prince but took its stand that would often differ from that of the ruler. The metropolitans were Greeks, of course, but this was probably a positive aspect. The rank and file clergy felt rather critical about the powers that be. St. Anthony and St. Theodosius took a dim view of the sons of Prince Yaroslav the Wise and their struggle for the Kyiv throne. St. Theodosius even refused to mention the usurpers’ names during the service for the repose of the souls of the dead.

“But then Ukraine became part of the pagan Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later of the Catholic Polish Kingdom. The Kyiv Church was the only institution to retain its ethnic confessional identity. All this made the faithful feel that the Church was closer to them than the authorities.”

Dmytro KRYVTSUN: “There were talks between the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (in its upgraded phase) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. What’s the current status?”

Most Rev. I.: “I had supported the idea of integration with Ecumenical Orthodoxy through the unity with our church in the Diaspora, but this proved impossible. It was then I suggested that the Eparchial Council adopt a strategy that would cause a rift in the Eparchy. I proposed to request that the Episcopate of the Greek Catholic Church share their views on the possibility of an alliance and collaboration with both Rome and Constantinople. That was when active negotiations began. The process is underway, rather effectively. Of course, our projects will have to be approved by the Roman Curia, considering that no one would want any structural changes in Ukraine against the will of the religious centers. Regrettably, a large number of clergymen appear to be scared for what I believe to be a variety of reasons, with some still under the spell of old stereotypes concerning the Catholic ‘enemy’ and others being simply wary of canonical discipline to which the UAOC has been estranged in recent years.”

D.K.: “Today, rallying round the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) looks like an actual alternative to the domination of the Moscow Patriarchate, an opportunity to crowd it out of Ukraine as an agent of Kremlin influence. Do you see other alternatives?”

L.I.: “The war has made this issue even more acute and the younger generation sees no other ways but the Kyiv Church. In fact, no one sees any other ways. How would Your Grace explain this?”

Most Rev. I.: “I respect Patriarch Filaret and his religious organization. I regard the steps he has taken, the progress he has made as an exploit. There have appeared many attributes of the Ukrainian Church at the Kyiv Patriarchate. I believe that the UOC (KP) is a political project that makes sense, but I have my doubts, quite a few of them, in regard to its prospects, its ability to create a spiritually healthy organism that would combine the dynamics of fulfilling its mission and retaining the national tradition. This reminds me of the biblical story about men pouring new wine into old wineskins [Matt. 9:17]. Of course, UOC (KP) cannot be compared with old wineskins as this Church is changing for the better, but I have my doubts; I was witness to the process of its establishment, to Vasyl Chervony (God have mercy on his soul!) stamping his feet, yelling at the Rev. Volodymyr Yarema, ‘You don’t understand! The authorities have ordered you to unite, so unite you must!’

“The Local Church by its status is institutionally independent of other [religious] centers. This status allows the Church to preserve its identity and tradition. The Kyiv Patriarchate has a great advantage over the UAOC and UGCC; it does not abandon the synodal tradition but upholds it, so it is much easier for the rural parishes in Volyn to place themselves under its jurisdiction, for all they have to do is change the language of church service.”

L.I.: “Many of your parishioners must believe that unity with the Kyiv Patriarchate would be the logical course to follow.”

Most Rev. I.: “No, that has never been the case because our parishioners have their views on the UOC (KP) and our relations with that Church, considering that the ‘administrative resource’ was used to force some UAOC parishes to join the Kyiv Patriarchate, leaving bad memories.”

L.I.: “Does this mean that Ukraine needs Reformation?”

Most Rev. I.: “Reformation isn’t the word I’d use.”

L.I.: “What Church does Ukrainian society prefer today, considering that our people want to rid themselves of the post-Soviet matrix and occupy a worthy place in the world? We’re living in a multiconfessional world, but these confessions often turn out to be tools in the hands of other governments. Aren’t we ignoring this while engrossing ourselves in the twists and turns of church life?”

Most Rev. I.: “People who are into church politics constantly overlook this aspect. I believe that Andrii Yurash is the first sober-minded administrator at the Department of Religious Affairs who knows what church politics are all about, despite his affiliation with the UOC (KP). His statements are carefully worded, as is his approach to the official strategy, and because of this the man often comes under fire from both sides. I’m glad he has this post. Talking of Reform, I think we haven’t as yet realized the importance of a certain personality that should have been the key one. I mean Metropolitan Petro Mohyla who played the main role in the formulation of the Kyiv Reform. He made that reform wisely, synthetically, so that the Kyiv Church remained the trendsetter in the Orthodox world for decades, starting in the 1630s. Those were golden years for the Kyiv Diocese. It then lost priority due to various reasons, but the Mohyla experience can help us find motivation beyond Ukraine and within ourselves.”

L.I.: “Ukraine painfully reacted to the Roman Pope’s meeting with Moscow Patriarch Kirill. The statement after the meeting, especially the part about the war in the east, left our Catholics, especially Roman Catholics, in a very embarrassing situation. How do you feel about it?”

Most Rev. I.: “There is nothing I can add to what the Most Blessed Sviatoslav and Most Rev. Liubomyr (Huzar) had to say on the subject. One could hardly be more critical about that document than the UGCC leadership. However, one ought to remember when Muscovy and the Moscow Patriarchate came to be. And when papal diplomacy did. Apparently, the latter is older, so we can’t possibly assess all the nuances. It is also necessary to assess the dynamics, the way this document was received and by whom. The most painful response came from the chauvinistic wing of the ranking clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church. There was a violent tongue-lashing campaign against Patriarch Kirill in Russia. After the passing of Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow elections took place, with Kirill being regarded by the Russian nationalists as a dangerous ‘pro-Western alternative to the Russian patriots.’ Their favorite was Bishop Diomid (b. Dzyuban in Luhansk oblast) of Chukotka. Patriarch Kirill is a pupil of Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) who is considered to have been a Crypto-Catholic in Russia, the more so that the Roman Pope was by his deathbed. Therefore, all his pupils and associates were to be automatically called into question.”

Valentyn TORBA: “Two years before Moscow’s military aggression the Russian Orthodox Church became especially active in the east of Ukraine; church relics were carried under the slogan ‘Kirill Is Our Patriarch!’ Why ‘Our’?”

L.I.: “That was the ideological part of the military operation.”

Most Rev. I.: “Project ‘Russian World’ was designed to serve the imperial idea, but at the time the patriarch may have considered it as a model of a ‘postcommunist symphony’ with the Church playing the part of a partner rather than servant of the state. This never happened and Russia seems to have discarded the idea.”

V.T.: “Under the Soviets Russia had the Communist Party and KGB. Now it has FSB and the Russian Orthodox Church.”

L.I.: “And agents of influence on the upper echelons of power in Ukraine who are being very useful and building their careers with Kirill’s blessings.”

Most Rev. I.: “That’s how I see the road toward integration with the Ukrainian Church, with people noticing the connection between national coloration – which is secondary in church – and sincere devotion that comes first. Corruption takes root where double standard is practiced, where there is no innate unity between following one’s calling and serving the Lord. As a result, such communities breed monarchic ideas, displaying icons with Admiral Ushakov, St. Matrona of Moscow, and the Romanovs.”

Olha KHARCHENKO: “Does Your Grace think that the Maidan, events in the east of Ukraine have produced an impact on the people, bringing them closer to the Faith?”

Most Rev. I.: “I wish to believe they have, but there is the danger of myths that are out of context. I think there are fewer changes than we would like to see. So far I see no structural changes in their mentality. Those who are passive, who are not concerned about the future of their country are keeping a low profile. The SBU have taken certain measures, so we no longer see the rallies of protest against the ‘Kyiv junta’ we did last year, but the subject keeps being discussed among close friends. Faith that manifests itself in perilous times is fraught with danger because it is born of fright and desire to find protection.”

L.I.: “Interestingly, people in Japan are not very religious. A lecturer with a Ph.D. at their Catholic University told me: ‘We can marry in a Buddhist temple and perform another ritual in a Shinto shrine. They also have paganism still to be overcome. Maybe it shouldn’t be overcome because for many people it is their current environmental world-view. In Ukraine, even though Christianity was adopted at an early stage, conscious faith does not coincide with the sphere of influence of the Church. I, for one, believe that Russia is Orthodox but not Christian.”

Most Rev. I.: “Talking of paganism, I think there is the risk of postcommunist neo-paganism. I have noticed that it is easier for former active Komsomol members or communists to join totalitarian sects or neo-pagan communities than the Church.”

L.I.: “With modern church it takes an effort.”

Most Rev. I.: “Any church takes an effort and dedication. Without this the church will perish. What is the advantage of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church over the Orthodox Church? The UGCC survived a period of catacombs. Before that, in the 1930s, Metropolitan Sheptytsky had problems with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and conflicts with the patriotic community. By the time of World War I some two-thirds of the UGCC clergymen were Moscow-minded, but the Church emerged from the catacombs rejuvenated, full of passionate spirit.”

L.I.: “Anna Akhmatova wrote about two Russias, one that was in the prison camps and the other that had sent the first one to those camps. In our case there are two churches. One that came from the catacombs and the other that did nothing about the first one being thrown down there, which thought nothing of taking over the temples of the first one. Who is to raise this issue?”

Most Rev. I.: “This issue is being constantly discussed. This discussion did not start after the Maidan but earlier. There was all that talk about using forceful methods against the opponent. Some said we needed another Stalin, others that opposition had to pack and leave for Russia. This is a war being waged in the hearts of people, but it will translate into reality, sooner or later.”

L.I.: “We may say that sending opposition packing was an overstatement, but we must protect ourselves against aggression, somehow. How can this be accomplished if we keep our political decorum, keep morals high, keep being tolerant of our enemy and his collaborators?”

Most Rev. I.: “I think there is a value that has a greater power than hatred or enmity. It is love.”

L.I.: “Granted, but in time of war man must fight and kill the enemy. It is then man reserves the right to love his Fatherland even more.”

Most Rev. I.: “Yes, kill thy enemy, a subject we have to broach more than once. I recently discussed it with a person who questioned the sin of taking someone else’s life. I asked him who he thought sins more: he that puts up with manslaughter or he that neutralizes the murderer. The power of love of one’s homeland, one’s neighbor can win in the end. Without it there is no victory.”

L.I.: “Talking of significant events in history, the Kyiv Diocese made a great contribution to what would become the Moscow Tradition. At the same time, the role played by Petro Mohyla in the formation of the Kyiv Tradition remains to be appreciated. Perhaps efforts should be made to reveal the true importance of the Kyiv Tradition?”

Most Rev. I.: “This tradition must be protected against profanation. These periods in history are vulnerable to abuse, distortion, adjustment to a vile purpose. Remember the Ukrainian intellectuals who were exiled to Russia? Like Saints Dmitry of Rostov (b. Dmytro Tuptalo, of a Cossack family) and John of Tobolsk (b. Ivan Maksymovych, Nizhyn) who involuntarily were co-authors of the imperial religious doctrine. For all I know, though, Feofan Prokopovych willingly worked for the empire.

“There is also the Kyivan Synopsis first published in 1674, something researchers in mainland Ukraine are scared to deal with because it laid the foundations of the imperial doctrine that would be implemented by Peter I. Zenon Kohut was the only exception. Yes, a suicidal document, no denying the fact, just as there is no denying that Russians were the only ones to enforce the occupation regime. Ukrainian master sergeants dominated the Soviet Army, Ukrainian bureaucrats held posts up and down the Soviet ladder, and were the worst of the kind, perhaps with the exception of their colleagues in Uzbekistan. Sad but true: Ukrainians were part of the imperial government machine.”

L.I.: “Valeriya Novodvorskaya was your parishioner.”

Most Rev. I.: “She was and we have the Rev. Yakov Krotov who, after all his collisions in Russia, requested admission as a clergyman. I studied his papers, ordination and other certificates, and his small purely Russian parish was admitted. On one occasion I even conducted a service in Moscow. Needless to say, our Moscow parish is not officially recognized and remains unregistered, but it exists. The Rev. Yakov is a public figure, an active Radio Liberty host, participant in various rallies. Valeriya Novodvorskaya was our parishioner, but her health was deteriorating. On those rare occasions when she was transported to church she would go to confession and communion. She always stressed her status as our parishioner. Shortly before her passing, she donated money for the medical treatment of a resident of Kharkiv who had been brutally assaulted by separatists on Palm Sunday in 2014.”

L.I.: “Who does Your Grace regard as a favorite hero of the Ukrainian world?”

Most Rev. I.: “The name of Petro Mohyla has been mentioned more than once. Although he wasn’t an ethnic Ukrainian, he could serve as a worthy example of our work today.”

L.I.: “Any names in world history?”

Most Rev. I.: “I mentioned John Paul II in a conversation with my colleagues recently. I said I held him in deep esteem. In fact, I wouldn’t have become a priest but for the choice the Pope made in the late 1970s, providing such an excellent alternative to the traditional, often burlesque, image of today’s clergyman.”

Interviewed by Larysa IVSHYNA, Ihor SIUNDIUKOV, Olha KHARCHENKO, Valentyn TORBA, Dmytro KRYVTSUN, photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day