On July 27 we will be marking the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine. This interdenominational event (all Christian denominations will take part in the government-sponsored events) has already acquired a political edge. We discussed this and other things with His Holiness Filaret, Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus’-Ukraine, primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate).
The adoption of Christianity by Saint Volodymyr over 1,000 years ago had a positive effect on all – foreign political, diplomatic, legislative, and cultural – spheres of life in Rus’-Ukraine. Do you think religion is having an effect on Ukrainian society today? For, even though about 70 percent of Ukrainians consider themselves believers, we cannot say that Christian values dominate in this country…
“This jubilee must, above all, remind the Ukrainians that, as is written in the Bible, ‘blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’ (Psalm 32:12).
“I would not say that faith has no impact today on Ukrainian society. The renaissance of Church, which began when Ukraine gained independence, still continues. What is the proof? Temples are being built, even though it is just an outer sign. Parents aspire to bring up their children in a Christian spirit, and Christian ethics is taught in schools. More and more people attend divine liturgies. This list can be continued. But there is a ‘but’ which is typical of not only our time. When Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan in the 4th century, which proclaimed Christianity as official religion, morals began to decline and fall in the Roman Empire. For come-and-go people went to Church. To please the emperor, the pagans began to embrace Christianity, but they failed to become Christians in essence. The same is now. Is it a vogue to be an atheist in Ukraine?”
Your Holiness, what is your attitude to the fact that celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine have already begun in… Vladivostok? From there, the religious procession with the relics of Prince Volodymyr is going to cross Russia and Belarus and only then reach Ukraine.
“This is the twisting of history. We are celebrating an event that occurred in 988 in Kyiv. Moscow did not exist as a city, let alone the capital of a state, at the time. Even the Russian Empire celebrated the 900th anniversary of baptism in Kyiv, not in Moscow or Petersburg. So why do they begin to mark this date in Vladivostok? Because Russia cannot possibly drop the fixed idea of the so-called Russian World (they have also drawn the Russian Orthodox Church in there). In reality, the time of territorial empires is gone. They have given way to other – financial, industrial, military, and informational – empires.”
What do you think about the current situation in the Russian Orthodox Church? I mean not only the participation of this church in the Russian World project and the Pussy Riot litigation, but also the number of its parishioners. Four million Russians attended Easter prayer services this year, while the country’s population is 140 million.
“Christianity should be measured by quality, not by quantity. This quality once defeated the more numerous pagan world. At present, quality is also winning. Just look: people tend to lean towards active parishes in which the Living God dwells.”
Does it hurt you that Patriarch Kirill will perhaps refuse to take part in the Ukraina Palace ceremony if you come there?
“This kind of statements no longer hurt me.
“Ukraina Palace will gather representatives of all Christian denominations. This ceremony is being organized by the state, and we are all live in and serve this state. Following this, each church will celebrate this event separately. This scenario suits us, as it offers no preferences to anybody.”
The world is being increasingly secularized, and people are now divided into believers and non-believers rather than into the Orthodox, Catholics, or Protestants. So it will perhaps be better to embrace ecumenism and respond in its spirit to the challenges of time?
“I have studied the question of ecumenism for over 30 years and must say that we will not unite into one visible church structure until the Second Advent of our Savior (smiles). But, as long as we are Christians – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant – we must rally together to protect Christian values. (Just look at the way Europe is departing from Christianity.) For example, all the churches have made a concerted effort to oppose the Verkhovna Rada bill on single-sex marriages, and parliament did not approve it.
“When Pope John Paul II visited Ukraine 12 years ago, I met and told him that sinful lust for power once split the Church into Western and Eastern. What can really bring us together is love, for it is capable of uniting everything.”