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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

“The time has come for an independent church”

Apropos of the Ukrainian patriarch’s visit to the US
28 November, 2006 - 00:00
Photo by Mykhailo MARKIV

Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv and All Rus’-Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) kindly agreed to discuss his recent visit to the Ukrainian Orthodox community in the United States. He spoke about church affairs in Ukraine, particularly the Ukrainian cabinet’s recent decision to effect the latest reorganization of the State Department for Religious Affairs. From now on (for how long is anyone’s guess) it will be known as the State Committee of Ukraine for Nationalities and Religion.

This reorganization is vivid proof that history evolves in a circular fashion — such a symbiosis of religions and nationalities existed under Leonid Kuchma. In my opinion, combining religious with national problems is not logical owing to the fact that some religions and confessions are not always firmly linked. For example, Ukrainians are represented in almost all traditional and latter-day confessions, although there are exceptions, like the German Lutheran Church or Judaism.

Contrary to his habitual punctuality, the patriarch was a bit late for the interview. He was delayed by his meeting with students, lecturers, and professors at the Institute of Historical Education of Drahomanov National Pedagogical University. The patriarch was excited and very pleased with the meeting: “We discussed the sense of human life, eternal values, and morality in Ukrainian society. We also discussed love in its earthly and divine manifestations. And we didn’t overlook the state of affairs in Ukraine, especially the extremely important question of creating a single Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

The patriarch added that the members of the audience were eager to discuss every subject, and this was especially true of young scholars, the new generation facing the future.

Your Holiness, what was the purpose of your recent visit to the United States?

Filaret: It was a pastoral visit to the faithful of the UOC-KP in the US. I visited Chicago first and the Cathedral of St. Sophia. Part of the reason for my visit was that one of the parishes was celebrating its 55th anniversary. A number of Ukrainians who consider themselves affiliated to the vicarage of the Kyiv Patriarchate gathered and a conference of clergymen was held, attended by representatives of various Orthodox communities. We discussed current church affairs and particularly the candidates for bishop to replace the late Rt. Rev. Stephen Bilak. I celebrated Mass in Cleveland, at the parish of the Holy Martyr St. Stephen, together with Bishop Posativsky, who had collected money in the US for the construction of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. He has also assisted Ukraine in the humanitarian sphere, supporting homes for the elderly, and so on.

Did you meet with Ukrainian Orthodox bishops affiliated with the Constantinople Patriarchate?

Filaret: Yes. I met with Metropolitan Kostiantyn, the UOC’s hierarch in the US under the aegis of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. We had a warm, tolerant, and constructive conversation. Clergymen of that church assisted me during the services with Metropolitan Kostiantyn’s permission.

It is common knowledge that some parishes that were formerly subordinated to Metropolitan Kostiantyn have joined the Kyiv Patriarchate and are now your jurisdiction. How does the American Orthodox hierarchy feel about this? We know that every church jealously protects her believers and parishes, and how this spoils relations between churches.

Filaret: Well, here one must bear in mind events of the recent past. In the early 1990s our church was headed by Patriarch Mstyslav, previously Metropolitan and Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox in the US. After he was ordained patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox faithful in the US originally under Metropolitan Mstyslav automatically came under the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Patriarchate. He had jurisdiction over Orthodox parishes in both Ukraine and the US, and they all became part of the Kyiv Patriarchate. After Mstyslav’s death some US parishes remained with Kyiv, and the rest were affiliated with the Constantinople Patriarchate (1995).

Several years later some of these American Orthodox believers requested the Kyiv Patriarchate to allow them to join. Thus, 14 US communities became part of the KP. American hierarchs even asked me to convince them to remain under the Constantinople Patriarchate. I refused, of course, for this would be tantamount to disrespect for the believers’ will — tearing them away from the Ukrainian Church and from Ukraine. I said, “Let the American parishes decide for themselves.”

However, this is not a conflictual situation. Moreover, I predict that an increasing number of US parishes will join the Kyiv Patriarchate, among other things owing to the new immigration wave.

So it is not surprising that I had a peaceful meeting with Metropolitan Kostiantyn Bahan and archbishops and conducted important discussions. A dinner was held in my honor, and so on. I am very pleased. (According to the Moscow media, whose reporters in the US closely followed Patriarch Filaret’s visit, Antony Shcherba, one of the UOC hierarchs in America, the head of the Consistory, publicly voiced his open displeasure about the transfer of several US parishes to Patriarch Filaret’s jurisdiction — Auth.)

How many Ukrainian American Orthodox parishes are under the Ecumenical Patriarch’s jurisdiction?

Filaret: There are 40 parishes in all, united into 3 eparchies. They are headed by three bishops: Metropolitan Kostiantyn Bahan, head of the UOC in the US, Archbishop Vsevolod Maidansky, and Archbishop Antony Shcherba.

Are these American affairs — the transfer to the Kyiv Patriarchate — interfering with normal relations with Patriarch Bartholomew I?

Filaret: We are maintaining relations with Patriarch Bartholomew, although it is true that in the last while they have slowed down. However, the reason for this is entirely different: threats from Moscow and the Moscow Patriarchate to engineer a complete schism in Ecumenical Orthodoxy (roughly speaking, by dividing it between the Greeks and the Slavs — Auth.) if Patriarch Bartholomew actually supports autocephaly for Ukrainian Orthodoxy and thus completely tears it away from the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarch has to reckon with this situation.

Would you please specify the current main parameters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — Kyiv Patriarchate?

Filaret: The Kyiv Patriarchate is comprised of 32 eparchies, including 29 in Ukraine and 3 abroad. The church has 4,200 parishes, over 3,000 priests, and 38 bishops. We have four theological institutions of higher learning, four seminaries, and several theological schools.

The latest sociological survey indicates that 28 percent of the adult population of Ukraine supports the Kyiv Patriarchate and 18 percent, the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate (although the latter church has more than 10,000 parishes).

Has your attitude to teaching the fundamentals of Christian ethics in schools changed? Is it not the duty of society and schools to provide children with knowledge about all religions? Many believe that this is the only way to raise our children in the spirit of tolerance and ecumenism.

Filaret: I am sure that there is an alternative that will be to everyone’s satisfaction. At issue here is teaching in schools — according to parental choice — of alternative courses, such as Christian ethics and nonreligious ethics. If so, Christian ethics must be truly general Christian ethics and not restricted to one confession or another, and must rely on the Scriptures, Christ’s faith. In addition to these two subjects, Sunday schools of all confessions must educate children in the spirit of a certain religion or confession. Today there is no education for children except the streets or television.

How does Your Holiness view the situation in Ukraine after the elections, from the church’s point of view? Has the situation worsened or improved? Has nothing changed?

Filaret: It is hard to assess this situation categorically and unequivocally. On the one hand, the important positive factor is that the president really wishes to have a single Local Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Another positive factor is that national consciousness and freedom of speech have noticeably increased in Ukrainian society. On the other hand, the UOC-MP has become more aggressive and is constantly enlisting nonreligious forces in its actions — brotherhoods, all kinds of United Fatherlands, political parties (communists, progressive socialists), and so on. All these people besiege churches whose congregations have joined the Kyiv Patriarchate (in Chernihiv, Ostroh, and elsewhere). In some regions local administrations are acting along the same lines, denying our church land for the construction of churches and blocking ongoing construction projects. If one of our parishes is officially registered in a village or town, an MP-affiliated one immediately appears nearby and then we are sometimes denied registration.

However, people under the UOC-MP’s jurisdiction are starting to see the light. They are thinking things over, making comparisons, and feeling a need for a single independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Many believe that the time has come. Regrettably, quite a few politicians on all levels are thinking and acting differently.

What do you think of the next governmental reform concerning the state structure that was known until recently as the State Committee for Religion (Derzhkomrelihii)?

Filaret: Most of Ukraine’s church leaders are for reinstating Derzhkomrelihii. The current option more than displeases us; it is incomprehensible and illogical, especially since there isn’t enough information to seriously assess it. (One can only wonder why our government is always in a hurry to publish resolutions that are not properly drafted and thus understandable to few individuals, if any. People would be willing to wait for the skeleton of every such resolution to be fleshed out in the form of crucial explanations, details, and recommendations. — Auth.) What worries us most is the possibility that the new government institution will be headed by a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine. Why? First of all, he will be an atheist. Also, our communists have long demonstrated their steadfast support of the Moscow Patriarchate. Therefore, one cannot expect an unbiased attitude to all religions and confessions in Ukraine; the UOC-MP will always be a priority.

I would also like to point out that there is nothing new about the proposed new version of the system of interrelations between the church and state. This version was tried and discarded under President Kuchma.

Will the overall Orthodox situation in the world change if someone else is enthroned as patriarch of Moscow? Lately, some Moscow media have been hinting at the current patriarch’s failing health.

Filaret: When it comes to electing the next Moscow patriarch, the decision will be made not by the Moscow Patriarchate but the Kremlin. The Russian government is unashamedly and consistently exploiting the Orthodox Church. We know, for example, that powerful ideological influence is being exerted on Ukraine through this church. If political relations between Kyiv and Moscow improve, the church will elect the new patriarch, not the Kremlin, and he will not be engaged in politics. But this option doesn’t seem likely, and most probably the Moscow patriarch will be elected by the Kremlin.

Finally, what does Your Holiness see as a course of events that may lead Ukrainians to a single and independent Local Ukrainian Church?

Filaret: This problem can and must be resolved by a Unifying Church Council involving all Ukrainian supporters of the Local Church, including patriotically— minded Orthodox believers who are now members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. I think that such people exist, and that they will attend this council, but only if the state facilitates the project. The Unifying Church Council adopts a decision to establish a single and independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Those who are unwilling to join it may stay with the newly established Russian Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Church is likely to include some 10,000 parishes and the ROCU, 5,000. I am deeply convinced that, in the event of the proclamation and official registration of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarch will recognize this church.

I believe that this will happen and see no reason for doubt or pessimism. Our society is changing and being replenished with new young people. Ukrainian consciousness is becoming strong, and graphic proof of this is found in today’s realities. The president is on our side. It is unfortunate that our politicians do not see the path leading to unity.

By Klara GUDZYK, The Day