Patriarch Filaret: "Almost all Orthodox Churches believe that Ukraine should have its own Church"
Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate on church canonicity and manipulations around it, and independence of Ukrainian Church
Two years ago, the Church took active part in the events on Maidan, taking sides with the protesters. What would be the Church's standpoint today, when we society is growing disappointed with those in power?
The Church at all times has been, is, and will be with the people. People are part of the Church, and it cares for its flock. When we supported the Maidan, we supported the Ukrainian nation, who found itself in the conditions of untruth. Thus, the Church fulfilled its duty.
Today, Ukraine is in a difficult situation. We have external aggression on the part of Russia that has temporarily occupied Crimea and is trying to seize Donbas. Understanding that it could not win by force alone, the aggressor is trying to use internal Ukrainian problems. And what is the main Ukrainian problem? It is corruption and reforms that our country is to implement. Unfortunately, they are hampered by the oligarchs cashing in on Ukrainians, and by political parties fighting for power. In short, those in power are not walking the path of truth, but serving themselves, not the people and the state. This is not about all of those in power. But there are many corrupt officials who are in government for their own gain.
What can we do? The first thing is to defend our country. For these infighting and instability can be used by the aggressor. It failed to take Ukraine by force of arms, and now it wants to take it by chaos and disorder. Preserving its statehood under such conditions is the main task of the Ukrainian people. If we fail to do this, we will end up where Crimea and Donbas are today. If we ask the residents of Crimea or Donbas, when their life was better, now or when they were part of Ukraine, all will say that today things are worse. But this was their own choice. They did not protect Ukraine, but succumbed to temptations. This is an example of what can become of Ukraine, if we do not preserve our statehood.
The second thing is to fight corruption and implement reforms. Firstly, the judicial one. For while there are unfair trials, there can be no truth. There is only suffering and dissatisfaction. Secondly, establish a fair tax system, so that billionaires do not make fortunes while the poor grow poorer. For why is this happening? Because there is no truth. And we must make sure that all people – oligarchs, businessmen, and ordinary people alike – live by fair laws.
Without the Church, this will not be possible. The Church must proclaim the truth that all of the nation's troubles come from injustice. Laws are unfair, and the system itself is unjust. And corruption reigns above it all. This is why the Church states loudly that we are against corruption. We appeal to the faithful in the Parliament, in the Government, and among the public servants: do not forget that you are not in the office forever. When you stand trial before God, you will have no excuses. Most of them are Christians, and as Christians they should keep the commandments. And the main commandment is to love thy neighbor, that is, to love thy people. If you want the power, go for it only when you are ready to sacrifice yourself and serve the people. When you go for it to get rich, you are a sinner before God, since you enrich yourself unfairly and do harm to the people.
Preparations for the Pan-Orthodox Council are currently underway, where the issue of the Ukrainian Churches and the possible granting of autocephaly to UOC-KP is to be discussed. The issue is a complicated one and, probably, it will be difficult for the Church to solve it on its own. Should the government intervene in the process and contribute to it somehow?
- It is not only about the Pan-Orthodox Council, it is about establishing a united Orthodox Church in Ukraine that would be independent of both Constantinople and Moscow. Today, such independent Church is the Kyiv Patriarchate. However, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is divided, and therefore we are now trying to reunite. Is this process happening? Yes, it is. In which way? People saw that the Moscow Patriarchate serves not the interests of Ukraine, but those of Russia. This is evident from the lies it tells, saying that we have a civil war in the East, and not the aggression of Russia that is taking advantage of the separatist sentiments there. Why is not the Church telling truth, as it should? Because it is dependent on Moscow. People saw it, and therefore they moved away from that Church. The process of unification is already underway. When will it be accomplished? When we are united, not only the believers, but also the episcopate. This can happen when UOC-KP is recognized as an autocephalous Church. And we hope that this will happen. To make it possible, we will have to turn to the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Why him? For the Kyiv Metropolia was illegally included in the Moscow Patriarchate, this was not canonical. Moscow claims that everything should be according to the canons. But we agree to follow the canons. And if so, let's put things in order. Was the inclusion of the Kyiv Metropolia in the Moscow Patriarchate non-canonical? Yes, it was. Does the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognize the Kyiv Metropolia to be part of the Moscow Patriarchate? No, it doesn't. The proof of this is the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Poland in 1924 by the Ecumenical Patriarch on the grounds of the fact that it was part of the Kyiv Metropolia. Therefore, based on the same canonicity, the Ecumenical Patriarch should grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church.
Again, why? For Ukraine has become an independent state. If it were not so, there would have been no reason. But today there is a reason. And since Kyiv Metropolia is the canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarch, we should turn to him.
Should the government request the granting of autocephaly? Yes, it should. It is the matter of national security, and should be the concern of the state. Independence of the Church from another center, from Moscow, is the issue of security. And the Church can gain independence through a deed issued by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Therefore, the granting of autocephaly should be the concern of both the Church and the Government.
What are the relations between the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarch and other Orthodox Churches? What is their attitude towards the idea of granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church? Who promotes it and what are the obstacles?
The fact is that almost all Orthodox Churches believe that Ukraine should have its own Church. And so do the Ecumenical Patriarch and the other patriarchs. The obstacle is Moscow. It is ready to divide the entire orthodoxy into two, just to prevent the Ukrainian Church from gaining autocephaly, because the Russian state can influence Ukraine through the Church. So, the Ecumenical Patriarch slows down the process, not willing to tear apart the global Orthodoxy. Instead, Moscow is ready to do it for the sake of its imperial ambitions. If Ukraine had its own Autocephalous Church independent of Russia, there would be no separation of Crimea or the war in Donbas. The church would have united the Ukrainian nation, and there would have been no propaganda and no disinformation. But today, to the contrary, the Moscow Church promotes Moscow propaganda.
It is no secret that the Russian Church is quite influential. Is there a danger that in the light of the current developments in the Middle East, where Christians are being exterminated, with Russia presenting itself as their protector, the Ukrainian cause could fall into the shade, and the number of our allies among the Orthodox Churches could decrease?
The fact that Christians in the Middle East are being killed and forced to leave their land is widely known. And we side with those Christians. At the same time, we cannot blame for what is happening all Muslims, since they do not want this war either. There is an aggressive force there, which calls itself the "Islamic State," and it is the medium of terrorism that exterminates Christians. I recently met with ambassadors of Arab countries, and they prove, based on the Qur'an, that Islam is against this violence, it wants to live in peace and harmony with the Christians.
We have to understand that the events in the Middle East do not distract the US and EU from Ukraine, they do not lose sight of it. Therefore, sanctions against the aggressor will continue until Russia becomes a peaceful country.
At the same time, we cannot say that Russia does not protect Christians in the East. It does. But under this guise, it also pursues its own political goals. These things should not be forgotten. Other Churches can see the truth, and therefore support our Church and Ukraine. In the end, we will win. We do not want to be at war with anyone, including Russia. But Russia wants to occupy Ukraine. Therefore, truth is on our side.
Why do we want to go to Europe? We want to have democracy, freedom, fair laws, and new technologies. We know that Europe has lots of flaws, but we aspire to benefit from the best that it has to offer, while giving it the best that we have: our spirituality, morality and piety, of which Ukraine has more than many European countries.
I can't miss the opportunity to ask your opinion about the joint statement signed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill…
First of all, this statement should not be presented as an important historical breakthrough. It is not. Because popes met with Orthodox patriarchs many times. The first patriarch to meet with the pope was Bartholomew. He also met in Jerusalem with the Jerusalem Patriarch. So, the meeting of the Moscow patriarch with the pope is just one of a number of meetings, it is not something exceptional.
Is it good or not? It is good. This statement includes many things, which we cannot oppose and which we support, because it is not only their vision. Our vision is the same. But what is wrong with it? It is the fact that they agreed to settle Ukrainian issues behind our back. This outraged not only the UOC-KP, but also the Greek Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics are not satisfied with the statement, because it tells lies about Ukraine. The pope and Patriarch Kirill called the events in the East of Ukraine an internal conflict, and not a Russian aggression. This is not true.
There are also some unfair words about our Church in the statement. It says that the unity of the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine should be established based on the canons. We agree. But what are the canons for us to follow in the unification? There is the 34th Apostolic Canon, which says that every nation should know its first bishop. Whether a metropolitan, or an archbishop, or a patriarch, but it should be the first independent one. Shall we unite according to this canon? If so, we agree. But again, talking about canons, the Kyiv Metropolia was included in the Russian Patriarchate against the canons. If you want to act based on canons, this breach has to be remedied. There is no need to bring confusion to people's minds, because people do not understand which canonicity is being discussed. And it’s about the following: anything that comes from Moscow is regarded there as canonical. For example, Kyiv Metropolia was integrated with it contrary to the canons: but it is viewed as canonical. Moldovan Church was integrated: it is viewed as canonical again. The Georgian Church was integrated: it is also viewed as canonical. Because this is what Moscow wants. And anything that is against Moscow is non-canonical. Therefore, to speak of unification by the canons one should, firstly, name those canons, and secondly, turn to history. And then, based on the canons and history, today’s issues should be solved.
Like Moscow today, the Constantinople Patriarchate did the same when it held Bulgarian, Greek and Romanian Churches under its dominion. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the new states began to form their own independent Churches, Constantinople opposed it, but finally had to admit autocephaly of all the Churches that used to be part of it. This is a historical example.
Are there any other Churches that are still in limbo like the UOC-KP?
These are first of all the Macedonian Church, the Montenegrin Church, the American Autocephalous Church, which is not recognized by the Greek Churches, and the Japanese Church. The Ukrainian Church is not the only one outside the Eucharistic unity.
What is the situation with your Church today in the occupied territories of Donbas and Crimea?
In Kyiv and throughout Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate laments that the Kyiv Patriarchate is seizing its churches. In reality, this is not true. But it keeps silent about what is going on in Donbas and Crimea, even though human rights and the Constitution are violated there. In Donbas not only the KP, but also on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant Churches are being persecuted. Only the Moscow Church is recognized there, and all others are persecuted and cannot worship openly. So why do you keep silent? Or do you believe that this is good?
We had more than 80 priests in the Donetsk Diocese. Some of them left the occupied territory. The same applies to the Luhansk Oblast and Crimea. But some of them stayed. In Donbas, UOC-KP still holds services, but as a clandestine catacomb church. They cannot worship openly.
In Crimea, we lost several churches. However, the Moscow Patriarchate is not crying out that they seized our churches. But they did. The remaining churches still hold services, but they have been restricted. They are constantly under pressure to register under Russian laws and become Russian citizens, but they don't want to. Archbishop Clement has a stern stance there.
Recently, you obtained permission to hold services in one of the churches of St. Sophia Cathedral, which caused significant resentment. How would you explain this?
This is a milestone event that indicates that Ukraine as a state is winning. This sanctuary was built by an Orthodox Kyiv Prince for the Orthodox Church. For years, there was no worship there. Now we have consecrated it, and started regular services.
Who is protesting? It is Moscow and the Moscow Patriarchate. Pro-Russian forces in Ukraine are also protesting. Not because praying is bad, but because it is Ukrainian prayer, for Ukraine, and not for Russia. If so, if the enemy does not like it, then the government has done everything right.
They base their claims on the violation of the Constitution. They want equal treatment for the MP and KP. They claim that KP allegedly has privileges. But when the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a Ukrainian sanctuary, is in the hands of the Moscow Patriarchate, is this not a violation of the Constitution? When the Pochayiv Lavra, where Ukrainians are not allowed, belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, does this not violate the Constitution and the relations based on equality? Now, talking about UNESCO. Some academics claim that by holding services in the winter church of St. Sofia Cathedral, we are breaching the Constitution of UNESCO and destroying the historical monument. But in Europe, is the Constitution violated by all the UNESCO religious monuments where services are held? No. The Lavra is also a UNESCO monument, and the Moscow Patriarchate holds services there without breaching anything, but the Kyiv Patriarchate would somehow violate the rules by holding services at St. Sofia. All these claims are only the evidence that we still have pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, and they will always be in opposition. But we will win.
Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine Filaret (secular name Mykhaylo Denysenko) was born in Donetsk Oblast in 1929. In 1946, he entered the Odesa Seminary, and in 1952 he graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy. He took the vows in 1950. Until 1957, he stayed in Russia in various positions at religious schools. In 1958, he headed the Kyiv Theological Seminary. In 1968, he received the rank of the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, and served in Ukraine, in Russia, and in foreign dioceses. After the death of Patriarch Pimen in 1990, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church elected Metropolitan Filaret as the Locum Tenens of the Moscow Patriarchal See. He was Chairman of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. On October 25-27, 1990, the Bishops' Council of the ROC granted the UOC autonomy and independence, and Metropolitan Filaret was unanimously elected by the Ukrainian Episcopate the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the title of the Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine. In 1995, at the All-Ukrainian Church Council, he was elected Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine.