Church Opposition

14 March 2012, 14:30

The records of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate’s (UOC MP) Holy Synod, held on 21 February, states: “Relieve the Most Reverend Oleksandr Drabynko (the personal secretary and right-hand man of Metropolitan Volodymyr – ed.) from his position as Head of the Foreign Church Affairs Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and Editor in Chief of the UOC’s official website”.  The Synod essentially drew a line under the conflict between the supporters of UOC MP’s autocephalous faction and the pro-Russian wing, which wants to divest it of its “self-governing status with extensive autonomous rights.”  The “autonomists” understand that should there be an open conflict, they will be given a “non-canonical” and “renegade” status, while Moscow is reluctant to see a stronger Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP), which the “autonomists” are most likely to join, if the split does indeed occur.  

The Ukrainian Week talks to Sofroniy Dmytruk, Metropolitan of Cherkasy and Kaniv, who is possibly the only UOC MP Bishop to publicly support the necessity of establishing a united autocephalous church in Ukraine.

U.W.: Your Eminence, you are often referred to as the leader of the pro-Ukrainian wing of UOC MP, unlike the clergy that supports the idea of organizational unity with the Russian Orthodox Church. Do you see yourself as such?

No, I don’t, because a leader is someone who is in the front, followed by others. This is not about me. I’m simply a Ukrainian who cares about his nation and, of course, its faith. I have a clear, well-justified and unchanging position regarding the church issue. I support the Ukrainian course as the only one. I do not deviate from my standpoint and unlike others, I’m not afraid to express it.

U.W.: Do you have many supporters in the UOC MP?

I’m not sure, I haven’t counted them, but I know they exist…

U.W.: Agafangel, the Metropolitan of Odesa and Ismail, is known to be one of your top ideological opponents. What can you say about him and other promoters of the “Russian World”?

Metropolitan Agafangel is an ethnic Russian and a supporter of all things Russian. His only course is to reinforce the “Russian World”. In general, I respect Russian bishops who serve here for protecting themselves and their viewpoints. It would be worthwhile to learn this from them.  

The Russian World promotes the unity of the three Slavic states and people. We are immediately told is that our desire to run the church on our own, separates us. Still, there has never been such unity in the form of three Rus nations. Our autocephalous status, just like that of any other church, does not divide or separate us from Orthodoxy. It is merely the possibility of being equal among equals.

U.W.: Are you saying that the status of a self-governing church with extensive autonomy, which the UOC MP now has, is not enough?  

Needless to say, the UOC MP currently has pretty extensive powers. Nobody from outside can instruct us on how to elect our leader and consecrate bishops. We open monasteries on our own, create new dioceses and do not transfer any funds to Moscow, although this information is often distorted. Yet, this status is neither in line with the historical background, nor with current reality.   Kyiv Rus existed way before Moscow emerged on the map. Kyiv is the cradle of Orthodoxy. This was where all the culture, education and roots of architecture originated. After the collapse of Kyiv, we lived in different countries for many years. Two metropolies emerged – in Kyiv and Moscow. Moreover, 30 years after Ukraine’s “unwise son” Bohdan Khmelnytsky annexed Ukraine to Russia, its church was annexed to the Russian church, but against the will of the people. And this was done by hangers-on, pardon my language, who wanted fame and in no way cared about their people, in spite of being church leaders. But now, we are once more living in different states, with different constitutions, rules, leaders and plans for the future. Why don’t we have the right to even think about living our own lives in our own church life as well?

This is not merely about the autocephaly of the UOC MP, but about the unity of all branches of Orthodoxy in Ukraine under one local synodal autocephalous church.

U.W.: When could this unification happen?

Not during my lifetime. Perhaps, in 100 or 200 years. I’m not saying we should do this today. There are some obstacles on the way to unification. We should start negotiations and think about who we can join and how to do this. Did Russians benefit from the unification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Foreign Church, which was referred to as the renegade church? Of course, they did. The same thing will ultimately apply for us. When we unite and act together, this will be good, since nothing can unite people more than the church. This is a complex process. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) does not need a strong Ukraine with a strong church. If our church united with the Kyiv Patriarchate, it would become the biggest Orthodox community in the world, in terms of the number of parishes. The second largest would be the Romanian, followed by the Russian.

U.W.: Since we have mentioned the Kyiv Patriarchate, how do you feel about its leader, Patriarch Filaret Denysenko?

I know him very well. As the Metropolitan of Kyiv, he accepted me as a renegade, as someone everyone else was afraid of and refused to accept. There was this omnipotent organization – the KGB – which I refused to cooperate with as student of the Moscow Theological Academy, after which, I was the target of a KGB-arranged car accident, but I survived. I was later forced to quit the academy and ended up in Ukraine. I appreciate his good deed because he was the only one who accepted me and gave me a place in the church without any fear. He proposed that I become a bishop four times but I refused, because I didn’t think I deserved the mission at that time. My fourth refusal incensed him. Still, I respect him because he treated me as a human.  

U.W.: Why do you think there was no recognized autocephaly in 1991 and why was there a split in Ukrainian Orthodoxy?

It’s not for me to judge, this will be done by history. I can only say that it involved politics, when the Communist and atheist Leonid Kravchuk interfered with church processes – also human ambitions. The one, who failed to become a Patriarch in Moscow, decided to become one in Ukraine.

Yet, there was one more key reason. When Georgian, Serbian, Bulgarian and other churches were founded as autocephalous institutions, they were united in their goal, while we were like a circular firing squad. Not all of us want autocephaly and even those that do are often afraid to say so, I just don’t know why.

U.W.: Are you in contact with representatives of other confessions in the Cherkasy Oblast? Have you ever had any conflicts, including over property?

We don’t meet, each does his work as best as he can. But we have no conflicts. Any war causes losses on both sides and no-one needs that.  

U.W.: Do you feel that the current government is interfering in church affairs?

There is a separation between our church and the state and the less Ukrainian and foreign politicians interfere in the process of establishing a united autocephalous church here, the better. We do not object to financial help from the government, but the issue of autocephaly is the purely internal matter of the church

U.W.: Several months ago, Metropolitan Agafangel called himself “the pre-eminent member of the Holy Synod”. Could this be a signal that he wants to head the UOC MP, given the long-standing poor health of Metropolitan Volodymyr (the current Primate) and rumors of his impending retirement?

The fact of the matter is that for the duration of the Primate’s illness, his functions are executed by the next person in the church ordination, i.e. the first person to have been consecrated as a bishop. Metropolitan Agafangel is such a person. In this case, the word “pre-eminent” can be a synonym for “the next highest rank in the church ordination.” But no matter how much he or any other cleric wants to be a metropolitan, these are only their private ambitions. As long as Volodymyr is alive, nobody can remove him. Even if Metropolitan Volodymyr cannot lead the church due to the state of his health, no-one has the right to replace him. He was appointed by the “Sobor”[1] (Synod) and only the Sobor has the right to decide his fate in this position, not to mention his successor. I believe that the new Primate of the UOC MP, whenever this may be, will ultimately be a Ukrainian.

U.W.: You once said that Ivan Mazepa was your role model. Why is this?

Even now, I’m not afraid to repeat myself. For me, Ivan Mazepa is a role model of an Orthodox Christian. The fact that he was a politician, and that which involved politics, was one thing. But I always ask one question of those who say that he was a traitor: “Whom did he betray?” Who entitled the bandit, Peter the Great – and I call him a bandit because he was the one to send his general Menshikov to kill everyone in Baturyn, the then hetman capital, all of them, from babies to old people – to anathemize Ivan Mazepa? Actually, they did not anathemized Mazepa himself, but a dummy of the hetman, which they carried around the town and burned down. The problem is that we often confuse church life with politics.  

[1]A sobor translated as assembly into English is a council of bishops and other clerical and lay delegates for important matters.

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