When Evil Turns To Dood

14 March 2011, 15:19

Rumors are spreading in Ukraine that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) intends to eliminate the Kyiv Patriarchate. Ukrainian Week asked Patriarch Filaret about the likelihood.

UW:Your Holiness, how true are rumors that the ROC wants to destroy the Kyiv Patriarchate?  

– Actually, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate wants to fix the split in Ukrainian Orthodoxy.1 We are also strongly in favor of a single Orthodox Church in Ukraine. But whereas we want to consolidate all Orthodox groups as a single, independent national Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate wants to unite our churches by subordinating them all to the Russian Patriarch. Moreover, Moscow’s plan suits both the policy of the Russian Federation, and ecclesiastic policy of Patriarch Kirill. Kirill believes that the split can only be fixed with the help of those in secular power, that is, through force. And in support of his ideas, he gives as an example the way that Stalin eliminated the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church in 1930 and 1944 by ukase and other instances when churches split in Russia, pointing to what those in power did to them. For Patriarch Kirill, the interference of the state in ecclesiastic matters is perfectly normal. He believes that the state should interfere with the church and settle this issue—in the favor of Moscow, of course. 

UW:How likely is the “Bulgarian scenario” to happen in Ukraine?

– The church split in Bulgaria when democratic forces came to power after fall of the USSR and discovered that the Bulgarian Patriarch, Maksym, had been appointed by the Communist Party, against all church canons. At the time, some bishops and the clergy spoke against him and the church split. When the one-time Tsar Simeon became Prime Minister of Bulgaria, he decided to take these churches away from Maksym’s opponents and give them back to the Patriarch in 2004. This made the impression that the government stopped a schism in the church. However, some priests appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which ruled that what the Bulgarian leader had done was illegal. The Court ordered the government figure out how to return the churches and pay compensation.

Someone wants to use this Bulgarian scenario here, too, that is, liquidate Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate with the help of those in power. Still, this is only the desire of those who oppose the Kyiv Patriarchate and think that, given Ukraine’s pro-Russian President, he should do what Moscow wants him to do.

Indeed, they began working towards Moscow’s objective all over Ukraine last year. Where they have more sense, local officials are keeping out of this. But where they want to demonstrate that they only support the church that the President attends, pressure is heavy and they’ve even started raider attacks to take away our churches. For instance, in Kamianka, a village in Telmanove County, Donetsk Ob­­last, some businessmen showed up offering money to the parish and clergy to repair the church—on condition that they switched to the Moscow Patriarchate. Moreover, they were warned that, if they didn’t do so voluntarily, force would be used. These outsiders started a campaign in the village to draw the locals to the Moscow Patriarchate. But the local bishop, even though Russian, firmly stood his ground in favor of the Kyiv Patriarchate. He announced that if this kind of activity continued, he was prepared to die to prevent the church from being taken. This scared the raiders off for a while.

In Vinnytsia Oblast, some staff from several county administrations gathered the Kyiv Patriarchate clergy and demanded that they switch to the Moscow Patriarchate. You can see the same thing in Donbas. Our clergy say they are offered help, support and financial assistance, but they say no. 

In Makariv County, Kyiv Ob­­last, some parishes were switched to the Moscow Patriarchate on the basis of faked documents about which the parishioners had no idea. This has all elements of a crime and some MPs have turned to the Prosecutor General about this (see Digest #13 for more on this).


UW: There’s now a bill to grant churches status as legal entities. Some experts say it will be easier for raiders to grab church property.

– Making churches legal entities is not a bad idea. But with how the church is split in Ukraine today, we are against this bill. It will allow the Moscow Patriarchate to demand property through the courts that they believe is theirs but is currently under the Kyiv Patriarchate by the will of the parish. It’s no secret that courts can be pressured and bribed. These squabbles over property could lead to a conflict resulting in religious intolerance. We remember what happened in Western Ukraine in the early 1990s: blood was shed there when one group attacked another with pitchforks and axes. We don’t want this to happen again, let alone spread across Ukraine. That’s why we asked the President, the Premier and the Verkhovna Rada to consider what this all might lead to.

UW:How many KP priests have switched to Moscow? 

– Just two, so far, who switched to the Moscow Patriarchate as soon as it offered them some “financial incentive.”But their parishioners did not follow them. Actually, Kyiv Patriarchate followers don’t want to switch to the Moscow. Just look at Donetsk Archbishop Yuriy Yurchyk: in 2008, he announced he was switching to the Moscow Patriarchate but his parishes did not follow him, so Moscow turned him down and he was forced to go to the Greek Catholics. We are not too concerned when people who are not morally sound leave us. Even Jesus had his Judas, a traitor among the apostles He Himself had chosen. This actually cleanses the church.

I would say that, surprisingly, this all works in favor of the Kyiv Patriarchate. In theory, yes, these illegal actions and pressure could destroy the Kyiv Patriarchate, but what is happening is quite the opposite. All this has gained a lot of publicity, leaving people angry, not just in Ukraine, but also in Europe and the US where we also have churches. The faithful have been going to their governments for help, so this is consolidating communities around the Kyiv Patriarchate. I see Divine Providence in this: God is turning the evil into good. It’s the same as 1995, when Patriarch Volodymyr died. Everyone remembers that “bloody Tuesday.” (see sidebar) It was those terrible events that consolidated the public around the Kyiv Patriarchate and it has been growing rapidly ever since. Then-President Leonid Kuch­­ma was forced to put us on an equal basis with the Moscow Patriarchate. So, we hope that Viktor Yanukovych, who calls himself President of all Ukraine, will settle this issue by treating all churches equally—not just in words, but in deeds.

UW:How about MP followers switching to Kyiv?

– In Poltava Oblast, an entire community decided to switch to the Kyiv Patriarchate but the government is interfering. Local officials faked a court decision, sealed the church, so that the parishioners had to pray outside it on Christmas. There is a similar example in Chernihiv Oblast. It’s always the faithful who initiate a switch to the Kyiv Patriarchate. 

UW:Can you count on support from the Ecumenical Patriarch?

– We don’t lay much hope on the Ecumenical Patriarch because he can’t help us. He doesn’t have the power to do it. This should be regulated by a law entitling parishes as legal entities to voluntarily choose what church they belong to, while the state only has to enforce the law, not like it does now: if a parish is taken away from us by the Moscow Patriarchate, officials register this within a few days, even under fake documents, at the same time as they do everything they can to prevent a parish from leaving Moscow. The Ecumenical Patriarch could help if he recognized the Kyiv Patriarchate an autocephalous church. Then everyone could come to the independent Ukrainian church, even from the Moscow Patriarchate.

UW:Your Holiness, what do you think of what Metropolitan
Vo­­lo­­dymyr, Head of UOC MP, said at the recent Council of Bishops in Moscow? He no longer seems to want to be Kirill’s puppet and most Ukrainian bishops
sup­­port this. 

– Patriarch Kirill’s strategic goal is to deprive the Ukrainian church of the right to be independent and autonomous. That’s why he wants the title of Kyiv Patriarch, to have his residence in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, and to become a citizen of Ukraine, although dual citizenship is against Ukrainian law. He wants more influence over Ukraine. When the church is independent, he cannot interfere in the life of the UOC MP, bypassing Volodymyr. Kirill has been coming to Ukraine frequently to show that he, the Moscow Patriarch, not Metropolitan Volodymyr, is the boss of the MP Church here. Kirill met with Viktor Yanukovych without Metropolitan Volodymyr, which is against protocol. He arrived and blessed the newly-elected President of Ukraine, even though we should have done this—or at least Volodymyr.

Last summer, when Patriarch Kirill visited Ukraine, he went to Crimea to meet with the President again on his own, without Volodymyr. That’s why Volodymyr left Dnipropetrovsk when Kirill arrived there, and returned to Kyiv with most of the bishops following him. And that’s what forced Patriarch Kirill to state publicly at Mass in St. Sofia that no one was planning to encroach on the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. Clearly, there is an internal stand-off between Volodymyr and Kirill. Subsequently, Metropolitan Volody­­myr spoke at the Council of Bishops in Moscow, where he argued that the independence and autono­­my of the Ukrain­ian church is nothing new for Ukraine: it simply means returning to it the rights that were once taken away. This sounds like Volodymyr will continue to defend the independence and autonomy of his church. Kirill will have to back off, because Metropolitan Volodymyr has one ace up his sleeve if the pressure continues: join with Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate. This is Moscow’s greatest fear.

UW:What threat does the promul­­gation of “Russian World” repre­­sent for Ukraine and its Orthodox faithful? Is the ROC’s international expansion a reflection of shrinking numbers in Russia?

– “Russkiy Mir2” is the same shiny coin that “A bright future with Communism” once was. Patriarch Kirill invented this concept to spur spiritual unification around Moscow first, followed by political and territorial unification. This is essentially reviving the Russian empire. But his objectives are impossible; you can’t step into the same river twice. We are living in new times.

The reason for ROC’s expansion in Ukraine is obvious. Today, the Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates combined have more parishes than the ROC does in all of Russia: 15,000 parishes in Ukraine versus 12,000 parishes in Russia.

Political analysts are already saying that Russia will no longer be a predominantly Christian country in 30 years. Today, Moscow’s population is 9mn, but only 31% of it is ethnic Russian. If you add in Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians and other Christians, it’s still only 49%, compared to 34% Muslims.  But Muslims have significantly higher birth rates, so they will exceed the number of Christians in Moscow severalfold in just a few years. Last Christmas, only around 100,000 faithful attended church in Moscow, while 70,000 Muslims celebrated Kurban Bairam. This bothers both the Kremlin and the Russian Church. That’s why they’ve latched onto Ukraine as their salvation.

UW:Father Ihor Yatsiv, press secretary of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said recently that the government could provoke religious tensions by treating a single Church preferentially. Does this mean “the KP today, and the Catholics tomorrow”? 

– That could be their intention. The Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican are now in conflict over the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. That’s why Kirill is not meeting with the Pope. The last Patriarch Aleksei did the same. They demand that the Pope settle the issue with Ukrainian Greek Catholics first—which means eliminating them by forcing them into Russian Orthodoxy. So, Moscow actually has two problems: the Kyiv Patriarchate and Ukrainian Catholics. 

UW:With the State Committee for Religions disbanded, how does the state coordinate relations with various religions? Is it in dialog with churches other than UOC MP? 

– This Committee did indeed help solve interconfessional conflicts. Now, nobody is there to deal with the squabbles that come up from time to time. Parishes are now registered at an institution that deals with all charters, while church affairs have been handed over to the Ministry of Culture. This diversification denigrates the status of churches, but the Church is the soul of the nation.

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