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Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun to Orthodox Times: Why the Patriarch of Moscow defrocked me

01 February, 21:50
Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun to Orthodox Times: Why the Patriarch of Moscow defrocked me - фото 1
Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun spoke to orthodoxtimes.com and journalist Kostas Onisenko about the situation within the Russian Church, the ecclesiastical situation within Ukraine and the circumstances surrounding his own defrocking by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Source: Orthodox Times

Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun has gained widespread recognition in the Orthodox world, both in Ukraine and beyond, for his extensive efforts in approaching the Churches in Ukraine. His significant contributions extend to a wealth of articles addressing various ecclesiastical matters. He is a Doctor of Philosophy and he has worked as a professor at several Universities, including Yale.

Father Cyril is a Ukrainian clergyman who was affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) until 2009. At that time, under the decision of the then Primate, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kyiv and All Ukraine, he was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. He continued under this affiliation until a few days ago when he was defrocked from the priesthood by the Patriarch of Moscow.

He was defrocked due to the fact that he co-celebrated a liturgy with the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine, Bishop Michael of Koman. However, it is clear that the underlying reasons are associated with his public stance against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, his defrocking may be interpreted as a “message” conveyed by the Russian Patriarch to the Russian Church in Ukraine, underscoring the potential fate of hierarchs who do not align with Patriarch Kirill’s severe and anti-Christian stance concerning this war.

Read the interview of Archimandrite Cyril to Orthodox Times below

How have your perspectives on the Moscow Patriarchate evolved in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

— This invasion took place in 2014 and not in 2022. I’ve been disappointed ever since. Since then, I have rarely served in the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate. I served mainly in the parishes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. These services were the only accusation against me by the Moscow Patriarchate. That’s exactly why I was defrocked. Consider this: to remove a clergyman for having co-celebrated a liturgy within a canonical church and in our case at the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

What does the defrocking by Patriarch Kirill mean to you?

— I believe that this defrocking cannot be justified either canonically or theologically. The process began following my co-celebration with the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kyiv. Patriarch Kirill suspended me and referred the case to the church court in Moscow. However, the court breached several aspects of our canon law. For example, I did not receive any official invitation. But I could not go to Moscow for security reasons. The judges were aware of the situation, yet they did nothing to ensure my participation. It seems they didn’t need it. I leaned the accusations against me much later and that is why I was unable to give a proper response. So, I discovered that the sole basis for my defrocking was the 25th Apostolic Canon, which pertains to the offense of perjury by a clergyman. In Moscow, this canon is interpreted as a violation of the oath that every clergyman of the Russian Church takes during his ordination. However, Canon 25 does not support this peculiar practice of the Russian Church! It concerns clergy who, in the 4th century, provided false testimonies in ecclesiastical courts. Ironically, the clergy who constitute the court of the Moscow Patriarchate should themselves be judged based on this rule as well. One of these clergymen, Fr. Vladislav Tsypin, has publicly expressed support for Russia’s war against Ukraine, indicating a potential bias in his stance. However, the first canon of St. Cyril of Alexandria strictly prohibits any bias by judges.

Everyone understands that my condemnation was solely a pretext based on the 25th apostolic canon and the co-liturgy I performed. The true motive behind my defrocking was my outspoken opposition to the war and any form of agreement between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin. That is why these accusations lack any theological basis as well. Alternatively, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Theodore the Studite, and St. John of Damascus, who vehemently opposed state interference in ecclesiastical affairs, would have faced justifiable accusations.

You know Patriarch Kirill of Moscow quite well. Do you think that supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine is something that he really believes in or is it a tactic to gain favor with the Kremlin?

— I think both apply to Patriarch Kirill. On the one hand, he makes every effort to please the Kremlin. That is why he aligns with Putin’s policies in everything and in fact he often goes way beyond what is expected of him. On the other hand, he truly believes what he does and says in relation to the war. The ideas that have inspired the war are his own. He himself had expressed these ideas before the Kremlin adopted them. The Patriarch stands as the primary architect of the ideology that I call “Putinism,” alternatively recognized as “Kirillism.”

Were you anticipating a different stance from Kirill and the Russian clergy in general amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

— It is evident to anticipate that a religious leader and Orthodox pastors would align their thoughts and actions with the principles of the Gospel and our Christian faith. During a speech I delivered at Oxford last year, I highlighted the profound violation of all of God’s Ten Commandments by the Russian army in Ukraine. And yet the Russian Church continues to support the Russian army and does not seek peace. But it wasn’t always like that. Kirill, when he was a younger bishop, often participated in various international forums and spoke about peace. More recently, in 2000, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church established the “The Basis of the Social Concept” which clearly condemns violence, invasions and war. At the time, Metropolitan Kirill was the main architect of this teaching. And now he and those who laid the foundation for this teaching violate it. I would say that more than 90% of the hierarchy, clergy and laypeople of the Russian Church are in favor of the war and support the Kremlin.

To what extent are the current actions of the Moscow Patriarchate perceived to be influenced or dictated by the Kremlin?

— All actions taken by the Patriarchate are deliberate and not unintentional. It is its own decision to align with the Kremlin. In our case, we are witnessing a remarkable synergy rather than an unwilling submission of the Church to political authorities. Hence, the Patriarchate shares absolute co-responsibility for the war and its associated crimes.

Some argue that the Department for External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate acts as a “long arm” of the Russian secret intelligence agencies. Do you think this might be the case?

— Not only do I believe, but I know it for sure. When Kirill, as the Metropolitan, served as president of this Department, he sought to “purge” it from individuals affiliated with the former Soviet intelligence agencies. However, upon his election as Patriarch, he allowed the state to infiltrate the Church with a new generation of agents, particularly within the Department.

Within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (of Metropolitan Onufriy), they claim that they have severed all ties with the Moscow Patriarchate and operate autonomously. Do you agree with this?

— They have made a sincere effort to distance them from Moscow, but have not entirely succeeded. I believe that, from a purely canonical point of view, this church continues to be a dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Do you think that the two Churches (Onufriy and Epifaniy) in Ukraine could stand together as separate institutions? Is the world ready for a possible union of these two Churches?

— Ideally the two churches should be united into one. But realistically this is not going to happen in the near future. In fact, the distance between the two churches has significantly widened since 2018, following the establishment of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine. Unfortunately, both churches contributed to this situation. The Church of Onufriy levels accusations against the Church of Epiphaniy, asserting that it remains schismatic. Meanwhile, the Church of Epiphaniy counters, accusing the Church of Onufriy of acting as a conduit for Kremlin policies. Both accusations are wrong and do not contribute to the reconciliation among the Ukrainian Orthodox. The Church of Epiphaniy would like to stifle the other church, but this is not going to happen. First, because the second remains larger than the first. And second, the violence that the former has used against the latter has led to a wider hostility that is difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, I anticipate a potential reconciliation between the two churches in the distant future. To achieve this, both churches must initially acknowledge the legitimacy of the other, then coexist harmoniously, and establish a framework for unity.

Do the decisions made by the Moscow Patriarchate and the statements issued by its hierarchs, including Patriarch Kirill himself, regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine—such as the “obligation of the faithful to die for their homeland”—align with Christian teachings, or are they perceived as subjective and arbitrary stances?

— The Russian Church makes every effort to justify the invasion and violence of the Russian army in Ukraine. It also makes up theological arguments. In fact, it deems the war as a battle for genuine Orthodoxy. But, in my opinion, it preaches a “cacodoxy” and distorts basic Christian principles. I think that the Ecumenical Orthodox world needs to take a stand and evaluate this new theology of war as well as the “Russian world.”

Can the actions of the Moscow Patriarchate, such as the intrusion in Africa after the establishment of an “exarchate,” lead to a new schism within the Orthodox Church?

— I hesitate to use the word “schism” because schisms are easy to be created and difficult to be resolved. I would rather characterize these actions more as “disturbances,” and I firmly believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has both the right and the authority to try to reestablish order within our Orthodox community.

In Russia, a trend has emerged in which believers are distancing themselves from the Church, turning instead to literature focused on parapsychology and metaphysics. What are your thoughts on these emerging trends, and in your perspective, what responsibilities does the head of the Russian Church bear?

— What Patriarch Kirill did was to replace genuine Orthodox religiosity and spirituality with what we call a “political religion.” Political religion may captivate individuals temporarily but it falls short in addressing the profound existential emptiness that resides within the human psyche. Thus, individuals who struggle to discover spiritual nourishment within a church entwined with political doctrines often resort to diverse para-religious circles.

What’s your opinion on the establishment of a “shaman’s university” in Russia?

— Shamanism and para-religions find favor among numerous figures in the Kremlin, including Putin. Despite pretending to be an Orthodox Christian, he has essentially a dualistic and magical view of the world. A perception which is close to shamanism. The creation of such a university appears to be driven by prevailing fashions and trends within the Russian political class.