Consequences will arise: Professor Alexander Sagan on Patriarch Filaret’s letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch
Interview by Tatiana MUHOMOROVA
The chief news of this week was the publication of the open letter by Patriarch Filaret, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Alexander Sagan, professor of religious studies at Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy comments on the consequences of such a decisive step, the non-canonical status of the UOC-KP and the possible consequences.
- What is to be expected after the letter of Patriarch Filaret to Patriarch Bartholomew?
- First, it is necessary to consider why this letter became possible. To begin with, after the invasion of Ukraine the Russian Federation needs reasons to legitimize their actions. And the publication of the letter by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow 10 days before the invasion of exactly the Russian troops on the territory of mainland Ukraine served as a certain ideological support and justification. The letter by Patriarch Filaret to the Ecumenical Patriarch, in my opinion, is quite a successful attempt to explain the situation in the country over the past six months. There is a clear placement of accents, it explains what I going on and in what way, including from religious perspective. The letter itself is divided into three semantic blocks.
The first is how the ‘revolution of dignity’ began, how it was held and in what way the religious factor was involved. It shows quite clearly that the religious issue was present neither the first nor the second motivating factor behind this revolution, because, as mentioned above, it started from all the social problems and intolerability of Yanukovych’ government by people, and that society was tired living in lies. This was the basis for a social explosion. Instead the attempts in the final stages of the Moscow Patriarchate to transfer these events into some religious plane suffered a complete failure. At some point there was an attempt by provocateurs to make this transfer, when there was a call for the capture of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, but then it was Maidan’s hundreds who stood in defense of religious peace.
The second part is the invasion of Ukraine by Russian mercenaries under the guise of ‘green men’ or terrorists that began implementing a plan to establish the People's Republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In fact, it was the plan of establishment of the ‘Russian world’ in its institutionalized form. Patriarch Filaret wrote very well that Ukraine has faced such cynicism “for the first time ever since the reign of Hitler”. Russian propaganda acquired religious forms: the Orthodox army, religious decoration or religious context and underpinning of many events that manifested itself in the fight against the charismatic movement, the Protestants, the UGCC and other churches. Patriarch Filaret wrote that among the first affected was also Kyiv Patriarchate. It happened in the Crimea and in the lands of Donbas: immediately upon arrival of terrorists, the UOC-KP became a persecuted Church, and it is being pursued exactly on confessional grounds.
Against this background, the third block of the letter is quite logical, stating that Patriarch Kirill’s charges that the Ukrainian armed forces and volunteer battalions have allegedly persecuted the clergy of the UOC (MP) are cynical and absurd. Thus Moscow Patriarch believes that the conflict in Donbas is civil and religious. Based on the example of the fate of 2-3 priests Patriarch Kirill is trying to sustain the existence of interchurch conflict in Ukraine, of the opposition of the UOC (MP) and the ‘Uniates’ and so-called ‘dissenters’ - the UOC-KP and UAOC. He does not take into account the fact that a large part of the UOC (MP) congregation is fighting on the side of the Ukrainian law enforcement. Moscow hierarch does not want to notice that dozens of examples of how the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate has been trying to provide ideological and physical support for ‘Novorossia’ have been documented. Thus, the examples provided by Patriarch Kirill in a letter to the heads of local Churches, the United Nations and other international organizations are an attempt to misrepresent the actual individual cases of suit for separatist and anti-state activities of certain priests as persecution for their faith.
The letter of Patriarch Filaret, obviously, was written in order that the Ecumenical Patriarchate might possess diverse information from various sources, including the vision of events by the UOC-KP. Clearly, the letter will have its effect in Ukraine, because it is widely spread in the Ukrainian media.
I believe that it is no less important for the Ecumenical Patriarchate in terms of getting the characteristics of the actual situation in Ukraine and disclosure of Moscow’s attempts to distort it. The letter is also important for the parishioners of the UOC (MP): they can see and understand the position of the Kyiv Patriarchate as well, and for the patriotic forces to assess how the religious factor is involved in great confrontation of the European and Asian Muscovite ideologies on the territory of Ukraine.
- What are the possible consequences of the message in practice?
The consequences will arise, as patriarch urges the entire Ukrainian society not to keep silent. This is a guide to future action for the patriotic forces. We must be aware that due to certain objective circumstances, any written response to this letter by Patriarch Bartholomew is most unlikely to follow. But the answer does not have to be in writing, it can be in the form of certain acts of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to work with the Moscow Patriarchate or the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. At present it is difficult to say what will these actions or, conversely, control actions be like - because we do not know the whole gamut of their relationship. But against the backdrop of Europe's refusal of strategic partnership with Russia, I think that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will not remain on the sidelines in putting the aggressor into place on the one hand, and on the other hand, in regard of the cynical distortion of events by the Moscow Patriarchate.
- Will the non-canonical status of Patriarch Filaret impede the reception of the letter?
- The so-called ‘canonical’ and ‘non-canonical’ status is a rather artificial construct that was introduced by Moscow to create a religious-ideological barriers for the Orthodox churches unrecognized in the world. The Moscow Patriarchate itself showed clearly the attitude to this concept when in 2007 it agreed to a merger with the ROCA. For reference, over nearly 80 years they mutually anathematized and did not recognize each other, accusing each other of heresy. And in 2007, without removing anathemas they began to concelebrate and the very fact of concelebration was interpreted by Patriarch Alexius II of Moscow as the fact of removal of the anathemas and attaining legitimacy and canonicity.
Therefore, we can clearly see double standards by the Moscow Patriarchate regarding the concept of ‘canonical’ status - it is rather a political than an ecclesiastic term. Unfortunately, the current Metropolitan of Kyiv, His Beatitude Onufriy, also uses this term and thus continues the line of non-recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and shows the actual unwillingness to take steps to cooperate.
- Can we talk about the religious war in Ukraine?
- In fact, there has never been a religious war in Ukraine, and never will be. I think that this is quite obvious for everyone. It will be a process of transition of the parishes and the faithful of the UOC (MP) and to the UOC-KP. Many experts and clergymen of the Moscow Patriarchate will try to interpret these facts as a manifestation of the war or religious pressure. But in fact it is a natural reaction to the situation in the country - the aggression of the Russian state and the Moscow Patriarchate’s reluctance to condemn this aggression.
Also, now it is no longer possible to conceal the participation of the clergy of the UOC (MP) in vain attempts of ideological design of the so-called ‘Novorossia’, its overt cooperation of terrorists - all of that is interpreted by the hierarchy of the UOC (MP) as isolated cases. However, a deeper analysis of the situation shows that the situation in the East is the result of years-long activity of the religious ideologists of the ‘Russian world’ and inaction of the Security Service of Ukraine.
I have recently viewed the list of so-called parachurch organizations of the UOC (MP), including the NGOs, which have been using the term ‘Novorossia’ in their names for a long time. Thus, it has existed for a long time in the plane of ideas, and now the terrorists are trying to implement these ideas.
Unfortunately, in their synodal decisions the UOC (MP) did not come to clear denouncement of the ‘Russian world’ and those clergymen participating in the creation of ‘Novorossia’. They are not only in Donbas. There are diocesan publication in Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk and other dioceses where the anti-Ukrainian theses are openly propagated. So until the Church denounces and excommunicates the ideologists and implementers of the ‘Russian world’, there will be an impression that the UOC (MP leadership tacitly supports their activities.
The Ukrainian society expects a clear stance of the UOC (MP) and a clear penalty (instead of ‘removal from office to ascertain the circumstances’ for the clerics engaged in anti-Ukrainian work. Still, we see a very clear and quick response of the UOC (MP) hierarchy in the opposite cases - in condemning those priests who show ‘an excessively pro-Ukrainian position’ and openly support the idea of the local church. The Holy Synod of the UOC (MP) could find the time and grounds for condemnation and excommunication of Frs. Victor Bed and Vitaly Eismont. As for the specific facts of frank of the cooperation of the UOC (MP) clergymen with terrorists - "the Church is conducting the investigation". Nobody knows how it will progress and finish. The consequence of this stance will be the UOC (MP) faithful voting with their feet.