“I would like in ten years for Ukraine to already have a unified national church!”
Interview with Bishop MAKARII (Meletych), Archbishop of Lviv of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, on the affairs of the UAOC, its relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and inter-Orthodox relations in Ukraine.
Archbishop Makarii (Meletych) has headed the Lviv department of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church for more than 10 years. This eparchy is the largest of all according to the number of parishes: actually one third of the UAOC parishes. And his authority is spread far beyond the limits of his canonical territory, the Lviv region, even more so as he also provides care for parishes in Volyn and Tavria. A few years ago, the leadership of the UAOC decided that it is too difficult for the bishop to provide care for such a number of parishes… and decided to remap the Lviv Eparchy; however, they left him his responsibilities outside the Lviv region. In response, the head of the UAOC was not mentioned during liturgies in the Lviv Eparchy for a continuous time. Instead they mentioned in the liturgies Archbishop Vsevolod (Maidanskyi) of Skopelos of the UOC in USA.
In the context of the latest events connected with the attempts of the UAOC to regulate its canonical status through entry into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, RISU editors approached the archbishop with a request to express his opinion on those events in the life of his church.
- Bishop, this year’s jubilee of the UAOC is called “The 20th Anniversary of the 3rd Revival of the UAOC.” However, one can hear sometimes that the modern Autocephalous Church considers itself the successor of the UAOC of Polikarp Sikorskyi and keeps a certain distance from the UAOC of Vasyl Lypkivskyi. So, what is the attitude of the UAOC today to the autocephaly proclaimed in the 20s of the last century?
- At its time, Vasyl Lypkivskyi and the bishop, referred to as the self-consecrated ones, played an important role in the establishment of the Autocephalous Ukrainian Church. Vasyl Lypkivskyi made a significant contribution in this work and we do not disown him. He was a person who did a lot for Ukraine. What some people may say about him is a different matter, but he was a great Ukrainian.
As for succession in general, I think we do not talk now about succession in terms of whether it is from Lypkivskyi or Dionisii (Valedynskyi), we would like—and this is my daily work and thoughts—to reach unification of the Orthodox church in Ukraine by any means.
- In your address at the celebratory academy on the mentioned jubilee you said that there will be no next jubilee. What did you mean?
- What did I mean? I would like Ukraine to have one national church in 10 years! It is clear that in such a situation, any other church which will enter it, whether the Kyiv Patriarchate or the UAOC, may keep its traditions and also remember and mark its jubilee dates. That is a person who will lead the church will have to respect our customs. But the most important thing I meant was that we must come to something in ten years.
- Bishop, what is the attitude of the UAOC today to the Sobor [Council] of 2000 which tried to fulfill the commandment of Patriarch Dymytrii to enter the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
- I said at the last Hierarchical Council of the UAOC that it is necessary to be governed not by one’s ambitions. At that time, in 2000, after we celebrated the pre-council service, the Blessed Metropolitain Kostiantyn (Bahan) came out of the church, called me and said: “Bishop, talk to the hierarchs and if they agree we will not elect the head today but will pass an address from the council to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And if he blesses me to become the head of the UAOC I will agree.” Even though he did not give consent before that. However, only Bishop Andrii (Metropolitan of Halych and Ivano-Frankivsk of the UAOC: editor) said he did not object, and all the rest just smiled. And when we came to the Zhovtnevyi Palace and I told that to locum tenens Mefodii (Kudriakov), intrigues began. And I have said at the last council that we should not have done anything then but should have elected Metropolitan Kostiantyn the head and there was no need to go to Constantinople. We should have prayed for that matter. If Metropolitan Kostiantyn became then the head of the UAOC in Ukraine—for he was also the head of UAOC in America—I think we would be now in the Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But the state authorities were against it, I am not afraid to say that.
I told the head at the council this year that we did not need those elections in 2000 (the election of Metropolitan Mefodii as the head of the UAOC: editor) and that position. When there was a problem with restoring the Stavropihion of the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Church of the Holy Assumption in Lviv, I, for example, told the secretary of the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Archimandrite Elpidoforos, that I would not claim service there. And I am prepared to leave the Church of Assumption.
- Do you conduct negotiations today with the Ecumenical Patriarchate to restore the Stavropihion of the parish of the Holy Assumption in Lviv?
- No, I do not conduct such negotiations; even though our head accused me at the Hierarchical Council of conducting secret negotiations. I answered that we do not need anything “secret.”
- What can be the way now to enter the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
- One can think that the Ecumenical Patriarch will accept us under his umbrella and there can also be another way: the Ecumenical Patriarch can send his representative here either to Lviv or Kyiv. There is a canonical metropolitanate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, why cannot there be a metropolitanate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Suppose the UAOC or the Kyiv Patriarchate become temporarily subordinate to the Constantinople Church. That would result in two canonical metropolitanates and we would not be called schismatics any more. We will be able to serve together and partake in communion from the same Cup and look for ways to unify.
I am sure that among the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate there are bishops who want to see one national church in Ukraine. If the Moscow Patriarchate would begin to lose eparchies or parishes in Ukraine under such conditions, perhaps, they [Moscow Patriarchate] would agree to let Ukraine go, and I do not think that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will keep its metropolitanate. Then the matter would come close to unification in one church.
- What level of unity of vision of the church development in the nearest years is there among the bishops of the UAOC?
- Unfortunately, I do not quite understand the fact—and I said it at the council—that the participants write an address from the council to the Ecumenical Patriarch and at the same time the head reproaches me and demands to stop mentioning the Constantinople Patriarch. If we write an address that we agree to transfer into the subordination, I think then that all bishops should mention the Ecumenical Patriarch.
- Is the Ecumenical Patriarch mentioned today at the services in the Lviv Archeparchy?
- Yes, in Lviv, Rivne-Volyn ,and Tavria Epacrhies. By the way, we felt quite a strong pressure on the priests from the authorities in the southern regions due to this.
- Are there negotiations conducted to settle the relations with Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko) of Kharkiv and Poltava?
- To my great regret no negotiations are conducted now. I did my best to reconcile him with the head. In my opinion, if Bishop Ihor would be with us now, he would be able to do a lot and the situation would be different. He is an experienced hierarch, a competent hierarch.
I am not conducting negotiations because I do not want to stir up the conflict. The head and him did not get on with each other in the work. But I am upset because in 2000, I was against electing the head from among anyone and Bishop Ihor did not say anything, I do not know why. We maintain no particular contact with him now; we only send each other greetings on holidays.
To be frank, I was approached by representatives of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew the First-Called-Apostle with a suggestion to invite Bishop Ihor to the celebration of this year’s jubilee. But the committee responsible for the preparation of the celebration expressed its opinion that if Bishop Ihor is invited, other hierarchs also should be invited, including Metropolitan Mefodii. Therefore, due to the fact that neither Metropolitan Mefodii nor Bishop Ihor are willing to serve together and communicate, it was decided to invite only Metroplitan Andrii (Abramchuk).
- Bishop Makarii, a few years ago, the leadership of the UAOC entered unity with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Sobornopravna headed by Mykhailo Yavchak-Champion. What kind of structure is that and how are these contacts developing?
- I am against such contacts. I was sorry that our head went to America and served with that metropolitan. My position is firm: if we want to be a Church and conduct a dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we cannot waver.
- What are the obstacles today in the way with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)?
- I am not against such a dialogue, and it should be conducted. But, realistically, I see no possibilities of unification with the church headed by Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan). Sometimes, they say there are no problems with us but that there are ones with the Kyiv Patriarchate. And sometimes they say that there is a problem with us. But they have a problem themselves. And that is a big problem, bigger than that of the UOC-KP or ours. They need to distance themselves from Moscow in order for me to agree to the unification with them.
- Is this a condition of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church?
- This is my condition; I cannot speak for the head. As for me, I am prepared to use amendments (to ordination: editor) as required by the canons of the church but I will never agree to return to the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Establishment of an autonomous Galician metropolitanate on the basis of the UAOC is often called one of the possible scenarios to unify the UAOC and the UOC-MP, and the largest eparchy of Galicia is headed exactly by you…
- There were talks about such a scenario. But I stated there that if we establish any “Moscow-subordinated metropolitanate” I will be a traitor. For decades I have led people to toward one national Ukrainian church, and shall I now return to the Moscow one?
I told some of the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate that they have problems, not us. Both the UAOC and the UOC-KP have determined that we are the Ukrainian church. The real scenario of our unification is the condition of their withdrawal from the Moscow Patriarchate. I am ready to go with repentance, but they have to make steps towards autocephaly for that. Perhaps some people have other opinions that we should simply join them and that is it. Some of the hierarchs of the UOC-MP also say that they are not the Moscow church any more. But if we consider the visit of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to Ukraine, everything becomes clear. We have seen the attitude of the patriarch to the “Ukrainian.” And unfortunately a respectful hierarch, Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), was moved to the background.
- Bishop, the request of the UAOC about the temporary entry to the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate was made immediately after the visit of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Is it a coincidence or reaction?
- I do not know, perhaps, some people thought that Patriarch Kirill would come and meetings and talks would be conducted. And when it did not happen, they decided to write the address. At the last Hierarchical Council I was accused of conducting secret negotiations with Constantinople and demands were made for me to stop mentioning the Ecumenical Patriarch; and to write such an address after that is not consistent…You know, we have hierarchs who have no parish and mention not our head but the Moscow Patriarch, and still remain hierarchs of the UAOC.
- Do you mean Archbishop Yoan (Modzalevskyi) from Moscow?
- Yes, he, as a hierarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church mentions the Patriarch of Moscow.
- Bishop, are negotiations with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate being conducted?
- I think there will be no dialogue at this stage. After 30 or 25 parishes in the Ternopil region transfered to the Kyivan Patriarchate, it is difficult to talk about a dialogue. Frankly speaking, in my district of Staryi Sambir, bishop Matvii and his people go around and persuade faithful from the UAOC to transfer to the UOC-KP.
- What about the transfer of Bishop Feodosii (Petsyna) to the UAOC?
- I, personally, consider his position undetermined. The head admitted him, but according to the statutes the matter is to be considered at the hierarchical council. I raised this issue once again at the council but the matter was not finalized.
- The condition for the dialogue can be the refusal of such “competition?”
- Let me put it this way: at the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Metropolitan Andrii Horak in the Opera House, I said that we can unite with such a hierarch. One can say we are already united. Despite the fact wee do not serve together, in our thoughts and actions we are already united. When problems arise between us we settle them at the hierarchical level. In the event of conflicts, when communities wish to transfer to other jurisdictions, the bishop calls me or I call him and we decide together what to do in a given situation. You know, with such a hierarch we are already united. We have an understanding. If such cooperation was carried out between Patriarch Filaret and Metropolitan Mefodii…
- Bishop, in the environment of the bishops and clergy of the Kyivan Patriarchate, popularity is enjoyed also by views as to the current policy of the UAOC toward temporary entry in the structure of the Constantinople Patriarchate, is a dialogue possible on this basis?
- I think it is realistic. Each hierarch has to decide himself. But there is another thing here: the heads and patriarchs should be afraid lest they should by any chance be left as generals without armies. For if there forms a second canonical metropolitanate, it is not important who will head it. I think this should be a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, not Patriarch Filaret, even though he is an outstanding figure, nor Mertropolitan Mefodii or any of the Ukrainian hierarchs. But this should be a person of Ukrainian descent. Then, the heads who would not agree to this would be left “generals without armies.” You know, if I refuse to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the priest will go themselves. Therefore, one has to look for a compromise in this matter, give up ambitions and join.
- Bishop, during the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine last year what prevented the regulation of the canonical position of the UAOC and the UOC-KP? Was it the stance of Patriarch Filaret or the conversation of Patriarch Alexis II with Bartholomew in the Kyiv Cave Monastery?
- The Moscow Patriarchate influenced the course of events then. But if more insistent actions were taken and if Patriarch Filaret agreed to those conditions, the outcome might have been different, perhaps. You know, if the Ecumenical Patriarch would admit us and decide that the Lviv eparchy should be headed by another hierarch and tell me to go, for instance, to the southern regions or to Rivne, I would talk to the priests and leave the department.
And it is a pity that when the Constantinople Patriarch offered then to choose the head from among three candidates and we had to wait for five hours, everything was spoiled because of a position, because of one person. The Ecumenical Patriarch insisted on three candidates and Patriarch Filaret agreed to two. Mefodii is not a competitor to him, and he did not know the third candidate. It is a pity that the bishops of the Kyivan Patriarchate and priests remained indifferent to that. I told him (Patriarch Filaret: editor) at the meeting: “Your holiness, you are not eternal.” He should have agreed then, and today we would already have had the Ukrainian Metropolitanate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And that would be a step, a great step.
It is possible to make another step, “from the lower ranks,” as I proposed. Some hierarchs of the Kyivan Patriarchate proposed that we should agree between ourselves if the heads cannot do that. But that should have been done at the times of Alexis II, and now it is more difficult…
- What do you expect of the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate which is now being conducted in Fanari?
- As far as I know, if such addresses are written and if they are to be useful, it is done differently. It has not reached Constantinople yet, but everyone reads it on the internet. I am not sure this fuss will facilitate positive settlement.
- But, as we know, a committee of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is to come to Ukraine…
- Such a committee is to come not for the first time. It was known that prior to the visit of Patriarch Kirill to Constantinople, a delegation was to come. But it did not. The same can happen also this time. You know, there is no Soviet Union any more but there are states functioning according to the Soviet principle. When the late Archbishop Vsevolod came to Lviv and the prayer service was conducted on Sunday and on Tuesday, the Stavropihion of the Church of Assumption was to be already restored. However, on Monday evening, Bishop Meliton called Bishop Vsevolod and said nothing would happen. And even though it was done without publicity, Moscow learned about it all. The same happened in 2005, when we went to Constantinople. Moscow knew everything immediately.
- The Moscow Patriarchate’s representatives say that entry of part of the Ukrainian Orthodox into the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate will cause a division of the world’s Orthodoxy.
- You see, a few years ago, the Ecumenical Patriarchate admitted Bishop Vasylii of London. And nothing happened.
- But it is a small part…
- Yes, a small one. The Moscow Patriarchate does not want to let any part go. Upheaval will occur, a big upheaval. But look, as far as I know, as of 2000 the UOC-MP had approximately 9 bishops supporting autocephaly, whereas today they have 9 bishops against it.
There will never be like-mindedness here: we are not like-minded even though there are fewer of us.
- Bishop, in conclusion, please say a wish or greeting to our readers.
- I know that the Ukrainian people are godly. I call you, pray for one national church. All the Orthodox, both of the Kyivan Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church, pray! And I am convinced that if there is a sincere joint prayer, it will happen. I can see that due to our ambitions, we will not reach agreement soon, but God through prayer of His faithful children can do it very unexpectedly. It will happen in the same way the Soviet Union collapsed: instantly and unexpectedly.
- Thank you for the conversation.
Interviewer: Anatolii BABYNSKYI
Lviv, September 28, 2009