Interview with Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko)
"If the position of our civil leadership will be clear, then the patriarch of Constantinople would have acknowledged the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church"
Interview with Patriarch FILARET (Denysenko), head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate
– Your Holiness, first, what is your view of the situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine?
– The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is divided into three branches. Two of these, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate [UOC-KP] and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church [UAOC], are not separated in faith, by position as to church canons, by their views on building up the Ukrainian state. Therefore, as we have no disagreements between us, last year we signed a number of agreements about our intention to unite into one church. We also agreed that we will celebrate services together, both at the level of the priesthood and of the hierarchy.
Regarding the third branch of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate [UOC-MP], we would like this part to unite with the first two. Not only our clergy, hierarchs but the government also acknowledges that there should be in Ukraine a single national Ukrainian Orthodox church: more than once the president himself declared that, as an independent country, Ukraine needs such a church.
However, the position of the Moscow Patriarchate, to which the UOC-MP belongs, is fairly well-set in this matter: Moscow demands that the Kyivan Patriarchate and the UAOC first return to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarch, and only after that will it discuss the autocephaly of the UOC. And before that, there will be no talk about the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. I see this as the firm position of Moscow not to allow the UOC to leave its submission, and so I consider union with the UOC-MP fairly problematic.
But, regardless of the fact that the leadership of the Russian church and the UOC-MP is not planning to unite with us, the process of creating a single church will not stop. It continues and the result is the strengthening of the position of the Kyivan Patriarchate in Ukraine. Today we have in Ukraine 30 eparchies, more than 3000 parishes. But, most importantly, approximately 34% of the Orthodox population of Ukraine supports the Kyivan Patriarchate, which means not less than 10 million people. At the same time, only 5 million of the Orthodox population support the Moscow Patriarchate, with its 9000 parishes. Beginning sometime in 1994, orders came from above to register the statutes of communities of the UOC [-MP] in all villages. These statutes were registered fairly quickly: 10 people gathered in a given village and signed the documents and registration statutes. But if we start to study specific instances, we learn that this is far from reality. There are a number of "paper" parishes, with no regular priests or services, though when a priest comes in, some service is celebrated. So I consider that these statistics have led our government into deceit.
That parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate are coming over to the Kyivan Patriarchate, even though slowly, is evidence that the Kyivan Patriarchate is becoming stronger. I have no general statistics, but this is happening in all the eparchies, in all the regions. So, in particular, many parishes in the Odesa region are coming over to the Kyivan Patriarchate. This is happening regardless of the fact that local organs of power are using pressure and obstacles, that they conduct themselves in an unchristian and illegal manner. Recently 35 parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate from Transcarpathia turned to me. The parishioners and clergy asked if I could receive them into the UOC-KP. But I have great doubts that the authorities will let them come over. Today we already consider them parishes of the Kyivan Patriarchate, but the local civil authorities have still not registered the changes in their statutes. I doubt that they'll do this and fulfill the requirements of the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, which states that every religious community has the right to choose its confession and its center. But they aren't giving them the chance. A similar thing is happening in other cities when parishes transfer to the Kyivan Patriarchate. This is most relevant, of course, for eastern and southern Ukraine; in the central regions the attitude is more or less passive, although this happens in the Kyiv, Poltava and Kirovohrad regions. We feel that, on the whole, the authorities support the Moscow Patriarchate. And without this support, this church would be significantly weaker and much smaller.
I personally consider all this as evidence of the weakness of the Moscow Church, and that it's losing its position in Ukraine. Because, if it were sure of its future here, it would not resort to such unchristian acts as it performs today.
– Do you a significant part of the clergy and, perhaps, the episcopacy of the UOC-MP would be ready to join a united Ukrainian Orthodox church if it were acknowledged?
– Approximately two-thirds of the clergy and episcopacy would join this single National Orthodox Church. Only a third would remain with the Moscow Patriarchate for some time.
– Is the fact that this church has still not been created and has no official communion with Constantinople for the moment stopping them?
– I think that it's not connected so much with Constantinople as much as with the position of our higher authorities. That is, the position of our civil leadership is still indecisive. On the one hand, it declares the desire to create a single national Orthodox church. But on the other, it does nothing in this direction. On the contrary, it gives more support to the Moscow Patriarchate, and this will not lead to the creation of a single, national Orthodox Church.
Regarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate [of Constantinople], it now holds the following position: inasmuch as Ukraine now has its own government, there should be an autocephalous church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate defends this position in discussions with Moscow. There have already been a few meetings, even with the participation of the UOC-KP and the UAOC. And at the meetings, the delegation from Constantinople held a position that would satisfy us: the creation of an autocephalous church in Ukraine, independent of the Moscow Patriarchate.
– Do you feel that Constantinople would agree to do this only after Moscow agreed, or are there some conditions in which it would enter into a certain conflict?
– That is my personal thought, and I can't confirm 100 percent that the Ecumenical Patriarchate thinks exactly the same way. But I think that the position of our civil leadership plays an important role here. If they had the position of the leaders of Poland in the 1920s or of Estonia in 1997, then the patriarch of Constantinople would have acknowledged the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church without the agreement of the patriarch of Moscow. In both of those instances, Moscow was opposed, but Constantinople made this its own business. It recognized the Polish church as autocephalous and the Estonian as autonomous, and it didn't ask Moscow, because the position of the civil leaders was clear.
But in our case the position is not clear. I'm not saying that our civil leaders don't want to have a single national Orthodox church. But relations with Russia do not allow them to maintain a strong position. The authorities know well that the Kyivan Patriarchate is the church that stands for the government's positions, while the Moscow Patriarchate is the church that stands for the positions of the empire. But what's most important is that these religious affairs don't have a negative effect on Ukrainian-Russian relations.
– Regarding the relations of the UOC-KP with the UAOC: there was an agreement about the temporary halt of episcopal ordinations. Are you now conducting ordinations?
– There was such an agreement, and we maintained it. But when we saw that the UAOC was in no hurry to unite (though it never refused), then I came to the conclusion that these agreements would be an obstacle towards the growth of our church in Ukraine, and this would be useful for the Moscow Patriarchate. So we decided that we would continue to ordain bishops to spread and strengthen the Kyivan Patriarchate. If they [the UAOC] had come into union, we would have had no need to do this. But inasmuch as they haven't, and they don't even concelebrate with us at the episcopal level, we were forced to do this for the good of the church.
– Do you see positive prospects for unity, or positive steps that can be made in the near future, say, this year?
– Right now I don't see such concrete results in the near future. But I consider that, for the UAOC and the UOC-KP, there is no other way but to unite into one church. So, sooner or later, such a union will happen, though, perhaps it will not so much be a question of uniting, as of incorporating [the UAOC into the UOC-KP], through the growth and strengthening of the UOC-KP. And then, when the UAOC will have no other course, this will not be a union, but a common incorporation.
– As the UAOC now commemorates Metropolitan Kostiantyn (UOC USA) as its main hierarch, will this future union involve the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the diaspora?
– The structure of the Orthodox churches recognizes autocephalous and autonomous churches. But just as an autocephalous church should be acknowledged by other national churches, an autonomous church should also be so acknowledged. For example, Moscow granted autonomy to the Japanese church. But no one acknowledges this. Just the same, the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate is not an autonomous church but a common exarchate, a metropolitanate that is part of the patriarchate [of Moscow].
The Ukrainian Orthodox churches in America are also not autonomous, because no one acknowledges them as such and they have not declared their own autonomy. They are part of an autocephalous church, that is, the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Their names, the UOC USA or UOC Canada are only names, because from the canonical point of view they are part of this patriarchate.
As to the UAOC's commemorating Metropolitan Kostiantyn, this is a misunderstanding: how can a hierarch of one church be the main hierarch of another? One autocephalous church cannot be part of another autocephalous church.
– Does this mean that these churches in the diaspora are not partners of the UOC-KP with full rights in various discussions?
– In discussions they can be helpful for the acknowledgment of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Kyivan Patriarchate is already an autocephalous church; it has all the attributes of such a church. The only thing lacking is acknowledgement from other national churches. But in the history of the development of Orthodox churches, this is a common phenomenon. They were not recognized just over a period of years, but for decades. The Moscow church was not acknowledged for 140 years, but it existed and conducted its ecclesiastical mission, lived its full-blooded life. So with the Kyivan Patriarchate: this is a church that exists and is no different from other churches, but it's not acknowledged. The time will come when it will be acknowledged.
– Do you suppose that in the long run it is possible or expedient that these churches in Canada and the USA become part of an acknowledged Kyivan Patriarchate?
– I think that they will not come into the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, not even the already-acknowledged part. Why? Because, first of all, Ukrainians there have already lost or are losing their national consciousness. The generation which was born in America or Canada is already more American than Ukrainian. They simply have nothing that pulls them to the Ukrainian church, but there will be a pull to that church environment in which they live. And today this is the Patriarchate of Constantinople. On the American continent this is the dominant force and it will draw them to itself.
The leadership of these churches state that they acknowledge the Kyivan Patriarchate, that they will join. But I think that only separate parishes will remain with us: those who don't want to lose ties with Ukraine, with Kyiv. They exist now and they will exist. And those subject to Constantinople will remain so. Second, this will not only depend on them. It will depend on the Ecumenical Patriarch, if he will allow them to leave. As long as they have not become part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, they themselves can decide if they will join with the Ukrainian church or not. But if they have joined the Ecumenical Patriarch, they and the patriarch have decided, they themselves.
– Where does the structure of the UOC-KP exist now outside of Ukraine?
– In Russia we have 3 eparchies, in the Moscow and Belgorod regions and in Siberia. But there aren't many parishes there: 12 in Belgorod, a few more in Siberia, and a few in Moscow. Among the faithful there, there are not only ethnic Ukrainians but also Russians.
In the beginning of the 1990s, we had an eparchy in Prydnistrov that eventually went to the Moscow Patriarchate. But there are Ukrainians there who could be part of the Kyivan Patriarchate under the right conditions.
In the USA, the Kyivan Patriarchate has about 15 parishes, 6 in Canada, a few in Australia. There are parishes in Western Europe, but these parishes are not of Ukrainian descent, but rather Germans, French or others who have come from other confessions and created Orthodox parishes.
(Editor's note: in May of 2002, Patriarch Filaret made a visit to the US, during which time the parishes of the UOC-KP in North America were united in a deanery headed by Bishop Stepan Biliak, who resides near Miami, Florida.)
Interview conducted in Kyiv, 27 March 2002
by Taras HRYNCHYSHYN