"Elections pass, parties are born and die, but the church remains."
An interview with Fr. Petro ZUYEV of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, director of the Center of Theological Studies
-- Why, do you think, are clergy of the UOC-MP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate] and other churches taking an active part in the elections?
-- Clergy can be motivated to participate in the elections by various things. On one hand, it can be a way to protect church interests. For instance, a priest who decided to run for election to a local government body can hope to solve problems of construction of a church building or restitution of church property in this way. Everyone knows that the allocation of a land lot for a church building is a very difficult question, which can hardly be solved without political connections, especially, in large cities. However, a priest who is a deputy of a local council can submit the question to a session and effectively promote the construction of churches.
On the other hand, the church is not in a sufficient way involved in local state social programs so far. This is wrong, for the homeless, beggars and other unfortunate people ask for help exactly from churches. Therefore, the participation of a priest in the work of a local council can help to establish cooperation between the church and local structures of power.
Please note that the president of Ukraine is a believing person, who pays attention to church matters. However, at the local level priests are still confronted by a lack of understanding of church problems and reluctance to cooperate with the church. How can this wall be broken and how to establish effective interaction between traditional churches and local authorities? The participation of a priest-deputy in the work of local councils is one of the ways of doing this. To sum up, one can say that running for elections to local councils is justified for a priest.
However, there arises the problem of a “party-member priest.” For, according to the current law, one can become a deputy only on the list of a certain party. And a “party” is a “part,” even according to its etymology. It is always only a part of society, a “part” which is in strong opposition to another “party” or part of society. Therefore, the priest finds himself in a conflict situation. On one hand, he has to be governed by the principles of universalism observed by the church, which is oriented to all people regardless of their origin and political views. On the other hand, as a member, a part of the party, he has to be governed by the logic of “party expediency,” or, in other words, the “egoism” of a certain social group. Another problem is that the name of the priest becomes a kind of a symbol, a brand, used by the party, or rather, by individual political technologists who work on its image to try and create an image of the party’s “holiness.” In this way, social egoism assumes the appearance of an image of holiness. For instance, a Russian political scientist recently described a respectable Ukrainian party as a “party of confessors, party of martyrs, party of sufferers for the faith.” I am sorry, but such words can be used to describe not a political party, but a church, and only at a certain historic period. For, after elections, it becomes clear that absolutely all parties are not “holy” but “sinful.”
The modern political system is so arranged that a party of “holy martyrs” will never pass even a 1% barrier. A victory at elections today is impossible without the use of manipulative psychological technologies. One has to be liked by voters. And it is necessary to say what they expect to hear in order to be liked.
This is an unwritten law of the modern political system and it is almost impossible to break. One cannot come out into a ring and play chess there. A ring is a place where boxers fight. And even if a person of very meek disposition will come out into the ring, that person will still have to use boxing rules, that is, to hit another person. As for [so-called] “confessors” and “sufferers for the faith,” they are people who had completely different goals. They wanted to be liked by people and not God. And it does not help if one stands before God wearing an assumed “mask of piousness.” On the contrary, asceticism describes this phenomenon as the most dangerous temptation, devilish “deception.” Therefore, there is a cover, a skillfully modeled party mask or image, on the one hand, and a suffering human face, on the other. As we see, an analogy here is dangerous. Elections pass, parties are born and die, but the church remains.
Therefore, in my opinion, a religious minister can run for elections as a member of a party, but has no right to be identified with any one party and participate in the political confrontation. It is a difficult task, and there is a risk for the priest to find himself in a situation where he is not understood either by his fellow believers or by the management of the party. However, I think that a priest can avoid the temptations of “party membership” if he pays attention to his pastoral conscience.
-- But both the past presidential campaign and today’s indicate that some political forces deliberately try to use the Orthodox church as their own resource of influence.
--Yes, I agree with your statement. In fact, we see that some parties try to be identified as much as possible with the Orthodox idea, trying thereby to achieve popularity. In my opinion, this is vividly illustrated by the “Brotherhood” of Dmytro Korchynskyi, which made the image of the “Savior not made by human hands” its emblem. Korchynskyi is an interesting figure in modern politics and culture. However, it is a phenomenon solely of postmodernist context. I am not his spiritual director and cannot say how deeply believing a person he personally is. But it seems to me that the Christianity of the “Brotherhood” is a kind of postmodernist game and Korchynskyi turns politics into a postmodernist theatre. Well, I admit that he is a talented actor, but what does it have to do with the church? Why make Christ one’s symbol? An icon is a holy thing, and holy things should be venerated and not stolen, even if it is the holy thing of other people.
There is also another situation that looks strange to me: the Communist Party, which, historically, is one of the worst enemies of the Christian church of the 20th century, assumes today an image of the main protector of the UOC[-MP]. I stress that this is my personal point of view. If you are looking for the official position of the UOC[-MP], you can approach our press-service. However, I, personally, cannot understand the nature of such instant metamorphoses. Yes, transformations are possible, for we are all living humans and we change our mind and our positions. But if this is not about a situational alliance concluded to benefit from the Orthodox resource, but about a genuine and systematic cooperation with the church, Ukrainian Communists should have renounced the atheistic, humanistic tradition of communism, that is the ideological heritage of Marx and Ulianov [Lenin].
— By the way, what do you make of the fact that the list of that party’s candidates for deputies of Parliament include the head of the Union of the Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine, Valentyn Lukianyk, who recently stated that the Communist Party of Ukraine is “the most consistent ally of the Orthodox”?
—The Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods is a civic organization whose position often differs from the official position of the church. And Valentyn Lukianyk is a lay person, and we, priests, have no right to impose our views on him. If he considers it possible to run for election to Parliament, he has a right to do so. I do not think I can give any additional comments. As for the Communist Party being “the most consistent” ally of the Orthodox, I have already expressed my position. As long as the Communist Party professes the ideology of atheism, any alliance between it and the church can be solely of a situational nature.
—But he is not just running for election to Parliament on the list of that party, but is also actively campaigning for the Communist Party among the Orthodox.
—He is not the only one. This is also true of the head of another civic organization, the Union of Orthodox Citizens, a resident of Odessa, Valerii Kaurov, who is running for election to Parliament as a member of Natalia Vitrenko’s Bloc. Protection of the interests of the UOC[-MP] is also mentioned in the program statements of the Party of Regions, which will obviously win the first place in this election. The list of that party’s candidates for election to regional councils includes bishops and priests of the UOC[-MP], and the alliance between the UOC[-MP] and the Party of Regions looks logical. However, I , personally, think that the cooperation of the UOC[-MP] with the Party of Regions should be, so to speak, “balanced” with cooperation with other political forces, particularly ones which are more clearly oriented to the Ukrainian idea and the strengthening of Ukrainian statehood. People of the eastern and southern eparchies of the UOC[-MP] treat the Russian culture and church traditions with piety. And this is not surprising, because such a position is typical of these regions in general. At the same time, one should remember that 69% of all parishes of the UOC[-MP] are located in the western and central regions of Ukraine, where voters’, including, believers’, preferences are different. Therefore, it is very important to preserve the format of the UOC[-MP] as an all-Ukrainian church structure cooperating with various political forces both of pro-Russian and of clearly pro-Ukrainian orientations.
The church should treat all political forces with tolerance and prudence. Different ideological trends which do not contradict the Christian idea and ecclesiastical principles should also coexist peacefully inside the church. We lack tolerance and mutual respect. During the last campaign, for some reason I became a target for our “integrists,” who called me a “Judas” and “traitor” and goodness knows what else for my sympathy for the Ukrainian idea. However, I deliberately abstained from polemics. It is of no use. Polemics only stir up emotions. And we, as children of God and members of the church, should learn to tolerate one another, forgive mistakes, and reach understanding.
—How, do you think, can one avoid such ideological confrontation?
—In the year 2000, our church developed its own social doctrine. This is a fundamental document reflecting the church’s viewpoint on various social problems. However, the church needs partners to implement it. These partners can be the state, national business, and influential socio-political forces, especially parties. I think that, before the election, the church can initiate a number of round tables where our social problems could be discussed publicly. I stress that we are talking not of a certain political alliance under the umbrella of the Orthodox church, but of concrete social projects which the church might implement in cooperation with certain political forces. As the result of such events, a public agreement may be concluded between the church and certain socio-political forces. Such an agreement might provide for implementation of concrete social projects: joint care for the sick, homeless, orphanages. I stress that this should be done publicly. It is also necessary to report on the results of the cooperation publicly.
—But such actions can be reduced to a PR-technology.
—Any public action is a PR-technology. These are the rules of the game. I mean an extensive and stable social program. This is not about one or two projects for several pre-election months. Projects like this should be continuously run.
—Let’s turn to another subject. What is your opinion of the decision of the Synod of the UOC -MP to resume negotiations with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC)?
—First of all, it indicates that the condition of the UAOC has stabilized. For, as you know, the dialogue was stopped because of internal conflicts within that structure. Therefore, the resumption of the dialogue indicates that the situation in the UAOC has changed for the better as compared to the previous period.
—But there still is a conflict between Metropolitan Mefodii (Kudriakov)and Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko). The attitude of the latter to the negotiations was rather chilly.
—It is difficult for me to comment on the situation within a church of which I am not a part. However, I would like to note that this is not about the existence of conflicts but about their nature and scale. Firstly, Archbishop Ihor is supported by several dozen parishes of the UAOC. Secondly, as far as I know, he has his own vision for normalization of the canonical status of the UAOC, which is to annex the UAOC to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, which is under the jurisdiction of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew [I of Constantinople]. The only issue is how realistic this scenario is and if it suits the bishops of the UAOC. For it is not a secret that the majority of the bishops of the UAOC and UOC-KP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate] believe that it is necessary to seek canonical recognition of the autocephalous status of the Ukrainian church instead of becoming a part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate [of Constantinople]. At the same time, the bishops of the UOC[-MP] are against establishing the Constantinople jurisdiction in Ukraine. Therefore, this is about a conflict of concepts. And this leaves hope that time may repair the situation.
For it is clear that there should be one concept of overcoming the canonical crises, and this should be agreed upon with the majority of the bishops and clergy of the UAOC. Besides, in view of various factors, one can conclude that, in the nearest future, Constantinople will not make such a radical step as extending its jurisdiction to a part of the Ukrainian church. This makes the plan of Archbishop Ihor unrealistic. Therefore, one should look for other, alternative models of canonical settlement.
—Does this mean that you believe that reconciliation is still possible?
—I repeat again that it is difficult for me to comment on this situation, for I may lack some information. However, to the best of my knowledge, Archbishop Ihor has not been deprived of hierarchical status or prohibited from ministering. He has simply been “taken off the personnel list.” Therefore, it is clear that Metropolitan Mefodii and other bishops of the UAOC still have a possibility of further dialogue with Archbishop Ihor.
—Let’s go back to the question of negotiations between the UAOC and UOC-MP. What is the the UOC-MP’s vision of the negotiations?
—Negotiation is always a good thing, under any circumstance, no matter how difficult it is to conduct it. The negotiations are aimed at uniting Orthodoxy in Ukraine. At the same time, even the fact of resumption of negotiations alone indicates that the climate in the country, particularly in the Orthodox environment, is changing. For it is very important to understand each other correctly, to understand the motivation of each side. For instance, why did Orthodox parishes in western Ukraine refuse to stay in canonical communion with the patriarch of Moscow and proclaim their autocephalous status? What motivated the priests to do so? Was it only the national idea? Or was it a response to real expectations of the faithful and an attempt to keep the unity of the parishes? Or, on the other hand, why don’t Metropolitan Volodymyr and the Holy Synod of the UOC[-MP] consider it advisable to proclaim autocephalous status today? Is it because they are enemies of the Ukrainian idea? Or is it because they are maintaining the unity of the church they are part of?
Communication breaks ideological stereotypes and helps to evaluate the situation in the Orthodox environment today more adequately. And this is very valuable. On the other hand, it is important also to make it clear both for the participants of the negotiations and for the faithful what a national [particular, local] church is and what the mechanism for achieving it is. What is particularity? A way of separating from communion with the Moscow Patriarchate? But in that case, it is simply impossible to achieve this within the Orthodox church. For all churches maintain canonical communion with each other… Or is particularity a way of canonical organization of church life?
I, personally, cannot understand either the Orthodox “integrists,” who say that preservation of administrative unity is the only way to preserve the spiritual unity of the Slavic peoples, or people who confuse the notion of church with that of political party and are governed in church life by the motto “Away from Moscow.” What is the meaning of this motto in the church sphere? Why should I separate myself from my Christian fellow believers? Therefore, it is necessary to come to an adequate, technical understanding of particularity. For, from the canonical point of view, particularity is only a certain “technical” canonical decision.
Particularity does not “separate.” It is just another way of canonical unity. Besides, one should note that the so-called “Greek churches” – the Constantinople, Hellenic, Jerusalem, Cypriot and Alexandrian churches – not only maintain communion but also psychologically consider each other to be parts of a single whole, Greek Orthodoxy. These churches are united not only by a common creed and rite, but also by the Byzantine heritage. Why then should gaining particularity by the Ukrainian church separate us from our Christian brethren in Russia? We also have a common heritage, the heritage of Kyivan Rus, which was inherited in one way or another by both the Kyivan and Moscow churches. Therefore, in my opinion, particularity is not a way for a civilized “divorce.” At least, this is not so from the canonical pint of view.
—Nevertheless, what can be the result of such negotiations?
—It depends on many factors, including sociological and political ones. As far as I understand, unity is possible in the event of the change of the canonical status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church[-MP]. In its turn, this depends upon such factors as the position of the bishops of the UOC[-MP]. Another important thing is the mood prevailing in the parishes and monasteries of the UOC[-MP]. In addition, there is the factor of the position of the patriarch of Moscow and universal Orthodoxy. At the same time, I believe there is a reason for “moderate optimism.”
—Is there a possibility of the establishment of a similar committee between the UOC-MP and the UOC-KP?
—Yes, it is quite real, but according to the position of the Holy Synod of the UOC[-MP], any negotiation is possible only after the resignation of the head of the church, Filaret (Denysenko), whose figure is unacceptable for the clergy and faithful of the UOC[-MP].
—Thank you for the interview.
Interview conducted by Taras Antoshevskyy and posted on RISU’s Ukrainian-language site on 28 February 2006.