"Our parish decided that we would not give our property to anyone."
Interview with Fr. Vasyl VREMIA of the Orthodox Parish of St. Michael the Archangel in the village of Kamianske, Odesa Region
Recently, the web site of the organization Single Fatherland published information that hundreds of Orthodox believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) came to the village of Kamianske, Artsyzsk District, in southern Ukraine’s Odesa Region, to agitate for the local community’s return to the jurisdiction of UOC-MP Metropolitan of Odesa Ahafanhel (Savvin). According to the site, “after the so-called ‘orange’ revolution, in an effort to gain favor with Kyiv, the local authorities participated in a meeting of the village community in which the people were misled into the schism of Filaret. [RISU note: Patriarch Filaret Denysenko is the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP).] (...) Taking advantage of the ignorance of the population, the schismatics of the so-called ‘Kyivan Patriarchate’ led them out of the bosom of the mother-church by an open deception. The untruth was especially cynical in the village of Kamianske: the people were told that their church ‘is going to be sold to Moscow.’”
In 2005, the community, which at that time was still part of the UOC-MP, received a letter from the eparchial department demanding they pass their church to the legal ownership of the eparchy. Similar demands were also received by other communities. Therefore, the Orthodox believers of the village of Kamianske decided at the village meeting not to pass their church property but to transfer to another jurisdiction.
In order to make public the position of the other party, RISU’s correspondent approached the main “initiator” of the events, Fr. Vasyl Vremia, head of the community of St. Michael the Archangel in the village of Kamianske, and asked him to tell what happened and what preceded the confrontation. The conversation was also joined by a witness of the events, Volodymyr Henyk, head of the Odessa Regional Organization of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists.
Correspondent: Why did the confrontation start? What is the background?
Fr. Vasyl: In 2005, the community of St Michael the Archangel transferred from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Kyivan Patriarchate. The decision was made unanimously at a meeting of the parishioners of the church in view of the fact that we received an order from Metropolitan Ahafanhel to pass the building to the ownership of the UOC-MP’s Odesa Eparchy. The people were against this. Decree 320 of 16 June 2004 [as mentioned above, the community of Kamianske received it only in 2005] suggested that all buildings owned by the parish be passed to the ownership of the UOC-MP Odesa Eparchy. Our parish decided that we would not give our property to anyone. Then we decided to transfer to the Kyivan Patriarchate.
— Did persecution begin at once?
—As usually happens, after the transfer, representatives of the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate began to visit us and it all ended in a procession described in a recent article on the site of Single Fatherland.
— Tell how it all happened.
—I remember once, in 2005, after a regular procession on a Sunday, the archpriest who organized it served a Liturgy. Suddenly, after the Liturgy, a thunderstorm started. Balloon lightning flew into the church building of the head of the deanery and exploded right over the altar. The head of the deanery fainted and collapsed beside the altar. He never recovered from that shock and died in a few months. They do not mention these details, but willingly talk about what did not happen.
I say: “People, so many wonders are shown by the Lord: one, another, yet another, but this does not suggest anything to you. But you accept, trust and even spread the fairytales told by Kaurov…” [RISU note: Valerii Kaurov is the head of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine and also the Single Fatherland organization.]
After the death of the head of the deanery of the Moscow Patriarchate, a young, energetic one was appointed in his place. He began to seek promotion from his superiors. He came to the village on Mondays, excited people, the whole village was on our side, except for several people who opposed the transfer to the Kyivan Patriarchate. They appeared later, after the procession, when it was explained to them where they were “mistaken.” The new dean came on Mondays, organized prayer vigils, services in the village, in one of the yards. As usually happens, his people began to go from house to house, gathered people, explained, told them how wrong it is, [the idea] that we are a Ukrainian church; he said that the [Ukrainian] language is deprived of grace, as it is artificial and that there is no such language at all, it is just broken Russian…They said awful things.
That dean of the Moscow Patriarchate, Fr. Gennadii Martynov, intensified his actions increasingly, brought people with him, organized concerts in the village, engaged people in various ways and then... Then, the elections began. We did not support the old head of the village council, but voted for the new one, who was an adherent of the Kyivan Patriarchate. The old head became very angry. He has many relatives in the village. He gathered them all and made them adherents of the Moscow Patriarchate, even though virtually none of them attended church except for the blessing of Easter eggs... That group began to visit Kaurov, send complaints to other institutions asking for help. Then, they sued us.
— How did the legal proceedings go? Was everything lawful?
—The first judge who received their claim refused to consider the claim, leaving them the right to approach another judge. Another one received the statement… The judge was a decent person, and, generally, I was very surprised: she is an adherent of the [UOC-]MP, but she was objective in the proceedings on principle, as she said that she would make a decision according to the law in order for justice to be observed and not for someone’s interests to be protected. And it happened so.
It was God’s Providence. We did not even have hope that we would be able to defend our rights and that the church would remain ours.
—Were you ever threatened?
—Once, in November 2005, Bishop Ahafanhel came to us. There were many people, about 10,000, and Bishop Ahafanhel said publicly at the service that “This Vasyl should be evicted from the village and out of the district. There is no place for him in this land. He should not live here.”
Also, last autumn a meeting of the villagers was held with the participation of nearly all representatives of the authorities. The head of the district administration together with our police chief stated publicly: “It is time to drive your priest outside the district and kill him in order for him not to interfere with people’s lives!” Such things happened…
—Why was the Odesa Eparchy of the UOC-MP so closely interested exactly in your church and community? For there are other parishes of the Kyivan Patriarchate in the Odesa Region, but I never heard they were in such demand as yours.
—They do not want a precedent, for others will also wish to transfer to the Kyivan Patriarchate. For instance, one of the communities in our region also refused to put up with the fact that the local parishioners were going to lose the right to be in charge of the church built with their money. But they transferred to the jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchate for various reasons…
On the other hand, after the court’s ruling in our favor, our community and I intended to involve ourselves in social work. Beside the church, there are two beautiful houses in which we wanted to open a charitable institution. We approached the authorities with the request to transfer them to our use, as they are falling apart. It was after our address, when we started to deal with this issue actively, that Kaurov came. He was afraid that we might consolidate our grip in the Odesa Region and begin some other activity.
—How did your last meeting with Valerii Kaurov go?
—Well, they came at 1 a.m. on 16 February. There were many of them... Bishop Oleksii (Hrokha) came, several deputies of the Odesa City Council, the head of the district administration, Vitalii Ivanovych Davydov together with his wife, who agitated (during working hours!) for our parishioners to repent and return to the bosom of the Moscow Patriarchate.
They came. The church was open, the yard was crowded with people, but free passage was left and room for an icon. They came up and did not know what to do. They were expected. There was no confrontation, people prayed. It was the a public prayer for the conciliation of opponents. The head of the Missionary Department of the Odessa Eparchy, Oleh Mokriak, led a procession. They walked around the church thrice with an icon and a leaflet containing an anathema on me in their hands. And they addressed people showing them the leaflet: “Have you read this? You know he is not a priest any more, he is excommunicated!” In the text, Bishop Ahafanhel excommunicated not only me but my relatives and children…
Then, the people were indignant: “We were waiting for you to pray together, expected the wonder-working icon to be brought in for us to venerate it, and you!...” People were indignant and asked them to leave the church. They came out, stopped at the gates and said to the people: “Whoever rejects priest Vasyl and repents may approach the icon, and whoever does not deny him should stay away.” The people began to cry: “What are you doing, what kind of priest are you?..” This was the end of the event. The two policemen, who according to the site of Single Fatherland were reported to have seen a miracle, were also present. But they did not say anything for some reason. After the procession, we talked with them for quite some time on spiritual subjects.
There were only 40 local people among their supporters. We know this because they signed on at the event. About four buses were brought by Kaurov, and each village of the 22 parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate sent a bus.
A meeting was held. After that, the film “Anatomy of the Schism” was shown. The public prosecutor of the district, who was present there, prohibited them from showing the film. In spite of all this, they showed the film. And how can one question the existence of miracles? As soon as they were ready to switch the film on, the recorder broke down. They had to run around the village and look for another one.
You probably saw their (Kaurov’s) car: megaphones, amplifiers… When their procession approached the gates of the church, their amplifiers broke down…
Volodymyr Henyk: I witnessed that...
Fr. Vasyl: They broke down right in front of the gates of the church! Then, Kaurov began to shout over his megaphone. We rang the bell and he was not heard… His last words were: “This bell tolls for you, Vasyl Vremia, it is your funeral toll,” – these were his last words. When they were leaving, our boys sang the national anthem of Ukraine. It was very moving… And what frightened the people at first – the Ukrainian flag was seen on the territory of the church, and on the other side, there were seen flags of the black-hundredists [a pro-tsarist movement in Russia], the yellow flag and black two-headed eagle. Many people were concerned over this. Kaurov came, as usual, with his flags: Single Fatherland, New Russia, Little Russia. They walked around the village with their mottoes and called our parishioners. Our people came there, because they promised: “We will bring the brand! The elder Jonah will come! You will talk to him, communicate with him.” The people came there: there was no elder! Well, we were fooled once again, we are used to it…
Those hysterics hounded our parishioners and shouted: “Fascists! You are fascists! You serve Filaret.”
Volodymyr Henyk: All of us together with the villagers were less in number than the visitors, but a tremendous clamor was raised that nationalists were coming to make destruction in Kamianske. Immediately, a strong police force was drawn up, and our people from the People’s Movement called the regional administration and [Security Service of Ukraine]. I think, Fr. Vasyl will agree with me that the police were very efficient there, and the appearance of determined defenders on the territory of the church and police batons along the perimeter had quite a calming effect on those folks.
And the first thing they said was “We came in peace.” Indeed, as Fr. Vasyl says, God’s Providence was there. As a secular and outside person, I can testify that their film recorder really broke down, and when they approached the church, their megaphones, the whole truck full of very powerful equipment capable of muffling a rock concert also broke down.
When they saw that there was resistance, plus the fact that the police were not on their side (though the police was also afraid, for it was a question of taking responsibility), it had a very calming effect on them. For Kaurov is always approached ceremonially, but it is just the same kind of civic organization as a society of rabbit or bee keepers…
Society, parties, other denominations should help, for Kaurovism is fascism in cassocks.
The Moscow Patriarchate should be asked the question: Are they with or do they dissociate themselves from Kaurov? For the UOC-MP is the same denomination for the state as, for instance, Krishnaites or Buddhists; it is not the first among equals and it is not senior, and the state should know that. For seniority ended a long time ago, and what remains is inertia.
There were less than a hundred of us, including peasants, and there were more than 400 of them all in all, including, according to my information, bandits brought from [the Dniester Region of Moldova]. And we were going to defend – with all my respect for Fr. Vasyl – not even the Kyivan Patriarchate, we were going to defend Ukraine, we raised the only blue and yellow flag, whereas the adherents of Kaurov carried symbols of Russia, the Black Hundred. And the peasants could see who carries what flags…
Fr. Vasyl: We even watched a program on the Russian channel RTR, where Kaurov addressed all Russia asking for help. That is, he actually calls another state to interfere in the internal matters of Ukraine…
Volodymyr Henyk: Pogroms in a Jewish cemetery and actions of the black-hundredists of the Kaurov movement are the acts of one chain, when people are dictated which nation is better, which faith is better, and which language is better and which language is not euphonious for God’s ear, that is, our Ukrainian one.
— Father Vasyl, what will be your next actions?
Fr. Vasyl: We are going to ask the Coordinating Council on Spiritual and Secular Peace at the Odesa Mayor’s Office to consider our situation and give an assessment thereof. We are also forwarding a statement to the [Security Service of Ukraine], as, in our opinion, the actions of the Single Fatherland organization upset peace in society and are manifestations of xenophobia and religious intolerance. And this is already a purely criminal problem, it is not about theology or a difference in creed.
Information: The historic name of the village of Kamianske is Tashlyk. It is located 160 kilometers southwest of Odesa. The Church of Saint Michael the Archangel was built in 1870. There is an ancient cemetery beside the church, where one can still see ancient Cossack stone crosses, erected long before the church. The village is populated equally by Ukrainians and Moldovians.
Fr. Vasyl Vremia expresses his sincere gratitude the representatives of law and order who fulfilled their professional duty in a fitting way and ensured security in the village of Kamianske.
RISU received information that the organization Single Fatherland plans to erect tents near the church in the village of Kamianske in the near future.
RISU’s Ukrainian-language site posted the interview on 2 March 2007.