"People Sensed that the Church is Truly with Them"
An interview with the press secretary for the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, Fr. Abbot YEVSTRATIY ZORIA, on the “Orange” events, interdenominational and church-state relations and the future of Ukrainian Orthodoxy.
Q: These days we have seen significant changes in the socio-religious life of the country. How would you describe the changes that happened since January 23, i.e. since the inauguration of the new president of Ukraine?
Father Ievstratii: I think first of all it should be noted that the most important indicator that these changes are ongoing is the fact that both the President and the new government put spiritual values and the values of faith, spiritual traditions and the fundamentals of our nationhood at the forefront of their work. And the government we presently have, which acts under the leadership of Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko, is the first government whose programme starts not with the percentage of the gross national product but, indeed, with what it should start: faith and spirituality. And this I believe is a natural outcome of the social transformations that took place over the past 6 months.
The so-called “Orange Revolution” was not so much a political revolution as it was a revolt of the spirit. Those who came to Independence Square in Kyiv could have tolerated their economic state for yet another 10 or 20 years. They did not care so much how the family names were going to be reshuffled on the political Olympus. For a number of decades of Soviet life these people got used to the idea that everything that transpires within the power structures is somehow autonomous. The politicians strike deals between themselves and people are simply presented with the results. But then the decision makers started to speak lies, to speak them systematically, with naked faces and started to believe they can as well not cover up and not even try to mask lies under the truth. I think this was exactly what appalled our people. They longed for the truth; they longed to have their lives reflected as they truly were. They did not want to live one kind of life and have the state and media live in a world of some kind of virtual society made up by a bunch of strange, often hired-out people called political technologists.
This was indeed a revolt of the spirit, because people did not come out to defend democracy as it is often perceived, especially in the West . They did not come out to directly defend their rights. They came out to defend the truth and stand up for the truth, which is what characterizes the Slavic mentality.
As far as I know it is not possible to accurately translate the Ukrainian word “pravda” [truth, justice] into English. There are several ways to translate it, but the very word “pravda” is not simply truth, not merely justice, but the exact synthesis of truth and justice. And this was the synthesis of truth and justice that the people came out to seek and stand up for. And I’m convinced that they did attain it.
And most importantly, it was a spiritual revolution. As a result, the events developed the way we have seen. Despite all kinds of possible provocations, pessimistic predictions, expectations of a violent end or dispersing of the crowd because of tiredness, we saw an extraordinary, admirable atmosphere reminiscent of early Christianity. What was the tent city in Kyiv if not Christian agape-love, as it can be termed? It was when everyone brought in whatever they had to share it all with everyone. Rich and poor, those who had very little and those who had plenty, all of them contributed with a sincere heart to stand together until the common victory. And that is why the Lord blessed this undertaking - because it was peaceful. We have seen manifested the fortitude of the spirit of the Ukrainian nation, and that’s the most important, the fact that the Ukrainian nation has exposed its fortitude.
Q: The “Orange Revolution” carried Ukraine to the headlines of world media. Many of them mentioned the dynamic religious factor in the elections. Maps were made of political and denominational divisions in our country. But also the world admitted the extraordinarily peaceful character of the protest. With that in mind, what spiritual role do you think Ukraine can play on the world scene?
Father Ievstratii: During the two months of the “Orange Revolution” Ukraine became more known to the world than all the Ukrainian governments and leaders tried to make it for all the years of independence. Let’s recall, for example, the attitude of an ordinary Pole to a Ukrainian only half a year ago. Remember how they tried to toss at us the grievances between UPA [the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which at the time of WWII and afterwards fought Polish troops among others] and the Polish Armija Krajowa [Home Army] and the consistent manner in which the conflict of the Orliata Cemetery [in Lviv] was being blown up. And then the “Orange Revolution” radically changes the attitude of Poles to Ukrainians, as we see. You can tell that even by the fact that, notwithstanding the ongoing celebration of Christmas which for Poles is a sacred thing, thousands of them came to Ukraine [to act as observers] for the [repeat] elections [on 26 December 2004]. That is, they considered assistance to the neighboring nation more important than the celebration of their biggest family holiday.
In this way the Ukrainian nation has shown its fortitude of spirit and potential. And if the politicians who emerged as a result of this wave of spiritual strength will continue to rightly and consistently defend spiritual ideals as a foundation for the development of society, putting spirituality in the first place and the percentage of GNP as second, morality first, and then economic growth, then Ukraine will be a successful and prosperous country, a regional leader, rather than a country at the bottom of the world list; then it will be a significant spiritual center, both for Christians and for all humanity. Even now, in the first month of its new life, we can see Ukraine has become a unique political leader for an as yet small number of countries. Likewise it can become a spiritual leader, because the processes that occurred in Ukraine are for some incomprehensible, and for others they are quite odd. And people around the world want to learn why this nation took to the streets, what was it that they pressed for, how they managed to attain it, what they desired and what they lived for. That’s why the ongoing social transformation, I’m convinced, will continue to develop on a positive note. And I think what the Ukrainian nation has become now is the best guarantee that the Ukrainian past will never come back. For if a politician or a state official tries to revert to the old methods of governance and policymaking, this nation will no longer let him do it.
I’m also convinced that, in general, these two months were a key and defining moment in the history of Ukraine. Before that, Ukrainians had demonstrated much skill in being able to both share and fight with each other as well as, on one hand, to give up their life for Ukraine, but on the other, to sell out their own brothers and sisters for profit. And even among the most patriotic ones, it often happens that whenever two Ukrainians get together, there are three commanders among them, as the old saying goes. But now the nation showed it can sacrifice itself for the sake of its future. Both politicians and government officials should learn from these people how to sacrifice and live, giving of themselves daily.
Q: Before the elections of 2004 the Ukrainian churches cooperated to a degree, but mostly in cases when the state either drew them together or forced them to. There is also an example of voluntary cooperation at the gatherings of the Council of Christian Churches. Yet at Independence Square they all drew close spontaneously. And Muslims and Jews were there as well, not only Christians. They all prayed together to God. It was truly an outstanding event. However, our TV channels for some reason ignored this common prayer. It was, indeed, phenomenal for Ukraine, which is infamous for its divisions, as mentioned before. So what is the significance of this common prayer in the spiritual sense, and the effect of the church hierarchy being united?
Father Ievstratii: I am convinced that the experience of the previous cooperation of the churches played a key role and was one of the defining moments in the Ukrainian events of the end of November and beginning of December 2004. For if we hadn’t had this kind of experience, we would hardly have been able to announce the declaration signed by all the major Ukrainian Christian churches on the evening of 23 November, early in the first week of the protests. The declaration clearly stated two important points. First, what some called elections were not true elections but a falsification. And the church is against falsification because it cannot accept untruth, and not because one candidate became the winner, rather than the other. And secondly, the church is with the nation, the church is not behind some politicians and she is not with these officials or those, but with the people. I believe this had a profound impact on the future progress of the events.
I remember that night quite well, since I was the one who was designated to announce the declaration from the stage in Independence Square. In the evening I headed there resolved to make it public one way or another, although I did not know exactly how it was going to be. When I got close to the stage area I found several circles of security forces. I came up to some security guards and said I had a declaration from the heads of Ukrainian churches and so one by one I was let through the circles. By that time Viktor Andriiovych Yushchenko had finished his address and Yulia Volodymirivna Tymoshenko was practically finishing hers. At that moment it was announced that everyone should get ready to proceed to the administration building of President Kuchma. Earlier that day at the parliamentary session, Viktor Andriiovych had come forward, put his hand on the Ostroh Bible and been sworn in as a president. The situation was very tense and volatile. You could have expected any kind of scenario developing, including an assault on the Presidential Administration Building. And so the general disposition of people was very tense as well, since no one knew what to expect. And those on the stage of Independence Square were strained as well. That was the moment when I came forth with the address from the heads of the Ukrainian churches.
Knowing some politicians through previous contact, I was able to get on the stage. At that moment Viktor Andriiovych Yushchenko was informed that there is a declaration from the heads of the churches. At the same time the announcement was going out that we were going to start off as one procession to the Presidential Administration Building and then Viktor Andriiovych would access his working facilities with the crowd parting before him and so on. That was it. The music started playing. I was just escorted up to Viktor Andriiovych to present the declaration. And then he personally stopped the whole process, requested the music to be turned off, asked everyone to hold on because a priest is going to say something, and all else will come after this. Some politicians had been telling me: “You understand that now every minute is precious, because the situation at hand is that we need to make way to the Presidential Administration Building.” Even though Viktor Andriiovych realized the value of the words to be declared and the value of the church having its voice heard in this. And I read the declaration. Right after the address from the heads of churches, people went to the Presidential Administration and they did not attempt to storm it. It was after these words which fell on attentive ears that people sensed that the church is truly with them.
Beginning the following day, we started to pray, and the day after that we were already praying together. Every morning on Independence Square Mykola Tomenko would open a day by saying: “To show everyone that we are people of peace intending no harm and that we are with God in our hearts, let us start this morning with a prayer.” And we did pray. This couldn’t be called a joined prayer of ours, as of clergy of different churches, since due to some canonical reasons certain representatives of different denominations cannot pray together. But the people on the Square, they did pray together, by saying prayer in turns.
We wished not so much to conduct a religious service, as to demonstrate that, if, as clergy and representatives of various denominations objectively having misunderstandings and problems on certain issues, if we stand there together, then the nation should be together as well, regardless of existing divisions. We were there together and we strived to be an example for the nation, so that the nation would hold together as well. And I’m convinced this moment of spiritual union on Independence Square was extremely important. Some religious leaders who came from Georgia recounted that the situation there was much more complicated. On one hand, the level of religiosity there is higher than in Ukraine, and the Georgian Orthodox Church practically has the status of a state church by way of a special constitutional agreement with the state. And on the other hand, the Georgian Church’s position in support of the Rose Revolution was announced only in the last days of the events. Because of that the authority of the church for people somewhat fell. That’s why the visiting Georgian religious were happy to see that in Ukraine not one or two, but many churches spoke up right from the beginning.
For us, and me in particular as an Orthodox priest, it was very important to clear off a social bias against the Orthodox Church in the situation created because of the participation of some clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate in the election campaign. Ukrainian people saw some TV ads, and they would come to temples where instead of preaching the Gospel they were told how good one candidate was and how bad the other was, that they needed to vote for one, not the other, and so forth. Many people took it for the true voice of the church, and so the authority of the church decreased because of this. Therefore people needed to see that in reality it was not the voice of the church or the official position of the church, but rather a product of some “politicians in vestments.” But in fact, the church was there, on the Square, with the people.
I can testify that I did not mention the name of Viktor Yushchenko a single time, and I never said he was our president or encouraged to vote for him. Saying this means campaigning. I respect the law, so in my position I cannot and do not have the right to campaign. However, I would always say that the truth will triumph and that if we are with God in our hearts, desiring to obey His commandments, we have to be people of peace, showing love to everyone. We shouldn’t let violence erupt, but be polite and help one another. Other religious leaders had the same message. All these spiritual elements enabled people to withstand everything and also strengthened them not succumb to the spirit of evil.
I am sure that some failed to notice all this, or perhaps did not want to notice it. In addition, our media traditionally has a semi-neglectful attitude to the church. If an ecclesiological issue comes up, it is lined up as fifth or sixth in order of importance. No one takes into account that the spiritual is primary in human life and it played its role in these events. Likewise the fact that churches found within themselves the potential as well as the opportunity to come together made a point for those dismissing them that, despite differences, we can work together. It is also a very unique and important step in our national religious life, and the life of Ukraine in general.
As far as I know, there is no example of such an unofficial voluntary union of religious organizations into a interdenominational structure either in Ukraine, Europe or Russia, for that matter. Those that exist have rather a narrow issue focus or, conversely, work for quite a broad range of interests, for example the European Conference of Churches or World Council of Churches. However, they apparently have little effect in what they do. But here we have tried and keep striking a new note in the ecumenical process. Instead of searching for unity in creed, dogmas, divine services, or prayers, we seek and find unity in standing up for the spirituality and morality of our society. For spiritual and moral values for the predominant majority of Christians are the same. Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants all understand the morals of the Gospel in the same way. And what we observe in our society is destructive to morale and we should fight it. Uniting our forces, we try to fight it together. And the fact that the representatives of Ukrainian churches came together to form the Council of [Representatives of] Christian Churches [of Ukraine] that would assemble in the pre- election time and put out eight different letters, addresses and messages: this also laid a unique stone in the foundation of the new Ukraine. And I believe, contrary to the opinions of some, church and religion in Ukrainian social life are not going to gradually pale off into oblivion while some Western or secular values are taking over. This is not going to happen. Having had the “Orange Revolution” as a result of a spiritual revival, Ukraine will produce even better results if it continues to strive for spiritual revival.
Q: You have mentioned the Council of Representatives of Christian Churches of Ukraine [CRCCU]. What are the current activities of this entity, what sustains it and what are its present preoccupations?
Father Ievstratii: Presently the most important question is the formation of the vision for church-state relations. Hence both the participants of the council and other key religious denominations in Ukraine are convinced that, just as the old system of governance is going into the past, so should the previously-constructed system of church-state relations pass. That is why the state institutions regulating our relations cannot be left the same way they used to be. What happens next? What it will look like? This is what the churches are concerned about. They are looking ahead and would like to know answers to these questions, as well as to partake in the decision-making process in some way.
Hence, one of the key items on the agenda for the council, and not only the council, is the productive cooperation to organize meetings with the president of Ukraine within the framework of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. The aim is, on one hand, to allow the head of state to directly communicate his vision of church-state relations in the new Ukrainian state to the leaders of the religious organizations. On the other hand, this would allow the leaders to directly present to the president all the problems and issues of common and individual concern.
And we see some positive signs from the state pointing to the fact the government is ready to effectively cooperate with religious organization. We hope that in the reform of church-state relations - not vital but nonetheless very important to the existence of religious organizations - the position of the organizations themselves will be taken into consideration. A government can have [one of] the three following positions in regard to the church. First, it may assist the church in her spiritual service to society. Or it can be inertial and pay no attention to what the church is or is not occupied with, to whether she has or does not have possibilities to carry out her mission. Thirdly, the government may hinder the church in fulfilling her spiritual duty. Thus, the Soviet government hindered the church in fulfilling her spiritual duty. In the earlier days of Ukrainian independence the government was rather inertial to these issues. It facilitated some conflicts to a degree and left it frozen like that, maintaining the status quo.
Today we would like to see the government assist churches, within the framework of the Constitution and all current laws, in helping the government itself to spiritually and morally revive Ukraine. We do not support preferential treatment and would not want the state to favor one denomination or degrade another. We, that is, the Kyivan Patriarchate and Patriarch Filaret personally, on many occasions have strongly emphasized our position that all denominations have to be equal before the Ukrainian law. None of them should either be above the law or outside of it. Everyone should be equal before the law and, in effect, the state needs to treat all without discrimination as specified by the law. We would like the state to be a partner of the church, and the church a partner of the state in what the church is most competent and best qualified. These are questions of morale, spirituality, identity formation and sustaining the traditional spiritual values of the Ukrainian nation. We wish to communicate this vision to the state and would like them to hear it. In essence, this is what our interdenominational work is about, and presently it is aimed at promoting and making fruitful the dialogue of religious organizations, and Christian churches first of all, with the state.
Q: Is an expansion of the membership in the Council of [Representatives of Christian] Churches [of Ukraine] going on? Are there any new organizations willing to join it?
Father Ievstratii: It is going on and quite actively. Whereas in 2003 at the formation of the council we had only six denominations signing the declaration, now we have the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, the All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists headed by Hryhorii Komendant, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate joining in. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church has also shown some interest in participating in the council.
On the other hand, according to our vision we cannot become a duplicate of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. We are not any lobbyist institution by way of which some religious organizations are pushing their agenda through the state. And so participation in work of the council requires active engagement, rather than just using our name or resources. We are not pursuing the biggest possible increase of the number of participating organizations, and we wouldn’t like to sacrifice the quality of the work for the sake of quantity, so to speak. We have been set on working productively and met regularly, 2- 3 times per month at least. We‘ve had working meetings and sessions. At least once every couple of months there were meetings of the heads of churches and documents on pertinent issues would be produced. These were general issues addressing the spiritual side of the history of the Ukrainian people; for example, the forced starvation under the Communist regime of 1932-1933 and the recent introduction of the new identity registration process by the Ukrainian authorities. We issued a pro-life statement and are planning to increase cooperation with the new government in this direction.
I am certain that this level of efficiency should be kept in future. This was in fact lacking with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations [AUCCRO]. For in this structure of interdenominational and state-denominational character, regrettably, the working group was missing and there was no one directly tasked with facilitation of the decision making, collecting ideas and grouping urgent action items. That’s the reason why that structure was half-dead. We want to see this institution reformed. We don’t want to either duplicate it or act in their capacity. The All-Ukrainian council, to my mind, would nonetheless have its unique and natural functions, that is serving as the communication channel between religious organizations and the state.
There is a proposal to establish some kind of consultative body on religious matters for the president of Ukraine, with him and other prominent executives directly participating. Contrary to this, the council of Christian churches [CRCCU] is a totally non-governmental institution which will continue to work on issues of concern for the Christian churches wherein the churches see a need to voice their common stance for our society.
Q: At the meeting with the Ukrainian president on 23April 2005 Archbishop Vsevolod (Majdanski) announced that the patriarch of Constantinople considers as canonical the territory of the Moscow Patriarchate fixed before 1686. What consequences may this have not only for the Orthodox Church but for Ukraine in general?
Father Ievstratii: First of all, I would like to put proper emphases. One should be familiar with the traditions of the Greek Church and Greek civilization in general, and the fact that certain declarations can have various types of consequences. That’s why we are now waiting to see how things will unfold. Personally, I don’t consider the announcement sensational, since it is a repetition of previous declarations. This position is fixed in documents. At this point, let it be mentioned that the announcement of Archbishop Vsevolod is neither the announcement of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople nor that of the Holy Synod in its present constitution.
That was not an official document, but a position presented to the president. The same position was also stated in the Tomos given to the Polish Autocephalous Church in 1924, where the constituting part directly indicates that the incorporation of the Kyiv metropolitan into the Moscow Patriarchate was carried out without adherence to canonical rules. And further, the patriarch develops the idea that he has the full right to officially recognize the Orthodox Church in Poland as autocephalous. The very same thought was expressed in the 1990 letter of Patriarch Demetrius of Constantinople of blessed memory to Patriarch Alexis of Moscow. In the letter the former paraphrased the same idea that our holy great Church of Christ acknowledges as canonical the borders of the Moscow Church delineated in 1589. That is to say, borders at the time of the establishment of the patriarchate with the acknowledgement of the existing autocephaly within the church. This argument and proposition circulated in 2000- 2001, too. By that time we had also witnessed the patriarch of Constantinople say that he considered Ukraine his own canonical territory. And the fact that this idea of his was reaffirmed greatly reassures us.
It is very positive that the Patriarchate of Constantinople has clearly and outspokenly declared through its chief representatives that it is the Mother Church for the Ukrainian Church. It is the very ecclesiological institution with the legitimacy to resolve the problems in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. On the other hand, it is highly important for some not to reinterpret this position as an attempt, ambition or desire of the patriarch of Constantinople to form his own jurisdiction in Ukraine. Over the last few years we have heard an idea circulating in certain Orthodox circles that Ukraine needs to have one more jurisdiction established, that of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. I doubt this will resolve the Ukrainian question, but rather it will further complicate it and escalate tensions; and so instead of getting solved, the problem will be exacerbated. However, we see the situation developing in a different way. Namely, if previously the Patriarchate of Constantinople coordinated and somehow arranged its steps regarding Ukraine with the Moscow Patriarchate, now the recent delegation from the Patriarchate of Constantinople that visited Ukraine and met with the president has done so without any permission or sanction from the Moscow Patriarchate. I think that was the reason for the announcement of Archbishop Vsevolod, who, by so doing, wanted to underline that the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Patriarch Bartholomew do not consider it necessary to keep so keenly listening to all the ideas from Moscow, since the jurisdictional border of that church starts north of Chernihiv and Sumy. And here completely different hierarchs should be working on these issues.
I hope that this position will be maintained and that the delegation visiting Ukraine will bring the results of their work to Constantinople, where they will be presented for evaluation to the synod and the patriarch. Hopefully, based on these results some more substantial and cardinal decisions will be made. I’m also strongly of the opinion that on one hand, in the dynamics of the whole process we have good signs of the normalization of Orthodox church life in Ukraine. On the other hand, we should remember that all is in God’s hands, and as the Lord wills, so it will be. If it’s the Lord’s will, regardless of Moscow’s wishes, the autocephaly of the Kyivan Church will be recognized. If this is not his will, then, regardless of the wishes of all the hierarchs of all the Orthodox churches in the world, this is not going to happen contrary to his will. And so, first of all we put our hopes in God.
Q: Is recognition by world Orthodoxy really so important for the UOC-KP?
Father Ievstratii: In my view, currently the Patriarchate of Constantinople is more interested in the recognition of the Kyivan Patriarchate than the Kyivan Patriarchate itself is. We do aspire for recognition and we want it in order to have a normal status within the Orthodox community and establish proper communication with other Orthodox churches. For the Ukrainian Church potentially is the most populous Orthodox church in the world. On the other hand, the first 15 years of our existence with the current status have shown that our church is fully sustainable and can live for another year or two and more if need be. Other national Orthodox churches had been vying for their autocephalous recognition for a much longer time. It took almost 30 years for the Hellenic Church, 75 for the Bulgarian, and a total of 141 for the Russian. That’s why it’s not the most central issue for us.
We are fully aware that the most important factor in the recognition of the Kyivan Patriarchate is our own work. For as strong and spiritually influential and authoritative our church is in Ukraine, as much as it lives up to that status, that much closer will she be to recognition. In that regard I like the words of Patriarch Mstyslav of blessed memory who used to say: “Why chase after recognition? First we need come to self-recognition.” So let’s first build up ourselves, for no outsider will help us.
And fruitless are the hopes of some hierarchs and priests for someone coming from abroad, from across the ocean to bring us peace and solve all our problems. Because no one will. And if we don’t make peace between ourselves, it won’t happen. I do understand that perhaps some people harbor hopes that a figure from across the ocean could become a head to some church and it would all be good. But it won’t be good for the church, since the farther a hierarch is from his flock and his clergy, the worse for them and not the reverse, I believe. More than that, it seems even more treacherous. With an authoritative head far away, we’ll continue to do as we please. For God is too high above, and a patriarch or a metropolitan too far away. So this scenario is not a solution. The solution can only and exclusively be based on our mutual understanding and common work, whereas all the external factors can either facilitate it or aggravate it.
The patriarch of Constantinople presently finds himself in a situation conducive to his more active engagement in the Ukrainian question. Very forcefully and abrasively, Moscow is struggling for primacy in the Orthodox world and it sets up intrigues. The best example is the attempt to promote Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens as the leader of all Greeks. That’s despite the fact that Athens doesn’t have a patriarch precisely because Greeks always consider the patriarch of Constantinople as their patriarch and head of the Greek Church, whatever the national borders may be. Moscow made attempts to support and heat up the idea that the archbishop of Athens has to be patriarch of Athens. It was an intrigue directly aimed at Constantinople. And Archbishop Christodoulos entering into argument with Constantinople about the so-called northern metropolitan areas, this I am sure didn’t happen without Moscow’s promises to Christodoulos. But the attempt failed.
I know of some measures of Moscow in regard to the Jerusalem church taken to boost the ambitions of the patriarch of Jerusalem. It happened some time ago, I don’t know what it is like now. But even now there were statements about the primacy of the patriarch of Constantinople deriving from its location in the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Since the empire is gone, there shouldn’t be primacy still attached. And who should be first? Well, let the patriarch of Jerusalem be, for he is the patriarch where the Lord Jesus Christ himself suffered. Such was the theory introduced, which perhaps warmed a heart in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. And again it was directed against Constantinople. Other things were and still are done by the Moscow Patriarchate to materialize the theory of old Filofei that Moscow is the third Rome. But Patriarch Bartholomew clearly indicated his stance on this theory. He characterized it as “stupid, arrogant and ungodly” in his letters dealing with statements of the Moscow patriarch and other figures at the World Russian People’s Congress last year. And although the Moscow Patriarchate always strives to make the Moscow - Third Rome plan come true, which presents a real threat to the authority of Constantinople in the world, we nonetheless hope that these plans will fall to pieces just as they did earlier.
Moscow’s suggestions to change the Orthodox world order are quite dangerous. And the Patriarch of Constantinople points out that the foundations chosen by the Moscow Patriarchate to rebuild the life of the Orthodoxy community are not Christocentric, but rather feudal. And in this argument the patriarch defends not just himself and his authority but Orthodoxy in general. That’s where the question of the Ukrainian Church becomes important. If the Kyivan Patriarchate is recognized as the national church, then rather soon, literally in a couple of years, it will position itself as the dominant Orthodox Church in Ukraine. I am certain: as soon as the Kyivan Patriarchate is recognized, the biggest part, or at least half of more of the episcopal corps and clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate will join the Ukrainian Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate. And if that happens then the ambitions of Moscow as the third Rome are doomed and the Orthodox world would be safe for a time from the plans of Moscow politicians to wreck and uproot it.
As far as coming to an agreement with the Moscow Patriarchate, I am sure that regardless of the great difficulties and arguments between the Kyivan and Moscow Patriarchates now, the time will pass, maybe even the whole generation of church figures who are actually caught up in those arguments will pass, and reconciliation will come. To illustrate: the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad are now seeking ways to reconcile as they sit at the negotiation table and have a substantive discussion. And that’s evidence of my prediction, for the debates of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s between these churches were much more acute that those of the Kyivan and Moscow Patriarchate these days. And yet they did have the desire to seek reconciliation later. But the Russian Church proper had better start putting its own spiritual life in its own country in order, instead of trying to regulate life in Ukraine. A harrowing demographic crisis is looming in Russia. The Russian Federal Statistics Committee states that, by optimistic predictions, Russia’s population will shrink to 80 to 90 million in 40 years, and by pessimistic, to 75 million. In other words, its population will reduce to half the size. Other problems include the Old Believers, which was called a schism before the revolution and yet for more than 300 years has not been overcome. I think Moscow hierarchs have a vast field to toil on and show their talents in tending for the flock, their state and their nation. And here in Ukraine we are always ready to have brotherly and friendly relations; the relations of sister churches based on equality.
The Moscow Church will never be a mother church to Ukraine, since the cradle of Christianity for Eastern Slavs is Kyiv, called the mother of all cities of Rus, where Grand Prince Volodymyr baptized the people of Kyivan Rus. The Moscow Church started by Kyivan missionaries cannot be a mother church to the one that founded it. That is why all the attempts to regulate Ukrainian life fail, since they do not stem from the spirit of Christian love, but from the worldly roots of power-seeking and political-mongering. Whereas, all that is based on power-seeking and politics is opposed to the spirit of Christ’s church, and all that’s opposed to the spirit of Christ’s church will not endure, but sooner or later will crumble down.
Interview conducted in Kyiv on 26 April 2005
by Taras ANTOSHEVSKYY, director of RISU