"The time has come for the ecumenism of life."
An interview with Antoine Arjakovsky, an Orthodox Frenchman, professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University.
Why does Antoine Arjakovsky, an Orthodox Frenchman, work at the Ukrainian Catholic University [UCU] in Lviv?
It seems to me that there is a similarity between the Orthodox living in the West, in France, and Greek Catholics living here. For we Orthodox are a minority in France and live in a Roman Catholic land, and here Greek Catholics live in Slavic territories which are mainly Orthodox. And, though it is quite complicated- because I am talking from a professional point of view, not in a broad sense- as I understand it, Greek Catholics are also identified as Orthodox. You see that I mean the notion of identity is more acute here, as you are in a different Christian world.
In the case of France , an ecclesiastical, intellectual and spiritual emigration was also [once] reviving. The intellectuals who came, Sergei Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdiaev, Lev Shestov, had contacts with Emmanuel Mounier and the French intelligentsia. In tsarist Russia , there was censorship, but in France , they were free, wrote what they wanted, and that is why what we call the “eucharistic revival” in the church appeared, and this changed the life of Orthodoxy much. Paul Evdokimov and Father Nikolai Afanasiev were such influential figures that the Catholic Church even included documents and books of these thinkers in the Second Vatican Council. And now, for example, an Orthodox, Olivier Clement, is considered one of the most famous Christian intellectuals in France; he even was president of the association of believing writers.
Here, in the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine , when I first visited UCU, which was then the [Lviv] Theological Academy , I saw and felt the same spirit of freedom– acting in a real society, in real life. I saw that living spirit here.
I worked in the field of higher education in Moscow , in the embassy in Kyiv, I saw various universities, but the best Christian university is here, and I can confirm this one hundred percent and explain the reasons. These are the specific reasons why I am here at UCU. But there are also reasons which I realize only now. It is the fact that both Greek Catholics here and Orthodox in the West are characterized by the same idea of synthesis, the synthesis of Orthodox catholicity, modernity and Christianity, democracy and a previous, more authoritarian regime.
You know well the Orthodox environment in France and other European countries. What is your opinion of the process of convergence of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Orthodox diaspora?
I am an Orthodox of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. When Stalin demanded that émigrés accept the declaration of 1927, my grandfather and grandmother agreed to the position of Bishop Evlogius, who asked Constantinople for protection. 95% of Russian parishes passed then from the jurisdiction of Moscow to the jurisdiction of Constantinople. I belong to that part of the Orthodox Church under Constantinople, which church, however, wishes to be an autonomous church in France.
[Editor's note: In July 1927, Metropolitan Sergius, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, issued a declaration that the church would support the Bolshevik government. In turn, the state allowed the church to hold liturgical services.]
Moscow shows a total lack of understanding of the situation now. It does not see the difference between the non-canonical church called the Synodal Church Abroad [the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia or the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad] and the canonical church under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. In reality, these are very different churches. The bishops of the church that left the Moscow Patriarchate in 1921 made up 80% of the bishops of the Russian church who were not in the GULAG but in emigration. They were monarchists and in opposition to the Soviet regime. Though he was also a monarchist, Bishop Evlogius ( Georgievsky ) thought that we cannot act in the church primarily out of political motives and, therefore, said: “Patriarch Tykhon wanted me to be the metropolitan of Western Europe, and I will remain one, but I will not participate in political life.” That Church of Constantinople remained faithful to tradition and was not engaged in politics.
It immediately entered into dialogue with the World Council Of Churches, whereas the Roman Catholic Church was not very active in ecumenism. But the Church Abroad, the non-canonical one, began to terminate church relations with all Orthodox churches. That Church Abroad is still political and anti-ecumenical. It was the first to canonize [Russian Tsar] Nicholas II.
The Moscow Patriarchate now invites Archbishop Laurus [hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad], Putin meets him in Moscow , everyone thinks he represents the whole emigration. But nobody understands that there is no contact with this church in France , and it has very few communities, probably only in Paris.
The same is true of Germany as well. Therefore, Moscow will possibly say that they will have a common Eucharist. But I can tell you that in Germany , France , America , it can happen only after forgiveness, only after many meetings.
Patriarch Alexis [head of the Russian Orthodox Church] presently does not understand this and suggests that everyone unite in one autonomous church: Russians should be together. But the Orthodox Church under Constantinople responds that the ethnic principle is impossible, because already we are not exactly Russian: we are French, English, Italian. And, secondly, the church cannot be ethnic, because this is not an ecclesiastical principle. Another argument is the fact that a decision about organization was already made in Switzerland. It is an assembly of bishops, the Synod of Bishops headed by a representative of Constantinople. They have been meeting in France since 1997. Therefore, it is impossible to apply the new principle. The assembly of bishops in France and Western Europe , except for representatives of the Russian Church , does not agree with the position of Patriarch Alexis. Everyone says that we are not the church of Paris: we exist through the principle of economy, because the church in France is a Roman Catholic patriarchate. The Greek Catholic Church also tells Moscow that it is impossible not to respect history, what happened in the past, especially in the 20 th century.
You have lived in Ukraine for quite some time, and I know that you are acquainted with the religious life of this country. During one of the conferences organized by yourself, one of the French guests said that Ukraine is a country with a very peaceful Christianity, the Kyivan tradition, a very tolerant Church. What can you say about modern Kyivan Christianity in Ukraine?
Of course, it is tolerant compared, for example, to what is now happening in the Near East… and if one knows what was happening here under communism, if one knows that the regime wanted to destroy the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, if one understands that in the Orthodox Church, despite the fact that some churches remained open, many bishops, priests, laymen were sent to the gulag as well… It is strange, of course that they say constantly in the West that there is war here. On the contrary, the process of the revival of Christianity is under way here. When journalists came here during the papal visit, one of them, a friend of mine, an American working for American television, wanted to show areas where conflicts exist between the Orthodox of the Moscow Patriarchate and Greek Catholics. And he could see that, in reality, perhaps there were problems in six or seven places in western Ukraine. Many then could see the great disinformation about the events in Ukraine and the existence of political reasons behind it.
On the other hand, it is true that Christians both in Ukraine and all over the world are in great tension now. We now live in a time when ecumenism has entered a very deep crisis, and it is associated with the current global crises of such institutions as the World Council of Churches. The best example, of course, is the dialogue, the international theological dialogue, between the Catholic and Orthodox churches (particularly on questions concerning Catholics).
Unfortunately, Ukraine cannot develop, because of the crisis in ecumenism. However, this crisis concerns not only Ukraine: there are also other reasons. One of them is that people understand that the period of theological dialogues, where questions of ecumenism are considered only by the specialists, is coming to an end. Ecumenism should be the reflection of a living definition of the church, and the church is broader than those narrow problems, because there exists also the ecumenism of life. There are many problems, many expressions of ecumenism, which have not been integrated into the notion of ecumenism so far. What we call the “golden chain of saints” is ecumenism. We all know that saints are together. It is impossible to think that little Teresa does not communicate with Seraphim of Sarov. There is ecumenism in marriages between Catholics and Orthodox. It is life. But this is not discussed by theological committees. It becomes obvious that the new ecumenism is the ecumenism that replaces the ecumenism of symbolic signs of the 1960s and the ecumenism of theological dialogues of the 1960s to 1990s. The time has come for the ecumenism of life, and it should be conceptualized. Therefore, when the rector of UCU, Fr. Borys Gudziak suggested that I establish an Institute of Ecumenical Studies together with Fr. Iwan Dacko, I agreed, because I had an excellent opportunity to offer a new model of ecumenism. It is possible here, whereas in France one has to wait a long time to have an opportunity to create something new. Fr. Iwan Dacko is a Greek Catholic priest living in Germany , I am an Orthodox Frenchman living in Ukraine. New opportunities are obvious.
Here is my answer to the question if there is tolerance: yes, there is a very deep tolerance. I realized here how much people suffered, and that is why they are very open, hospitable and tolerant.
The Moscow Patriarchate often alleges that Orthodox are persecuted in western Ukraine , that three eparchies of the UOC-MP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate] were destroyed. You have lived in Ukraine for several years now and you have worked at UCU for two years now. What relations have you established with the Orthodox in Ukraine and in the western regions?
I have friends everywhere. I have deep respect for the head of the UOC-MP, Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan. I have good friends in Kyiv, for example, the director of the publishing house Dukh i litera [Spirit and letter]. So, I have a positive experience of communication with representatives of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. But, on the other hand, I understand perfectly well that after so much suffering, the Orthodox Church still lives in [a state of] revival. For example, the education of students requires new textbooks, new translations, and the international Orthodox world is contributing less to this revival than, I would say, the Catholic world to the Catholic Church. Therefore, there is still no eucharistic revival in the Orthodox churches in Ukraine. There probably are parishes where they understand the importance of, for example, the theology of Fr. Nikolai Afanasiev, Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, but these are exceptions. The main thing is to understand and have tolerance, dialogue, cooperation. When I worked in the embassy in Kyiv, we invited Orthodox students to study at the Saint Sergius Institute in Paris.
I realize more clearly with each day that the alleged autonomy is not autonomy. There is no real autonomy and, therefore, there is the possibility of political pressure on the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. And the current political situation in Russia is quite conservative. And this is not conducive to the revival of the Orthodox Church. However, this does not mean that it will not happen in ten years. For there are good examples: the Romanian Church is very much alive now, the Finnish Church is, perhaps, one of the most dynamic Orthodox churches in Europe. Therefore, potentially, there is a great future. One just needs patience and understanding.
I would like to mention a book which recently appeared in Paris. Michel Stavrou presented what was said ten years ago when Orthodox, Greek Catholics, and Roman Catholics met in Paris to talk about uniatism.
Then Balamand followed. After all, everyone agrees that proselytism cannot be considered a brotherly attitude toward one's Christian brethren. On the other hand, [everyone agrees] that the Greek Catholic churches should exist and, therefore, develop. The book is not only the Balamand of 1993, but of 2004, and it seems to me that it provides an answer to the declaration presented in Moscow after the visit of Cardinal Kasper, which declaration said that the Orthodox churches allegedly condemn uniates, and so on. In fact, they condemn uniatism as proselytism, which everyone understands, but they do not condemn in depth the essence of these churches, they do not condemn the notion of “sister church.” On the contrary, there even appeared an idea in Moscow of a committee between Moscow and the Roman Catholic Church. Hopefully, thanks to this committee, the Orthodox will see that the Greek Catholic Church does not oppose the Orthodox.
Recently, during his meeting with the members of the Permanent Synod of Bishops of the UGCC, Pope John Paul II said that the idea of the patriarchate has not matured yet and that he cannot now proclaim the patriarchate of the UGCC. The main reason is that the Orthodox side, especially the Moscow Patriarchate, objects. Moscow firmly declared that this could complicate Orthodox-Catholic relations and even lead to the disruption thereof.
Everything I say now is my personal opinion. I do not represent anybody here. I am not an agent of Moscow or Paris. I am here on my own will. But I do not understand why the Orthodox churches are reacting in this way now. There are two reasons for this lack of understanding: firstly, the patriarchate exists already. The Synod of the Greek Catholic Church, all bishops without exception, took this decision. Only one question remains : Rome ' s recognition. I read what press-agencies had written after the meeting of Cardinal Husar with John Paul II. The Pope said : “I am for it. You are a church of martyrs, you are an example for us, I am for it.” Only an official ceremony is lacking. But the church itself acts as a patriarchate already.
It seems to me, the Orthodox are very poorly informed about the UGCC. Another thing which I do not understand is that, as the Greek Catholics proclaim the patriarchate, they proclaim Orthodox ecclesiology, the ecclesiology of a particular Church, based on the Eucharist. It is a eucharistic ecclesiology. It is the ecclesiology of the first centuries and it is the ecclesiology of which Paul Evdokimov, Afanasiev, Bulgakov, not just Orthodox thinkers from Paris , but also Meyendorff, they all say that our ecclesiology is the ecclesiology of particular churches in communion with the bishop of Rome as its authority was understood before the 11 th century. And you know that at the Synod of the Melkite Church , Bishop Elias Zoghby suggested that all the bishops vote for the faith of Chalcedon and the authority of Rome as before the 11 th century. Everyone voted “in favor.” Therefore, what the head of the UGCC, Cardinal Lubomyr (Husar), says is that very living Orthodox ecclesiological word, and the Orthodox who oppose it, therefore, advocate a confessional ecclesiology, an ecclesiology of offense.
I think there are sensible people who understand it, but they are under the political pressure of Moscow, they are not free, and one should understand that there are also opposing forces as far as unification is concerned. What is the way out of the situation? I think, through communication with living people. It is clear that it is not Greek Catholics that are a problem, but the schism which existed before Greek Catholics, in the 11 th century, Photius of the 9 th century.That is why Fr. John Meyendorff suggested solving the current ecumenical problem through re-recognition by the Catholic Church of the authenticity of the Eighth Ecumenical Council of 879, where Photius was recognized as patriarch of the Orthodox Church. And Meyendorff says that if the Catholic Church does this, it will be a real, concrete step to eucharistic unity. So, the Greek Catholic issue is solved, there are new proposals concerning the main problems of Catholics and Orthodox. Therefore, the conclusion of the book is the ethics of dialogue. We now understand what should be done, we have ecclesiology, we have a neo-patristic synthesis, specific proposals. And we will do it only when we do not have two-sided language, that is, when I say that Greek Catholics are good people, and I say to the Orthodox that Greek Catholics are slightly strange people. Such two-sided sayings are what kills the church and, therefore, to be sincere we must be very strong. It is necessary to renew the love for our brothers in order for the dialogue to be honest and open.
The first subject of the conference of our Institute of Ecumenism will not be the Filioque, the Council of 879, or what happened at the Eighth Ecumenical Council, forgotten by all.
In the first place, the subject will be “Friendship as an Ecumenical Concept.”
There exists a problem now, which, one might say, links the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and France. It is the issue of Lefebvrism. How much can Lefebvrism as a French, Catholic phenomenon, influence the Lefebvrism of the UGCC? Part of the Lefebvrite movement, unrecognized by Rome , is conducting active missionary activity in the territory of Ukraine , including the Orthodox environment in the east of Ukraine , and there is a large group of support among Greek Catholics.
I understand this is a difficult, painful question. It is difficult for me to answer as I have never met Lefebvrists, here or in France. I spoke on this subject with Monsignor d'Ornellas , the bishop of Paris and of exactly the district where Lefebvrites occupied a famous church. In his opinion, it is a very dangerous trend for the church. Lefebvrism does not seek to be open to other opinions, at least in France. There exists a clear conviction that traditions are stronger than the church's decisions. Therefore, it is necessary, first of all, to explain, to provide accurate information about the current state of Lefebvrism in France. One needs accurate information. I think it is important to have a university level [of information] for such questions and not just a polemical [level of information]. Secondly, the church should understand that heresies which appeared in the history of Christianity are illnesses of the whole church, and, therefore, we should understand that every new sin is our sin. We once failed to answer this challenge. It is difficult for me here to judge what happened at the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps there was no sufficient explanation of the new liturgical reform. Therefore, we should understand, first of all, the importance of the preservation of sacramentality, and secondly, we should find an intellectual discourse which is appropriate for people for whom the immutability of tradition is important. It is a task for all the Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. A hand could be extended in this regard, but on condition that the dialogue is serious and peaceful.
This interview was conducted in Lviv and was first posted on RISU in Ukrainian and Russian on 6 July 2004.