"Those who do not seek dialogue and only accuse are not Christians," - Dr. Serhii Shumylo on Inter-Orthodox relations
Dr. Serhii Shumylo is known primarily as an expert, researcher, and popularizer of the Athos legacy and Ukrainian traces on the Holy Mount Athos in Greece. In addition to being the director of the International Institute of Athos Heritage and a researcher at the Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, he is the co-chairman of the scientific committee on church history at the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA). Dr. Serhii Shumylo worked as a visiting researcher at the Practical School of Higher Studies at the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the Wilhelm University of Westphalia in Munster (Germany) and now works as a visiting researcher at Exeter University in Great Britain. As a scholar and expert, he frequently participates in various international scientific and theological conferences where he represents the Ukrainian scientific community.
In particular, he recently returned from an international theological mega-conference in Greece, which was a landmark event in the life of world Orthodoxy. Before that, he was a co-organizer and participant in several international conferences devoted to the 300th anniversary of the Ukrainian saint Paisii Velychkovskyi, one of the most famous Ukrainians on Athos.
At scientific events, Serhii Shumylo often acts as a representative of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which is now undergoing a process of recognition at the international level. Also, he is a participant in the dialogue between clergy and believers of the UOC-MP and the OCU.
— Doctor Shumylo, what were the main topics raised at the IOTA conference in Volos?
— This mega-symposium on the problems of world Orthodoxy is, without exaggeration, a unique event of pan-Orthodox significance. The forum brought together over 400 leading experts on Eastern Christian issues from around the world. Among them, if I may say so, were both "stars" of contemporary Orthodox theology and novice theologians and researchers. A total of 43 countries from different continents, such as Europe, America, Australia, Asia, and Africa, were represented. There were 95 sessions with over 300 speakers in all. During the four days of intense work, the most current aspects of Eastern Christian themes, from theology to history and the present, were discussed at the conference. It addressed contemporary challenges facing the Orthodox Churches and their mission, educational issues, ecclesiology, liturgical practice, Christian anthropology, inter-Christian dialogue, war and peace, and much more.
In other words, this mega-conference, organized by the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA), has become an international laboratory of sorts, which, among other things, is designed to identify the most pressing and problematic issues of contemporary Orthodoxy.
— Did the conference participants touch upon the problems of Ukraine?
— Yes, many presentations paid considerable attention to Russia's criminal war against Ukraine. On the very first day, during the opening of the conference, in his keynote address, Metropolitan Amvrosy (Zograf) of Korea and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Japan presented a thorough analysis of what he called "the great heresy of ethno-phyletism," which "threatens to destroy the true criteria for the spread of the Orthodox witness". He spoke of it in the context of the non-canonical activities of the ROC-MP in Korea and the war in Ukraine. He acknowledged that most Orthodox Churches and hierarchs prefer to remain silent about this criminal war, which also serves as evidence of the existing crisis in Orthodoxy.
During the following days of the forum, one important outcome was a comprehensive study and discussion of the essence of the ideology of the "Russian world," which became the basis for justifying Russia's attack on Ukraine and "sacralizing" the murder and genocide of the Ukrainian civilian population. Leading theologians and experts from various countries gave an authoritative conclusion about the heretical nature of this fundamentalist quasi-religious ideology promoted by the ROC-MP. Of special note, there was a very thorough presentation made by Fr. Cyril Govorun. Professor Brandon Gallagher, a well-known English theologian, made a vivid and profound presentation. Professor Kostadin Nushev from Bulgaria, Professor Michael Hjalm from Sweden, and other theologians also spoke on this topic.
These reports and conclusions made by them and others at the conference help us understand this phenomenon much more deeply, which is essential for bringing this issue to pan-Orthodox discussion and condemnation as heresy.
— Can you briefly note what Fr. Cyril Govorun and the other speakers had to say about the "Russian world"?
— In brief, Father Cyril, in his analysis, gave a clear theological definition of this fundamentalist ideology promoted in the Russian Orthodox Church as a manifestation of phyletism and ecclesiological heresy. It does not address the trinitarian or Christological issues that have troubled minds since the official introduction of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire at the time of the Ecumenical Councils. Here we are talking about something else. This heresy is dualistic, based on mixing religion with politics. St. Irenaeus of Lyon and the other holy fathers defined such traits as heresy. These holy fathers of the Church viewed heresies as forms of pagan thinking disguised as Christianity. The same goes for the so-called "Russian world."
As Fr. Cyril noted, this dualistic heresy, like ancient dualistic Manichaeism or Montanism, views the world as ontologically polarized, contrasting the "Evil West" with a mythical civilization, the so-called "Holy Rus". Fr. Cyril compared this quasi-religious ideology with the official pagan imperial religion, which, in fact, is now being replaced by Orthodoxy in Russia. In his opinion, all heresies are, first of all, reductionisms of Christianity. The present Moscow Patriarch has produced an ecclesiology that is such a reductionism as to fall well within the definition of an ecclesiological heresy.
— So this is not exactly "classical" heresy?
— Well, yes. It is a bit unusual for our "classical" perception. I would add that in the age of spiritual surrogates and hybridity, heresies are different from what they were, say, in the fourth and twelfth centuries, at the time of the Ecumenical Councils. That is why heresies are now as hybrid. Because of the sacralization of pseudo-spiritual fakes and surrogates under the imitated appearance of "Orthodoxy" in Russia, there is a subtle internal substitution on a deeper level. I have already written about this in my research on the false "prophecies" that serve as the basis of the ideology of the "Russian world". As we know, "anti-Christianity" is not just that which is "against Christianity" but also that which substitutes it with the outward deception of an imaginary Christianity. This is what we see in the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate with its ideology of the "Russian world," "theology of war," mass militarization of church consciousness, and "sacralization" of Russia's war against Ukraine, murder and genocide of the Ukrainian civilian population. This is a clear sign of the marginalization and degeneration into hereticism and sectarianism of both the ROC MP and part of Russian society, which is ready to accept and consume such spiritual surrogates.
— I wonder how Russian theologians, particularly so-called "liberal" theologians, feel about defining the "Russian world" as heresy. Do some among them think so too?
— In different ways. Of course, the official ROC-MP will never agree with this and will discredit and ridicule in every possible way the very possibility of discussing it. This is understandable. A mentally ill patient will never admit to being ill... However, even among those Russians who are in opposition to the policy of the current Moscow Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev, there is a different attitude. There are those fully aware and also unequivocally assess the "Russian world" as a pseudo-Christian ideology and heresy.
It is more difficult for those who, one way or another, had a certain relationship with the system of the ROC-MP but, for various reasons, now find themselves in opposition to it. It is sometimes difficult to admit that they, too, have been involved for many years in establishing a heretical ideology, which, moreover, became a justification for the war and the murder of tens of thousands of civilians. There are attempts to shift responsibility from the entire system of the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate onto individuals, particularly Kirill Gundyaev and his inner circle. It is denied not only that this is heresy but that it is an ideology in general...
Such discussions and antitheses help analyze and understand the underlying causes and essence of this phenomenon even more thoroughly. For example, at first, I, too, was skeptical about the definition of "the Russian world" as heresy, perceiving it only as the usual hostile political imperial ideology. Yet conversations with those who denied the legitimacy of defining this ideology as heresy, particularly the German professor Thomas Bremer at the University of Munster, where I worked for six months as a visiting scholar, made me delve deeper into this issue.
The more I analyzed and investigated the origins of the ideas preached by Moscow Patriarch Kirill Gundyayev, the more I became convinced that we are dealing with an explosive mixture of various quasi-religious ideologies and theories, often entirely non-Christian. This new ideological hybrid combines the ideas of old Byzantine, Horde or "Eurasian" and Russian imperialism with transformed Soviet-Communist ideologemes and myths and even some ideas borrowed from German Nazism and Italian fascism, as well as Islamist fundamentalism. This "salad bowl," in which doctrines and ideas that sometimes contradict one another are mixed together, is really taking on the characteristics of dualistic heresy. I am convinced that this phenomenon will sooner or later be clearly defined and condemned at the pan-Orthodox level. This process has begun and cannot be stopped.
— In the program of the conference, I saw a separate section on the role of Kyiv as a spiritual center...
— Yes, together with Natalia Sinkevich, a researcher from Germany, we organized a section devoted to the significance of Kyiv as an inter-confessional spiritual center of Eastern Christianity. Ukrainian scholars Svitlana Potapenko, Oksana Prokopyuk, and Valentina Los took part. Beginning in the first third of the 17th century, Kyiv was positioned as an important Christian center of Eastern Europe. During this period, the concept of Kyiv as a "second Jerusalem" was revived and spread. Our session focused on perceiving Kyiv as a sacred place in different confessional contexts: Orthodox, Uniate, and Roman Catholic. The Christian world must know about our rich spiritual heritage and Kyiv's role as a spiritual center of Christianity. This role will continue to grow...
— There was no representation from the OCU at this conference. Why didn't the organizers invite its representatives?
— There were no official representatives of any Churches. This is a conference of specialists, not functionaries. In the post-Soviet space, they are used to the fact that the success and credibility of the event depend on as much participation as possible of the "wedding generals" and top officials. But here, the format and approach are different. The official hierarchs and church functionaries were not invited for a reason. There are other places for them to attend. The conference's main goal is a free and professional discussion of topical issues of modern world orthodoxy in a circle of specialists. It is a discussion and exchange of different opinions unshackled by church-jurisdictional officialdom and artificial barriers. It is, so to speak, "collegiality from below”.
The conference is organized by the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA), an international organization that brings together several hundred respected theologians and experts on Eastern Christianity from around the world. It arose as a response to and consequence of the 2016 All-Orthodox Council of Crete. As I have already said, it is an international laboratory designed to identify contemporary Orthodoxy's most urgent and problematic issues and propose ways of solving them, reforming them, and filling them with living content. It is a new phenomenon in the life of world Orthodoxy, which will still have an important influence in the future. But this influence will come not from the "top" but from the "bottom".
— You have many contacts with representatives of various Orthodox Churches. Have you had any conversations with them regarding the attitude toward the OCU? Are there any warnings about it?
— This is a rather difficult question on which there is no unanimous opinion in world Orthodoxy. There is an ongoing discussion. I think this question will be raised sooner or later at the pan-Orthodox council. The position of the Local Churches is influenced by various subjective and objective factors. Of course, some hierarchs have pronounced pro-Moscow sentiments and act under their influence. Moreover, certain Churches choose a wait-and-see approach.
A certain kind of conservatism and sluggishness in perceiving something new is characteristic of any ecclesiastical community. There is a time for everything. For example, when I spoke with representatives of the Bulgarian, Romanian, and Georgian churches, I noticed different attitudes toward the Ukrainian Church issue. Some hierarchs consider recognition and communion with the OCU possible, while others either have no position on this issue or are cautious about it.
A significant obstacle for many is the further division of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. I am convinced that the beginning of dialogue and the search for ways of peaceful coexistence and resolution of differences between the OCU and UOC will contribute to the consolidation of Ukrainian Orthodoxy and strengthen its international identity and recognition by world Orthodoxy.
Of course, Moscow will try to hinder this historical process. Yet because of its blatant support for Russia's criminal war against Ukraine and preaching the fundamentalist ideology of the "Russian world," the Moscow Patriarchate is increasingly losing its influence and authority in world Orthodoxy. It is being marginalized and is sliding into self-imposed sectarianism. This trend will only intensify. The Moscow Patriarchate is becoming "toxic," so to speak, and is gradually becoming ashamed to do business with it.
— What are the caveats regarding the OCU on their recognition? Are there any particular stumbling blocks?
— There is an ongoing discussion about the continuity of the hierarchy. I've considered this issue to be a stumbling block for a while. On the basis of archival sources and testimonies of eyewitnesses, I tried to conduct thorough research on the history of Vincent Chekalin's participation in the first consecrations of the UAOC in 1990. I believe there should be an honest discussion on this issue without withholding or twisting the facts. Unfortunately, Chekalin turned out to be an impostor and adventurer, something Bishop John Bodnarchuk did not know at first, believing he was really "a bishop of the ROCOR". Unfortunately, there was no third bishop, Varlaam Ilyushchenko or anyone else, when Vasily Bodnarchuk was first ordained. This ordination is really problematic, and it needs to be honestly acknowledged. I have talked to Vladyka Filaret Denysenko on this subject, and he also considers this consecration problematic, so he has re-characterized most of the bishops of the UAOC. At the same time, one UAOC bishop whose ordination was attended by Chekalin, Andrei Abramchuk, never corrected his ordination. According to the akrivia, this bishop should be retired, or an additional correction of the chiros should be made through an additional or second cheirotonia. However, in addition to akrivia, the canonical practice of the Church also has the approach of oikonomia. I asked the Ecumenical Patriarchate about this. They explained to me that they applied the principle of oikonomia to Andrei Abramchuk because he was ordained by the legitimate Bishop Ioann Bodnarchuk, a former hierarch of the ROC-MP, and Chekalin only served as Bishop Ioann and witnessed the laying on of hands. Thus, according to the interpretation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, even though Chekalin turned out to be an impostor, at the same time, the ordination of Vasily Bodnarchuk and Andriy Abramchuk was performed by the legitimate Bishop Ioan Bodnarchuk, which should be considered as a sole bishop. Consequently, by oikonomia, they can be recognized as having apostolic succession. This is the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
There is an interpretation that grace is absent from any schism or schismatic schism and that this grace is received by the schismatic bishops only when they join the fullness of the Universal Church ("form is filled with content"). There are several rites of such accession, from schisma, akrivia and oikonomia. In the akrivia, it is a full re-ordering, and in the oikonomia, it is through the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist in communion. The Ecumenical Church recognizes both principles. The Ecumenical Patriarchate applied oikonomia to Andrei Abramchuk as a bishop with a solemn ordination, granting him grace after his accession from the Schism through the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Such is the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
I am not a canonist, so it is not my place to determine the correctness or otherwise of the application of oikonomia. As a historian who has studied the archival sources on this issue, I can state unequivocally that Chekalin was not a bishop and that there was no third bishop at the consecration of Vasily Bodnarchuk, and therefore only one legitimate bishop participated in his consecration. The question of the validity of such an act and the need to apply oikonomia or akrivia here should be determined by a separate theological and canonical commission. In the history of the Church, there have been frequent cases in which a single bishop has performed ordinations of bishops, and such ordinations have been recognized as lawful. Among them are even saints recognized by the Church. Perhaps, in order to remove the controversy surrounding this question, it would be more correct to perform an additional sacrament of consecration over Andrei Abramchuk as a supplement to and correction of his ordination or to retire him, which would remove the controversial issues that are a stumbling block and a significant temptation for many. In any case, I think this issue needs honest and frank discussion to dot the i's finally.
I don't think it's a problem that can't be fixed. All of these controversial issues could be resolved through dialogue if only one were willing. Besides, we are talking about one bishop of the former UAOC. With the consecrations in the UOC-KP, everything is much simpler. They were performed by former bishops of the ROC MP, who had impeccable canonical apostolic succession. So there is no problem here, and even the ROC MP was ready to recognize them, but political factors got in the way. The practice of repeated re-denomination and re-crossing from the UOC-KP accepted in the Russian Orthodox Church, and subsequently in the UOC-MP, contradicted the canonical norms that categorically prohibit the repeated ordinations and even expel from the ministry those who do so.
— What about the anathema imposed on Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko) in the Russian Orthodox Church?
— This is a purely political act of revenge and reprisal by Moscow against one of its most influential former hierarchs, who dared to insist on the autocephaly of the UOC from the Moscow Patriarchate. There are many precedents of such political "anathemas" that were later declared invalid in the history of the Church. A recent example is the Macedonian Church, which for 56 years, the Serbian Patriarchate declared "schismatic," "non-canonical," and "without grace," and which attempted to create an alternative autonomous archdiocese in Northern Macedonia. But last year, unexpectedly for the whole world, Belgrade decided to overcome this schism by recognizing the autocephaly of the Macedonian Church. And in an instant, all the previous "deprivations of ministries" and accusations of "schism" and "lack of charity" vanished...
Another characteristic example is the split of the Bulgarian Church in the 1990s. The alternative Synod of Metropolitan Pimen (Enev) was in eucharistic communion with the UOC-KP, and the enthronement of Pimen in 1996 involved Bishop Filaret (Denisenko) and other hierarchs of the UOC-KP. Later, in 1998, taking bishops ordained by Pimen into the sanctuary, the Ecumenical Council in Sofia and the Synod of the BOC, in fact, recognized the legitimacy of succession from the UOC-KP. No alternative Bulgarian bishops were re-ordained because of their association with the UOC-KP. All were received into the same ministry. It seems that some bishops were ordained in communion with the hierarchs of the UOC-KP. By the way, Pimen in the UOC was also subjected to "defrocking" and "anathema," which the Synod of the BOC itself later repealed "as not having existed. The ruling of the Synod of the BOC of October 1, 1998, on this occasion noted: "To receive the former Eminence Metropolitan Pimen of Nevrokopsk, to remove the penalty imposed upon him - 'deposition' and the anathema pronounced against him, and to restore the church communion and degree together with the right to be considered and titled the former Metropolitan of Nevrokopsk". These vivid examples could be applied to the Ukrainian situation, should one be willing to heed them. I think that this Bulgarian precedent of overcoming the internal schism through the decision of the meeting of the Princes of the local Churches will sooner or later be applied to the Ukrainian controversy as well.
— Speaking of the UOC-MP. In May 2022, they held a meeting where they adopted changes to the charter. What do you think of it, and what was the result?
— I think the current status of the UOC became somewhat similar to that of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), which did not proclaim autocephaly or autonomy and did not definitively leave the ROC, but because of political and ideological differences temporarily broke relations with the Moscow Patriarchate in 1927, which it considered unfree from the ruling Moscow communist regime. Metropolitan Onufry, as a hierarch with conservative views, had always felt sympathy for the ROCOR. Not surprisingly, he adopted this model of "self-government" from the former Russian Orthodox Church, which from the 1920s until 2007 considered itself a "self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church," condemning the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate for its collaboration with the Communist regime.
— So it's not even an autonomous Church?
— No, it is not an autonomous Church. The Russian Orthodox Church has emphasized temporary self-government and independence from the Moscow Patriarchate throughout its separate existence. This was spelled out in the "Statute of the ROCOR". It is this status of the UOC that Metropolitan Meletius of Chernivtsi recently attested in a letter to Metropolitan Mark of Berlin (ROCOR) that surfaced in the media. In this letter, Metropolitan Meletius stipulated that the UOC remains "part of" the Russian Orthodox Church. That is, saying that the UOC "dissociates" from the actions of the MP. It, like the ROCOR, is not dissociated from the ROC and does not leave it (the terms "dissociates" and "dissociates" are fundamentally different). Here it is also important to distinguish between "the Moscow Patriarchate" and "the Russian Orthodox Church. They are not one and the same. Likewise, the ROCOR, for almost 80 years of independent existence, dissociated itself from the actions of the MP as a sub-Soviet church administration but never proclaimed its separation from the ROC, considering itself a "free self-governing part of the ROC". This allowed, after the disappearance of communist rule in Russia, the unification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the ROC-MP into one structure unhindered.
It seems the UOC has taken this model as the basis. This model allows for the appearance of having the legal status of a completely separate "independent" church institution. But spiritually and canonically, remain united with the ROC. This is what the letter of Metropolitan Meletios says when he writes that the UOC and the MP have a slightly different understanding of "church unity".
— How do you assess the proclamation of "full independence" of the UOC-MP that occurred last May?
— As long as all this talk and assurances that they are "independent" are not supported by an official synodical document of a canonical nature, that is, the Act of the UOC-MP's secession from the Russian Orthodox Church, where it would be clearly proclaimed, it will all be a game of words and terms. Simply changing the wording of the "Charter on the Management of the UOC" does not really change much. After all, as we know, in church life, external-legal charters are not documents that guide the churches in their internal church-canonical life. But a reference to the charter of Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, which demands unity with world Orthodoxy through unity with the ROC-MP, is much more serious and weighty for the internal life and structure of the Church and canon than a formal charter designed for external power structures. That is, a synodal Act of Separation from the ROC-MP, if adopted and signed by the members of the Synod, would be much more important and weightier than simply the absence in the Charter of any mention of a connection to the ROC-MP. Without the proclamation of such an Act, all talk of "full independence" remains only talk unsupported by canonical synod documents.
Unfortunately, the resolution of the Council of the UOC of May 27, 2022, does not state anything about the withdrawal of the UOC from the ROC-MP. Point 4 of this decision ("The Council adopted the relevant additions and amendments to the Statute on the government of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, testifying to the full autonomy and independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church") does not make this question any clearer, because the UOC had already been declaring "full independence" in words for 32 years, in practice being a structural division of the ROC-MP.
This is a crucial and fundamental point. This is how the Soviet leadership of the Ukrainian SSR in 1990 proclaimed the Declaration of Sovereignty of Ukraine while remaining part of the USSR. To become a truly independent state, it was necessary to proclaim the Act of secession from the USSR and the full state independence of Ukraine, to pass many other legal and subordinate acts, to revoke the legislation of the USSR within Ukraine completely and to begin negotiations about the diplomatic recognition of Ukraine by other countries. A similar thing happens in church life when autocephaly is proclaimed.
However, in the case of the UOC, unfortunately, nothing of that kind happened. In stating that the UOC is "fully independent," there is no mention of its secession from the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. At most, it is said to "dissociate" from the actions of the MP, which is not yet a "separation. At the same time, the UOC has not even officially condemned the militant-fundamentalist ideology of the "Russian world" or the statements of Patriarch Kirill as unorthodox, expressing only vague "disagreement" with them. This, too, is an important point.
— By the way, the UOC-MP has repeatedly criticized the cooperation of the UOC-MP with the Soviet authorities in its history. Now the UOC MP does not react in any way to the separatism and collaboration with the occupiers on the part of its clergy, nor to Moscow's raiding of its dioceses, nor to the anti-canonical activities of the Russian clergy on its territory. So, maybe it didn't even get to the level of the Russian Orthodox Church? Wasn't this decision of May 2022 just an imitation for the Ukrainian government, which at the time defended it in every possible way and even encouraged it to take such steps? So that the Ministry of Culture could not implement the law on renaming it to the ROCU, which it really is. But they continue to use the Kremlin's darkness and methods of manipulation publicly.
— Most likely, there are different factors at play here, including the ones you mention. As far as I know, Metropolitan Onufriy really sought to separate the UOC from the pressure and influence of Patriarch Kyrill Gundyaev. He has always been critical of him, his views, policies, and governing methods. This, however, was not due to his desire for autocephaly in the Ukrainian Church, but rather to the more conservative outlook of Metropolitan Onufriy within the ROC itself. He has never supported ecumenism or the MP's dialogue with the Vatican and did not hide his sympathy for the conservative ideas of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Old Calendarists. He maintained a friendly correspondence with the latter. In 2016, his vicar Longin (Zharstopped commemorating Cyril Gundyaev as a "heretic" precisely because he had signed the so-called "Havana Declaration" with Pope Francis.
All this did not happen without the consent of Metropolitan Onufriy, who also has close views. By the way, this is not in the least responsible for the fact that he had so easily agreed to the dissolution of the eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate, which is considered a promoter of ecumenism in world Orthodoxy, long before the Tomos. Therefore, the decisions of the Council of May in Theophany were partially conditioned, among other things, by the so-called "Zealot" motives. Here, too, he was able to overcome the resistance of the pro-Moscow faction, which was categorically against even such half-hearted decisions.
But the issue was not seen through. Therefore it is true that the UOC does not even reach the level of the old ROCA in terms of the sequence of positions and actions. In addition, part of the episcopate still shares the pro-Moscow sentiment, and for them, this uncertain status of the UOC is quite acceptable. If the political situation or the front line changes, they can freely re-declare the UOC as part of the ROC. That is why they agreed without much resistance to the wording change in the "Statute on the management of the UOC" to protect themselves from falling under the law banning religious organizations affiliated with spiritual centers in the aggressor state.
In the same way, Moscow took these decisions calmly, continuing to consider the UOC a canonical structural subdivision. Although, paradoxically, these changes themselves were made under pressure from pro-autocephalous appeals from ordinary clergy.
That is, different groups within the UOC had different motives and expectations regarding the decisions of the Theophany Council. A considerable part of the ordinary clergy and the flock welcomed it with enthusiasm, hoping that the Synod would make clear decisions on the full withdrawal of the UOC from the ROC-MP, condemning anti-church statements and actions of the MP, condemn the sad facts of collaborativism in its ranks. That it will resume eucharistic communion with the Local Churches, which it severed ties with at Moscow's request. Finally, it would begin a dialogue with the other churches about the recognition of autocephaly and would enter into a dialogue with the OCU. But these expectations have not materialized. Everything is frozen in limbo.
Even when it comes to the war and Putin's hypocritical pseudo-Orthodox policies, the UOC Synod cannot make any intelligible denunciations, as the ROCOR once did about the communist regime in Russia. Everything is limited to ambiguous, very restrained and casuistic phrases and comments that could be interpreted differently depending on the circumstances. This does not suit a significant part of the ordinary clergy and flock of the UOC, among whom dissatisfaction with the synodal course is growing.
— What holds the UOC-MP congregations back from converting to the OCU?
— For 30 years, the UOC has developed its own religious subculture and a kind of "identity," with certain differences in mentality and perception of everything that is going on around them. There are also many stereotypes brought up under the influence of Russian narratives. It is a vast and heterogeneous church community with its own characteristics, traditions, and differences. And this is a Church to which Ukrainians also belong. Yes, among them, there are many Russian-speaking or even pro-Russian. We can say that the UOC is the Church of the Russian tradition in Ukraine. It will not be possible to liquidate it by administrative intervention or government pressure. This is wrong. It is necessary to make this Church cease to be a carrier of Russian ideas and traditions so that it also becomes the Church of the Ukrainian tradition. It is necessary to purify from within those who, during this war, showed themselves not on the side of their own people and state.
I see no problem with having two separate Ukrainian churches for some transitional period in Ukraine. Such precedents in the history of Orthodoxy have already occurred. But these must be Ukrainian churches.
After February 24, the structures of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine have no right to exist in any form, even disguised. Therefore the question of purification and the final withdrawal of the UOC from the composition and influence of the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate is relevant now. Since many of its hierarchs do not want to change anything and would prefer that everything remain as it was, the state will play a rather thankless role of a "midwife" who must finally cut the cord tying the UOC-MP to the ROC-MP. In the context of Russia's war against Ukraine, this is an issue of national security and the survival of the state and the people as such.
Unfortunately, the hierarchs of the UOC, with their inaction and inadequacy, are setting up their own flock and are themselves forcing the state into such actions. They could make life easier for themselves and others if they made a number of adequate decisions about the real secession of the UOC from the ROC-MP. But since they do not do this, they provoke the state to intervene in this matter...
— What decisions can these be about the "real withdrawal" of the UOC from the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate?
— They were voiced in the appeal of ordinary clergy and believers of the UOC to its Synod. There is a list of ten points. A sort of "road map" or "ten commandments" of the UOC's complete independence. This appeal was signed by more than 300 clergy and more than 1000 believers in the UOC. It is, so to say, a cry of the soul and the pain of ordinary Ukrainian priests and believers who are suffering from the inaction and inadequacy of their own hierarchs. And who cannot tolerate how the church leadership itself is marginalizing and destroying their own Church? However, the leaders of the UOC, instead of supporting it, completely ignored this appeal, and pressure and intimidation began to mount against the priests-signatories, branding them as "traitors," "provocateurs," and the like. Although this further increases the distrust of ordinary clergy and believers in their own priesthood, which in 30 years has sufficiently tainted itself with ties to Russia.
— What internal processes within the UOC MP could you point out? How strong is the pro-Ukrainian sentiment there?
— As I said, the UOC is quite heterogeneous and diverse. Among its more than 10 thousand priests, there are different moods, sometimes quite the opposite. There is a clearly pronounced pro-Ukrainian wing of the clergy. There are a lot of such priests there. But they do not yet have a generally recognized spiritual leader, and their movement has not yet acquired clearly delineated outlines. It is still forming.
There is also a fairly pro-Moscow wing in the UOC, which includes both priests and some influential hierarchs. Despite Russia's war against Ukraine and the bombing and destruction of Ukrainian cities, they strive by all means to remain faithful to their ties with the Moscow Patriarchate and are promoters of "Russian peace" in Ukraine. Some of them were looking forward to the arrival of the "liberators" in February 2022 and were preparing to greet them with "bread and salt". They still retain such hopes, but with each time, less and less... There are questions for such figures on the part of the state and society.
And there is a third, so to speak, "current," which can be conventionally defined as "Onufriyevtsy. They are loyal to their spiritual leader, Metropolitan Onufriy, at all costs; they are not pro-Ukrainian or pro-Moscow. Whatever course their leader takes, that is how they will follow him. This is a rather conservative milieu, sometimes even prone to "gilding. They tend to be negative about ecumenism, modernism, and liberalism in the Church. Mentally, they are much closer to the followers of the old ROCA and the old-style Greeks. It is possible that over time in the heterogeneous UOC environment, a split into three separate currents on such grounds might occur. After all, the internal contradictions between them are increasingly ripe.
— How do you assess the dialogue between some of the clergy and laity of the UOC MP and the OCU? What could activate it?
— This is a significant undertaking. It is not normal for Orthodox Ukrainians not to have dialogue, friendly contacts and unity among themselves. The absence of such a dialogue for 30 years is one of the consequences of the interference and influence of Moscow on Ukrainian church questions. Therefore I fully support such initiatives. If the hierarchs can not sit at a common round table to dialogue and discuss common problems of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, then life itself will create the conditions for such dialogue "from below," by ordinary priests and believers. Perhaps this is even for the best because the role of ordinary clergy and believers in the imperial and Soviet Church was unjustifiably leveled. This problem is characteristic of all Ukrainian churches. Here we have a revival of the role of ordinary clergy and believers in the Church, a so-called "synodality from below. This is very important and should be supported in every way possible.
Unfortunately, in both the UOC and the OCU, there are forces everywhere that marginalize their churches and, guided only by their own jurisdictional and corporate interests, seek to maintain confrontation and division. But likewise, there are healthy forces in both. Despite everything, there must be dialogue, communication and honest discussion between these healthy forces of both churches about the problems that divide or unite. Certainly, there are more things that unite than that divide.
Those who do not seek dialogue and reconciliation but blame the other side are not Christians. Unfortunately, many non-Christians pretend to be "Orthodox" in both Churches, particularly among the bishops and clergy. However, one can always find someone to talk to if one wants to. We need to learn to talk, shake hands, look each other in the eye, and talk honestly about what unites and divides... Even without moving from one jurisdiction to another, we can look for common ground that unites us.
And we are united by our common spiritual and historical heritage. At least, at least through independent platforms of round tables and scientific conferences, it is necessary to begin to sit together at one table, to communicate, discuss, look each other in the eye, cooperate, look for what can unite and reconcile us, and not vice versa, what separates us and generates distrust and hatred towards each other. This is the format that could gradually melt the ice in the hearts of the clergy and believers of both churches in relation to each other, becoming the foundation of the future unity of Orthodox Ukrainians.
— In your opinion, what prevents this kind of dialogue the most? Maybe the shared post-Soviet legacy, which has accustomed others to seeing enemies?
— Definitely. But in addition to purely political factors and established subjective attitudes toward each other, I think there is another significant problem. It is the view of the Church as an earthly institution or administration. In both the UOC and OCU, there is a widespread substitution of understanding of the nature of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ by purely earthly church-administrative institutions/jurisdictions, measuring and fighting for walls and property, not for souls... That is, all that is foreign to the Gospel. Jurisdictional corporate/party interests take precedence over spiritual interests... People are willing to defend their jurisdictions as some corporation or party, their temple structures and property, not realizing that the Church is really about a little bit different things...
The boundaries of the Church as the mystical body of Christ and the boundaries of jurisdictions and church organizations are not always identical. There is a subtle substitution of meaning and content. This is a significant problem and obstacle to both dialogue and unity. The same sicknesses of the Sergian-Soviet legacy of spiritual emasculation and distortion apply equally to all Ukrainian churches without exception. Changing signs and jurisdictions does not in itself remove these diseases. There is also the problem of the level and quality of general and theological education of pastors and believers, the lack of missionary ministry, and much more. That is, the crisis of Ukrainian Orthodoxy is not only in its external status but also in its internal state. This is something on which we all need to work hard together.
— And yet, despite such pessimistic assessments, is the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy possible?
— In order to treat the disease properly, we must first correctly determine the diagnosis and causes of the disease. Therefore, there is no way out without an honest and frank discussion of existing problems and contradictions. Sooner or later, however, any schisms will be overcome. In the history of the Church, there has not yet been a schism or division that has not been overcome. If there are no dogmatic and doctrinal disagreements, that is, heresies, then there is no reason for continued division and lack of eucharistic unity.
The Ukrainian Church will be autocephalous and united. This is inevitable. There is no alternative to it. The movement toward such unity has begun, and there is no stopping it. But now we must talk not only about the status of autocephaly and unity but also about overcoming the internal crisis within the Ukrainian Church and world Orthodoxy. Problems of missionary and social ministry, the restoration of a full-fledged theological school, the quality of spiritual education and enlightenment, openness, synodality and evangelicalism, the role of community and believers in the Church, overcoming ritualism and dangerous formalization of church life, compliance with the Gospel, turning to the roots of the early Christian Church. These and other answers to current challenges, searching for solutions, reforming and filling them with living content, should be the concern of representatives of the Ukrainian Church. These issues must be the subject of dialogue and discussion. On such grounds, true spiritual unity is possible.