In Ukrainian interview here
As the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch to bestow the Tomos of autocephaly on the Ukrainian Church nears, and especially, after Patriarch Bartholomew and his representatives clearly stated that the process had been launched and its ultimate goal was autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine, a wave of false publications, flawed news, clichéd comments in keeping with the Kremlin propaganda flooded the Internet.
One of the most favorite topics for Russian and pro-Kremlin politicians, their journalists, as well as the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, is the issue of church property and its fate upon bestowal of the Tomos of autocephaly. “Civil war will burst out! Dissenters will capture the Lavra, we will stand for its protection, blood will pour out!” such statements are parroted hundreds of times.
Thus, in order to clarify the position on these issues of the Kyiv Patriarchate and of its Primate, His Holiness Patriarch Philaret personally, we turned to him for his comment.
Your Holiness! Opponents of the Tomos of autocephaly are intimidating with the ‘civil war’, which is supposedly to break out after its proclamation. Saying like, the ‘non-canonical Orthodox’ will ‘seize churches’, and the ‘canonical Orthodox’ will fight for them. This argument is employed not only in secular media, but also at meetings with diplomats, in the communication of the Moscow Patriarchate’s representatives with other Local Churches.
Is there anything true in such statements? What will happen to churches and monasteries once the Tomos is issued?
The statements about ‘seizure of churches’, the possibility of a ‘civil war’ through autocephaly are examples of the Kremlin’s false information, a lie that is part of the hybrid war against Ukraine.
Have we forgotten the letters by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to the Local Churches in August 2014, where he stated that the developments in the East of Ukraine are “a war of Uniates and schismatics against canonical Orthodoxy”? That is, at the time when the Russian troops had already broken into the Ukrainian territory, the patriarch persuaded the heads of other Churches there was no Russian aggression in Donbas, but the Greek-Catholics and supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate fought with the supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate, that this was a ‘religious war’. Is this true? – No, this is not true, because there is no religious war in Donbas, there is no civil war and there is no international war – Russian aggression, occupation is under way, and the whole world recognizes this, except for Russia as an aggressor and some of its allies.
Similarly, the Moscow Patriarchate keeps declaring it suffers ‘persecutions’ in Ukraine. This is also a lie. I performed ministry in the Church at the time of real persecution, I well remember Khrushchev closing churches, monasteries, remember the pressure exerted on the Church. In Ukraine, there is nothing of the kind – on the contrary, now all the Churches and religious organizations enjoy the freedom for their activities they did not have in all the past centuries.
Why do the Moscow Patriarchate’s representatives even talk about ‘persecution’? First of all, they got used, especially during Yankukovych's presidency, that the state supported them in every way, it had a special attitude towards them. And now, when it is no longer the case, and the attitude is already equal, as defined by the laws, they perceive is as ‘persecution’.
Secondly, Moscow urges them to claim about persecutions, as it benefits from such statements as a pretext to intervene in Ukrainian affairs. Russia has always acted this way – in order to promote its interests, it disguised its own aggression as ‘protection’. Hear them – they say they have always ‘defended’ themselves and did not attack anyone. But whence comes it that from a small Moscow principality, smaller than the current Moscow region, this state has grown to a size as much as one sixth of the earth’s land surface? Merely through defense?
And Ukraine was conquered by Moscow under a pretext of ‘defense’. In the 17th century, it ‘defended the Orthodox’, a hundred years ago, the Bolsheviks occupied Ukraine, “to defend the working people.” In 2014, Russia launched a war against Ukraine in order to ‘defend’ the Russian-speaking people and the Moscow Patriarchate. Therefore, to justify aggression, it needs statements about ‘persecution’. And the MP in Ukraine provides them with such grounds.
It should be noted that, while speaking everywhere about ‘persecution’ in Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate has never said anything about the real ongoing persecution in the occupied Crimea, in the occupied areas of Donbas. They criticize Ukraine only, but stay clear of Russia and do not even recognize it to be an aggressor. Neither they criticize the terrorists in Donbas for persecution because the latter promote them, while oppressing all other denominations and Churches.
Regarding the church buildings, other church property, there is also a manipulation of facts, it is not true when the Moscow Patriarchate supporters say that “the Kyiv Patriarchate captures the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate.” This is not possible in principle!
Why is not it possible? Because there are no ‘churches of the Kyiv Patriarchate’ or ‘churches of the Moscow Patriarchate’. Under Ukrainian laws, all church buildings and property belong to communities – either by right of ownership, or by right of use or rent. To communities – that is to parishes, monasteries, religious educational institutions. Not to the Church as such, but to specific communities, specific associations of believers. But now these communities, these associations, voluntarily affiliate to this or that Patriarchate, through subordination to a certain religious center.
The Law on Freedom of Conscience stipulates in Article 8 that each community can freely choose its center of subordination and change it. Why is this stipulated? Because it is part of the general internationally established right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. What does this right mean? It means that everyone has the freedom to profess any faith or conviction, to profess them personally and collectively, privately and publicly, and change them. That is, there are three aspects of this right, and the right to change one’s views is also part of the right to freedom of religion!
If a person previously believed that the Kyiv Patriarchate was ‘wrong’ and Moscow was ‘right’, and then realized that this was not true, and decided to affiliate to the Kyiv Patriarchate, does this person have such right or not? He or she does! And if there is more than one person, but ten, one hundred or five hundred people? If this is a local religious community, a parish or a large part thereof, do they have a right to decide to withdraw from the Moscow Patriarchate and join the Kyiv Patriarchate? They do! It is guaranteed to them under law and as part of human rights.
So, how then should we deal with the property? As it was previously stated, property belongs to a community – not a Church in general, not a religious center, but a community. By law, a community freely disposes of its property. And if a community decided to withdraw from one Patriarchate and affiliate to another one – it retains the property, because it owns the property, not the Patriarchate!
Our position is as follows: if more than two-thirds of the community decide at their general meeting to move from one patriarchate to another, then the community retains its property, and the minority has the right to build another church or arrange the premises. If a simple majority decides, not two thirds, then alternate worship should be conducted so that both parts of the formerly unified community – both the majority and the minority – could exercise their right to use the church.
We believe this is justified. And the Moscow Patriarchate believes that regardless of the community decision, if there are at least 10 people who want to remain in the Moscow Patriarchate, the temple should belong to them, these ten persons, and all the rest, often several hundred people should go away. On these grounds they provoke a conflict, bringing the so-called ‘titushkas’ (i.e. thugs for hire), bringing their supporters from other places that do not belong to the community, bribing judges, shouting about ‘seizure’– they do everything to prevent the transfer of their communities to the Kyiv Patriarchate. But such actions of the Moscow Patriarchate are not protection of freedom of conscience and human rights, but the protection of ‘serfdom’, where the Moscow Patriarchate is a master, and believers are serfs.
I am telling all that in order to show what kind of position our Church maintains now and how we see the situation after the Tomos is granted.
Since now dozens of parishes come to us now, then thousands will come once the Tomos is issued. Why so? For now, for those in the Moscow Patriarchate, our Church is ‘not recognized, non-canonical’. And when the Tomos is granted, it will already become recognized, and ‘canonical’ for them. Therefore, if they are now afraid to change affiliation, so as not to become ‘non-canonical’, once the Tomos is granted they will no longer be afraid.
There will be no violence after the bestowal of the Tomos, the property will be owned by communities, as it is now. Before our celebration, our Synod adopted in the session the message, which states: “We categorically reject all allegations of opponents that the Tomos of autocephaly will provoke confrontation or even bloodshed. On the contrary, only through the establishment of the One Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine it is possible to overcome church separation and achieve public peace.” It also says: “it can only be achieved through God's command of love and peace, without violence.”
These are not just our words – this is our conviction, because our purpose is not church buildings, not property, but the unity of believers.
Property can be taken away by force – but this is the path to discord, to increasing enmity. When believers voluntarily realize that it is better to affiliate to the Ukrainian Church, not to Moscow’s, to serve the good of their people, and not to be used as an instrument of the Kremlin for aggression against the Ukrainian state, they will unite and this union will indeed be strong.
It is the Moscow Patriarchate for whom property is important, because they think that when churches are controlled, they may also influence on believers. And our view is the opposite – we want the unity of the believers, and when such unity is voluntary, realized, then all property issues will be solved by themselves, peacefully and without conflicts.
Thank you, I see your point. What can you say about the Lavras? After all, this is a particularly sore point, and this is the struggle for the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochayiv Lavras that representatives and supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as Russia itself use to intimidate both society and the Local Churches. They say, “blood will be shed”.
Why are they intimidating? They know the influence of these holy things on the faithful and realize that once the Tomos is granted many parishes, whole dioceses will leave the Moscow Patriarchate, they hope that retaining control over the Lavras they will sooner or later regain their influence on the Church in Ukraine.
Just consider at the actions of the current leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine – it operates and does everything as a person who is suffering temporary difficulties, but is convinced that this is not for long, that things will soon change as expected. What are the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate waiting for? They expect the situation to change to the one they had during Yanukovich’s tenure. That is, they are convinced that pro-Russian forces will again come to power in Ukraine, that they will favor them, fulfilling all their requests, and all other denominations, especially the Kyiv Patriarchate, will be “second-rate”.
I know for sure how they convince each other, giving an example of the “Orange Revolution”. Saying, Yushchenko also won that time, and later Yanukovych came to power, and not only to power, but won the election and became president. Now they are waiting for the same thing to happen, for the forces that support the Kremlin and who support Moscow to win the elections. And they are not just waiting, they take all efforts to support them.
If the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate understood that Ukraine would never return to the relations with Russia it had had before 2014, they would have thought about dialogue. About the dialogue with our Church, about the dialogue with society. And everyone sees that there is no dialogue with us, or with civil society, that the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine does not want to maintain any dialogue. They are waiting for the victories of their allies, those who organize and finance ‘religious processions’, broadcasts, pay for the courts, pay journalists for spreading lies, etc.
Therein lies the difference between their position and the position of the late Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan). He was appointed in 1992 as Moscow’s proxy, and initially acted in the same way as current leaders do. But over time, as a Ukrainian, he realized that Ukraine really became an independent state, that it was separating from Russia. That is why he showed growing concern for maintaining the dialogue, reducing hostility. And everyone saw how after 2007 his position changed – the contacts between our churches were initiated, confrontation reduced. If it was not for his illness and death, now we would be talking about a completely different situation in Ukraine. But when it's gone, it's gone, and the supporters of the “Russian World” came to power in the Moscow Patriarchate, for which Ukraine is only part of the ‘Holy Rus’, and Ukrainians are ‘part of the Russian people’.
During the past months they have ascertained that the Ecumenical Patriarch is determined, especially after the statements made on the occasion of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus that the ultimate goal for the Ecumenical Patriarch is to proclaim autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine.
But they are hoping for two things: if possible, to drag out the case of the Tomos until the elections in Ukraine, hoping that the forces that are explicitly or secretly linked to Moscow may win, and hoping these forces will prevent the bestowal of the Tomos.
If they fail to delay the bestowal of the Tomos and it happens this year, they hope to preserve as much property as possible so that after the victory they might consolidate and lead an offensive against the Ukrainian Church.
That is why these forces, both ecclesiastical and secular, are shouting about ‘bloodshed’ and ‘seizure’ – to play for time and to affect the determination of those on whom the granting of the Tomos depends.
And we believe that Ukraine exists and will continue to exist. But once Ukraine exists, the time will work for us. We have been fighting for recognition, for the Tomos for 25 years, and now the time has come. Now even the enemies of the idea of autocephaly admit that the Tomos is inevitable. When we only set out on this way, few people shared our beliefs.
I can say the same about the Lavras. They will be Ukrainian, and not the centers of the ‘Russian world’. I do not know when, God knows. Maybe a few months after the Tomos is granted, maybe in a few years. For us, this is not of fundamental importance, because we believe that the cause of the Ukrainian Church is true, and once the truth is on our side, then God will help us accomplish it, peacefully and voluntarily, without any violence.
No one will go “to seize the Lavra”, as the MP intimidates! Moreover, over these four years we have reiterated that the calls to “go and seize the Lavra” are a provocation for the benefit of the Kremlin. When the Maidan participants went to the Lavra in February 2014, outraged against the support that the Lavra provided to the so-called ‘titushkas’ and Yanukovych, then our bishops and priests from the Kyiv Patriarchate persuaded people not to enter the Lavra. Why does the Moscow Patriarchate avoid mentioning it now? They have nothing to gain from it, it destroys the bloodthirsty image they create for the Kyiv Patriarchate in the world, in the face of the Local Churches. But this is true: we have in fact shown that we stand against violence and denounce violence towards the Lavra and condemn those who want to resort to violence purportedly for the benefit of the Ukrainian Church.
In conclusion, I want to give an example, which proves how God works in history. Just remember how strong the Communist Party was in the Soviet Union, what power and what special services it had, how it affected people. And as in three days in August 1991, all this mighty power collapsed. When Yeltsin and further Kravchuk issued decrees banning the CPSU, nobody came to defend it. The communists dispersed, their buildings were sealed. And everything proceeded quite peacefully. Although further the Communist Party in Ukraine was revived and had power, eventually it was lost, and in the end it was banned – through the criminal ideology of Bolshevism, which affected millions of Ukrainians and other peoples. Thus the Communist Party disappeared – just as the Russian monarchy once disappeared, which, for centuries, oppressed many peoples with an iron hand.
Thus, the power of the Moscow Patriarchate will disappear once the Tomos is granted – with no violence, no coercion. The most loyal supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate will remain as the communists remained after 1991 and still remain. But they will no longer have any impact on society. It is only necessary to do one’s work, to peacefully establish the Ukrainian Church now, and God will help, and everything will calmly develop at the time He pleases.
Thank you, Your Holiness, for the conversation.
Press Center of the Kyiv Patriarchate