Interview with Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine Philaret by Oleksandr Hnydyuk for Delegate Magazine.
“Want to win, hold on to the truth”– Patriarch Philaret, 4/19/2021
You overcame the coronavirus last September. At a respectable age. You turned 92 this year. How are you feeling? I know that you are actively working and serving more than young bishops.
I must say that I really feel young. You see, I serve continuously, I work all day without breaks. So I can only thank God for giving me strength. And once it gives strength, you have to work.
You have spent more than thirty years fighting for autocephaly. Today you criticize Tomos for autocephaly. They even left the OCU [Orthodox Church of Ukraine]. Many do not understand why this happened? Can you clarify the situation?
I feel that they do not understand why they asked for a Tomos, they received it, and the Patriarch suddenly left the Church for which he fought to get a Tomos. What is the reason? The reason is that the Tomos was given, but not the one that other churches have. Other churches have complete independence from the Patriarch of Constantinople, and we have been given a Tomos in which our dependence on the Patriarch of Constantinople has been recorded. We do not need such “independence” with dependence. We want to have complete independence. And what is our dependence on the Patriarch of Constantinople? First, that the UOC was given the name not by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but by the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Many people think: “Well, what’s the difference: the UOC or the Orthodox Church of Ukraine?” And there is a difference. It is that this name limits the activities of the autocephalous church to the territory of Ukraine, and Ukrainians living outside Ukraine, no longer subordinate to the leadership of this church. And we wanted the Ukrainian diaspora to belong to the UOC, just as the diaspora of other churches belongs to their own churches. For example, does the Russian Church have its own diaspora around the world? It has. Bulgarian has, Romanian has, Serbian has. That is, all churches have their diaspora outside their canonical territory, and we, Ukrainians, are forbidden, and Constantinople has appropriated this diaspora. Therefore, we do not agree with this Tomos and left the church that accepted and obeyed this Tomos. Because it follows that in Ukraine today one part is dependent on Moscow, although it has autonomy and independence in management, is Metropolitan Onufriy, and the other part is headed by Metropolitan Epiphanius, having Tomos, i.e., autocephaly, dependent on the Patriarch of Constantinople. And we want to have our own independent church. I want to draw attention to why the Patriarch of Constantinople did not give the UOC a Tomos in the status of a patriarchate, but only a metropolitanate, and he fought for it very actively. The reason is that the patriarchate is a truly independent church, because the patriarchatecannot be part of another patriarchate, and the metropolis can. Therefore, one Ukrainian metropolitanate belongs to Moscow, and the other, with the status of autocephaly, is subordinated to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Realizing this, we have come out and maintain the status of patriarchy, full independence, and we believe that this church will win in the future.
Metropolitan Epiphanius was your disciple. He became the head of the OCU not without your help (at the Unification Council in December 2018), and then a certain conflict arose. Why did this happen?
I want to make such a digression. In the IV century the holy father Gregory the Theologian was known, and he had a disciple Maximus Cynic (Cynic). He raised him and brought him to the bishop. And when this Maximus became a bishop, he decided to overthrow his teacher Gregory the Theologian and become the patriarch of Constantinople. And then they began to ask Gregory the Theologian, how did it happen that you raised him, and he wants to overthrow you and take your place? And Gregory said: “I am not God and did not know what was going on in the soul of this Maxim Cynic.” Similarly, I did not know what was going on in the soul of Metropolitan Epiphanius. If I had not supported him, he would never have become not only the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He would never have been the Metropolitan of Kyiv. But I did not know what he was like. And now he showed his insides, like Maxim Tsynik.
Is it true that when Tomos was brought to Kyiv in January 2019, you were not invited to the ceremony of receiving him in Sofia, Kyiv?
It’s true. And I want to add why we have such a relationship with Metropolitan Epiphanius. Because thanks to me he became the head, and, becoming the head, left me completely. He never served with me, did not communicate with me, did not ask for advice. Did he think that he could do without the Patriarch? And most importantly, he renounced the status of patriarchy. And because he renounced this status, I left this church and now retain the Ukrainian Patriarchate. I believe that patriarchy has a future.
As you said, according to Tomos, the OCU has lost the right to take care of the Ukrainian diaspora, so the parishes must pass to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Are there any parishes left with you? What is their position?
All the parishes that exist in Europe are subordinate to me as Patriarch. That is, after leaving the OCU, I restored the UOC of the Kyiv Patriarchate, but did not restore it by my order, but convened the Local Council on June 20, 2019. That is, there was a supreme governing body of the Local Orthodox Church, which had bishops, though few, but there were those who remained faithful to me, the clergy and the laity. We restored and continued the existence of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate. And because we are a patriarchate, we left this OCU. I repeat, today there is one metropolitanate subordinated to Moscow, another in the status of autocephaly, which is under the influence of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and a third church, which is a truly independent Ukrainian church.
The current topic is the events in the United States. The Kyiv Patriarchate has its parishes in America, and the OCU forbids them from having a Tomos position. Tomos handed them over to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Are you planning to pay a pastoral visit to the United States? And what are the further prospects for the development of UOC-KP parishes in the United States?
Since the Kyiv Patriarchate exists, all Ukrainian parishes in Europe have remained part of the Kyiv Patriarchate. In the United States, the vast majority of parishes remained in the Kyiv Patriarchate, mostly, but some parishes found themselves outside the church. Why do I say “outside the church”, because they do not have the right to be part of the OCU, that is, the church headed by Metropolitan Epiphanius, because in Tomos it is clearly stated: “limited to Ukraine”, and they are outside Ukraine. And so these parishes found themselves outside the church. They do not have a bishop. And where there is none, there is no church. But the vast majority of parishes in America belong to the Kyiv Patriarchate, i.e., the Kyiv Patriarchate has parishes in Ukraine, Europe and the United States.
I am not planning a trip to the United States yet, because now there is a coronavirus, and everyone knows that moving from one country to another is problematic. So, given such conditions, I did not plan [a trip] in the near future. But online we communicate and hold a conference with the clergy who remained in the Kyiv Patriarchate. That is, we have connections with parishes, we have cooperation, but at a distance. The Vicariate of the UOC-KP in the United States, headed by Archpriest Bohdan Zhoba, is active. The main Cathedral of the Kyiv Patriarchate is located in Philadelphia.
You once met with current US President Joe Biden in Washington. What is your impression of communicating with him?
If he had not been worthy, if he had not been an intelligent man, he would not have become President of the United States of America. And so he has these qualities, so the American people elected him president. I had a very pleasant impression from meeting him. The man is open. And most importantly, he treats Ukraine and the Ukrainian people well. And this isvery important for us at a time when Ukraine is actually waging an undeclared war with Russia. For his activities aimed at supporting Ukraine, I presented Joe Biden with the Order of the UOC-KP of St. Prince Volodymyr. I pray for Biden because he asked for it himself. The fact is that after the visit Biden wrote me a letter asking me to mention him in prayer. He wrote it by hand. He also admitted that it was a great honor for him to be awarded the Order of the Kyiv Patriarchate.
Recently, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and Metropolitan of the OCU Epiphanius invited Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to visit Kyiv this year and take part in the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence. Representatives of the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate are categorically against. What is your attitude to the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew in Ukraine?
We have our position on this and even expressed it in a special statement. We are convinced that this visit should be filled with a real historical mission and weight, and not just a trip. The episcopate, clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate will once again be happy to welcome Patriarch Bartholomew as a guest on Ukrainian soil if he presents Tomos during his visit to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church patriarchate status. This will be a long-awaited act of justice and will ensure the real autocephaly of our Church. Only in the status of a patriarchate will the Ukrainian church be able to fully fulfill its mission of spiritual care over all Ukrainians living in Ukraine and abroad. Our Church addressed the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky and representatives of the Ukrainian authorities with a request to raise before Patriarch Bartholomew on the eve of his visit the issue of granting a new Thomas, which would fully correspond to the historical place and significance of the Ukrainian Church in world Orthodoxy. This will contribute to the true independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the consolidation of society and the unification of all Orthodox Ukrainians under one Patriarchal omophorion.
You were born and raised in Donbass. How do you see the fate of the territories occupied by Russia? Will they return to Ukraine?
Of course, they will return, because this is Ukrainian land. And the proof that Donbass is Ukrainian land, not Russian, is villages. There is not a single non-Ukrainian village in Donbass, there is not a single Russian village in Donbass. Well, if there are no Russian villages, only Ukrainian ones, then whose land? Ukrainian. And since Donbass is an industrial region, at the end of the 19th century people from all over the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union began to come to work in factories, mines, and factories. Therefore, Donbass was settled by the Russian population. But they do not have the right to own Ukrainian land on Ukrainian soil. For example, there are many Ukrainians in Canada, even a Ukrainian who was the Prime Minister of Canada. We cannot say that, since there are many Ukrainians in Canada, Canada needs to join Ukraine. So why does Russia want to join Ukraine because that there are many Russians? This will not work. The Ukrainian people will not allow this. When the war in Donbass began, Galicians did not want to go there to defend Ukraine, Ukrainian land, they said, let the Easterners defend their own land. I then turned to them, to the Galicians, and said: if you want to live peacefully in Galicia, then go and defend Galicia in the Donbass. And if you do not defend Galicia in the Donbass, then Putin will come to you tomorrow, and you will fight in Galicia, defending your homes. And they listened. And since then, the volunteers have gone east. And we will return those areas. Not all of Donbass, only a third of the districts are subordinated to these so-called republics, and through them to Russia. I believe that the time will come when they will be forced to leave this territory. Ukraine was and will be united. I have no doubt about that. Besides, we are not alone. Europe with us, with us the United States, which supports us in this. Russia cannot resist such a force. Russia will fight for a while, and then will be forced to leave. Because this war has economic consequences, and the whole world will see what happens in Russia. It is not profitable, because it entails an economic downturn. Therefore, we will live until the time when Russia will be forced to leave Donbass, and the current leadership will be forced to return to a single Ukrainian government.
What are your current contacts with the authorities? Do you meet with the President, the Prime Minister, the ministers?
I met, but now I do not meet. Why? Because Metropolitan Epiphanius, together with former President Poroshenko, deregistered the Kyiv Patriarchate, illegally, without my knowledge. And since we are not registered now, the President cannot meet with us either, because he is told that we seem to exist outside the law. That is why we are now trying to restore the registration of the Kyiv Patriarchate through the courts and through various figures, state and public. Recently, the court ordered the State Bureau of Investigation to initiate criminal proceedings against representatives of the former government involved in the illegal deregistration of the Kyiv Patriarchate. I hope we will achieve this. Because we defend the truth, and the truth always wins. He who does not follow the path of truth will sooner or later be cast out.
The question of the Patriarchal residence selected by Epiphanius. Is it true that the building where we are now and which you built in the 1970s, Metropolitan Epiphanius has now rewritten for himself without your consent?
Tell me, does the person who re-registered this property of the Kyiv Patriarchate have a conscience at the OCU? Besides secretly, without my knowledge. I believe that this person is unscrupulous. This is the worst when a person loses conscience. We will fight, and I believe we will win. Our property is ours and will be ours. And he is only ashamed, this will be the result of his actions. Two people committed this crime: Epiphanius and former President Poroshenko. Poroshenko is a deceiver, and Epiphanius is unscrupulous. And where there is truth, there is God, and where there is God, there is victory. Want to win, hold on to the truth, and God will be with you. And He will help you win. And if you do not keep the truth and God, you can temporarily celebrate victory, like the Soviet Union, which celebrated its victory for 70 years, living a lie, and then disintegrated in an instant, because the truth still won. So it will be here.
In general, in your opinion, how should two very important institutions – the church and the state – interact, and should this happen at all? (As we can see from the example of neighboring Poland, the state maintains very close ties with the church and takes a rather conservative position on this).
The state must take care of its own affairs, and the church, which is separated from the state, must take care of its own. But since the church is within the state, and the same people belong to both the state and the church, there must be interaction. The church should promote the establishment of the state, and the state should promote normal church life. Not interfering in each other’s affairs but interacting. Because it is often said that you are separated from the state, and then why do so and so. For example, when the war in Donbass started, our army was disarmed and there was no one to defend it, we, as a church, appealed to the people to help, but also to raise funds and help the army. Then they gathered this volunteer movement, and the army became combat-ready. But the church has not and should not interfere in state policy. We are on this road. We do not interfere in the policy of the state, but we cooperate in the development of our Ukrainian state.
Today, Ukrainians, like the rest of the world, are experiencing the consequences of the corona crisis. I am sure that it is important for millions of Ukrainians to hear certain instructions from you on how to get through this, of course, difficult period.
The question is very complicated because, you see, the coronavirus has turned the world upside down, everything has changed. We can’t say when it will end. Because it depends first of all on God. God has allowed such trouble, but the cause of this trouble is ourselves -the people. For their sins, for their lies. We created all this and now we are reaping what we have sown. Now it needs to be fixed. And to correct means to live in truth, to love one another, to help, to live in peace and harmony, not to incite enmity. And the Lord, seeing our good intentions, will stop it.