Fileleftheros – A. Viketos | “Love is the stone on which we will build a strong and unified Church in Ukraine,” said Kyiv Metropolitan Epiphanius in a statement to Fileleftheros shortly after having received the Tomos of autocephaly on the feast day of the Epiphany.
During our conversation in the Hall of the Throne at the Phanar in Constantinople, the primate of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine made it clear that, “The door of our Church is open for all Ukrainians.” Also, the metropolitan took the opportunity to send his best wishes to Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus—with whom he hopes to soon concelebrate—as well as to the A. G. Leventis Foundation for its sponsorship of the conservation works at the historic Holy Wisdom cathedral in Kyiv.
AV: What does today mean for the Church and people of Ukraine?
ME: Today is indeed a historic day for the Church and our country. Today Ukraine gained its own autocephalous Church and from today we have ecclesiastical independence. I am confident that now, in a spirit of love together with the Mother Church of Constantinople, we will be able to create a very strong autocephalous Church.
AV: Does the belligerence of the Moscow Patriarchate bother you?
ME: What we want is unity. First and foremost we will serve God and second the Ukrainian people. Everyone should unite and get around the autocephalous Ukrainian Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but without force, violence, and blood shed. Our actions should be guided by love, which is what Christ taught and was sacrificed for. This love will be the stone on which we will build a strong and unified Church in Ukraine. We want to break with the past, to forget all the insults directed at us thus far. The door of our Church will be open for all Ukrainians.
AV: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew called on you to work in a spirit of understanding and reconciliation even with those who will remain under the Moscow Patriarchate. Will you follow this directive?
ME: We have already begun collaborating with the priests and laypeople in this respect. There are many parishes which have indicated their readiness to switch over to the united autocephalous Church. This will now happen now that the Tomos has been granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Tomos officially seals the granting of autocephalous status to our local Church. Until now, for 27 years the Moscow Patriarchate was saying that we are not canonical, that we do not exist.
AV: Do you believe the other local Orthodox churches will recognize the Ukrainian Church and add your name to their diptychs for commemoration?
ME: I believe that, with the grace and help of God, the other local Orthodox churches will recognize the Church of Ukraine. For, just today, during the divine liturgy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave us the Tomos of autocephaly. And this first recognition has come from the Mother Church of all other churches, to which we should all show respect.
AV: What is your message to the primate of the Church of Cyprus as well as to the flock there in general?
ME: I have met with His Beatitude during an unofficial visit to Cyprus. I pray that God grants my beloved brother in Christ, Archbishop Chrysostomos, enlightenment and health. May He have strength in order to guide the Church in Cyprus. I also hope that, with the blessing of God, we will soon be able to celebrate the liturgy together.
Asked about the conservation works at Holy Wisdom in Kyiv—a project sponsored by the A. G. Leventis Foundation—the metropolitan stated that efforts to conserve the 11th-century cathedral’s mosaics (which have Greek inscriptions) were indeed successful and that, “in some way, it was a miracle from God, as the works were completed the day before the synod [of the unification council] took place (December 15). We especially thank the Leventis Foundation and express our gratitude.”
Epiphanius commemorates Kyrill
During his first divine liturgy after receiving the Tomos, Metropolitan Epiphanius commemorated all the primates of the other local Orthodox churches by name, including Moscow Patriarch Kyrill. The service was celebrated at Holy Wisdom in Kyiv on January 7, Christmas day according to the old (Julian) calendar, which is also followed by the Churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, and Georgia, as well as Mount Athos and the Sinai.
In contrast, during the Christmas liturgy in Moscow, Patriarch Kyrill avoided commemorating the name not just of the Ecumenical Patriarch—who he stopped praying for last October—but also that of all the other primates of the Orthodox Church.
Who is Epiphanius?
The new primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is 39-year old Metropolitan Epiphanius, born Serhii Dumenko. From 2017 until his election on December 15, His Beatitude was the metropolitan of Pereiaslav and Khmelnytskyi.
Metropolitan Epiphanius speaks Greek and studied at the Philosophical School of the University of Athens. He also holds a PhD in Theology from the Spiritual Academy of Kyiv. The title of his doctoral thesis was The composition of canonical ecclesiastical collections during the period prior to the Council of Nicaea and their characteristics.
The Ukrainian hierarch has been the recipient of multiple ecclesiastical and civil distinctions. He once worked as a journalist for various newspapers and news sites and is a member of Ukraine’s national union of journalists.
Translation by Evangelos Nicolaidis