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EXCLUSIVE: UOC-MP perspective on Ukraine issue

ORTHODOXIA.INFO | Andreas Loudaros The head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate’s press bureau has accused Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of hypocrisy and trying to realize his personal ambitions. In his first interview with the Greek media, Metropolitan Onufriy’s spokesman, Archbishop Kliment (Vecheria), uses heavy terms when referring to Patriarch Bartholomew. Indeed, the Ukrainian hierarch says that the patriarch should remember that Byzantium ended 500 years ago, thus any prerogatives he claims to enjoy within the Church belong to a nonexistent empire.

Responding to questions put in writing by and addressed to his church, Archbishop Kliment, a close associate of Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev, makes it clear that, for both him and the hierarchs of the UOC-MP, participation in the unification council is not possible, as the damage created by Metropolitan Filaret these last 30 years is too great. Moreover, the archbishop holds the head of the Kyiv Patriarchate responsible for the Ukrainian church’s downfall and accuses him of having once maintained dubious ties with the Soviet KGB and even having fathered three children while he was a cleric.

In his interview with, Archbishop Kliment also states that there has been no official correspondence with the Phanar, save the ‘unfathomable’ (in his words) communiqué which the latter published last month, as well as some statements excerpted from various interviews with hierarchs of the UOC-MP.

Following is an English translation of the original interview with Archbishop Kliment.

Ο Αρχιεπίσκοπος Νιζίνσκι κ. Κλήμης, εκπρόσωπος Τύπου του μητροπολίτη Ονούφριου

Metropolitan Onufriy is against autocephaly. In the past, however, he once signed a petition in favor of a Tomos being granted by the Russian church. What made him change his mind?

The request of the Ukrainian hierarchy for autocephaly dates back to 1991, before Filaret created the schism. Soon after Filaret triggered the church’s fragmentation, driven by his own ambitions, Metropolitan Onufriy and two other bishops withdraw their support for autocephaly. As is well known, the next day, Filaret responded by defrocking these two bishops. It is very difficult to imagine what could have taken place, had thousands of believers from Onufriy’s eparchy at that moment not began to protest against Filaret’s decision. The religious authorities were powerless before the expressed will of the people, who did not allow the new bishop appointed by Filaret to enter the episcopal residence.

The whole situation had the civil authorities concerned as well, for they did not expect such a significant reaction from the people. Churches and monasteries lodged a heap of protests and forwarded them to the patriarch of Moscow, asking him to include them within his Stravropegion, should Filaret continue to wreak havoc in their eparchy. As for the other deposed bishop, who together with Onufriy withdrew his support for autocephaly, the situation in his eparchy was exactly the same. As a result, the synod of the Russian church summoned Filaret to provide explanations for his actions.

Everything that Filaret did from that point onwards was entirely in contravention of church canons, but this is only one part of the problem. With the support of President Kravchuk, Filaret’s newly created ‘church’ began to violently seize control of many houses of worship, ejecting believers belonging to the canonical church in the process. Many business-related issues were solved through such methods in the early nineties, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This aggressiveness helped strengthen the conviction within our church that to receive autocephaly is to disregard the canons of the Church with the backing of nationalist politicians and through inciting wild violence.

Beyond this, those politicians promoting schism via autocephaly were supported only by the smaller regions of western Ukraine, while the majority of the country and society rejected their radicalness. They tarnished the notion of autocephaly and, for this reason, the overwhelming majority of the faithful, including every single monastery and religious school, decided not to side with the schismatics and rejected the idea of attaining autocephaly through political means. After all this, not only Metropolitan Onufriy, but all the bishops of the Ukrainian church sided against those in favor of autocephaly, who, at all costs, had to be lead by Filaret. Neither Filaret nor the government which supports him dare consider an alternative and, for this reason, they have proceeded with an overt and brutal confrontation with the faithful.

According to statements made by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the decision to grant autocephaly to the church of Ukraine cannot be changed. What do the clergy and people of your church intend to do once the Tomos is finalized?

Today, the situation is like this: For centuries, our church has existed within a canonical framework, understood by all within the Orthodox world. The bishops of the other local churches would concelebrate with our primate in a spirit of love and shared faith. Indeed, through Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Patriarch Bartholomew had congratulated His Eminence, Metropolitan Onufriy, on his elevation to the throne of Kyiv and all Ukraine. But now millions of the Ukrainian church’s faithful have woken up to learn that their church has been abolished—a surreal situation. We learnt that our church was abolished through the annulment of a document which was issued 300 years ago.

We tried to ask Patriarch Bartholomew for the reasoning behind this declaration. The response was complete indifference towards the position of one of the world’s most powerful local churches. The patriarch communicates with the president, the speaker of the parliament—who is not even Orthodox—and the schismatics. But the flock of the canonical church, constituting millions of believers, has not heard a single word of support from this patriarch. May I remind you that, for decades, our canonical church has shown endurance as it has confronted persecution from the state and the trials resulting from the schism.

Ο μητροπολίτης Κιέβου Ονούφριος

These last few days, Ukrainian believers were scandalized by Archbishop Job Getcha’s statements during an interview with BBC. They were shocked to hear the Constantinople hierarch recommend ‘with fatherly love’ that they quietly wait for the instructions of Patriarch Bartholomew, which will be made known to our church when he deems this appropriate. We are trying to work out which canons Patriarch Bartholomew has based his decision to meddle in the life of another autocephalous church on. We call upon him to convene a pan-Orthodox summit in order for an assessment to be made of the situation he has created. Instead of a response, we have no explanation whatsoever from any official in Istanbul.

All we have is the simple claim that this is one of the prerogatives of Patriarch Bartholomew. This policy is completely counterproductive. Considering the political situation in Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew’s actions can lead us to the suspicion that he has sided with the mighty powers of this world. This move by the Patriarchate of Constantinople removes it from canonicity and estranges it from the norms of ecclesiastical life accepted by the entire Orthodox world.

In essence, all the local churches today see a sort of threat in Patriarch Bartholomew, a kind of aggression, as well as demands relating to ecclesiastical territory put forward without any explanation or desire for brotherly discussion. To date, our church has not received any official, detailed explanation from Istanbul and, as a result, all statements coming from Constantinople regarding Ukraine have no canonical validity whatsoever. Furthermore, this defines not only the legality, but also the canonical responsibility of those bishops of the Phanar who are guilty in this affair. As for our Ukrainian church, I have to note that, in all our eparchies, there is a noticeable determination among the priests and the parishioners to not be swayed by these shenanigans and to continue to live as our people have been doing so for centuries.

Has the Ecumenical Patriarchate been in contact with you, either in writing or through a representative? Have you received any official notification from the Phanar regarding the decision of the Holy Synod pertaining to your church?

I am unaware of such communication. Even before the strange decision to annex the ecclesiastical territory of our church was made by the Constantinople Patriarchate, two bishops had come to Ukraine calling themselves the exarchs of Patriarch Bartholomew. Neither they nor their patriarch had come to an agreement beforehand with the canonical bishop of Kyiv regarding their visit and mission, nor did they give any official explanation—as is standard church practice—for their canonically abnormal actions. As is naturally expected, the church protested against their visit. Everything concerning the Phanar’s plans for Ukraine was then revealed through a short text constituting the official announcement, which was written in such a way that essentially nobody understood the essence of the synod’s decision, as well as through various excerpts from the patriarch’s Sunday sermons and periodic interviews with specific bishops who do not hold any key position within the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Ο μητροπολίτης πρ. Κιέβου Φιλάρετος

This is by no means possible, for the ‘fathers’ of this so-called synod will be schismatics, people who call themselves bishops and priests. It is worth noting that Patriarch Bartholomew, who announced the lifting of Filaret’s anathema, is yet to concelebrate with him. How can the canonical church of Ukraine unite with Filaret when he has been persecuting this church for the last 30 years, aided by the politicians? When he was slandering its bishops, blessing church squatters and their beatings of believers, things for which there is plenty of evidence? I will not even go into Filaret’s collaboration with the KGB, which resulted in many priests ending up in jail. Or mention that he was once in a shameful relationship with a woman who gave birth to three of his sons, a fact known throughout the country.

In your opinion, how can the tensions be subsided?

As a church, we pray daily with tears in our eyes that this might happen. Unfortunately, the Phanar today is a blind wall behind which the voices of millions of our church’s faithful cannot be heard. The reason for the schism in Ukraine, which dates back 30 years ago, lies in the personal ambitions of Filaret, who failed to become patriarch of Moscow. The personal ambitions of Patriarch Bartholomew are the reason for today’s problem. All his claims that he is looking after the flock in Ukraine are hypocritical. He is hiding and not dealing with this flock, he does not communicate with it and is entering into agreements with dubious politicians whose popularity within Ukrainian society, according to the polls, is abysmal.

Patriarch Bartholomew justifies all his actions claiming that he is the first bishop in the Orthodox Church. I believe that the key for solving this problem which Patriarch Bartholomew has created would have been found earlier if he had remembered that Byzantium ended 500 years ago. The Church lives according to the gospel and not based on ‘prerogatives’ rooted in a nonexistent empire. According to the gospel, the Lord said something which can be easily understood by all: He who calls himself the first will be last. What can I possibly add to this? Through His example, the Lord has shown whomever dares call themself the first what this means.

To be the first does not mean being able to order others to submit to you—as is understood by the bishops of Constantinople today—but to serve others, to wash their feet, and to be crucified for their sake. If the Phanar does not tear down this blind wall and continues to avoid pan-Orthodox dialogue on Ukraine, he risks not only not being able to hear the voice of the Ukrainian faithful, but also the voice of our Lord.

Translation by Evangelos Nicolaidis

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