Ukrainian Orthodox church not seeking separation from Moscow
Ukrainian Orthodox church not seeking separation from Moscow
AUTONOMOUS AND INDIVISIBLE
by Anatoly Khlivny
Some time back the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchate (UPTsMP), after the severe illness of its primate, seemed to be in circumstances of a prolonged administrative conflict. This situation, when persons trusted by Metropolitan Vladimir were removed from important administrative posts, was called none other than an attempt at a church revolution on the part of the "promoscow wing." Resolving the conflict was aided by the appointment to the office of manager of affairs of UPTsMP of the then archbishop, now metropolitan, of Borispol Antony. The native of the Transcarpathian province, the westernmost in Ukraine, who had worked for a long time in Moscow, seemed to satisfy all interest groups of UPTsMP as well as the Russian Orthodox Church also. Ukrainian journalist Antoly Khlivnyi posed questions to Metropolitan Antony regarding the situation in the church
--Your Eminence, you are called the "chancellor" of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in reference to the expanded authority that you have in the office of manager of affairs of UPTs. How do you feel about that?
--In my office I act within the boundaries of authority outlined in the charter of the Ukrinian Orthoox Church. In accordance with the charter, the manager of affairs (as an administrative office) aids the Metropolitan of Kiev and all-Ukraine in his fulfilling the responsibilities of primate of the church. In addition, the manager of affairs is ex officio the secretary of the Holy Synod of our church. The ministry laid upon me by His Beautitude and the Holy Synod I perceive first of all as supreme confidence. I do not know how appropriate the word "chancellor" is. If I am not mistaken, this word in different countries and in different political systems can have a great variety of semantic content. Besides I am not a supporter of a mechanical translation into church life of realities of political life. At any rate, the church is a special divine-human institution, having its own special traditions.
--You are named as a possible successor to Metropolitan Vladimir in the office of primate of UPTs. How to you feel about such a prediction?
--I consider discussing the question of "successors" to be impermissible and unethical. His Beatitude is alive and is performing his archpastoral ministry. Of course, for the secular news media today there are practically no restrictions on the discussion of any topics. But the Christian should not surrender to this temptation. Church people should first of all raise their daily prayers that the Lord will preserve our church and will himself lead us to good.
--What provoked the need for creating a separate Borispol diocese, which you now head?
--The Borispol diocese was carved out of the Kiev diocese on 25 September of this year by decision of the Holy Synod. This decision should be assessed in line with the general trend of "unbundling" dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Today on the territory of almost all provinces of Ukraine there exist already two or even three dioceses of our church each. And the Kiev province is no exception. This is already the second case of the carving out of a new diocese from the Kiev diocese. Back in 1994 the Belaia Tserkov diocese was created, encompassing the southern portion of Kiev province. Now on the territory of the province yet another diocese has been formed. Before the creation of the Borispol diocese the Kiev diocese incorporated 562 parishes. It is clear that this is an extremely broad diocese. And since it is administered by the Metropolitan of Kiev and all-Ukraine, who also is the primate of the Ukrainian church, then the creation of a new diocese, we hope, will permit doing a more effective job of administering church life on the territory of Kiev province.
--How is the dialogue with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev patriarchate (UPTsKP) going, if it is going at all? Can one consider the public greeting of Metropolitan Vladimir and Patriarch Filaret on the eve of the Day of the Baptism of Rus at the exhibit to be one of the steps along the path to overcoming the schism?
--His Beatitude Metropoliton Vladimir has often emphasized that our church does not see any other path to overcoming church divisions besides the path of open and responsible dialogue. Nevertheless, so far we have not had official dialogue with UPTsKP. Some years back we began planning for such a dialogue, but so far we have not managed to achieve significant progress in this direction. One can point to several reasons for this. For example, not too long ago the UPTsKP made an official decision to refuse in principle models of overcoming the schism that presupposed a return of the schismatics to membership in the Moscow patriarchate. This signifies that from the point of view of UPTsKP, overcoming the schism is possible only under the condition that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church renounces its canonical ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. You understand that such an approach, that is not recognized in world Orthodoxy, is unacceptable for us. An absolute majority of our church does not wish to sever canonical ties with the Moscow patriarchate. And so it is practically impossible to find some kind of compromise. There are also other circumstances complicating the planning of a dialogue. Clergy and laity of our church still remember the bitter religious confrontation that occurred in our country two decades ago. At the time we frequently faced overt violence and seizures of church buildings by force. And, alas, these wounds have not healed even to the present day. But our church insists that in no case should we display hostility toward our fellow-believing brethren, who are not in communion with world Orthodoxy. And that public greeting that took place at the opening of the jubilee exhibit in Kiev only stresses that we, as Christians, should maintain peace with all people, even if their convictions do not agree with ours.
--Is the autocephaly of UPTsMP possible?
--Theoretically, theautocephaly of any church province is possible, if certain canonical criteria are satisfied. These criteria deal primarily with the number of bishops and dioceses, the maturity of church administrative structure, the existence of schools for training clergy, and the existence of monasteries and monastic personnel who can be candidates for bishoprics. In addition it is necessary that the quest for autocephaly be unequivocally supported by the majority of the bishops, clergy, and laity of the church province. But, as I already said, the overwhelming majority of the flock of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church categorically oppose the idea of complete canonical independence. For us, the priority task is maintaining peace and church unity. The gospel calls us to fulfill the divine commandments and not to strive for one or another church status. Thus when we struggle for autocephaly instead of against sin, this hardly corresponds to the high calling of the Christian.
--What are relations with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGKTs) like?
--On the whole, our mutual relations with the Greek Catholics, compared with the early 1990s, have normalized, although the consequences of the tragic events of those years have still not been completely eliminated. Today we are trying to establish constructive cooperation with UGKTs. We regularly meet with representatives of UGKTs at scholarly forums, we communicate within the framework of various social programs, we work together in international Christian organizations. Certain complications have arisen in connection with the creation of structures of UGKTs in eastern Ukraine. But in the main we have managed to eliminate tensions in relations with Greek Catholics.
--How can there exist in one church such ideological antagonists as Metropolitan Sofrony and Metropolitan Agafangel?
--I do not see anything surprising in the fact that among the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church there exist different views on current questions of church life. Here one should not fail to recall the words of the apostle Paul that among members of the church there may be and even should be "factions" so that in the dispute "the true will be revealed" (see 1 Cor 11.19). There should be freedom to express one's opinion in the church. At the same time, of course, the conduct of the discussion must not transgress the bounds of Christian ethical norms. But, most important, disagreement should not lead to division.
--And how are the relations between UPTsMP and the government today? Are there any problems?
--On one hand, during the postsoviet period state-church relations in Ukraine have undergone a very substantial evolution. But, on the other hand, this does not signify that all problems have been resolved. Today our church supports the legislative initiatives aimed at finally overcoming the soviet heritage. For example, today there is consideration in the Supreme Soviet of draft laws on the procedures for state recognition of the diplomas of ecclesiastical educational institution, religious organizations' receiving the right to founding general educational institution, and introducing the office of chaplain into the armed forces of Ukraine, and so on. All these laws are extremely important not only for our church but also for other religions of Ukraine. So we are hoping not only for understanding on the part of the government but also for support on the part of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. There is still only sphere in which it is necessary to establish partnership between the government and the church: this is the introduction into the school curriculum of subjects of religious and ethical contents. Ukrainian politicians have gradually come to understand that today it is necessary to invest resources in teaching Christian ethics in the schools so that tomorrow a new quality of public morals will emerge. Thus we view the future with optimism: if we work, then results are possible. We are ready to chart a common course, however difficult it may be. We hope for cooperation both from the government and from Ukrainian society. (tr. by PDS, posted 19 December 2013)