Please find here the text of the full interview given on November 16 to the BBC by Metropolitan Sophroniy of Cherkasy and Kaniv, one of the two bishops of the canonical Ukrainian Church who openly support the idea of autocephaly.
Following this interview, President Poroshenko thanked Metropolitan Sophroniy with these words:
“I would like to thank you for this very thorough, very frank, and masterful interview. It comes from a sincere religious man who loves very much Ukraine, who loves very much the Cherkasy region, who’s been building churches there and who takes into consideration the future of the Ukrainian Church, the future of the local Ukrainian autocephalous Orthodox Church. A big thank you for your hard work”.
The following introduction and the words in brackets come from the BBC editorial staff.
Metropolitan Sophroniy (Dmitruk) of Cherkasy and Kaniv of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate have never hidden his support for the creation of an autocephalous Church in Ukraine. The 78-year-old hierarch recognizes that most of his colleagues in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church do not share his position. However, he says, if the process of granting the tomos had been initiated by the “canonical church”, it would be much simpler to create the new Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine.
Metropolitan Sophroniy says that his overtly autocephalist views do not cause him any problem in the Church: he is simply considered as an “original”. Today, he declares that despite the decision of the Assembly of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he is preparing to participate in the Unification Council, during which the autocephalous Orthodox Church is to be established. And then he might join it.
BBC correspondents Sviatoslav Khomenko and Vitaly Chervonenko met with Metropolitan Sophroniy in Cherkasy, 125 miles from Kyiv. The hierarch told them why he did not participate in the closed meeting of the “autocephalists” of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with President Petro Poroshenko; what he spoke about with the exarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; and how he foresees the religious situation in Ukraine in five years.
Your Eminence, are you for or against the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church?
– Metropolitan Sophroniy:
I am absolutely for it. I want the Church to be more free in Ukraine, and I approach this question from the point of view of dignity. Albania, whose territory is smaller than the Cherkasy region, has a patriarch and its own small church. Whereas in Ukraine, a State so large, one of the largest in the world by the amount of its parishes, we cannot solve our own issues. Although we do not go to Moscow on our knees to ask the patriarch to allow us to open a monastery or to ordain a bishop, our bishops, when ordained, take an oath, not towards Moscow, but towards Kyiv. In 1992 we were granted a wide autonomy, but the Greeks do not recognize it. And nobody talks about that. They started screaming about the tomos and the autocephalous Church.
My point of view is very simple: when they started to talk about autocephaly, why didn’t they ask Constantinople to legalize the situation to begin the process of our autonomy (of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church)? But for some reason it failed, and they started to look for another solution. I say it openly: it is difficult for me to consider all this. I would gladly slip into a hole to see nothing but God. But what can you do, the time is such that you cannot hide from anyone.
– The official Kyiv and the media say that the date of the Council during which the autocephalous Church will be created and receive the tomos of Constantinople is imminent, they say it is a question of days or weeks. Will you go to this Council?
– My position is this: I will go to the Council, but not to shout: “Hooray, everything is decided!”, but to observe. I will go there as an observer to decide how best to act for the good of our people. You realize that we (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate) have monasteries, parishes, 12,000 of them. And among these 12,000 parishes, some will leave (for the new Church), others will remain. It will be very painful, possibly not without bloodshed.
We could have settled all this simply, without a schism. This is my personal opinion: if all our bishops decided to leave (for the new Church), there would be no schism. All our faithful would follow us. Some would not be happy, but that’s natural. The majority would remain in our Church. There would be no problems with the parishes and monasteries, they would all be ours, because they would belong to the Church which we would all agree to join! That’s all !
– So, in your opinion, should the entire episcopate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church go to this Council?
– Yes, I would like it.
– Did you speak about that to the Assembly of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on November 13, when they declared they considered the creation of an autocephalous Church by Constantinople as illegitimate?
– Of course, and I voted against this decision. I was against 8 of the 12 points of the statement. They considered the situation as follows: all are for, except Sophroniy. Yes, he’s an “original” (laughs).
I was asked: why are you against it? I explained. For example, in the decision of the Assembly, it is said that because of the erroneous acts of Constantinople, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks the Eucharistic communion with them. Excuse me, but we must not repeat what Moscow says. I told them what I tell you: If we recognize we are an independent Church, we should have our own independent opinion.
– Do you personally break the Eucharistic communion with Constantinople?
– I do not break, because I don’t go anywhere (laughs). But if I went to Athos, I would receive communion there. When I was on Athos, I was not there as the center of the universe, but as a simple bishop of Ukraine. I went there as a simple monk, I stayed in the sanctuary, I read, I was allowed to receive communion. I would do the same thing today. Although this is a decision of our Assembly, I do not consider it as valid.
– In the evening after the Assembly, near the Ukrainian House, we saw three bishops (after the Assembly, some of the participants went to meet the Ukrainian President.) The number of the bishops who went to meet with the President was not officially communicated, nor their names). You were not among them. Were you not invited?
– I was not invited, I knew nothing about it. As soon as the Assembly ended, we all went out, I sat in the car and I drove away, no one even approached me. They called me on the phone later, but my physical condition… With so much tension all day long, it was difficult for me. So I did not come back, not because I did not want to. If I had known, I would have gone there immediately after the end of the Assembly. But nobody had told me anything about it.
– The representatives of the Ukrainian power say that many more than the three hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who were at the Ukrainian House would go to the Unification Council.
– The supporters (of autocephaly) are two: myself and Alexander (Drabinko, Metropolitan of Pereyaslav). Then came Simeon (Metropolitan of Vinnytsia and Bar. As far as we know, he did not agree with the Assembly’s decision either). There may be six or twenty more, but who they are, we don’t know. It’s like in the Ukrainian parliament: two, four, or five people come forward to protest, but all vote (laughs). It’s the same thing: only a few people may be known, but then others can change their position and actions.
– You mean it’s possible some of your colleagues voted for the resolution of the Assembly, but in spite of that, they will go to the Unification Council?
– That’s possible.
– You are not afraid that if you go to the Council, even just as an observer, they may apply canonical sanctions against you?
– Why ? To impose any canonical sanction, there must be a canonical motive. Here (in the Assembly’s decision), nothing is said about the fact that participating in this Council is a canonical transgression.
– The seventh point (of the Assembly’s decision) says: “we consider it impossible for the episcopacy, clergy, and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to participate in the process of granting of the tomos of autocephaly.”
– For some, it’s impossible, but I want it. Even more: I wanted it all my life. While I was still at the in Moscow Academy (in the years 1962-1970), they called me a “nationalist”.
– Let’s go back to the Assembly of November 13: were you for or against meeting with President Poroshenko?
– I was the first to say we should go there [note of the translator: to the Ukrainian House cultural center, where the President wanted to meet, whereas the bishops wanted to meet in a monastery, as the topic of the meeting was ecclesial in nature]. And all the bishops wanted to go. But then we talked about it, and it was decided to stay [at the monastery and not go to the Ukrainian House]. One said one thing, another something else, it became confused. Someone behind me said that the Metropolitan (Onufriy) should call the President to ask him if he wanted to come to our place [the monastery]. As usual we started to talk. The President called, Bishop Onufriy spoke with him. I did not hear what they said, but obviously, the President refused to come here. And we did not go to his place.
– Do you accept the decision of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of October 11, revoking the synodal letter of 1686 (Constantinople revoked the act by which they ceded the leadership of the Kyiv metropolis to the Russian Church)?
– I was prepared, I studied all the documents. We were illegally reunited to Moscow, and if this illegitimate decision were to be ultimately revoked, it will be considered as legitimate (laughs). All this is politics. How did we find ourselves under Moscow? For half a century, we fought a battle against uniatism, and when all was decided, under King Vladislav, Orthodoxy was allowed, while the poor Orthodox in Constantinople were oppressed by Muslims. And then Moscow began to rise against the Tatars. And who won? The strongest. Why don’t we condemn the insane Bogdan (Khmelnitsky – for his decision to reunite Ukraine with Russia in 1654) instead of condemning the Church? He’s the one who pushed all this. The whole Church fought for more than twenty years not to go there (under Russia). They (the Russian Church) simply picked up everything because they had the strength to do so, as Ukraine was tired of fighting.
– In Constantinople, they say that after the revocation of the synodal letter of 1686, all the Orthodox hierarchs of Ukraine, including representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, are under the control of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Who are you now [i.e. a hierarch of Constantinople]?
– I don’t know who I am now. I will decide when the Council occurs. Because Constantinople made the decision, but it was not confirmed in Ukraine.
– Do you recognize the hierarchs and unrecognized priests of the Kyiv Patriarchate and of the autocephalous Church here in the Cherkasy region?
– I don’t know. I still have to think about it.
– In your previous interviews, you said that you chased away some of their priests [priests of the Kyiv patriarchate and autocephalous Church] because of immoral acts.
– And I ask you, would you consider as acceptable a man you rightly condemned, a man you drove away, and who is now brought before you and presented to you as “your friend”? The misfortune is that there will be a major problem …
– How many of your colleagues in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church do you think will be at the Unification Council when you go there?
– I would like to see more. I will tell you why: in my opinion, if the primate of the new Church is elected, its primacy must come from the canonical Church, if we want this Church to be legitimate in the full sense of the word. And for its primacy to come from the canonical Church, its representatives must be the majority. I very much doubt that my arm will rise to vote for someone who was in the schism, whoever it may be.
– Your colleagues of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who met with Petro Poroshenko, according to the President ‘s advisor Rostislav Pavlenko, complained of the “huge pressure” put by your Church on the supporters of autocephaly.
– I cannot talk for the others, I only speak for myself: I feel no pressure. Through the experience of my life, I know that the one who is afraid can feel a huge pressure. No pressure can be put on those who fear no one but God, because they will regard it as the natural attitude of one or the other party towards them.
– In the issue of autocephaly, this is not the first time you go against the majority in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For example, the Church made the decision not to meet with the exarchs Patriarch Bartholomew sent to Ukraine. Yet you did meet them.
– Yes, I did, and I do not hide it. They were sitting, just like you now. It’s one thing to meet someone officially, and another thing to meet them unofficially. They came and expressed the wish to meet me. Who can forbid me and tell me I do not have the right to do that?
Besides, I again showed my initiative. I was interested in their mission in Ukraine, why they came here. And I wanted them to tell (the Ecumenical Patriarch) Bartholomew about the situation of the Church and people in Ukraine, because he does not know everything there, they don’t tell him everything. If they meet only with one group and the other is left out, then of course, they will report to him only what they heard.
I told them everything, about both groups. I told them we now needed autocephaly or work at it. They listened to me and did not object. And what can they object, when one of them – Hilarion – is my student? I have been knowing him since the Kyiv seminary (Hilarion Rudnik, bishop of Edmonton, studied at the Kyiv seminary from 1989 to 1992), I taught there. They know you cannot contradict Sophroniy “the original”, so they just listened. I asked them why they came. They answered their goal was to watch, to investigate, to learn and report.
I described the whole situation. I told them we still need to analyze it thoroughly. I said, “Do not hurry, take time to think”. I told them, “Tell His Holiness (the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew) not to make a blunder in Ukraine by hurrying”.
– Among the presidential administration, it is insinuated that the November 13 decision of the Assembly of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was written in Moscow. Do you believe it?
– No. Which Moscow, when the secretary came, Bishop Anthony (Metropolitan of Boryspil and Brovary) and printed it on the spot!
– Many say that the history of autocephaly would have been impossible without the events of 2014 in Crimea and the Donbass. According to the Cherkasy media, you then wrote an appeal to Russian politicians born in the region – The Russian Chairwoman of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko, and the Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky – and you called Vladimir Putin something like a “bandit” …
– Immediately, when it started in 2014, there was no reaction from the patriarch (of Moscow, Kirill). I called Bishop Anthony and I said, from now on, I will stop commemorating patriarch Kirill in prayer. I considered that Patriarch Kirill had to make a statement and condemn Putin. As Hermogenes did. Patriarch Hermogenes did not accept the Poles, he suffered under the Poles and became a saint (in 1611, Patriarch Hermogenes of Moscow refused to support the Poles who had seized Moscow, and he called on the people to revolt. He died in prison). Why didn’t Patriarch Kirill do the same thing? The war is taking place on his canonical territory, his faithful are getting killed. No one comes to free and defend them, but we kill them. So I stopped commemorating the patriarch. There is democracy in my diocese: if you want, you commemorate him, if you don’t want, you don’t commemorate him.
I gave a kind of interview, it was immediately published on the internet: that I was condemning Putin and calling him a bandit, that I was condemning the patriarch by calling him an accomplice. Then (with the support of Moscow), Matvienko and Medinsky, the Minister of Culture of Smela (a town near Cherkasy). But I talked about them as it should be. I greeted Matvienko when she was here in Cherkasy. Her sister, her mother, and her niece were living here. When she arrived at the airport, I went to meet her with the governor. With one hope: I had been advised not to refuse the invitation, because I was building a bell-tower (behind the cathedral in Cherkasy), maybe she could help.
– Did she give any money?
– In 2017 Patriarch Filaret, the primate of the non-canonical Kyiv Patriarchate Church, sent a letter to the Assembly of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, asking for reconciliation. It all ended in a scandal, but was there then a chance for reconciliation?
– I don’t have any information on this. If Filaret had addressed the Assembly, saying, “I made a mistake, please forgive me,” that’s all, there would have been no problem.
– But he wrote something similar …
– No, nothing like that. Then he gave up and said, “I was misunderstood.”
In any case, I know Filaret very well and I respect him very much. He was the only one who received Sophroniy, all the others were afraid of him and expelled him from the Moscow Academy. Filaret and I were good friends, he offered me several times to become a bishop, and I refused.
Okay, he’s accused of being a KGB agent. But I will ask the question to all his accusers, who was not a KGB agent? That was a special time. Some were working for the Church, and others for themselves and for their own comfort. Filaret did a lot for the Church in Ukraine, I know it. If he had not become schismastic in 1992, we would already have autocephaly. By his actions, he postponed it for 26 years.
– But Christianity teaches forgiveness. You could perhaps forgive him and accept him as the possible primate for the new Church.
– No, I will not participate in this.
– But you will go to the Unification Council?
– I have a principle. If you start something, you have to pursue it without obstacle.
– Is there an obstacle now?
– Yes, a major one. But God Himself will be the judge.
– What will you do if the Council elects Filaret?
– I will choose the solitary life, like a recluse.
– What would the priests of the Cherkasy region do in this case? Would they join the autocephalous Church?
– Let’s say it this way, where I go, the majority of the priests will go, if not all.
– You mean that if a new Church is created, a new Church not led by Filaret, many more members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will join it?
– Yes, more, and quite fast.
– The opponents of the creation of the autocephalous Church say that its creation will lead to the worsening of the situation in Ukraine and even to a bloodshed. Do you believe it?
– Whether it gets worse or not depends on those who speak in this way. I already told you, if we had done it earlier, and we were ready to do it, things would not have got worse. But if the bishops blow on the fire and say, don’t go (to the autocephalous Church), then of course…
– Your adversaries say the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has the status of a self-administered church and it does not need autocephaly. What can you answer to them?
– I simply answer [we need] it to calm the entire intelligentsia in Ukraine. They are more or less informed. The whole intelligentsia says that autocephaly is necessary, they do not understand what autonomy or autocephaly is.
– Five years ago, you said that you would most likely not live to see the creation of the autocephalous Church in Ukraine. Now, it seems there are chances you will. What churches do you think will exist in Ukraine, and which will be the strongest in five years, in 2023?
– If autocephaly happens, it will be the only Church in Ukraine, like our Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the so-called Moscow Patriarchate.
– And what will happen to the present Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate?
– It will not exist as a Church. It will be like… let’s say, like the Pentecostals, Jews, Roman Catholics, Uniates. The autocephalous Church will be dominant.
– And where will you be?
– I’ll be where the majority is (laughs).
Source in Russian