Metropolitan Hilarion hopes for better days in Ukraine
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On June 1, 2019, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk participated in a symposium at the University of Fribourg. On this occasion, he gave an interview to the French agency, which can be found on this page (including the picture).
Please find here our English translation.

While former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wanted to use religious issues for political ends and get re-elected, Volodymyr Zelensky, the new president, said he would not interfere in the internal affairs of the Church. “That’s wise,” said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk.

On June 1st, 2019, the “number two” in the Moscow Patriarchate took part in the symposium “Russia, Ukraine, Belarus: A Common Civilizational Space?”, organized by the St-Nicholas Center for the Study of Eastern Churches at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. In an interview with on this occasion, Metropolitan Hilarion, the chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church Department for External Church Relations, lamented former President Poroshenko’s interventionism in the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church, “which has created a great division in the country”.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s game

The Metropolitan highlighted that the former Ukrainian President appealed to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, so that Ukrainian Orthodox (members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, self-administered, but maintaining a canonical and spiritual bond with the Moscow Patriarchate) may have a national Church detached from Moscow, called “autocephalous”.

Poroshenko pleaded with Bartholomew to obtain a decree [tomos, in ecclesiastical language] sanctioning the creation of a new Orthodox Church in Ukraine. On December 15, 2018, a hierarch of the Church of Constantinople and Poroshenko presided over “a so-called ‘’council of reunification’”, explained Metropolitan Hilarion.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not ask for autocephaly

On this occasion, “two schismatic Orthodox groups” [led by Filaret Denissenko, who had been excommunicated by the Moscow Patriarchate, and Makariy Maletych] merged. The Patriarchate of Constantinople immediately gave the title of “metropolitan of Kyiv and all Ukraine” [to Bishop Epifaniy, TN].

“All this was done in utter disregard of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, led by Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and All Ukraine. The canonical Church had declared from the beginning that it rejected these decisions. Of the 90 bishops of the canonical Church, only two decided to join the new schismatic structure. On January 6, 2019, Patriarch Bartholomew handed the head of this structure a so-called ‘tomos’ of autocephaly, although the Ukrainian Orthodox Church never asked for autocephaly”.

Poroshenko’s political and nationalistic motives

Poroshenko thought that by using religion for nationalist and political reasons, he would ensure his reelection, but it did not work, pointed out Metropolitan Hilarion. “Although he traveled all over Ukraine brandishing the famous ‘tomos’, the majority of Ukrainians did not follow him. They are more concerned about the country’s difficult economic situation and the conflict in Donbas, which they want to end. They also want to respect the Constitution, which states that churches and religious organizations in Ukraine are separated from the State.”

“Only an active minority continues to seize Orthodox churches belonging to the canonical Church. “We have more than 12,000 parishes and 200 monasteries, but in recent months, the schismatics, supported by the Poroshenko government, have seized 180 churches. This is not a large number, but it poses a great problem for these communities thus despoiled of their churches by these actions accompanied by violence. Often, the faithful no longer have any place where to worship, and they are forced to pray in the open.

Still discriminatory laws

Although the government has changed, the situation has not yet been clarified. There are still two discriminatory laws, coming from the Ministry of Culture and adopted by the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament), targeting the canonical Ukrainian Church. The latter, under penalty of sanctions, has the obligation to re-register under the name of Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, “although its faithful are Ukrainian, not Russian”. On December 20, 2018, the Rada thus passed a law allowing to change the denomination of the religious organizations “which are part of religious structures whose center of direction is located outside of Ukraine, in a State recognized by law as pursuing a military offensive against Ukraine and/or temporarily occupying part of the territory of Ukraine”.

“This law is directly directed against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to forbid it to call itself ‘Ukrainian’, although it is the oldest and most important religious organization in the country, with millions of Ukrainian citizens. The second law claims to legalize the seizing of its churches and monasteries. Local authorities and law enforcement agencies received recommendations, encouraging them to favor the transfer of communities from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church “to the schismatic structure”.

Nearly half of the country speaks Russian

“Communities can decide which structures they want to affiliate with, but there are no lists of parishioners. Thus, a group of fifty activists can come by bus from anywhere and decide, through a fictitious vote, who owns the parish. Before this discriminatory law, it was not possible to do so. But it is a political matter, as actually the majority of people in Ukraine are not anti-Russian. Nearly half of the country speaks Russian.”

Between December 16, 2018 and March 2019, only 42 “transfers” of religious communities from the canonical Church to the new Ukrainian Church were voluntary, stressed Metropolitan Hilarion. “During the same period, 55 churches were seized through violence, on the basis of illegal ‘referendums’ of territorial communities. No fewer than 137 churches are still under threat: their religious communities, led by their rectors, have made the decision to stay within the jurisdiction of the canonical Ukrainian Church, but the territorial communities have voted to transfer these churches to the new structure.”

‘Russian secret service shenanigans’

“On several occasions, hundreds of schismatics have attacked parishes, hitting old men and women, and preventing any filming. The police, present during the events, did not intervene, and the Ministry of Culture described these incidents as ‘Russian secret service shenanigans’. Immediately after Volodymyr Zelensky’s victory in the presidential elections, the number of church seizings radically diminished. In many cases, steps have been taken to prevent abuse. “The new president is not affiliated with any confession. He said he would not intervene in religious affairs, but would rather try to improve the economic situation of the country, and that is what people are above all waiting for.”

Intrigues within the Ukrainian “new church”

“When Patriarch Bartholomew decided to legalize the schismatics, he did not want so-called patriarch Filaret to be the primate of the new structure. Filaret said this was valid only for the outside, but that in fact, in Ukraine, he could continue to remain the ‘patriarch’, as the ‘Kyiv Patriarchate’ had not been dissolved. But Epifaniy Dumenko, elected as the primate of this new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, challenges Filaret’s claims, and stresses Filaret is now only an ‘honorary patriarch'”.

A schism inside the schism

Metropolitan Hilarion also noted that this new structure is a kind of “hydra with two heads”, with a hierarchy made of people anathematized or not ordered according to the apostolic succession. It is not recognized by the Orthodox world, and has not received total autocephaly, since it actually depends on the Constantinople Patriarchate. “In recent times, conflict has erupted in their midst, as might be expected, which will clearly lead to a new schism within the schism.”

“Uniatism is not a way to regain unity”

Metropolitan Hilarion also expressed his regrets that the Greek Catholic Church, which supported the separation of the Orthodox Church from Moscow, “is closer to the schismatics than to the canonical Church, and that is a big mistake!”. He reminded us that the declaration signed on February 12, 2016 in Havana by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow emphasized that “the method of the Uniatism of the past, understood as the meeting of a community with another, while separating it from its Church, is not a means to regain unity”.

Pope Francis had clearly repeated the rejection of Uniatism as a method for achieving church unity. “But Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, immediately declared: we have survived many statements, and we will survive this one as well,” added Metropolitan Hilarion.

Conditions are not met for the Pope’s visit to Moscow

Regarding a possible visit of Pope Francis to Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion stressed that the conditions are not met: “So far, it is not on the agenda of our bilateral relations. Many in our Church, be they bishops, priests or faithful, are not ready to receive him. We would not like our relationships to be damaged by such attitudes. We prefer to move slowly, with caution!” He added that the relationships between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church “are evolving positively.”

He highlighted that in 2017, St. Nicholas’s relics were exhibited in Moscow and St. Petersburg. “It was for us an event of immense spiritual significance, made possible by the Havana meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis. Two and a half million people venerated these relics, with people waiting in line all day long, whatever the weather. We need this type of event to strengthen our relationships!”

Source in French

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About the Author

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne

Beside an anthology on Cistercian texts, Emma Cazabonne has translated and published articles on Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here Newsletter

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