– Your Holiness, at the beginning of January, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. What will now be the position of the Moscow Patriarchate?
– Whether in Ukraine or in Greece, there is only one Orthodox Church, which is recognized by all the autocephalous Churches. The Church of Ukraine did not ask the Phanar for autocephaly, it was even opposed it.
However, disregarding the point of view of the canonical Church of Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew granted the “Tomos of autocephaly”, not to the Church, but to schismatics.
From the canonical point of view, this act is non-existent. We do not recognize it, and there is no question of us recognizing it. As a community, Ukrainian schismatics are still deprived of grace, as they used to be.
The only Orthodox Church in Ukraine, where the salvific sacraments are celebrated, remains the Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and All Ukraine. It unites the majority of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians.
– From the very beginning, you have warned of the likelihood of a schism within Orthodoxy, but the Phanar remained determined, claiming that after seven centuries, they were putting an end to injustice in Ukraine. How do you see “the day after tomorrow” for the Orthodox flock of Ukraine, both the Russian-speaking and the Ukrainian-speaking faithful? Will peace and common sense prevail?
– Even before the granting of the so-called Tomos, President Poroshenko threatened to expel from Ukraine those who would not accept to join the “autocephalous Church”.
With this pseudo-Church now created, the country’s parliament, within a short span of time, has passed laws introducing discrimination at the expense of the canonical Church.
These laws provide for the compulsory change of the name of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. They legally cover the violent seizing of churches and other ecclesiastical properties.
Churches have already started to be seized, and we see violence exercised against the clergy and the faithful who protect their sanctuaries.
By granting the “Tomos” to this schismatic structure, Constantinople has untied the hands of the Ukrainian authorities in their fight against the Ukrainian Church, leaving it at the mercy of new and greater trials.
– You have used harsh language against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, when you mentioned economic advantages received by the Phanar for the settlement of the Ukrainian ecclesiastical issue. You described the Unification Council as being “politicized”, clearly referring to the presence of Ukrainian President Poroshenko. In your opinion, what were the motivations and reasons that led to the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s granting autocephaly?
– Nobody is concealing the close collaboration between the Phanar and the Ukrainian authorities in the granting of autocephaly. Suffice it to mention the signing of a special agreement between the Constantinople Patriarchate and Ukraine on November 3, 2018.
The presence of the Ukrainian President as the chairman of the “Unification Council”, which you are referring to, is one of many examples.
We see the president visiting schismatic churches, bringing the “Tomos” to them, and we understand the reason for such haste on his side to get it in view of the elections in Ukraine.
I do not want to talk for the moment about the reasons that led Patriarch Bartholomew to grant the so-called autocephaly.
Whatever they may be, it has become clear that the “autocephaly” did not restore the unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox. Rather, it has endangered the whole of world Orthodoxy.
– All Orthodox primates will soon have to express their official position regarding the recognition or not of the new Ukrainian Church. How do you evaluate this situation?
– So far, none of the local Orthodox Churches have recognized the newly formed schismatic structure. It should be mentioned that the current situation is not about supporting Moscow or Constantinople.
The question is different: do we accept the exclusive powers of a local Church over all other local Churches?
Do we accept its right, with a single stroke of pen, to proclaim schismatics as canonical, and to recognize a local Church recognized by all, as now nonexistent?
We have all been faced with an attempt to impose a new ecclesiology on the Orthodox Church. I do not think the local Churches will accept it.
– Given that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has already granted the Tomos of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church, and that a large part of it is under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, in what way has the situation changed?
– From the canonical point of view, the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has not changed. It was and remains the only canonical Church in Ukraine, although its legal status has suddenly been downgraded in Ukraine.
The laws passed by the Ukrainian Parliament, which I mentioned above and which introduce discrimination, de facto condemn to persecution those who remain faithful to canonical Orthodoxy.
Despite all the attempts and pressure by Ukrainian authorities, the clergy and the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have shown their exceptional dedication to the Church: with the exception of a few clerics and two bishops who joined the schismatic structure, the clergy has remained with Metropolitan Onufriy.
Of course, persecutions continue against the faithful, but the right is not on the side of the persecutors: we now see the parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church wining their court cases concerning the jurisdiction of the churches, and hundreds of thousands of people prayerfully participate in processions.
Thus, on the occasion of the 1,030th anniversary of the baptism of the Rus’, the procession brought together 250,000 faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For a similar procession in 2017, they numbered 100,000.
All this shows that the faithful do not pay attention and disregard the actions of the Ukrainian authorities, who are driven by the idea of creating a “national” Church.
– Your Holiness, the 10th anniversary of your enthronement was recently celebrated. During this period, have you succeeded in achieving the expectations you had when you became the head of the Orthodox Church? Which events of the past decade do you consider the most important?
– When I was acting as locum tenens, I never once asked to become a patriarch. But I prayed to the Lord that His will may be manifest through the election.
While observing the ministry of my predecessors the patriarchs of all Russia, I have become clearly aware that this ministry is above all about carrying a very heavy cross.
It has now been confirmed in my personal experience. However, I consider it my duty to carry this cross as long as I have the strength.
The past decade was marked by tremendous changes in the course of the Church and in Russian society in general.
It is hard to identify concrete facts as being the most important.
However, and this is essential, I see how the attitude of people has changed towards the Church, how the hopes of the atheists of shutting it up in a ghetto have failed, and how the Church is being reborn before our eyes.
Internal affairs cannot destroy the Church: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matt 16:18). I have been personally convinced of this in my life experience.
Great reforms have been made outside the Church. As far as parish life is concerned, apart from the Divine Liturgy that undoubtedly remains its core, it also includes social work, and education for the youth.
We have seen a significant increase in the number of dioceses, as well as diocesan bishops. The greater the number of dioceses in the Church, the closer the hierarchy is to real life and to the people.
I want to believe that these seeds, which were sown during the past decade, will yield rich fruit in the years to come.
– Traditionally, the Greeks have always had close ties with their Russian brothers. What message do you wish to convey to the Greek Orthodox?
– I have visited Greece many times, and each time I have the feeling that I have not come to foreigners, but to my brothers. Our peoples have been connected throughout time with the bonds of spiritual unity.
I believe that fraternal and good relationships between our Churches will help us through joint efforts, to deal with the tragic division that has affected our common Orthodox family.
May God, through the prayers of our common saints, keep our Churches and our peoples, so that we may have peace and unity.
Interview by Marina Zioziou
Source in Greek