Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’. This event has two anchor points: Chersonesus – where Vladimir with druzhina, and Kiev – where the foundation of the baptism of all Russian people was laid…
Everything has been good for Chersonesus for already four years, which is located within the city limits of Sevastopol. Nothing threatened the celebration on Russian territory. In Kiev the situation is much worse. Ukrainian radical nationalists didn’t hide their intention to prevent celebrations and to disrupt them under the pretext of countering “the church of the aggressor state”, which is what they call the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The question arises: why are they doing this?
The situation in Ukraine is far from being stable without even factoring in all of this. Civil war in Donbass is ongoing. It’s not quiet in the East (Kharkov) and in the West (Transcarpthia), in the south (Odessa), and in the North (Volyn, Rovno). The suburbs are ready to ignite at any time. Large cities (Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Odessa, Lvov) and their surrounding areas have practically turned into semi-independent feudal possessions that only conditionally recognise the government in Kiev.
And in the capital there is constant fermentation. The people are dissatisfied with impoverishment, oligarchs are fighting for power and property, nazis try to establish “Ukrainian order”, and State law enforcement structures degenerated into gangs of racketeers and death squads. Bureaucracy at all levels is only interested in milking money out of the population (by hook or by crook, and also vigilantly ensures that what was milked doesn’t fall into the State, regional, or municipal treasury, but goes straight into the pockets of the leadership of the corresponding institution.
In general, the country surely plunges into dark centuries. And all of this happens just because of the radical-nationalist cultural, language, historical, and educational policies, which look more like a stick of dynamite when compared to interfaith contradictions – an atomic bomb. But the authorities for three years, after the first attempt by nationalists to storm the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, which was prepared immediately after the victory of Maidan, tried to smoothen religious contradictions (although formally supporting the so-called Kiev Patriarchate [UOC-KP]), but since the beginning of 2018 they started to work obviously not for a religious split, but for a religious conflict capable of turning the Ukrainian slow civil war into a nightmare worse than both the Syrian and Libyan wars combined.
Of course, there were earlier attempts to seize parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) by force (more than 50 were captured). But this happened mainly in the western regions (and in rare places where there is a concentration of nazi activists, in other regions of the country). But now it is a question of the possibility of the total capture of the property of the UOC MP, including Lavras and monasteries, and their transition to the jurisdiction of a non-existent “Ukrainian local orthodox church”. It is precisely for this non-existent church that two other public organisations, disguised as a church (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church) asked the Constantinople patriarch Bartholomew for Tomos of Autocephaly.
Bartholomew has been pressured by the US for more than two decades, non-officially and informally “recommending” to him to give autocephaly to the Ukrainian pseudo-church. Most likely the Constantinople patriarch – who already accepted similar requests concerning the restoration of the Estonian apostolic orthodox church and accepting under his omophorion bishop Vasily and some of the parishes of the Sourozh diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate on the British Isles – wouldn’t resist this time either, and would satisfy the wishes of Washington with pleasure. After all, most of the dioceses of the Constantinople patriarchy are located in precisely America, having in Turkey only the Fener quarter in Istanbul and no guarantee of permanence for private citizens. In addition, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada and the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese are included in its structure.
The problem is that the canonical (recognised by all the world’s Orthodoxy) UOC-MP existing in Ukraine didn’t ask for any autocephaly, despite the existence in its ranks of an autocephalist wing. And despite the persistent aspiration of Poroshenko to force orthodox hierarchs of the UOC-MP to sign a request for autocephaly, the synod and the head of the UOC-MP metropolitan Onufry took a firm position and were able to act as a united front.
Even the well-known autocephalists were eventually compelled to join the collective opinion of the vast majority of hierarchs, priests, and parishioners of the UOC-MP. I think that the danger of the actual submission of the canonical church within the framework of merging into a “united local” church – a pseudo-church of the citizen of Ukraine Denisenko calling himself “patriarch Filaret” – greatly helped to defeat the autocephalists in the ranks of the UOC-MP.
In these conditions it is very difficult for Bartholomew to decide on granting autocephaly. There is nobody to grant it. Orthodox Christians in Ukraine didn’t ask for autocephaly, and those who did ask for it are not Orthodox Christians. Having satisfied the US and Poroshenko’s wish, Bartholomew would bring himself and the Constantinople patriarchy outside the framework of world Orthodoxy, thus turning it into one of the many hundreds of American “churches” where anyone who desires can without big efforts register their “patriarchate” or any other name and be involved in the corresponding business – selling pseudo-Christianity to naive people. The branches of real churches on the territory of the US are not numerous in comparison with the sects of this sort that are engaged in profiteering on the back of faith, and the prestige of their “Primates” extends no further than the nearest sheriff.
Bartholomew is afraid of losing the status of the first orthodox hierarch in terms of honour. He should also be afraid of risking the salvation of his soul, playing with people who the UOC-MP softly calls schismatics, but who in practice are not schismatics but anti-Christians.
Firstly, by calling themselves a church they already act against a common Christian rule, proceeding from which a church can be born only from a church, i.e., it can be created and recognised, but not self-proclaimed. Even the apostles who created the first churches moved to teach people about faith with Christ’s blessing, and not under their own will.
A General, a King (president), and even a State can be self-proclaimed if it is recognised by its subordinates, citizens, and subjects. A church can’t be self-proclaimed, because its establishment doesn’t come from this world, and grace vanishes should there be a break in tradition, i.e., the self-proclaimed structure is graceless. As I described above, it becomes not a church acting with God’s blessing, but a public organisation registered on the basis of the norms of secular power.
Secondly, the hierarchs of UOC-KP aren’t believers. For them it is just business, like for American sectarians, and not at all an idea of life in accordance with Christ’s precepts. Let’s start with their leader, the defrocked anathematising former monk pseudo-patriarch Filaret (Denisenko). A monk from a young age (since 1950), a bishop since 1962, an Exarch of Ukraine and a permanent member of the Sacred Synod of Russian Orthodox Church since 1966, a metropolitan since 1968, and he had an informal wife and children starting from 1965. I will stress that this was not the involuntary weakness of a neophyte, the children were born at the peak of his episcopate career when Filaret was already known for his demanding strictness in relation to the observance of the smallest rules by subordinated bishops.
And this is not a problem of his private life. A person can either be a monk or have a private life. I.e., being in the bosom of the church and impudently violating its rules, Filaret was far from the idea of service that he preached in the line of duty. He was simply having a church career. For him, the rank of a church was like stars for a General — the more there are, the higher the rank, and the more extensive one’s powers are.
There are rumours about Filaret’s connections with the KGB and the Central Committee of the Communist Party [pre-1991 – ed]. It doesn’t matter who he was linked with. He was serving the atheistic power faithfully, and it, in turn, was leading him to becoming a patriarch. Having become an exarch of Ukraine at 37 and a metropolitan at 39, Filaret made an outstanding career and, at an age that is rather young for a bishop, became de facto the second person in the Russian Orthodox Church, having headed its largest branch, which he autocratically governed for more than 35 years – up to his career crash, when he had already achieved internal self-governance for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
He almost became a patriarch, having become the place holder of the patriarchal throne in 1990. He just wasn’t lucky. In 1971 when Patriarch Aleksy the First died, Filaret was still too young and became an archbishop too recently in order to apply to be the patriarchate, and when Pimen – who succeeded Aleksy – died in 1990, the atheistic state patronising Filaret became too weak and could no longer push forward its protege – and Aleksy II was thus elected. The ambitious Filaret couldn’t accept such a blow, he held a grudge and two years later (Ukrainian independence was barely 6 months old) he tried with the support of the secular power to proclaim the autocephaly of the UOC-MP that he headed at the time, because of which at first he was demoted, but since he didn’t repent and didn’t calm down, he was eventually defrocked and anathematised, having equated himself with this “achievement” to the hetman Mazepa.
I.e., someone who for all his life was busy not with church affairs, but with his personal career and enriching himself under the atheistic anti-church regime, who was undermining the church from within and who was eventually expelled from it, declared himself as a church and started ordaining bishops, trying to force the UOC-MP out of Ukraine for the purpose of appropriating the church property that he didn’t succeed to capture when he started being schismatic.
Is it possible to believe that this person is concerned about the salvation of his soul and is a Christian, even if he is misled? Absolutely not. It is possible to behave like this only if you are sure that God doesn’t exist, and it thus means that everything is allowed, and what you didn’t manage to seize during this life is lost forever. He fights against Christianity for power and money. He is worse than the pagan emperors who were sincerely mistaken and fought for an idea, albeit maybe a perverted one. He is even worse than the Nazis, who sincerely believed in their bloody anti-Christian mysticism. He doesn’t believe in anything besides his own unbridled desires.
But maybe this problem is the problem of one person, and the rest of the hierarchy of the UOC-MP is simply kept in line by his strong character and isn’t aware of what they are doing? No, they are the same.
Once, during Yanukovych’s reign, the hierarchy of the UOC-KP came to the conclusion that Filaret has no prospects and decided to return to the bosom of world Orthodoxy having sacrificed their Primate. And a problem immediately arose. The repenting sinners (schismatics) returned back to the bosom of the mother church as simple monks, and all associates of Filaret wanted to return to their previous rank. In full accordance with the Cossack tradition, they offered the head of their leader in exchange for forgiveness and even a certain reward.
It is clear that the UOC-MP simply didn’t have such a number of dioceses to satisfy the desiring bishops. After all, in order to prove that his church is bigger than the UOC-MP, Filaret ordained the episcopate in large quantities. Besides this, the UOC-MP couldn’t solve the problem of forgiveness individually, without the Moscow Patriarchate. It had autonomy concerning internal governance, but it nevertheless was in the structure of the Russian Orthodox Church, and it was the Russian Orthodox Church that proclaimed anathema to Filaret, and sinners returned not only to the UOC-MP, but, via it, to the Russian Orthodox Church too. The Russian Orthodox Church found itself in a difficult situation. On the one hand, how can they be “repenting sinners” if they make demands. On the other hand, a possibility to heal the split appeared, and it means the salvation of the millions of souls of the parishioners of the non-canonical UOC-KP. But there also was the danger of a provocation. After all, Kiev could interpret the fact of entering into negotiations as the Russian Orthodox Church’s de facto recognition of the UOC-KP.
That’s why the initial probing of the possibility of holding constructive negotiations was carried out in the format of private communication between Russian and Ukrainian politicians. Before solving the issue of the participation of the church in such negotiations there was a need to understand just how productive they can be. It looked approximately as follows: having met in an informal situation (at a restaurant, at a football game, at a resort) the Ukrainian politician said to their Russian comrade something like – “If archbishop ‘X’ was given such-and-such diocese, then he would repent and leave Filaret”.
So, negotiations ended without having begun, because it became clear that “repenting sinners” consider the situation only from the point of view of their personal career and business. They were ready to go to work as archbishops in Moscow and St. Petersburg and in other large and rich Russian dioceses. Church positions abroad were in great demand, while nobody was interested in holding an archpastoral service somewhere in the Far East or in the Far North.
These people were not repenting Christians. They are atheist careerists who threw on a cassock disguise and jumped off the ship that, as it seemed to them back then, was taking on water. But, boarding lifeboats, they vigilantly ensured that all their belongings were accounted for and at the same time had no objection to taking someone else’s baggage.
The Russian Orthodox Church, the UOC-MP, and the atheist careerists calling themselves the UOC-KP speak different languages. One believes in God, and the others believe in the Golden Calf. They can never come to an agreement. The episcopate of the UOC-KP will start “repenting” and looking for forgiveness only if the falling of the radical-nationalist regime reigning in Kiev becomes not only inevitable, but also obvious in the short term, and also when there will be a real threat of being bought to criminal responsibility under new authorities. But until then they will only strengthen the pressure on the UOC-MP with the help of State apparatus and by leaning on gangs of nazi mercenaries.
Now the situation becomes even more critical and extremely explosive. On the one hand, the will and courage demonstrated by the UOC-MP showed Poroshenko that it is senseless to try to convince metropolitan Onufry and the Synod of UOC-MP to play along with the autocephaly issue “in an amicable way”. He won’t receive an appeal from the only canonical orthodox church in Ukraine [for the granting of autocephaly – ed]. And on the other hand, he made the obtainment of Tomos of Autocephaly one of the starting elements of his presidential electoral campaign and can’t just abandon this idea. Besides this, having felt the opportunity to finally get rid of the UOC-MP, Filaret’s circle actively puts pressure on the President – who lost all reference points due to fear and self-restraint – by demanding to declare autocephaly via the political decision of the authorities and to appoint the UOC-KP as the only legal Ukrainian church. In exchange they promise to independently “resolve the issue” with the UOC-MP, and also to ensure the full loyalty of believers during presidential elections.
It is clear that they deceive Poroshenko, hoping that he will issue the relevant decree, after which Filaret’s circle, having shielded themselves with nazi gangs, will start to seize temples, monasteries, and Lavras of the UOC-MP en masse, quelling possible resistance via armed force. Actually, they will start a religious war, or to be more exact – an anti-Christian war of atheist careerists against Orthodox Christians for possession of church property and for turning the temple into a lucrative place.
Poroshenko won’t gain anything from it. On the contrary, he stands a very big chance of becoming one of the first victims of the second (religious) stage of the civil war in Ukraine. But his position is weak, and Filaret’s circle makes promises, their lobby in the presidential environment offers assurances that promises will be kept, and Poroshenko catches Filaret’s straw.
If Filaret’s circle isn’t stopped in time and Ukraine will creep towards the religious stage of civil war, then everything that up to now was misfortune, death, loss, and despair will seem like enviable stability and progress in comparison with the bloody bacchanalia that the country will slip into. The UOC-MP is the only authoritative force in Ukraine sincerely supporting the restoration of civil peace. Its destruction will mean not just the destruction of the State (which, in fact, happened long ago), but the murder of the soul of the people and a definitive victory of ideas of revenge and punishment over ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation.
But “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”.
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