On the Fate of the Canonical Church in Ukraine:
The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
“The Pastor and Flock” published an interview with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry of Kiev and All Ukraine.
-Your Beatitude, according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the Church is separate from the state. When in the early 20th century, the Bolsheviks adopted this law, many faithful took it as a religious catastrophe. Still, as it quickly became apparent, the Bolsheviks separated the Church only in order to destroy her. Later, in the early 1990’s, the situation changed: the communists exited the historical arena, and the Church experienced a rebirth. So in this instance, the separation of the Church and state played a positive role—the Church could develop properly with virtually no influence by the government. What do you say now, when the state is attempting to influence Church matters? Can the government help in the creation of a unified Local Church? How should believers react to all this?
The law on the separation of Church and state is the fruit of revolutionary transformations which occurred in the early 20th century.
The Bolsheviks separated the Church from the state in order to show that the country adopted a new, atheistic path. The same law was needed for the Soviet state in order to unshackle it in its battle against the Church, the end goal of which was her total annihilation. The slogan of this struggle was “The Church is the enemy of the state.”
Yet the Lord, doing all things to benefit His faithful, arranged it so that the separation of the Church and state would serve as a new stimulus for her mighty growth. And we humbly thank the Lord for the mercy He has shown to us unworthy children of His Holy Church.
Now some politicians are attempting to create a new Local [National—transl.] Church in Ukraine. This Church is sometimes called Orthodox, sometimes simply “a national church.”
Politicians don’t care because they don’t understand such things, and don’t even try. The tragedy of these efforts has two aspects: firstly, politicians by nature cannot heal spiritual divisions, by their very nature they can only divide people. Only clergymen, with the help of prayer, humility and Divine love, can unite people of different temperaments, characters and world views into a united society which is called the Church of Christ; secondly, the state, unfortunately, is following the path set after the Revolution, that is, to separate mankind from God.
One might object, saying that our politicians are believers: they pray and attend church services. I don’t argue that this is so. But there are powers that force our believing politicians adopt laws which enable the development and legalization of sin. If politicians legalize lawlessness, then despite their faith in God and attendance of church services, they go against Christ. They lead themselves and others those who listen to them, away from God. Such politicians strive to make the Church follow their own drumbeat. They want to create a unified national Orthodox Church which would indulge them, and which would lead people who seek God on the path which unfortunately they themselves have taken.
We love our political leaders and respect them, but we cannot follow them. Otherwise we will cease to be a Church and turn into a political organization, and our days will be numbered by God.
In response to the question: how must we believers react to the effort to create a unified Local Orthodox Church, I say this: those who believe in God but are obsessed with obtaining a Local Church do not entrust themselves to God but lives according to their own reason. By that way of thinking we will soon reach a point where every political faction will wish to have its own local church which would obey that party and seek to “force” God to fulfill its political desires.
In other words, these are people who believe in God but do not entrust themselves to Him, wishing to subject Him to their own wishes, thinking that this can be accomplished by establishing a unified Local Church.
But if man not only believes in God but entrusts and subjects himself to Him, then he seeks God’s will, he remembers that all people are children of God. He wishes to live in peace with all, and find Christ in his own life, Who is our life, the beauty of our life and its very meaning. Such people do not seek a National Church, each one creates and adorns his own internal temple of the soul.
Live in piety, work towards subjecting yourselves to Christ, to fulfill His holy commandments, which are for us the light, the path leading to eternal life. Upon this path you will find your personal autocephaly, that is, freedom from sin. Maybe you will find the Local Church, but it will be completely unlike the one which politicians are attempting to set up. It will be filled with love, peace and joy in the Lord. It will not be a political Church, but the Church of Christ, the Church which the gates of Hell will not prevail over.
-If the tomos of recognition of the schismatics issued by the Ecumenical Patriarch will be forthcoming, how are we to react, and what must our relationship be with these religious organizations?
If a tomos of recognition of schismatics by the Patriarch of Constantinople will come, then it will lead to new schisms, greater and deeper divisions. These schisms will not only affect our Ukraine, they will affect the entire Orthodox world.
Let me explain why.
Firstly, in accordance with Church canons, the Church of Constantinople which we deeply respect has no right to grant autocephaly to a Church which is not in its jurisdiction. The title “Mother Church,” which is often used today, does not grant the authority to interfere in the spiritual life of “Daughter Churches,” which long ago separated from the “Mother” and de facto lead independent spiritual lives.
If one is to take into account that the “Mother Church” herself suffers from her own schism, as a result of which the Orthodox Byzantine Empire turned into a country which adheres to Islam, then we should remember the words of the Holy Gospel: “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23).
If a physician who is, sadly, himself gravely ill, and therefore cannot heal others, but still makes bold to act, then even greater lawlessness will come forth in the form of a global schism within Orthodoxy.
Regarding our attitude towards religious organizations which are born of lawlessness, I respond with the words of the Psalmist David: “the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity” (Psalms 125:3).
-Holy Scripture says that “all authority comes from God.” How are we to understand these words? For instance, if government comes from God, should a Christian completely submit to it? If so, in what cases? If the government is what it was fifty years ago, how should we look upon it? In general, in what specific instances must a Christian not obey the commands of those in power?
Indeed, all authority comes from God. But God grants power into our hands not for us to abuse, not so that we can do whatever we want, but so that we do God’s will, so that we ourselves live according to Divine commandments of love, and teach our subjects to live likewise.
Unfortunately, when we are given power, this is often forgotten. Power blinds us, and it appears to us that we are allowed to abuse it.
We must not think so. Great power also means great responsibility. We will answer before God about how we carried the Cross of holding authority.
On the other hand, if a government begins to abuse its power, we must not disdain or hate it, we must pray for it. We must pray to the Lord the He grants our leaders the grace of the Holy Spirit, which will help them worthily bear their Cross. With regard to our proper attitude towards the state, if it does not do as we wish, the Savior Himself responded: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21). That is, submit to the state that which is of the earth: taxes, labor, patience, respect, but give your hearts to God.
-What if parish priests are requested to perform funerals or administer the Holy Gifts to people who were baptized in the “Kievan Patriarchate?” Maybe it is more logical that our priests only answer for those whom they minister to directly, and those who are directly under their spiritual care?
Regarding funerals for those who were “baptized” by schismatics, the answer is simple: whoever is baptized in the canonical Church has demonstrated their desire to be buried by that Church. If one is “baptized” in schism, he then expressed his desire to be seen off on his final destination by schismatics. We do not perform funerals for schismatics because we don’t wish to violate the freedom of their choice.
But each individual case has its own subtext. Before denying anyone, a canonical priest must examine in detail all the circumstances around why the deceased chose a different faith. If the priest discovers arguments which address human weakness and not fanatical stubbornness, then he has the right, with his bishop’s blessing, to employ oikonomia, that is, concession.
-Many are worried about the fate of canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine. What should trouble us more now—the fate of the Church or the fate of our souls and the confession of personal devotion to Christ?
It is true that our Ukrainian Orthodox Church is enduring difficult times. But to our consolation, I would remind you that the earthly Church has never seen peaceful times. Even when there is peace all around us, when we are praised, that is a difficult time for the Church. This stems from the fact that praise and well-being lead us to slumber and carelessness, which then lead to spiritual degradation and failure. That is why during good times, we must battle ourselves and force ourselves to be vigilant, so that spiritual feebleness does not set in.
We must force ourselves to pray constantly and repent of our unworthiness. And to meekly thank the Lord that He does not turn His Divine Visage from us, but constantly surrounds us with His mercies and generosity, of which we can now only see a little, insignificant portion, the rest of which we do not see and do not understand.
Still, we must know that our spiritual blindness and our ignorance do not excuse us from the obligation to be faithful to our Creator. We must harshly humble ourselves and say: “Today, by Divine mercy, you lie amid the cushions of earthly pleasures and hear the sounds of human praise. Do not view this as justice and do not think that you are worthy of all this. Otherwise, you will be as a thief of the Church, taking for yourself that which belongs to God. And then you will share the bitter fruits of those who arose against God and were cast out of the Heavenly spheres.”
Whoever heeds these words will have peace and joy in their soul. And they will not fall away from the Church of Christ, which will remain on earth until the end of days.
-Your Beatitude, today our Church and people are suffering difficult times. What words of blessing and instruction do you have for our flock?
Hold fast to the Church which holds in sanctity the purity and wholeness of the Orthodox faith, and in all other things “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee” (Psalms 55:22). Live according to the commandments of God and watch your steps, that they lead you according to the words of the Lord, and entrust all mankind to the hands of God. He is able to correct the paths of humanity.