August 27, 2009

Russian Patriarch Brought Pan-Slavic Orthodoxy to Ukraine: An Interview with Viktor Yelenskyj

August 17, 2009

Interview with Viktor Yelenskyj, prof. of philosophy, religious studies, publicist, member of expert council of RISU

How do you evaluate the visit of Patriarch Kirill in the context of social processes in Ukraine?

— I still do not know the results of the surveys regarding the patriarchal visit, but it is evident that the patriarch gave the Ukrainian society one of the strongest reintegration messages in all of the history of independent Ukraine. He persistently called on Ukrainians to reexamine their historical choice and implicitly proposed they think along the following logic: You are the historical center of the Eastern European Orthodox civilization, “Rus’an world,” you made a great contribution in the formation of the Russian imperial identity, the Great Empire (Russian and Soviet) is your empire. If you recall this and incorporate it into the recreation for a new, 21st century level, you will transform, in the exact words of the patriarch, from “known persons to the first.” Together we will stand against the West, which for you is foreign, personifies sins, consumerism (and, to add wits – Breguet watches). The right of a person, human dignity, democratic processes, and so on is empty talk, directed to drive us from the enlightened path of realizing our mission, which leads to the subjugation of the West.

In Ukraine there is a demand for these ideologies and the visit of the patriarch objectively caused the mobilization of their adherents.

— Prof. Yelenskij, these political slogans, for the Ukrainians, for some reason do not seem so, that is, political, for the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, who talk about these speeches as pastoral ideas or ideas that address real social problems? Why does there exist such a discrepancy in the interpretations?

— The fact is that the patriarch forcefully, yet pastorally, built the theme of the pan-Slavic Orthodox unity into the “order of the day.” At a great cost, he transformed Christianity into geopolitics and it is not always easy to distinguish this substitution “from talk.” This substitution became evident when Patriarch Kirill spoke before the audience of the Kyivan theological schools of the Kyiv Cave Monastery. There, I think, many of the scrupulous seminarians heard something substantially different from what they were taught until now.

But how many faithful of the UOC-MP can really notice this difference or change? And if they notice, then is it worth expecting a reaction from them and what will it be?

— Evidently, a large number of Orthodox, faithful of the UOC-MP, did not notice this substitution. But those who have a theological or historical education could not have not noticed. This refers to the well-grounded revision of Orthodox understanding of the order of the visible church; by which the patriarch very freely operates by the church rights and historical facts. Why, he asks, should the authority of the Moscow Patriarch spread, in this case, over Ukraine? Because this authority is above the state. And this refers to the pentarchy – the principle of chairmanship of five ancient patriarchates of the undivided Church, which formed in the 5th century. But then why did Moscow, after 11 centuries violate this principle and leave the subordination of Tsargrad? Now the patriarch calls these events “not just a rejection of history but a rejection of Doctrine!” Does he believe that the question of the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate on this or another territory belongs to the heart of the Orthodox doctrine? And is this not geopolitics when he says that the Orthodox in Ukraine do not have the right for a self-headed Church because their capital is too rich of a symbol for Russians?

I think that a theologian could not have not noticed that the bishop opposes the Rus’an Church not only in the Orthodoxy of the Greek tradition, but also the Orthodoxy in Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia. The patriarch makes it understood that patriarchates “joined with national states” are less valid than the Moscow Patriarchate, which its head imparts with a super-national status. The resolution at the Constantinople Synod of 1872, which condemned ethno-phelitism as heresy, is supposed to give the patriarch’s words definitive authority. However, the Synod condemned “tribal distinction and national discord in the Church of Christ,” and not the creation of autocephalous churches.

Opportunely I will mention two things. The Moscow Patriarchate still 20 years ago in its official organ stressed that “…the condemnation of the church organization as a national symbol, carried out at the Constantinople Synod of 1872, has local meaning. The Orthodox Community did not accept the resolution of this Synod.” And secondly, seven years after the Synod of 1872, the Constantinople Patriarch Joakim ІІІ wrote that to establish local, independent from one another divisions of the Church will not trouble the one soul of Christ or God’s Church on Earth. And thus, taking into consideration that Serbia gained political independence, he wrote, let the church of the Serbian principality be canonically independent. Patriarch Kirill must know this because this is what has been and still is taught in theological schools of his Church. The attempt to raise the Russian Church above others, to deny the churches of countries who gained their independence the right to have their own national church, “serfdom” of Ukraine as a primordial element of the patriarch’s dear geopolitical construct to self-realization of Orthodoxy has no relation whatsoever. This is politics.

As for less globalized politics, present-day politics, proto-deacon Kurayev was not late to explain to us, that, implying that the word of the patriarch, his status, name, were supposed to influence the community’s thought, and this community thought is supposed to influence the result of the next election. Again this is the question of a pastoral and political visit.

But this is not what is being said in the environment of the ROC, or in a significant part of the UOC-MP. Instead, lately in this environment again was heard a completely not understood thought that autocephaly is almost heresy. And such anti-autocephalous propaganda has for many years been actively distributed in the dioceses of the UOC. It is enough to look at the eparchial or parish publications to be convinced of this.

— The rhetoric regarding autocephaly, which started in 1992, changed. And in 1996 the Bishop Synod of the UOC-MP dismissed the question about autocephaly with the order of the day, which until now consolidated the position of the UOC-MP. Autocephaly is possible, it can be proclaimed exclusively by canonical methods, serve the good of the Church; autocephaly needs to be unanimously supported by the laymen, the clergy, monks and nuns, and the episcopate. As long as serious conflicts still exist regarding autocephaly, it will only bring division – this time in the environment of the UOC-MP. Forming the question in such a way, though it does not please everyone of the UOC, was perceived as a compromise.

Now the situation is changing – the question of autocephaly does not draw aside from the perspective, though uncertain, and decisively and rigidly closes in. Ukraine is part of the common civilized space and as a part should not have an autocephalous church; even more, this space should further consolidate. This corresponds to the aspirations of some part of the faithful of UOC, but absolutely clashes with the aspirations of others. Thus, instead of reaching a compromise a profound division is truly forming – (among those who wanted to directly) those who wanted autocephaly directly announce: your preferences do not and will not be taken into consideration.

And considering the fact that there was agitation practically only against autocephaly, then we can predict that for many in the UOC this is truly a negative phenomenon. Dr. Yelenskyj, if to judge by the number of participants and genuineness of the welcomes, then it felt that in Volyn, Patriarch Kirill was met by the largest number of people and there they waited only for his pastoral address without political implications. In your opinion, what explains the fact that these pro-Ukrainian territories of Volyn and Podillya were truly open to his address, which never sounded Ukrainian?

— “Anti-autocephalism” in the environment of the UOC-MP in the Right Bank is most often not a symbol of the pan-Rus’an identity, which discards Ukrainian identity, but an element of the competitive battle with the Kyivan Patriarchate. Often this “everyday anti-autocephalism,” produced not even in the successive church consciousness, which does not accept attempts to proclaim independence from Moscow from the side of the UOC-KP and UAOC, and “anti-autocephalism,” taken on the notion about the “inauthentic” character of these churches, and the shortcomings of this spiritual education.

Residents of Volyn and Podillya – faithful of the UOC-MP – of course, wanted to hear the pastoral word of Kirill and wanted to be sure that their head was most spiritual, more educated, and less politically engaged, than bishops of other Orthodox churches. It is known, that among those who came to listen to the patriarch there were also faithful of Ukrainian Orthodox churches independent from Moscow. Again, it is still hard to know how the former and the latter perceived the patriarch, and how the visit can make the inter-Orthodox relations in the country visible. The reality almost always is revealed more complicated and inventive, than the attempt to denounce us to the most fervent apologists and the severest critics.

After the visit, a thought was heard that Patriarch Kirill is not against the idea of also becoming the Kyivan metropolitan, to show the close relation of Kyiv to Moscow and to show his right to the succession of the Kyivan legacy. Would this not mean that the UOC would lose its status as an ecclesiastical province and go back to the situation of the beginning of the 18th century when Tsar Peter liquidated signs of separation of the Ukrainian lands?

— The Statute of the ROS and the Statute about the administration of the UOC theoretically do not exclude such a possibility. Other than this, that the head of the UOC is chosen for life and Kyivan chair for now is not vacant. Observing the steps of Patriarch Kirill, that under certain circumstances he would be able to chose such an exotic method to liquidate the “freedom” of the UOC, as you presume, is not resolved. But in the end, like everything else, which concerns Orthodox in Ukraine, it decisively depends only on Ukrainians, and in this case on the bishops of the UOC, who themselves elect the Kyivan metropolitan.

— In your opinion, can the visit of the patriarch truly bring together representatives of various Orthodox churches in Ukraine? And will his geopolitical engagement not incite part of the Orthodox in Ukraine to again look to Phanar?

— Obviously, the visit will assist the polarization in the UOC-MP, the freezing of the official dialogue between it and independent churches (besides that, in Moscow they are not even interested in the engulfment of the UOC-KP and UAOC because such a “Ukrainian mass” can not be assimilated). But unofficial converging between certain environments can for sure occur. Besides that, not only by those who stand in the first place of Ukrainian patriotism, but also by those, who always remember that Orthodoxy is first and foremost Christianity, and not a philosophy of civilized resistance, where there is a taste for church history, byzantinology, and theology.

As for expectations from Constantinople, they disappeared. The conflict, which is not only with Constantinople, but also with other national Orthodox churches is inescapable. It is understood that the Ukrainian Church fell to build its place in the Orthodox Community through pan-Orthodox consensus, and not through conflict. And here, of course, inner-Ukrainian consensus – and Orthodox, and of the civilization – is the most important. Thus, to look in the direction of Tsargrad is good but it is more important to look at one another.

Thank you for the interesting conversation!

Questioned by Taras ANTOSHEVSKYJ,
Kyiv-Lviv, August 7, 2009

Photograph from archive of weekly "Fokus"