21 July 2016

Vadym Novynskyi, a People’s Deputy from a faction of the “Opposition bloc” was awarded the Order of the Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow II for services to Ukraine. Today, Novynskyi spoke to RIA Novosti Ukraina (Ukrainian News) about the disaffection in society, the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church and this summer’s Holy Cross religious procession.

Although representatives of the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) were the only people who attempted to reconcile the opposing parties during the Maiden (2014), it is the only canonical church that has become a thorn in the flesh of the politicians who have since come to power. The violent seizure of churches attacks on members of the clergy, and persecution of the faithful – all this has become the sad reality for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has the largest number of followers in Ukraine.

How can we explain what has been happening around the UOC over the last two years? Until recently it would have been difficult to imagine that the Government would ever declare war on the canonical Orthodox Church. 

— Recently the Church in Ukraine has survived a lot of persecution: the beating of clergy, attacks on parishioners, the seizure of churches, and information campaigns against the church in the mass media. These acts of intimidation have become sad realities. For instance, the enforced realignment of UOC churches has become ordinary practice in Western Ukraine, frequently with the support of the authorities and law-enforcement officers. Even if the courts acknowledge these actions as unlawful, their rulings are often ignored and “flying brigades” in balaclavas wielding clubs and batons return to attack both priests and worshippers. Similar incidents have taken place in the village of Ptichia in the Rivne region where local inhabitants reported having to physically fight for their Orthodox faith, having been intimidated by groups of aggressive young people. Though being religious in name, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev-Patriarchate (UOC-KP) has long been political. Today it (UOC-KP) serves as the religious-propaganda wing of the Presidential administration and existing state power.

Why do politicians intervene in the affairs of the Church?

— We need to ask the politicians. It is clearly stated in the Constitution that the Church is separate from the state and it should not interfere in the affairs of the state. In turn, the Government should not intervene in the running of the church. The Government has already tried to rebuild the economy, industry, banking and finance. It would now like to put the Church in order. In fact, the Church is the only institution in Ukraine, which still has public trust. However, the authorities now even want to interfere here and put the same “order’ on the Church as it did on the state.  

Nevertheless, attempts to influence the life of the church have taken place since the dawn of Ukrainian independence, which incidentally gave rise to the UOC of “Kyiv Patriarchy”… 

— Well, in 1992 the authorities backed the schism in the church in Ukraine. I dare to justify those actions, and those who took on this responsibility. At that time, people were developing new post-communist mindsets. However, these mindsets were built on a logic influenced by communism. If Ukraine were to be an independent state then, by definition, it should have its own institutions – administrative bureaucracies, legal system, military and religious organisations…Church. However, the problem is that a material approach cannot solve spiritual issues. The church lives by completely different canons, which do not have physical borders. Why, for instance, are there no autocephaly churches in Germany and Italy? Why do Catholic churches worldwide look to the Pope in Rome? Why don’t the Greek-Catholic churches declare independence from Rome? Unfortunately, in Ukraine, support for the schism by the authorities in 1992, gave rise to what we see today. This is a fact. 

What is the difference between the present events and the schism in 1992? 

— The difference is huge. In the early 1990s a lot was done out of ignorance and a lack of understanding of church canon law, resulting from the euphoria from the establishment of Ukraine as an independent state. Today, 25 years later, Ukraine is a relatively stable country where the majority of people know what Orthodoxy is, and millions of people go to church and have become true followers. However, and this is the real tragedy of the situation, although people know what Orthodoxy is, they are still ready to take responsibility for committing crimes against the Church, despite knowing the serious retribution that awaits them. 

After the persecutions of the Church, it has only become stronger. Perhaps, the current difficulties will only help to consolidate the Ukrainian canonical church and strengthen the faith of people? 

— The Church is strong. It will always be strong, because the Church is Christ. Those who fight against the Church, fight against Christ. I do not understand these zealots. History has taught them nothing, has it? We must not forget what happened to the persecutors of the Church in the first half of the twentieth century. 

There has been a lot of discussion around Bill No. 4128, proposing to change the jurisdiction of religious communities. What is the danger of the initiative, which the UOC has called an attack on interconfessional peace in Ukraine? 

— The law proposes to completely change the parish registration system – any person, who enters a church, could attend a parish meeting and vote for its realignment, for example, with the “Kyiv Patriarchy”. Groups of 200 people (“the flying brigades”) roam the country, light candles and demand that churches are transferred the UOC-KP. It is a legalised form of raiding which could lead to real Holy wars, making all that went before seem very innocent.

Being prepared for adoption in the Verkhovna Rada (VR), is the law "On special order of the church, the governing body of which is located in the territory recognized by the VR as an aggressor State". What is behind this name?

— This law assumes total control over the canonical church. The initiative suggests re-registering all congregations and all eparchies as specially authorised state bodies. The Church will sign contracts about so-called “cooperation” making it, the Church, accountable to the state. Then the church would obviously only recruit people deemed “reliable” by the Government. This represents a return to the time of Stalin’s repressions of 1937.

Recently, the Verkhovna Rada appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to provide autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The Patriarch ignored the request, and called this parliamentary initiative an “impudent step”. 

— Unfortunately, and despite my attempts to prevent it, Parliament made itself look ridiculous at the meeting of the Profile Committee. The people who passed the decree, for some reason, consider themselves to be very informed about Church affairs. Yesterday’s teachers of scientific atheism, today became experts in religious education and at a legislative level , tell the Church how it should be run. It is curious that three out of the six authors initiating the appeal to Bartholomew belong to the Greek-Catholic Church. Their concern about Orthodoxy is surprising. Why don’t you ask for autocephaly in Rome yourself? Many Deputies could not recite the Lord’s Prayer but want to control the Church. The Ukrainian parliament urged Bartholomew I, the head of the Pan-Orthodox Council, to consider creating a unified Ukrainian church and grant legitimacy to the UOC-KP. This request was based on false evidence, calling the UOC-KP the most popular church in Ukraine and saying the Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus was an instrument of Russian’s hybrid warfare against Ukraine.

Representatives of the Kiev authorities call the institutions of the Moscow Patriarchate ‘a propaganda channel for Russia”…

— May these political figures show at least one piece of evidence that Patriarch Kirill supported aggression. Believe me, I often attend services officiated by the Patriarch. During his sermons he always mentions one thing – he calls on all the parties in the conflict in Ukraine to reconcile. I have the deepest respect and esteem for him, not only as the First Hierarch of our Church, but also as a human being - for his many qualities including his courage and wisdom. Incidentally, a lot of “believers” are not aware that the Crimean eparchy is still under the guidance of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It was a personal initiative of Patriarch Kirill. However, if we are referring to a ‘propaganda machine’, then this definition most aptly describes the UOC-KP, which operates entirely on instructions issued by the representatives of the current government. It is a political organisation. 

It is no secret that the followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) feel aggrieved. What should the Ukrainian faithful do? Should they be bystanders to, or fighters for, the truth?

— Christianity is not a militant religion. We should defeat our detractors through love and prayer. The Lord commanded: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to them who hate you and pray for those who offend and persecute you”. Jesus prayed for those who crucified him and we must follow God’s example and do the same. At the same time, we must understand that when any key issues arise, people consciously or unconsciously become unsettled; many believers will not compromise on matters of principal.

Thousands of Orthodox Christians recently joined the Procession of the Cross. Pilgrims from all over Ukraine will converge in Kiev on 28th July, the day of the Baptism of Rus. What is the aim of this campaign? Is it non-resistance?

— Not only this. Firstly, a procession is a visible display of faith. It is not a walk but a pilgrimage. The people carry icons and banners, and, most importantly, pray – each step is accompanied by an invocation to God. Thousands of believers are praying with one heart and one soul for Ukraine. The procession began from the two opposite corners of the country: some people joined the procession from Pochaev Lavra, in the west of our country, whilst others came from Sviatogorsk Lavra, in the east. The two groups of pilgrims will eventually meet in Kiev for a joint procession. This shows that we are one country, with no division. The main aim is to pray for peace and reconciliation, to overcome the hate and enmity that has overwhelmed the country, and threatens to divide it. I would like to emphasise that this is not a political campaign, as portrayed by some Government representatives, politicians and members of the “Kiev Patriarchy”.

How can we explain the importance of participation in the Holy Cross Procession to non-believers?

— By taking part in the procession, a person shows his commitment to the Church, and its position in society. The large number of people participating in the procession, united by shared faith and common prayer is a visible manifestation of their belief. Unfortunately, the faithful in Ukraine have more frequently been asked to participate in destructive activities, including violently seizing churches and power.

Should we be afraid of provocations? Already the authorities have called the Holy Cross Procession of the UOC, a march of the “Orthodox titushki” (paid provocateurs).

— We should be careful. A huge number of people will converge when the Holy Cross Procession reaches Kiev. According to different estimates, at least, four thousand people took part last year. It is impossible to estimate the number this year. The main task of the Government is to ensure order, to protect the pilgrims from attacks by so-called “activists” in balaclavas. They are frequently called “activists” by the mass media, but for me they are paid troublemakers. If the government does not try to escalate tensions, and provoke the faithful with irresponsible statements, the provocations should be minimal.

Are any events planned for the day of the Baptism of Rus, as in the past? 

— Like last year, miracle-working icons from Sumy, Odessa, Pochaev and Sviatogorsk will be brought to Kiev from all corners of Ukraine. On 21st July a delegation of the canonical church headed by the Metropolitan Onufrii (Primate of the UOC) will go on a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, which celebrates a millennium of Russian monasticism this year. After that, the relics of Saint Silouan the Athonite will be brought to Kiev. The complete sequence of events bears great sacred meaning: the faithful will come to the capital from all corners of Ukraine to venerate the Saint and pray for peace and harmony in our country.

Anton Stepanov, Ria Novosti Ukraina 

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