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Orthodox Church of Ukraine undergoing a catharsis – Cyril Hovorun

Metropolitan Epifaniy, the primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Photo: OCU”s fb page
Orthodox Church of Ukraine undergoing a catharsis – Cyril Hovorun
The last months have been troubling for the six-month-old Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). The 90-year-old bishop Filaret carrying the title of “Honorary Patriarch” despite the dissolution of his church structure to create the legitimate OCU independent from Moscow, had attempted a power grab and revoked the OCU’s very declaration of independence, or Tomos.

Although initially appearing to have the potential for an explosive schism within the new Church, the plan appeared to fizzle out, with only three bishops of tiny dioceses supporting the plan of the elder. Despite this, the OCU still faces the same problems as six months ago, when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew handed over the long-awaited Tomos to Ukraine’s newborn Orthodox Church. It is still not recognized by any other Church other than the Ecumenical Patriarchate and is still outnumbered by the parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in union with Moscow in Ukraine (UOC MP).

Euromaidan Press talked to Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, PhD, Senior Lecturer at Stockholm School of Theology, former Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC MP (pictured on the left), to understand how the OCU has been developing the last half a year and what impact Filaret’s actions could possibly have.

Father Cyril, what do you think about the OCU’s development after its formation?

I am optimistic and believe that everything that is happening has positive dynamics. If we consider these developments from a more distant perspective, then we will see that every nuance and detail creates new opportunities for this new church.

Now we have a situation that is optimal for Ukraine – a competition is taking place between canonical Orthodox jurisdictions, which so far aren’t taking each other too well. True, there is a certain confrontation between them, which sometimes takes place contrary to the rules, sometimes causes conflicts, but also has a positive side.

For example, just over a month ago, the UOC MP held a large forum devoted to church communities. It’s clear with what purpose it was held – in order to ensure that communities remain in this church. The communities can switch their jurisdiction to the OCU if they wish, it’s foreseen by the law. Therefore, from the viewpoint of the UOC MP’s leadership, the community is a weak link. That’s why they decided to discuss community issues at this forum.

But despite these pragmatic considerations, if we look at this process from the point of view of Providence, then this is obviously a positive development of events.

For finally the church drew attention to the community in these difficult circumstances and began to discuss truly pressing problems. This forum is one of the examples of the positive effects of competition between canonical Orthodox churches in Ukraine.

We also see a confrontation within the OCU around management models and approaches to the world. There is an open mentality demonstrated by Metropolitan Epifaniy and a closed one as demonstrated by Metropolitan Filaret. The first implies openness and cooperation with other Orthodox jurisdictions, while the second, promoted by Metropolitan Filaret, does not necessarily involve the voluntary involvement of communities and structures in the Church – let us recall his statements that the Lavras [large Orthodox monasteries belonging to the UOC MP – Ed] be drawn to this independent church by force, and so on. So, in his quest to be open, Metropolitan Epifaniy is motivated by the desire to involve the UOC MP in the OCU. Here is another example of how competition works for the benefit of each of the Ukrainian churches.

Here’s another point: the two church structures that now exist are sick each with their own illnesses. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate inherited many diseases from the Soviet times.

Perhaps it will be an exaggeration, but I can say that the Kyiv Patriarchate [which Metropolitan Filaret was a leader of until December 2018, when it self-dissolved to create the OCU – Ed] remained a Soviet reserve to a greater extent than the Moscow Patriarchate. The Kyiv Patriarchate was a closed structure artificially isolated from general Orthodox processes. And the Moscow Patriarchate, from which the Kyiv Patriarchate inherited this Soviet legacy, in the meanwhile became a more open-minded structure, at least until the start of the conflict in Ukraine, and developed somewhat.

Even from the viewpoint of the Moscow Patriarchate, the processes taking place in the Kyiv Patriarchate up till this time appeared anachronistic.

So, these are some birth defects that survived in the structure of the OCU from the Kyiv Patriarchate. The UOC MP has other weaknesses. There we see the growth of fundamentalism and even some deviations from the Orthodox doctrine and understanding of what the Church is. To justify the UOC MP as it exists now, creating a narrative basis for this church, is possible only if it deviates from Orthodox ecclesiology. The Kyiv Patriarchate had the same problem, for it could explain to itself and others why it exists only through certain deviations from Orthodox ecclesiology.

That is, we now see two structures in crisis. If you imagine that they merge and create a new structure, then these crises will not be neutralized but reinforce each other. As a result, we would have received a huge sick nationwide mega-structure that would contain all of these flaws that it inherited from its parents.

Under the conditions of the same competition, these new structures have the opportunity – not a guarantee, but opportunity – to get rid of certain birth defects. I believe that this is the Divine Providence. The Lord did not allow the rapid merger of these structures so they would clean each other. You know, if you take two dirty sticks and press them together, then the dirt on the sticks will double. And if they start rubbing one against each other, the dirt will slowly fall off of them. And when this dirt falls off, it is possible to unite them. Therefore, two Ukrainian churches need a certain period of competition to get rid of these defects. When time passes, it is obvious that there will be no reason for them not to be together. And then a union will happen.

Metropolitan Epifaniy speaks at an outside gathering. Photo: OCU’s fb page

A similar situation is in the conflict between Metropolitan Epifaniy and Metropolitan Filaret. We are dealing with a certain catharsis, cleansing within the OCU. Metropolitan Filaret, who has done a great deal for this structure to emerge, now actually plays the role of a catalyst for cleansing, attracting all the negative aspects which have passed from the Kyiv Patriarchate to the OCU. If you want, we can talk about Filaretism, although this is not a very pleasant word. So, Filaretism now is inside the new structure, and it needs to be rid of it.

We are currently seeing that negative phenomena are grouping around the figure of Filaret inside the OCU, and when they are localized in one place, it will be easier to get rid of them. Therefore, I look at these processes rather optimistically.

And how is the international recognition moving along?

It’s the same situation. Imagine that all the Orthodox Churches recognized the OCU right away. This would lead to a well-known Ukrainian problem – when Ukrainians sit around being proud of themselves instead of working on improvement. Everyone would be proud, would be satisfied, believing that they have an ideal structure that needs no improvement, which would have led to a comatose state within this structure. And the lack of recognition forces this structure to work, to think: “Why are we not being recognized?”, to analyze mistakes, the wrong paths on which the church could have, possibly, stepped, and to correct these paths.

In fact, the first one who began to speak openly about this is Metropolitan Filaret himself in his interviews. Although he says that the absence of recognition is due to Metropolitan Epifaniy, which seems to me to be an incorrect explanation of the causes, he anyway acknowledges that there is a problem of lack of recognition, and this problem lies within the OCU.

Metropolitan Filaret during liturgy in the St. Volodymyr Cathedral in Kyiv. Photo: UOC KP’s fb page

What is the problem, can you name it?

If very briefly, it’s Metropolitan Filaret himself. This is what I heard from many representatives of other local churches and other Christian communities in the world who observe Ukrainian events with great sympathy. They believe that the church should live through this crisis associated with the legacy of Metropolitan Filaret in the new structure.

You say “Metropolitan Filaret” although he is called “Honorary Patriarch” in Ukraine or merely “bishop” – is “metropolitan” an established title for him?

Metropolitan Filaret is the only canonical title that can be applied to him. He is the former Metropolitan of Kyiv, but can be called simply a metropolitan with no geographic title, because he has no diocese now. I believe that there are no grounds to give him the title “Honorary Patriarch.” He could be called as if this title of patriarch was to be recognized by some of the local churches. One can not recognize what did not exist – if one is multiplied by zero, the result will still be zero. To call him “patriarch” means that he was once recognized as a patriarch. But this has never happened.

Do I understand correctly that other local churches are waiting until the OCU will get over its Filaret sickness?

Yes. But this is a very complicated process. Processes within the OCU are part of it. But apart from that, there are extremely complex general Orthodox processes on which much depends. Because the confederative structure of the Orthodox churches envisions that each of the subjects of this confederation has their interests in mind above all. And, unfortunately, there is a problem of universal Orthodox solidarity, when Orthodox churches are not ready to sacrifice their own interests for the sake of all-Orthodox unity. If there was adequate inter-Orthodox solidarity in the Orthodox Church, then they would not have had problems with the recognition of the OCU.

Many in Ukraine believe the OCU has not been recognized by any other Orthodox Church yet because of Russia sabotaging the process. Do you agree?

Yes, but I would not exaggerate Russia’s importance. Russia uses these problems, flaws, including the jurisdictional selfishness of the Orthodox churches in the same way as it uses the vices of Ukrainian society within Ukraine.

In other words, the weight of the Ecumenical Patriarch is not large enough to drag others into his orbit.

In general, this situation, this inter-Orthodox crisis, as well as the Great Orthodox Council, showed that there are significant problems within the Orthodox Church. And I want to say that the Ukrainian situation was not a trigger but rather a litmus test, which showed that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. That there are serious and outdated problems in inter-Orthodox relations. If we have until now closed our eyes to these chronic problems, then, firstly, the Council in Crete demonstrated that they exist. And second, the Ukrainian served as an X-Ray which showed that there are many problems that need to be treated within the general Orthodox body. Now we can smash the X-Ray machine and say: “We’re destroying it, because we don’t want to see the problems.” But this won’t remove the problem. On the contrary, we must recognize what we have seen, adequately address this, and find ways to overcome the general Orthodox crisis, which was not caused but only illuminated by the Ukrainian Church.

Interview by Alya Shandra

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