In 1992, the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church issued a statement to the synod of the Moscow Patriarchate concerning then Metropolitan of Kiev, Philaret (Denisenko). Besides declaring that he had broken his oath to resign from his position and that he had started a schism in the Church, there is a laconic character evaluation of a man who now calls himself “Patriarch” of the “Kiev Patriarchate”.
These statements ultimately resulted in his defrocking and anathematization by the Moscow Patriarchate, which had given him the chance to repent—but he was and still is completely unrepentant. In its council of October 9–11, 2018, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate unilaterally “rehabilitated” Denisenko, declaring the anathema against him “lifted”. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not accept this wildly uncanonical decision, and continues to consider Denisenko as being under anathema and a schismatic.
Although supposedly in the process of unilaterally granting autocephaly to a vague conglomerate of schismatic, self-proclaimed “autocephalous” churches in Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarch has nevertheless refrained thus far from calling Denisenko a patriarch, recognizing him rather as a metropolitan. However that does not stop Philaret from believing himself a patriarch come hell or high water; he not only has not relinquished his self-proclaimed title of “Patriarch” but has now ambitiously added new titles such as “Holy Archimandrite of the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras”. Philaret, who once a lost the election for Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, has no intention of giving up his patriarchal kukol.1
A hierarch under Patriarch Bartholomew has ruminated that Philaret was not made Patriarch of Moscow simply because he is Ukrainian.
Common sense would tell us, however, that the bishops and faithful of Ukraine know Philaret better than the members of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or even Patriarch Bartholomew himself. Therefore, for anyone who is interested in becoming better acquainted with this man who dreams of climbing into the diptychs of holy Orthodox Patriarchs, and for whom the U.S. Secretary of State has strangely shown support, we present this brief biographical sketch, taken mainly from Ukrainian sources—and most importantly from his own, natural daughter.
Mikhail Antonovich Denisenko was born in 1929 to the family of a coal miner in Donetsk Province. This is part of what is known as the Donbass—an area with a large Russian speaking population, which has always been culturally more tied to Russia than Ukraine.
In 1948, after graduating from the seminary, he entered the Moscow Theological Academy.
On January 1, 1950, in his second year of the Academy, he was tonsured a monk with the name Philaret. On January 15 of the same year he was ordained a hierodeacon, and in 1952, a hieromonk. That same year he graduated from the Academy and was appointed as a teacher of the New Testament in the Moscow Theological Academy. He also served as dean of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra.
In March 1954, he was appointed senior assistant to the inspector of the Academy. In 1954 he was made an igumen and sent as inspector of the Saratov Theological Seminary. In 1957 he was made inspector of the Kiev Theological Seminary.
In July 1958, he was made an archimandrite and rector of the Kiev Theological Seminary. The seminary was closed by the soviet authorities in 1960.
From 1960, Philaret was the chief of administration of what was at the time the Ukrainian Exarchate (the Ukrainian Church was granted autonomous status at the time when Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union [and Russia]).
In 1962, he became the head of the ROC metochion in Alexandria, Egypt.
In February 1962, Philaret was made vicar bishop of Lutsk, Leningrad Diocese, and appointed head of the Riga Diocese in Latvia. In June of 1962 he was appointed vicar of the Central European Exarchate, and in October of that year he was appointed Bishop of Vienna and Austria.
In December 1964, he was made Bishop of Dmitrov, a vicariate of the Moscow Diocese, and rector of the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary.
In May 1966, he was made Archbishop of Kiev and Galich, Exarch of Ukraine, and permanent member of the Holy Synod. In February of 1968 he was raised to the rank of Metropolitan. In March 1969 he became chairman of the Kiev chapter of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
In March 1976, Philaret was included in the commission of the Holy Synod for Christian Unity and Inter-Church Relations, and in November 1976 he headed the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church for the pre-conciliar pan-Orthodox discussions in Geneva. This council was part of the preparation for what became the Council of Crete.
In November 1979, he was named chairman of the commission of the Holy Synod on matters of Christian unity.
On May 3, 1990, Patriarch Pimen reposed. On the same day, Metropolitan Philaret was chosen as locum tenens for the patriarchal throne of Moscow and All Russia. Against his firm expectations, he was not elected Patriarch—he lost in favor of Alexei II.
Here is where things get complicated for Philaret. But first let’s talk about how Philaret, the son of a coal miner, reached such a high position in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Note first of all that Philaret’s ecclesiastical career was launched under the red five-pointed star of the USSR. His years in the Moscow Theological Academy correspond to the rise to power of another Ukraine proletariat, Nikita Khrushchev, the Communist Party First Secretary who planned to show the last living Orthodox priest on national television. His time in office brought fresh persecutions against the Church; many churches that had not been destroyed under Lenin and Stalin were closed or destroyed under Khrushchev. It was a time when everything that took place in the Russian Orthodox Church was carefully monitored by the soviet government, and every bishop had to either cleverly find a way to work around the “Soviet of Religious Affairs” and the KGB, or make compromises.
We are not here to judge them, because most of them have shed many private, even public tears of repentance for caving in to their humiliating position—for not becoming martyrs and confessors. But Philaret Denisenko worked wholeheartedly for these government agencies. Therefore, he was able to rise in the Church hierarchy unhindered, or rather, helped by the KGB. By the time Patriarch Pimen died however it was Perestroika and the government was no longer meddling in hierarchical appointments within the Russian Orthodox Church.
According to Constantine Kharchev, the former head of the Council of Religious Affairs—removed from that position in 1989 for attempts to make his department independent of the KGB—Philaret was definitely a KGB agent because, “otherwise he could never have gotten into a leading position in the Russian Orthodox Church.” Kharchev said that the Metropolitan of Kiev excellently responded to the demands of the soviet authorities:
From the point of view of a party worker and functionary, of all the members of the Holy Synod Philaret was the most capable. He always fulfilled the requests we gave him in the external [outside of Russia] arena brilliantly…2 He was an excellent implementer… It all came down obviously to the defense and propaganda of the party position. Well you know: “There is no oppression against the Church, the Church is free here”—that is, total rubbish.3
Many point out that Philaret was not an ideological communist—he would have had a good working relationship with any regime, doing what it asked of him in exchange for his own advancement. In communist times, after decades of terror against the Church and the arrest and execution of its most devoted servants, every clergyman had to find a way to exist within the given reality. As one elder of the Pskov Caves Monastery, Archimandrite Adrian (Kirsanov) noted, “Every priest had some contact with them (the KGB), it was almost impossible to avoid it. There are only a few around, like me, a bruised apple.” That is, perhaps Philaret was not the only hierarch of the ROC who cooperated with the KGB. But judging from Kharchev’s words, he used his resources in that role cleverly and with gusto.
For example, while he was Metropolitan of Kiev, many churches were closed under the Khruschchev regime, and many remember that Philaret was often there to hang the locks.4 He had been rector of the Kiev Theological Seminary for less than three years when the seminary was ordered closed under Khrushchev. One archpriest, Fr. Pavel Adelheim,5 was expelled from the seminary by Philaret for protesting the latter’s organizing a mandatory May Day celebration for the seminarians on Holy Friday. Fr. Pavel recalls a speech Philaret gave about “love for the soviet authorities”: “I am the son of a coal miner and I became an archimandrite and rector. Under what other government could that have happened? Under whose skies do you live? Whose bread do you eat? On whose earth do you walk? You are ungrateful, and the soviet government teaches you…”6
In better times these words would have been spoken about God as Lord of the skies, bread, and earth, but it was typical during soviet times to replace God with the soviet authorities.
While still under the soviet government, which obviously put down any Ukrainian independence movements, Philaret likewise preached against Ukrainian nationalism—and, strange as it sounds now, against autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church.
Philaret’s work with the KGB apparently shaped his managerial style. As the Statement of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reads,
Metropolitan Philaret is extremely cruel and arrogant in relation to the subordinate clergy and to his brothers in the episcopal ministry. Instead of fatherly care, love, and compassion to the younger brethren, he embarked upon the path of dictatorialness and intimidation, which is absolutely unacceptable in the behavior of an Orthodox hierarch.
The statement’s next point was,
By his personal life, Metropolitan Philaret brings temptation among the faithful and also gives occasion for defamation and blasphemy against the Orthodox Church from the outside world, for which, according to Canon 3 of the First Ecumenical Council and Canon 5 the Fifth-Sixth (Trullan) Council, he is subject to the strictest canonical punishment, for, as Holy Scripture says, woe to that man by whom the offence cometh (Mt. 18:7).
That is, he had a wife and three children, and this fact was being made publicly known—although it had been generally known among the clergy for years but no one dared speak openly about it for fear of reprisal. And the clergy and bishops in the Ukrainian Church feared his wife, Evgenia Petrovna Rodionova, whom many secretly called, “Herodias”, possibly more than Philaret himself.
From the purely human point of view, this is possibly the saddest part of Philaret’s biography. It was made public by his own children, who had a miserable childhood, being the children of their natural mother who treated them unnaturally.
In her “Open letter and confession” to the editors of independent newspapers and magazines, with copies to Patriarch Alexei II, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Vladimir, and the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Mstislav,7 Vera Medved, born Rodionova, wrote:
I want to address the editors of newspapers and magazines with a request from myself and in the name of my grandmother, Xenia Mitrophanovna Rodionova…
I want to do this so that people would know the whole bitter truth about the former Vladyka Philaret—my natural father, who renounced his children, my grandmother, and his grandchildren in order to save his position and spiritual monastic vocation.
I am twenty-seven years old. I lived the first fifteen of these years with my father and mother, Evgenia Petrovna Rodionova.
I remember when I was very little, Vladyka Philaret (that is what they taught us to call him in front of other people) carried me and my brother Andrusha and sister Liuba in his arms. Whenever he returned from abroad he always brought us presents. We children never felt any want. Mama often brought us to papa at the Exarchate on 36 Pushkinskaya Street, where we were seen by priests and co-workers. But to them we were not their Metropolitan’s natural children, but only the children of his “sister”, Evgenia Petrovna Rodionova, all adopted from a children’s home. If anyone doubted my mother had documents at the ready showing that we (Liuba, Andrei, and I) were taken from different children’s homes.
Despite our material comfort at home, our childhood was very joyless and hard. Mother often beat us mercilessly with a rubber cord. Sometimes she would ask Vladyka Philaret for help in this, and one day he beat Andrusha so badly that the bathtub was filled with blood. That is how our parents beat obedience and humility into us.
Grandmother defended us as much as she could. She felt sorry for us. One day our teacher in Kiev School No. 4 (in the Zheleznodorozhny region) Tamara Ivanovna saw bruises on Andrei’s arms and torso. She could no longer bear it and called my mother into the school, saying that she would be deprived of parental rights for her cruel treatment of her children. However, as a result the teacher had to leave the school, because my mother knew whom to use in order to do this.
Papa and mama always also tried to keep other more serious affairs shrouded in darkness and silence. Thus, in 1982 my sister Liuba brought some mercury to school and spread it out so that the school would be closed and the children released for a vacation. Where that mercury came from, we didn’t know. Mama said that Vladyka had brought it home from abroad. It was kept in our home in a special flask with a red mark. The school had to be closed on quarantine. Vladyka Philaret had to pay a lot of money for its repairs. He was very worried that there would be a lawsuit, and did everything he could to prevent it. Later some students told me that someone got seriously sick from the mercury fumes. There is now a technical school in that building.
Mama was friends with Rada Shcherbitskaya, the wife of the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, who would often come to visit us at home and at the dacha. Now she is friends with the wives of Fokin8 and Kravchuk.9 Vladyka uses mama to build bridges with the authorities toward his own aims. Mama talks openly about her friends in high places, and likes to be photographed with them, so that people would be afraid of her and papa.
At first our dacha was located in Novoselki. Papa bought a home there in the name of my grandmother Xenia Mitrophanovna and rebuilt it (without any permission from the authorities or my grandmother) into an enormous two-story house.10 At that time a new building was being built at the Exarchate, and all the building materials were brought straight from Pushkinskaya Street to Novoselki without any documentation, and so the house was built in three months.
In this house lived my grandmother. There Vladyka would spend the night after work and services, along with my mother.
We children guessed that it could be bad for papa if others knew about this, and therefore we kept quiet about our relationship to Vladyka Philaret. Once I heard mama asking papa: “Misha (Philaret’s secular name), aren’t you afraid? People might find out that we live together?” But Vladyka answered, “I’m not afraid, because for the faithful I am a monk, but for the KGB I’m married.”
When mama’s personal doctor, Y-i Ni-ch told papa that he should repent of his sin, because he has proof that we are Evgenia Petrovna’s natural children, papa silently heard him out, then fired him. And in general, he harshly watched after and persecuted anyone who in anyway touched upon his personal life. That is why everyone kept quiet, although many saw this and understood. This is the atmosphere of secrecy, fear, and lies that we were raised in.
When I got older, I of course began to see that the relationship between my mama and Vladyka went beyond that of a sister and her monk-brother. I began to notice my resemblance to Vladyka and realized that I am not from a children’s home, as my parents told me, but the natural daughter of Vladyka Philaret and Evgenia Petrovna. (Later I made an inquiry in the city of Sverdlovsk, where I had supposedly been in a children’s home. I received a certificate that such a person [me] is not listed anywhere.)
A feeling of protest rose up in me against my mother’s lies, beatings, and abuse. My grandmother experienced the same thing. One day, she and Andrei, unable to endure the humiliation, ran to Moscow to Patriarch Pimen to tell him the whole truth about Vladyka Philaret and Evgenia Petrovna. Pimen did not receive them. They talked in the chancery with some bishop from Minsk.
When they returned to Kiev, mama accused Andrei of stealing her valuables (she had a huge safe at home with gold coins, diamonds, and dollars), and a little later Andrusha ended up in jail. Now he is in Angarsk—papa did everything he could to ensure that he would not live in Ukraine. “You are going to go from one prison to another,” he told Andrei.
Papa did nothing to help his son, as he was always afraid to lose his rank because we are his natural children. After all, according to Church canons a monk is not supposed to have a wife or children (including adopted children) under threat of anathema.
And through the courts Vladyka Philaret took my grandmother’s home away from her in Novoselki to be given over to the rural council. The Chief Justice of the Kiev-Sviatoshinsky Region, N. M. Tuboltseva, told me that she was under pressure from “the law of the telephone” to pronounce an illegal sentence forcing the eviction of my grandmother and the confiscation of her home. That is how my parents took revenge against Andrei and Xenia Mitrophanovna for going to Patriarch Pimen with a complaint.
Unfortunately, all of her [grandmother’s] efforts [to get her home back] were crushed against the “telephone law” of Vladyka and mama with the powerful of this world. And since grandmother with her complaints was becoming dangerous for them, mama sent an ambulance to take her to the psychiatric ward. Knowing that mama is capable of anything, I relocated my grandmother to Latvia, hoping that mama would not reach her there. Grandmother cried when she had to leave Ukraine, where she had spent her whole life.
Most astounding is that now the house in Novoselki has again become the personal property, not of my grandmother, but of her daughter, my mother… All of these years, with two of my own children and my grandmother on my hands, I have experienced such suffering, deprivation and insults from my mother that I can’t convey it in words. It was as if I were the hapless prey of a game hunter.
I look at my little children who like me are the spitting image of “grandma Zhenya” [Evgeny Rodionova] and grandpa Misha [Philaret Denisenko], and I think about the vice of insatiable greed that conquered my parents’ souls, about the animal fear for their earthly prosperity, and their low passions, for the sake of which they are ready to send their own mother, children and grandchildren to emotional and physical suffering.
I want to warn those who now blindly defend my father Philaret and mother. Look at me, at my grandmother, at my children and husband, at all those relatives who are being persecuted by Philaret... at the tears and sufferings of a whole assembly of bloodless martyrs—the victims of my mother’s and Vladyka’s terror—and you will understand, you must understand, what terrible people they are. My grandmother even said of her own daughter, Vladyka Philaret’s cohabitant: “I am guilty before God, for I gave birth… to a devil.”
Yes, my mother is a real devil; I have to repeat my grandmother’s words with shame. She falsifies any documents and gets any needed ones without the slightest pangs of conscience—after all, she is now Vladyka’s deputy and agent of what is now their “Kiev Patriarchate” and controls millions in undocumented money and church valuables. She documented us, Philaret’s children, in the name of her first husband without his permission. She also documented in his name my sister Liuba’s daughter… At Vladyka’s suggestion, Evgenia Petrovna disowned her own mother in order to become the “daughter” of his natural mother, and thus become “Philaret’s sister”.
These are only three examples of Evgenia Petrovna’s machinations, or rather the power of money in the hands of my mother. Vladyka Philaret knows about these scams but he is ruled by fear, because mama continually threatens him with possible exposure.
My grandmother and I wrote about this to the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Alexei II. Then Philaret went over to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kiev Patriarchate), where he became the successor of Patriarch Mstislav, and now mama has the command over a new church.
Now I see how the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are suffering from Philaret and my mother, how Vladyka travels around Ukraine seizing churches for himself; I again hear mama’s threats against the non-submissive bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be carried out at the hands of the authorities, and therefore I simply cannot be silent. Let everyone know the terrible truth about my mother and father.
The “blood” of martyrdom of these and future victims knocks on my heart and cries out to Heaven.
I am ready to go to court to prove what I am saying, in order to show my blood relation to Vladyka Philaret by judicial process. Because I, Vera, am the natural daughter of Philaret according to all human laws.
I turn to you, my father and master: Reach out your hand to your grandchildren, daughter, and my grandmother, and return them their home. And people will forgive you your sin as only they can magnanimously forgive. I will nevertheless believe and hope that you will someday awaken from my mother’s spell and come to us. We will accept you, regardless of everything.
But meanwhile let all people read this confession. Perhaps among them someone can be found who will be able to influence you with goodness…
Vera, married name Medved, natural daughter
of the former exarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,
Riga-Kiev, September 4, 1992
And we pray that the 89-year-old Philaret Denisenko, before he goes to meet the divine and inexorable Judge, would repent and help put a stop to the diabolic turmoil he has brought upon Ukraine and all of world Orthodoxy. And that the equally elderly Patriarch Bartholomew would refrain from calling this letter from Philaret’s own daughter “black propaganda paid for by the Russians” and look at things as they really are. May God help and protect us the Orthodox from all the Enemy’s attacks.
Next on this topic will be published an article by a Ukrainian journalist on what happens to those who have tried to break with Denisenko.