The last month has been especially alarming for the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine. The “unification council” in Kiev, the adoption of the first anti-Church law by the Verkhovna Rada, and the defamation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the media. What are the prospects for Church life in Ukraine? Will the Local Churches recognize the legalization of the schismatics? Is there grace active in the Sacraments celebrated in the Patriarchate of Constantinople? Our conversation with Archbishop Theodosy (Snigirev) of Boyarka, Vicar of the Kiev Metropolia and Chairman of the Church Court of the Kiev Diocese, will discuss these themes.
—Vladyka, bless. What, in your view, changed after the legalization of the Ukrainian schismatics by Patriarch Bartholomew and the rupture in Eucharistic communion with Constantinople; what’s the attitude of the UOC faithful to the so-called “tomos?”
—Lord help us. What changed is that the state began to gradually move from intimidating the faithful to repression against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They moved from searches and interrogations to concrete actions. The first anti-Church law, No. 5309, was adopted, which the president signed, meaning it entered into force; the serial seizure of churches has begun. Churches are seized according to a completely raider scheme: They bring their people to a village on buses, they hold a “meeting of the religious community” with their participation and under the supervision of government authorities, and everything is good to go. The people are driven out onto the street and the legal authority of the parish and the church building are now in the “OCU.”1 They also wanted to adopt another special raider law especially for this—No. 4128, but it seems they’re managing so far.2 Who will impede them? The Church belongs to whoever is in power. But then this is Europe!—medieval Europe... Information appeared in the media that an order came down form above for how many churches must be demonstratively “squeezed” from the faithful for the “Tomos.” Moreover, the reserves, on whose balance the complexes of the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras exist, were obliged to apply to the court and through the court to cancel their long-term lease agreements with the monastic communities of these Lavras. Only, it had to be done quietly so as not to frighten Istanbul ahead of time.
—It’s all like under the atheistic government of the last century…
—Exactly. The most interesting thing is that they don’t even hesitate to flaunt that our Lavras and other holy sites “belong to the state,” or, as they love to say, “the people!” Therefore, they say, you, monks and clergy, have no legal grounds here. And how they wound up as the property of the state, they don’t want to remember.3 These are unpleasant and dangerous memories for them. The Church created the Orthodox sacred sites of our land over the centuries, for a thousand years. And even in those cases when specific people, patrons and emperors, allocated funds to build this or that church, they gave them as property to the Church, as an eternal gift. Then the Bolsheviks came in the twentieth century and took and stole everything from the Church by force. Now a question for the modern authorities: If what you have in your hands turns out to be stolen, and you knew that perfectly well, then what should you do with it? Return it to its rightful owner? Or sell the stolen item as your own, not being ashamed of it, and even mocking the legal owner? Let them inquire how the question of restitution is resolved in modern Europe. And if we ever get European laws, then whether you want to or not, you’ll have to return everything to the rightful owner—the historical Church, including what was previously transferred to the UOC-KP, the UAOC, and the OCU, and they well know it.
—What is the mood of the flock and clergy in Kiev now?
—I can say that in the first days after Istanbul’s decisions, our flock was simply taken aback. No one expected anything like that. After all, despite the, so to speak, dubious authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople among the faithful, completely justifiable by the way, we have still always tried to support the good name of Constantinople for outsiders. But the decisions made by the Phanar in Istanbul proved to be a betrayal of our millions of faithful. An unexpected and treacherous betrayal. They don’t just contradict canonical logic, they are overtly harmful and dangerous for Orthodoxy in Ukraine. It’s absolutely clear to any of our parishioners, even the most unlearned. But for some reason it’s not obvious to Patriarch Bartholomew. What’s more, for the clergy and laity of Ukraine, it’s almost an inevitable condemnation to confession, and perhaps, to martyrdom. But what has happened has happened.
At first, many were worried. After all, it was unclear what the schismatics and the authorities would do under the cover of the Phanar’s “Tomos.” What can stop them? The constitution? The law? The police? First blood? It’s unclear.
And now, after the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has firmly expressed its canonical position, the hierarchs and priests have bravely spoken up, the tares have begun to separate from the wheat, and the faithful are sighing with relief. We are together, shoulder to shoulder. We will stand for Truth.
—You spoke about the low authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople among our faithful. What did you mean?
—Our Church, like a number of other Churches, has closed its eyes for many decades to the spiritual infection that has ripened over a long period of time in the soil of the Phanar. The faithful have forgotten such Phanar betrayals, like the “legalization” of the Renovationists and the condemnation of the holy Patriarch Tikhon by the Church of Istanbul in the 1920s. And that was a time that was especially difficult for the confessing Russian Church: Priests and laity were shot by the thousands and bishops were imprisoned. Of course, this didn’t limit the Phanar’s deeds. History knows a whole number of such facts. But we were silent, not wanting to air their dirty laundry. We tried to act according to the Gospel: save the face and reputation of our brothers in Christ before the outside world. Especially since it’s not sweet for them there either. We could only talk about these things in personal communication between ourselves. Thus, in 1939, the greatest modern saint—the Holy Hierarch John of Shanghai and San Francisco—wrote with great pain: “The Patriarchate of Constantinople… having lost its significance as a pillar of truth and having itself become a source of division, and at the same time being possessed by an exorbitant love of power—represents a pitiful spectacle which recalls the worst periods in the history of the See of Constantinople.” This problem didn’t appear yesterday; the faithful are well aware of it. Therefore now, when the history of the twentieth century is repeating itself, when the Phanar is again trying to use the secular state for its purposes to the detriment of our Church, the remainder of its authority in the eyes of our faithful has simply collapsed.
—You spoke about repressions against the UOC. Indeed, over the course of the past year, the president has said things that plunge the Orthodox faithful of Ukraine into bewilderment—that our Church has no place in the country, that we are a “fifth column,” and so on and so forth—each thing more offensive and biased than the last. What is your personal attitude about this position of our authorities towards the UOC?
—To our great regret, all these attacks are the natural consequences of the policy of discrimination against the UOC being intentionally carried out in recent years. There’s a feeling that officials and politicians are competing with one another for who can outdo the other in vilifying and insulting the long-suffering Church of Ukraine. Everyone is involved—the Ministers and their advisors, the local authorities, deputies of various levels, diplomats, the media. They fear neither God nor man, nor the constitution, nor the criminal code of Ukraine. It all reminds me more and more of Khrushchev’s promise in 1961 that he would soon “show the last priest on television.” And where is Khrushchev? And what place does he have in history?
—Where is this hatred for the canonical and largest Church in Ukraine coming from?
—I think it’s because our Church is the last significant public institution in Ukraine that fundamentally does not lie. The Church can remain silent. It can simply not say anything. But it will not lie, and the powers that be cannot reconcile themselves to that. They need a “church” that will approve everything, justify everything, explain any outrage with highfalutin words, bewilder the people. After all, when you live in a kingdom of curved mirrors, where the mirrors deceive and flatter those who look in them, where everything is in a pink light, and black is reflected in white, beasts are seen as handsome, and frogs as princesses—such a kingdom has no place for a simple, true mirror. After all, it could display the unpleasant truth—everything as it is. And if a true mirror is suddenly discovered somewhere, they’ll either try to hide it or simply break it. That’s what we’re experiencing now.
—A question about Constantinople: After the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s interference in the Church affairs of Ukraine, the situation has only worsened. The schism is not healed, Eucharistic communion has been severed between Churches, and the UOC is under the threat of full-scale persecution. Could such an experienced hierarch as Patriarch Bartholomew really not foresee all these consequences? What, in your view, caused these actions?
—Well, first of all, Patriarch Bartholomew is also a man, and anyone can make mistakes. And the higher the post someone has, the more extensive and tragic can be the consequences of their mistakes. That’s first. Moreover, everyone tends not to notice their own mistakes or to diminish their importance. It’s a common trait of human nature, damaged by sin. It’s very dangerous when someone loses the ability to critically evaluate his actions, unable to recognize his mistakes, and in spite of everything, to see them through to the end…
Second, many experts have already spoken about Patriarch Bartholomew’s resentment against the primates of the Churches that didn’t take part in the Crete Council, against the primate of the Russian Church. For the people of the East, offenses have much greater importance than we Europeans attach to them. It was there at the Crete Council that they proposed to finally approve the draft project on the granting of autocephalous status to the Churches. This draft, which was preliminarily approved by everyone, proposes the order for granting autocephaly to anyone by general consensus. That is, no one can do it unilaterally. A pan-Orthodox council did not occur for objective reasons, and this document was never officially approved.4 And now Patriarch Bartholomew considers himself entitled to do everything at his own discretion, individually. Perhaps, the reason here is also in hidden resentment. And, no matter how sad it is, despite all our calls to resolve the differences that have arisen in a brotherly way, in the spirit of Gospel love and unity, they no longer have any effect on our brothers. The East is a delicate matter—although they say a whole number of other levers of influence are involved in Constantinople’s decision-making.
—The first “alarm bells” sounded out from the Phanar at last September’s Synaxis in Istanbul: The statements about the primacy of power of the See of Constantinople, the critical reports of the hierarchs on the history of the Western-Rus’ Metropolia on the territory of modern Ukraine…
—I completely agree with you. The general tone of that Synaxis was very strange for an Orthodox understanding. Constantinople’s papist pretensions were openly declared for the first time at such a level. This has become today probably the greatest problem in world Orthodoxy. It threatens a universal schism, like 1,000 years ago. The Ukrainian issue was but a catalyst here.
Additionally, during his speech to the Greek diaspora in Istanbul, a note of chauvisnim was added to Patriarch Bartholomew’s papist tone. Here’s the quote: “…We are in no way simply a piece of world-Romiosyne [the Greek Byzantine ethnicity]. We are, I would say, even if we are speaking about ourselves, a select piece of world-Romiosyne, for here beats the heart of our people. It is the womb of our people. It is our Ecumenical Patriarchate. From here extend the ideals and values of our people, the glory of our people, the sufferings and martyrdom of our people… Whether our Russian brothers like it or not, sooner or later they will follow the solution that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will provide, because they have no other choice.”
I thought that after the European tragedy of the twentieth century, the idea of ethnic superiority was considered for us on the continent unacceptable, shameful, and even criminally punishable. In a civilized society, of course, and even moreso in Church society. And here are the proud speeches about racial superiority and religious exclusivity: “’O God, I thank Thee,’ and other foolish words…” (Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode 9). The Patriarch says such things so openly and pretentiously that it’s even become frightful. Are we really so far apart already? It’s only now becoming clear…
—But the Church in Ukraine is also under pressure right now on the basis of nationalist ideas?
—Exactly, and neither the authorities nor the schismatics are hiding it. It’s precisely the premise of insufficient “Ukrainiansm” that’s used as the basis for persecuting the Church in Ukraine. I don’t want to believe that the Istanbul Church and our local persecutors have the same ideological foundation. Moreover, it was at the Council of Constantinople in the nineteenth century that ethnophyletism was condemned as a heresy.
—Is it possible to draw a dividing line between patriotism and chauvinism? In the Greek world, for example?
—Greek patriotism is not just a positive phenomenon, but heroic. The history of the Greeks’ fight for the purity of their faith, for the Orthodoxy of their people, for their sacred objects and the land of their great forebears, evokes respect and admiration. At the same time, Greek patriotism is deeply Orthodox. It’s a wonderful example for our Ukrainian people. Our patriotism, unfortunately, was Orthodox only in the era of the Cossacks, but now everything is the exact opposite—although it sometimes masquerades under Orthodox symbols.
The Greek Orthodox Church, made up of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchates and the other autocephalous Greek Churches, has as its enemies not just papism and the Western Catholic church, but also Slavdom, and the Slavic Orthodox Churches under the protection of the Russian Patriarchate… And if the Slavic peoples forget that the Greeks gave them culture and that they received the light of the Christian faith from the Christian lamp of Greek Byzantium, through Greek missionaries, and that they should therefore give, out of gratitude, the due reverence and favor to the Greek race that educated and enlightened them, and not show themselves as low and ungrateful adversaries, then the pan-Orthodox consciousness will sweep away their dark and treacherous plans… The Greek Orthodox Eastern Church is again called upon to wage a gigantic Church struggle, on the one hand, against the Western Roman Catholic church and its propaganda, and on the other—against the Slavic Churches. But, passing between these Scylla and Charybdis, it will still come out strong and intact.
The situation hasn’t changed at all since then. The Greek world is very different. I, and many other of the faithful, are fortunate to have regular communication with several spiritual fathers of Athos and Greece and also with Greek clergy and hierarchs. What can I say? Those who serve God in podvigs and prayer are patriots of their people, but remain “citizens of the Church,” where there is neither Greek nor Jew… (Col. 3:11). Moreover, the more this or that clergyman fits the definition of an “ascetic of piety,” the more warm and loving he is towards the Russian Church. This is seen among both the elderly and the younger priests and monks. Why is that? Therе’s reason to ponder. At the same time, there are regular religious chauvinists in the Churches of the Greek tradition. But chauvinism and racism, although with a Church flavor, are signs of neither great faith nor of a great mind.
—In that case, a question arises. Can the Greek Churches follow the example of the Phanar and recognize the Ukrainian schismatics as the lawful Church of Ukraine?
—It can’t be completely ruled out. Some of them, perhaps, will temporarily recognize them. We shouldn’t forget that the modern structure of world Orthodoxy is very complex. Several Churches having an autocephalous status are nevertheless strongly dependent upon the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The individual primates of the Greek Churches can’t even go abroad without a blessing from Patriarch Bartholomew. It seems strange to us, but that’s how it is. By the way, the “autocephaly” being created now in Ukraine will be built on exactly the same principle: loudly called autocephaly but subject to the Phanar on a whole number of important positions. It’s not a secret anymore, is it? So, with this arrangement, with incomplete independence, it’s quite possible that several Churches will be forced to follow the Phanar and recognize the legalization of the schismatics. They could even be forced to publicly concelebrate with the schismatics.
—But that undermines the foundational principles, so to speak, the axioms of the Orthodox worldview. We always believed that the fullness of the world Orthodox Churches is able to separate the wheat from the chaff?
—They can. But we shouldn’t dramatize today’s situation, even if such events happen. Recall, for example, that in the twentieth century, when the Phanar recognized the Renovationists under the Soviet authority as the lawful Church and defamed the holy Patriarch Tikhon, it was not alone in this transgression. Its example was then followed by the Jerusalem and Alexandrian Patriarchates, dependent upon it. They also publicly acknowledged the Renovationists and even served with them. But the truth of God and history set everything in its place. Therefore, I’m deeply confident that if something like this happens, it will be for a short time. The truth will prevail, as it did with the schismatics-Renovationists and the true Church.
I see two possible ways events can develop—optimistically and pessimistically.
—Let’s start with the pessimistic scenario.
—Alright. Although I don’t want to believe it, it could be something like this. Wide-scale persecution against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church could begin in Ukraine, with confessors and martyrs for the faith. All the same, Constantinople will not admit its mistakes, as in the twentieth century; it will insist upon the rightness of its decisions and its primacy of authority—Eastern “papism.” With this, representatives of the Ukrainian schismatics, not having the grace of the priesthood, will be allowed for blasphemous services at all the world’s holy sites, including the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Mountain. In this situation, the Local Churches will gradually be forced to determine whether they will remain with Orthodoxy or will be with the new “pope.” In addition, the division could be not just on the borders of the Churches, that is, between the Local Churches, but within the Churches also. Within—that is, between the podvizhniks of the faith, those zealous for the canons of Orthodoxy on the one hand, and the ecumenists, religious “liberals,” and ethnophyletists on the other. That is, the once-unified Orthodox world could split again. It’s as if diverging towards two different spiritual poles, like in 1054, but divided now between Orthodoxy and Phanarodoxy. With this, by the way, besides the purely religious conflict, there’re a number of cases where a fight is beginning for church and monastery buildings between the Orthodox and the “Phanarodox” in the once united Churches. It could create civil tension in some states. What Europe experienced hundreds of years ago could begin again in Orthodox countries in the twentieth century.
That’s the pessimistic scenario. Only one person can bring a bold and proud position to this whole tragedy—the Patriarch of Constantinople, who considers himself entitled to decide for the entire Church of Christ, for all of Orthodoxy. And, having erred, he did not find within himself the strength to confess and correct his error. If this happens, then, undoubtedly, his descendants will call him the new Herostratus. I think that if this all happens, then from this time on, for the communities that are moving farther and farther from the truth of the Church of Christ, although they outwardly preserve the look of Church structures, grace will begin to dry up in the Sacraments. In the process of their moving away from Orthodoxy, the grace of the Holy Spirit will dry up more and more, until it is depleted altogether. Where pride and heresy reign, there is no grace. May it not be so with our brothers.
—Do you think the optimistic scenario in this situation is in principle possible?
—Of course it’s possible. The Church of Christ on earth is like an ocean: It is constantly self-purifying. No matter how much sludge and dirt is dumped into the ocean, no matter how many ships sink in it, no matter how many entire generations of fish, sharks, and whales are born and die in it, the ocean is still clean. It cleans itself. The Church is this way.
The decisions of Patriarchs, Synods, and sometimes even whole “Councils” that are harmful for the Church are not received by the Church over time, they depart into the inglorious past, and they cease being valid for the Church. That’s how it was with the Phanar’s decisions about the Renovationists, and with many other harmful decisions from various Church hierarchs. From the outside, it might seem that if someone with false views has clambered to the very top and conducts his policy there, then its irreparable for the Church and for history. After all, that’s how it goes for earthly societies. But that’s not how it is for the Church of Christ. The Holy Spirit, guiding the Church, corrects the situation later in ways known to Him alone, through other people. And even a windbreak whipped up by such characters turns into good consequences, and this person becomes a “dead branch” in the evolution of the Church. The all-wise and almighty providence of God so often acts thusly, when it is necessary. If it wasn’t so, the Church of Christ would have been lost and disappeared long ago in the vicissitudes of human history. Think of how many stupid, strange, and terrible things there have been in the life of the Church throughout the centuries. But the Church is alive and holy! The Church is an ocean of the Holy Spirit; a self-cleansing ocean.
So for the current situation with Constantinople, it’s wholly possible to see the optimistic scenario. But for that, we the faithful have to make an effort. And, above all, this effort needs to be made by the faithful, clergy, and hierarchs of the Greek world. Constantinople’s canonical mistakes should be acknowledged and amended and “papism” in Orthodoxy should be condemned as a heresy. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.
—What you would you advise the faithful, priests, and bishops upon whom the fate of the Church in Ukraine rests today? What must be done to not fall into despondency, to survive what is happening? Where can we find the strength to bear it?
—Above all, we must firmly understand that the fate of the Orthodox Church is in the hands of its Creator and Head—our Lord Jesus Christ. And only in His hands, not in the hands of politicians or the powers of this world, and not in our hands. People can only be tools, instruments in the implementation of God’s providence for the Church. That which He wants will come to pass. That which He doesn’t want will not happen. And our task, the task of the faithful, is to become obedient tools in the hands of God. We have to seek His will and live according to it, even if it seems difficult or dangerous. We must remember that if we serve God, then not a single hair falls from our head without His will and His attention to this hair.
The Lord knows every one of us personally. The thoughts and heart of every man are in His palm. Therefore, if any of us are to be tested in our faith, then it’s to the exact measure that the Lord sends us: the measure of strength and talents of each man. If the Lord sees in someone the strength to endure prison, He can send it for a great crown in eternity. And if someone has barely enough strength to even watch what they are trying to do with the Church—this podvig of sorrow will be enough for him. And for it, the believer will receive a crown of faithfulness and glory in due time. The Lord is love and wisdom. If He is for us, then who is against us?