In this talk with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine on the Church of Christ and pseudo-churches, the primate speaks about what it means for him personally to be in the Church and how he makes decisions that could affect the fate of many people.
—Your Beatitude, the feast of the Holy Trinity, Pentecost, is called the birthday of the Church of Christ, but not everyone knows why…
—For someone, a Christian, who lives the life of the Church, that is, who observes the fasts, prays, confesses, communes of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, does good deeds, and fights with his infirmities and shortcomings, it is not necessary to explain what the Church is and what Pentecost is. He understands all of this not only with his mind, but with his heart and soul. But for us who haven’t attained such a spiritual measure, the holy Church lovingly reminds us not only of the birth of the Church, but of the entire path of preparation for this sacred event.
The holy Church gives us this literal reminder throughout the annual cycle of feasts and Divine services, especially beginning with Great Lent. During Great Lent, the holy Church literally leads us after Christ, during His public ministry, His suffering, His voluntary death upon the Cross, and His voluntary burial. On Pascha, the holy Church unites us with the Resurrected Savior, filling everyone with the joy of the return of the lost Paradise to us. From holy Pascha until the Ascension, the holy Church reminds us of the Resurrected Christ’s forty days with His apostles and His miraculous Ascension into Heaven. Ten days later, after the Savior’s Ascension into Heaven, when the apostles were gathered in the upper room on Mt. Zion, the Holy Spirit descended upon them, and alighted upon each of them in the form of tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit filled the apostles with marvelous wisdom and power, by which they, previously but simple fishermen, enlightened and converted the entire world from evil to good.
Thus, this blessed day, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, is the birthday of the Church of Christ. It is the mystical, that is, sacramental Body of Christ, the head of which is Christ Himself. The Church is given to us who believe in Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world; it is a spiritual ship leading us through the troubled sea of earthly life to that blessed place where the Savior has prepared for us an abode of joy and peace and eternal beatitude.
The creation of the Church is the fulfillment of the Savior’s promise that He gave to His disciples: And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Mt. 28:20). The Savior, as the Son of God and Word of God, as the Creator of the world, is always with His creation; He providentially guides and sustains everything. He is our life, but the Savior dwells in the Church in a special way; He is here as the God-Man. In the Church, Christ the Savior unites us with Himself through communion with the Sacraments of the Church, especially through the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist, where we partake of His Divine Body and drink of His Divine Blood, which makes us able to accommodate within ourselves the Divine grace that brings us into eternal life and blessedness.
—Your Beatitude, we see how the enemy of mankind is fighting against the Church of Christ in our day. New pseudo-churches are born not without the interference of the “powers of this world,” and our ancient churches are transferred to the representatives of the “hierarchy” of these “churches,” schismatics seize them in villages and in cities… All of this happened with the complete silence of the authorities, and more often with their assistance… How can ordinary citizens figure out which churches to go and which not? After all, many now go to the schismatics’ churches based solely on political views and sentiments…
—Indeed, new pseudo-churches have appeared today. They arose thanks to the interference of certain politicians in the life of the Church. Politicians who dare to invade the life of the Church understand the Church as a political organization. Because of their low personal spiritual level, they don’t see Christ in the Church. They don’t understand that the head of the Church is Christ. They see the throne in the Church, but they don’t see Christ seated upon it. Personal pride compels them to sit upon the throne of the Church, and this is where the tragedy begins: A politician climbs upon the throne, but the throne leaves him. Politicians hunt for Church property, to which, by the way, they have no relation; they take churches, they malign the faithful, they offend and oppress them, trying thereby to climb up upon the throne of the Church, but here they are seized by failure. But God will judge them, and we pray that the Lord would enlighten them with the light of His truth.
As for the question of which church to go to: Go to the church where they are seeking the Kingdom of God and His Truth—Christ lives in such a church, while He is not in other churches. Seek Christ, live with Christ, and be happy and blessed.
—As you know, the newly-created OCU (with a tomos from Patriarch Bartholomew) claims canonicity and unity with the Local Churches of the world.
—Not a single Local Church has recognized the OCU, and several of the Local Churches have made official statements of non-recognition. Church history testifies that not a single schism has brought any good, that schisms can bring only harm. The Lord created the Church, which is a spiritual ship leading man through the stormy sea of earthly life to eternal life. Knowing that the Church is the ark of salvation, the devil has been fighting against the Church of Christ from the first days of its creation. But the Lord forewarned the faithful, saying that the gates of hades would not overcome His Church (Mt. 16:18).
—Your Beatitude, allow me to give you a purely journalistic question: What is the Church for you?
—I recall one book by His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of blessed memory called The Orthodox Church… My Life is In It. I can say the same. The Church is my life. I think every true Christian thinks the same.
—In your homilies you often remind the people about the need to pray, to fulfill even a small, but regular prayer rule. However, sometimes there are difficult circumstances in life, and prayer and even faith in God’s help are lost. How can we preserve a peaceful spirit and prayerfulness?
—Every trial in life is a kind of test of our faith. We must always remember that without God’s will or the permission of God, nothing happens on earth or in the life of each individual person. The more we rely on His will, the easier it is to undergo trials. But if we happen to lose courage, to lose heart, to lose our spiritual landmarks—to put it simply—to get lost within ourselves, as in a forest, we must not fear. Like a soldier on the front, we must show courage, and force ourselves to get up and walk, or even crawl to Christ through repentance, then the Lord will come to meet us, like the father to the prodigal son, and remove from us despondency, lack of faith, and cowardice. We must call out to the Lord as the Prophet David called out to Him in a difficult moment in his life: I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy mountain. I laid me down and slept (spiritually); I awoke; for the Lord will help me (Ps. 3:4-5). These words are heard every day in the churches of God, and we must remember them and repeat them in difficult moments, as the Prophet David repeated them. It is important to always force ourselves to courageously return to the former positions of the spiritual life.
—Your Beatitude, which prayers should we give preference to?
—All prayers offered by the Church are salvific. The Holy Fathers always gave preference to short prayers, which are good and convenient to say at any time. Especially common is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But this prayer should be said orally. If someone wants to engage in mental prayer, it should be done under the direction of an experienced spiritual father.
—You often have to make important decisions that could affect the faith of many people. How do you make them, knowing they are fateful, touching millions of people?
—Every bishop, making any statements or decisions, should not do so on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Church, guided by the conciliar mind. Of course, like every Christian, I also pray that the Lord will enlighten and guide me according to His will to answer the important questions posed to me.
—What would you wish for our readers in these holy days of Pentecost?
—I wish each of us to show that we are real Christians. After all, to be a Christian, a member of the Church of Christ, is a great honor and great joy for every soul. I wish for myself and all of our readers to be worthy of this high title: Christian.