Istanbul, August 9, 2019
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky met with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople yesterday while on a working visit to Istanbul.
The two discussed a number of political and religious issues, and both sides pledged not to interfere in Ukrainian Church affairs. Zelensky is a non-religious Jew and promised the Ukrainian people in elections earlier this year that he would not attempt to dictate their spiritual lives—a significant change from his predecessor Petro Poroshenko that the people overwhelmingly supported at the ballot box.
Zelensky told journalists that he spoke with Pat. Bartholomew “about everything that concerns us. I am very glad that we strong support here only on the political level.”
For his part, the Ukrainian president promised that he would protect the separation of Church and state, not allowing the government to meddle in Church matters as it routinely did under Poroshenko.
“Our common value is human life, and that’s the main thing for me, especially now that I have become the President of Ukraine. The authorities should not interfere in Church affairs; I will protect the independence of the Church,” the President told the Patriarch.
Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, the Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Church’s Department for External Church Relations, believes this is a good sign for the Church. “We want to hope that the era of unashamedly using the Church factor and the state crudely interfering in Church affairs is behind us,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Pat. Bartholomew likewise promised not to interfere in the affairs of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU), created by the Patriarchate and President Poroshenko in December. He also expressed hope that Zelensky would protect the tomos of autocephaly that was granted in January and would continue the work begun there by Poroshenko.
Just as Constantinople gave Baptism to the people of Ukraine, and now a tomos of autocephaly, so it will also give “the ability for your Church to carry out its work independently and unaffected by any outside intervention. Constantinople will not interfere with the internal affairs of the Church in Ukraine. She is completely independent and autocephalous. From here, from Constantinople, from the Phanar, she will only have high protection and our continued prayers for the success of her work,” Pat. Bartholomew told Zelensky.
Also, according to BBC Ukraine, Zelensky refused to sign an agreement that had been developed beforehand between Patriarchate and government representatives. There were disagreements between the two sides before the meeting, though it is unclear what about, as the statement reportedly mainly concerned ecological issues, without any provocative political language.