In his interview with the Segodnya Ukrainian newspaper the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate looks back on 2016. He speaks about proper prayer, how to avoid hatred, intrigues in the Church, expectations for the future, and his wishes for 2017.
—Your Beatitude, what does the past year 2016 mean for you and for the Church? What events stuck in your mind and what grieved you the most?
—For the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the past year was filled both by joys and concerns. What distresses us the most is that blood is still being shed in Ukraine, that people still cannot reconcile with each other. A consolation was the procession of the cross, which walked through our Ukrainian land from July 9 to 27. It started in the east, from Svyatogorsk Lavra (Donetsk region), and in the west from Pochaev Lavra (the Ternopil region), and these two processions united in the capital. We prayed for all the Ukraine, for the Church, for the authorities, and for ordinary people, and asked for the Lord’s blessing. We asked and now ask God to give us the thing that we cannot achieve ourselves because of our human weakness—blessed peace—and we believe that the Lord will grant it to us.
—Today the Church is surrounded by numerous intrigues. What are the effects of this on Her inner life?
—True, today the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is going through sorrows and tribulations. But the Lord did not promise us any other life. Jesus said to His followers: In the world ye shall have tribulation (Jn. 16:33). Church history abounds in persecutions, oppression and all kinds of trials that the Lord allowed to happen to His followers for their spiritual growth and strengthening. Of course, our sorrows are nothing in comparison with those that the Church of Christ endured for the first three centuries after Her foundation. Then members of the Church were physically destroyed, and today we are simply being criticized and falsely accused. Our love and patience are being tested. Glory to God for all things.
—Your Beatitude, is it possible to stop the conflict in Donbass in the near future?
—The Church declares that no worldly problems are worth the life of a single human being, that in the balance of divine truth this life is more important than any problems. Some think that the problems of this world must be solved by war, but we remind them with love that every problem has a peaceful solution. People have the power of speech, which enables them to reach a mutual understanding. This is how the Church calls on the faithful to solve all earthly problems and to pray for the peace in Ukraine.
The Church calls on people to find the strength to forgive each other and to stop killing each other. The Church had the same stance in former times, when there were similar wars, when our princes rose in arms against each other. In those times our canonical Church called on everybody to forgive each other as well—and She was hated for that. Her monks and bishops were often turned out of monasteries. Later the strong of this world realized that the Church was right; they atoned for their past mistakes and reconciled with each other. I believe that we will be understood in this situation too. All of us must have humility: the strong and the weak, ordinary mortals and the powers that be, the rich and the poor—all should seek for a peaceful solution to worldly problems. Let us humble our pride and repent of our sins. Only then will the Lord restore peace in Ukraine and bless all of us.
—What can you advise a person who cannot forgive a mortal affront, who feels bitter hatred? How can we overcome ourselves?
—It is pride that engenders hatred among people. Our remedy against pride is humility. Humility is the most important virtue that the Lord teaches us. It is not weakness of character, as some maintain. Christian humility is critical self-assessment; it is one’s ability to find his place in this big, diverse world. When someone is capable of assessing himself properly, when he finds his place in this life, then he can submit himself to the will of God. When a person takes the right attitude in this world towards himself, towards his neighbors and the whole creation, then he is able to see the goodness and love of God and submit to God’s will. In spiritual language, this submission and resignation to Divine will is called humility. With humility, spiritual love and inner peace enter a human soul.
—It fell to your lot to accept the rank of primate of the Ukrainian Church during a turning point in Ukrainian history. Do you have a favorite saint or a favorite prayer you turn to during life’s hard times?
—Any saint will help and any prayer will be strong, provided your heart is directed towards God. Then you know that God will always help you, if you seek God, honor Him and try to please Him. If a person’s heart is directed to God, then God gives him all he needs for this life and for eternal life, and will always help him in hard times.
—Your Beatitude, you are a true man of prayer; you avoid being in the public eye and prefer solitude. And one day all at once you were elected the head of the Ukrainian Church. What did you feel at that moment? Was it a moment of joy or anxiety?
—I am not a man of prayer—I just want to learn how to pray, but have nothing to boast of so far. As for my election, I took it as the cross that the Lord laid upon my sinful shoulders. My thoughts were: What should I do in order to carry out my ministry in an appropriate manner, in order not to fall away from God or from His laws—because only with Him and His grace can people withstand all burdens and tribulations. The rules of this life are the same for everyone—for a layman, a monk or a metropolitan. However, a metropolitan has great responsibilities and he will have to answer for everything. This is what I thought about then.
—Who has played a key role in your life? Whom do you regard as an example to be followed?
For me the models of such service to God and the Church are St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. Basil the Great, and St. Dimitry of Rostov, who all gained abundant grace of God through their preaching and personal example of Christian humility and charity.
Man bears the image of God with which the Creator adorned him. Two men dwell inside each of us—the new man and the old one. The new man strives to live according to the Gospel, while the old man, who is made of vice, induces us to sin. These two men—the new and the old—are constantly struggling with each other, and there is a real war. If we begin to commit sins, we thus reinforce our old man; and when that old man overpowers the new man we become aggressive and spiteful.
All saints found the strength to struggle against the old man, so I bow before the memory of St. Onuphrius the Great, my patron-saint, the Venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Job of Pochaev… Each saint with whom I, a sinner, am related in one way or another, is an example worthy of emulation and shows us how to find and restore the image of God in ourselves and preserve it.
When we pray we invoke the grace of the Holy Spirit, which transforms us, gives us back the peace that we lost, and puts all things in our life in their proper order. Prayer helps us understand God rightly. If a person prays with an open heart, with repentance and humility, God often comforts him with joy, revelation, and the feeling of happiness.
—In your view, what is going to happen in the new year 2017? What do you anticipate for the near future in the Ukraine and the globe? Is there cause for pessimism, or you are an optimist?
—I am an optimist—an Orthodox Christian cannot be a pessimist. Christians should mourn only over their sins. If a person entrusts his destiny to God’s care he begins to build his life according to divine laws, his soul is cleansed of sins more thoroughly, he sees God more clearly, and the future no longer looks hopeless and bleak. At the end of the darkest tunnels of despair, a Christian always sees God.
—Your Beatitude, what are your wishes to our readers for the approaching year?
—I would like to wish everybody and myself the mercy of God, the forgiveness of all our sins, and God’s blessings, so that each of us might bear his cross till the end and inherit the Heavenly Kingdom. Cherish your faith, and above all, keep praying, because prayer helps you overcome the difficulties that you will face on your earthly life’s path. Prayer gives you the sense of truth, for the truth can hardly be comprehensible to your mind alone. There are many examples of people who have a higher education in theology but have no prayer, and are thus “confused” and “misled”. But simple people who have prayer, feel where the truth is and where the lie very clearly. It is prayer that gives you the sense of truth, the discernment of what is light and what is darkness, what is good and what is evil. And may the Lord help us preserve prayer in our everyday life.