During the Christmas season a correspondent of Pravoslavie.ru talked with Abbot of the Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra Metropolitan Vladimir (Moroz), the Lavra dean Hieromonk Zacharias (Kimlach), and the Lavra’s confessor Hieromonk Gabriel (Avdei). The Lavra brethren were asked about their opinion on the situation caused by the new schism in Ukraine and the recognition of the new schismatisc structure (“the Orthodox Church of Ukraine”) by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens.
—The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is going through difficult times in connection with the new schism caused by the Ukraine ex-President’s unconstitutional interference in the country’s religious life and the establishment of the so-called OCU. The faithful are also concerned about the attitude of the primates of some Local Churches towards this pseudo-Church.
Metropolitan Vladimir (Moroz):
—I believe that the all-powerful Lord by His providence can put everything right and reconcile everybody. Nonetheless, we cannot but admit that we live in pre-apocalyptic times, a period of special trials predicted by the Lord Himself. He said: I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18). This means it will exist till the end of time. We would like to see the Church on earth in the Light of Tabor and live in it. But our life on earth is not that of Mount Tabor—it is complex and hard. We see people huddle together, gather in churches of God seeking a flicker of light that would comfort and inspire everybody. But on leaving church we again find ourselves in the world, seething with spite. There are wars, terrorist acts, political coups with “Maidan” and “color revolutions” in it. And new Church schisms to boot…
Indeed the temptation is great, and evil is spreading at lightning speed, causing people to give way to despair involuntarily, believing that nothing can be done about these phenomena. But we can open the Gospel and hear the words of the Savior that He says to us in this respect. For example: It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come (Lk. 17:1). And further: If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you (Lk. 17:6). The Lord calls on us all the time to strengthen our faith. Otherwise how can we resist the temptations of this world?
Or let us take the parable of the unjust judge. A poor widow approached a judge to defend her rights against her opponent. She kept bothering him so much that the judge, while realizing that he neither feared God nor regarded man, promised to meet her request (cf. Lk. 18:1-6). Christ says for our edification that if an unfaithful servant agrees to grant justice to a widow, then the Lord will not fail to protect His people who believe in Him. And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. And then the Lord asks: Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth? (Lk. 18:7-8).
Much to our regret, though many of our contemporaries are drawn to the Church, many of them fall away. As our ever-memorable Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) said, in the end times the Church will be hated because the enemy of mankind will tempt people and incite hatred toward them. And today we are witnesses of this phenomenon in some sense.
—Your Eminence, I have an involuntary question: What is the right attitude that Orthodox Christians should have towards the current phenomena in Church life?
—As the Book of Revelation reads: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Rev. 22:11-13).
—I daresay these words probably apply to the present schism around the “OCU” and its recognition by some Local Churches’ hierarchs?
—We should keep in our mind that even if the newly-established religious structure is recognized by the whole world, we should not be afraid of this. In the time of the Monophysite heresy everybody turned away from St. Maximus the Confessor, who remained alone with his disciples. They suffered the most terrible torments: their arms, tongues and noses were cut off, but St. Maximus remained unshakable in his faith and said to his persecutors: “Even if the entire world recognizes you, I will remain faithful to the truth.” The same things happened in the time of St. Mark of Ephesus and St. Basil the Great, when everybody supported the Arians. St. Basil suggested locking the church and taking turns praying. The one before whom the door would open would be right. St. Basil’s followers prayed a little way off from the church, while the Arians prayed just in front of it. They were more numerous and backed by the Emperor. And even when the doors opened by themselves before the Orthodox, the Arian heresy did not disappear.
You know, some enemies of the Church from overseas think nothing of bribing all the patriarchs (the primates of all the Local Churches) by giving ten million dollars to each (laughs). If someone has no faith or if he believes without any purpose or inner content, it is his problem. We should understand this and keep unity in the faith, as the Creed proclaims: “I believe in One Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
Hieromonk Zacharias (Kimlach):
—His Eminence is absolutely right. The Orthodox Church has always experienced various temptations, including from some Eastern Patriarchs. The fact that several primates have recognized the “OCU” means nothing. That is no more than the personal opinion and desire of some hierarchs.
Hieromonk Zacharias (Kimlach). These primates have never been declared “infallible”, though it is enough to listen to and read statements of Patriarch Bartholomew to see that this trend is obvious… There have always been and will always be attacks on the Church. What is certain is that this was done by politicians from outside—after all, Orthodoxy has been under attack throughout its history. No Ecumenical Council has been held to make a decision after listening to the opinions of representatives from the Local Churches. Someone outside the Church made these decisions and imposed them on some religious leaders. That is quite evident in the political and geopolitical contexts: Some countries hold certain political views regarding the religious situations in Ukraine and Montenegro. Clearly there is much leverage by world politicians on these countries. When the Patriarch of Alexandria concelebrated with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, he declared from the ambo that he only supported the canonical Church on the territory of Ukraine—the UOC MP—and the recognition of any other religious structure was out of the question. But after a short period of time he changed his mind radically. Obviously, his decision was caused by some political circumstances.
The fact that the “OCU” united schismatics from the “Kiev Patriarchate” and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” means nothing either, since ordinations in the “Kiev Patriarchate” have never been considered valid. Some have recognized them—but it is a purely human decision and not that of the universal Church.
—Fr. Gabriel, you hear confessions of parishioners and numerous pilgrims. Do you have to answer any questions about the “OCU”—whether or not it is allowed to attend their services and what their recognition by a number of foreign hierarchs mean?
—Such questions are very rare because people decided on the Church to stay with long ago. They understand that the newly-founded structure that calls itself a “Church” is in fact a pseudo-Church, while they need to hold to the Church of Christ. Our nation was hardened in all the temptations of the 1990s and has long since decided on its identity. Of course, all this information on what is going on in world Orthodoxy (the decisions of the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria) makes the hearts of Orthodox Christians ache. The faithful, Church people well understand what churches they should go to; and the mentioned representatives of some Local Churches enjoy no authority with them and they are not going to follow them.
It is no coincidence that the Apostle Paul says: If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19). Obviously, the new church structure has attracted members who want to gain some benefit through that church. We see who is in the forefront there: state figures, politicians, officials and others. We see their fruits. As the Savior said: Ye shall know them by their fruits (Mt. 7:16). We see that the same politicians give the highest priority to the ideas of material enrichment, money and comfort. But the Lord did not give us life so that we can live comfortably. If we are true followers of Christ, such things have never been promised to us. And we consciously choose the narrow gate that leads to the Heavenly Kingdom. As for the co-existence of two religious organizations that are registered by our Ministry of Justice (our canonical Church and the schismatic “OCU”, along with the “Kiev Patriarchate” of Philaret who no longer recognizes the “OCU”), we are not wavering at all; we see who is trying to join world Orthodoxy without repentance! Without repentance there can be no entry into the Heavenly Kingdom. Likewise, being in the Church without repentance makes no sense—that is merely ritualism. If our brothers from the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria have taken upon themselves the responsibility of receiving these new members—individuals who have committed crimes against the Church—without repentance, let God be their judge.
According to the same apostle, there will appear a man who will want to substitute Christ with himself: Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped (2 Thess. 2:3-4). And, unfortunately, we are already dealing with this spirit that is hovering in the Church of Christ. May the Lord save us! Meanwhile we will walk the thorny path (which is not agreeable to everyone) despite the insults and criticism we face. We know the Beatitudes: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you (Mt. 5:11). We hold to what has always been and will remain forever, for Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever (Heb. 13:8). The Church of Christ does not need any transformations or reforms. It is man who needs these for repentance and union with Christ. So they will achieve nothing without repentance.
—These phenomena are not new to the Church, are they? After all, after the Communist revolution, the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized the Renovationists in Russia.
—This is the work of devil who always tries to disturb our peace of mind. In order to conquer someone he troubles him with some cares, fears, or anger so that he can commit other sins too. We have been approached by many priests from Western Ukraine whose churches were seized and who were literally thrown out into the street. Our ruling hierarch has recently given a construction trailer to the village of Rostoki (where the schismatics seized a church) so that people can pray there. Though they keep seizing churches, there is nobody to pray in them once they’ve taken them over. In such moments of sorrow, true Orthodox believers become stronger in their faith. But if people are guided by certain ambitions or are under somebody’s influence, they get their way and then disperse—you cannot find them in the churches, and their temples stand empty. In Volhynia they took over more than fifty churches (with the exception of few parishes that defected to the “OCU” voluntarily)—and punishment followed immediately because he who opposes God always suffers punishment. We have many brothers who came from Volhynia, and they well know that these godless come finally to a bad end—there are suicides, various accidents, or mental illnesses.
Hieromonk Gabriel (Avdei) Let us look at the events that took place 100 years ago. St. Theophan the Recluse had predicted that because of slackness and indifference towards the faith, great calamities would befall the Church three generations later. And this is exactly what happened: the October Revolution virtually wiped the clergy off the face of the earth. The aftermath of these sins and revolutionary views is deplorable: brother rose up against brother, son against father, father—against son, and son—against mother; these are the consequences transgressing the commandments of God; and we are punished already in our lifetime. Our society is still atoning for these crimes; it is being shaken by drug addiction, alcoholism, godlessness, and iconoclasm. We are aware that those who tore down bells from church belfrys paid for this with the birth of deaf children, and those who executed priests paid with the extermination of their own kin. God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7). And our contemporary evildoers will not escape punishment either. Although, some have already realized the fallacy of their choice and are returning to their parishes with repentance. So we should not despair. Nothing is frightening with God. We should live and believe according to our conscience, rejoice and give thanks to God for everything. Now, in the holy Christmas season, we see and feel that the Lord is with us; He is filling our lives with the beauty of faith, multiplying our strength, giving us love and hope for the better.
—Your Eminence, during this holy Nativity season we would like to hear some parting words from the Pochaev Lavra brethren.
—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry said excellent words in his Nativity speech: “If in simplicity and humility we will seek God our Creator and Savior, Who has already come to this world and performed the work of our salvation, then today, too, the Lord will send each of us His angel or His star, which will lead us to Christ, our Creator and Redeemer.” The Pochaev brethren pray for the whole world, for peace, and that every single soul may come to God. Now a heavy atmosphere of tension can be felt across the globe. We see how Christians and all residents of the Middle East are suffering, what trials the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro is going through, what a hard time many eastern Ukrainians are having; and life is quite hard all over Ukraine both economically and politically. Our nation has received added proof that division and enmity are pleasing only to the enemy of mankind, while we all need peace. So we wish peace to all of us. Peace in the whole world of God and peace in our souls. Christ is born, glorify Him!