We spoke with Metropolitan Theodosy (Snigirev) of Cherkassy and Kanev, a hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (of the Moscow Patriarchate), associate professor of the Kiev Theological Academy, about the recent visit of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to Ukraine, the social ministry of the Church in Ukraine, and its uneasy relationship with the state.
The legacy of Vladyka Sophrony
—Your Eminence, your first year as the head of the Diocese of Cherkassy has passed. How did you take this appointment a year ago?
—The decision of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to appoint me to the See of Cherkassy was unexpected. However, I accepted this with gratitude to God. Everything that happens in a person’s life, not least of all in the life of a clergyman, especially without his personal initiative (and even more so without an unhealthy initiative, as is sometimes the case), should be perceived as God’s will and fulfilled boldly. And one can hope for God’s help in this fulfillment. With such a disposition and hope I came to Cherkassy to perform my service as a diocesan bishop.
—Your Eminence, can you tell us about the Cherkassy Diocese? What is special about it?
—The Cherkassy Diocese, like any other, has its own characteristics. Our diocese differs in that it is located in the very center of Ukraine. In a spiritual sense, the Cherkassy Diocese is special too: It was formed and developed over twenty-eight years by a gifted and extraordinary hierarch—Metropolitan Sophrony (Dmitruk; † 06/22/2020) of Cherkassy and Kanev of blessed memory, who was filled with the initiative to build the Church, and this was above all manifested in large-scale construction activity. During the godless period of the twentieth century many churches were destroyed, and in Cherkassy only one was left.
Services were celebrated in the church of the present monastery.
And today the gem of Cherkassy is the new Cathedral of the Archangel Michael—the most spacious church in Ukraine, erected through the efforts of Vladyka Sophrony, as were many other churches of the diocese—with his involvement and by his sketches and designs. The other side of Metropolitan Sophrony’s personality was manifested in his deep piety, which he absorbed and cultivated in himself from the time of his studies and obedience at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, during his studies at the Moscow Theological Seminary and Academy and while teaching there. This piety of Metropolitan Sophrony, absorbed in the monastic spirit, influenced the clergy ordained and nurtured by him in the Cherkassy Diocese—they are pious and zealous and abide by all the Church rules.
Since Vladyka devoted his main efforts and time to construction, there remains a wide field for work in the sphere of education, in which we can work with the help of the clergy trained by him. And this is our top priority today.
—Over the past year a number of diocesan departments have been set up by your initiative. What are the results?
—Some departments are already working actively and productively, others are still in the stage of development. For example, the Publishing Department has successfully published a number of books with the involvement of our Cherkassy authors and publishers. These include Orthodox fiction; the service of blessing those wishing to paint icons, approved by the Holy Synod of the UOC-MP; and a voluminous monograph about St. Luke of Crimea, published on the sixtieth anniversary of his repose. Cherkassy residents consider this saint to be a Heavenly patron of our diocese, since he was here many times, and his parents were buried on the site of our cathedral.
The Department for Charity and Social Ministry is doing a lot of work, providing constant large-scale assistance to hospitals in the city of Cherkassy and a number of districts of the Cherkassy region: During the quarantine alone thousands of boxes of medicines were transferred to hospitals, and more than 70,000 masks were sent to all educational institutions of Cherkassy to students and teachers. Nursing homes and children’s boarding schools are also in the field of vision of the diocesan Social Department.
The History and the Theological-Liturgical Departments are doing constant research in relation to the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Cherkassy region, the lost and destroyed shrines of the region, and the icons of the Mother of God that were venerated here. Liturgical texts are compiled as well. The Department for Religious Education and Catechization is now preparing for the first congress of Orthodox teachers in Cherkassy. The Pension and Trustees Department takes care of the widows of reposed priests and clergymen who have found themselves in difficult circumstances due to illness, etc. Funds are raised, and these priests receive full treatment. We thank God for new young clergy in our diocese.
—Vladyka, what do you think is an obstacle to integrating into church life of Ukrainian residents today?
—The main problem in the mission among our compatriots today is the rabid and unjustified anti-Church propaganda, pouring from all the media. This widespread campaign is fueled by an alternative non-canonical “Church”—the so-called “OCU.”
Of course, those who have already found God, met Christ, and come to the real Church, know that truth and salvation can only be here, in the canonical Church of Christ. No propaganda can drive such believers away from the Church, no political slogans can turn them away from their Mother—the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But this information campaign affects potential parishioners, the people who could find God and become church-goers but cannot do so because they live in an environment of anti-Church propaganda. It seems to me that this is the greatest evil present in the information field of our society today. I think that in due time, at the Last Judgment, the people who created obstacles for the salvation of others, for their integration into Church life, will have to answer for every soul that did not come to the Church and did not enter the Heavenly Kingdom because it was misled by rabid propaganda coming from their TV studios, radio stations, and websites.
—Vladyka, in your opinion, is the mentioned propaganda of modern Ukrainian media dangerous for people who are integrated into Church life?
—There are few such believers in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who can be seriously influenced by the media, although they exist. Due to the pressure experienced by the believers of our Church in recent years, an insignificant number of parishioners broke away. Perhaps these are the people who haven’t found the main thing in the Church or haven’t learned to seek. Perhaps for them the Church was only a cultural or ideological environment, or a living image of the historical memory of past generations. Having been unable to find the main thing in the Church—Christ—and deceived by some political ideologies that they adopted from TV or the internet, some left the Church.
Our Church has grown spiritually
But, of course, the overwhelming majority of believers found the most important thing in the Church—a living faith in God, something that neither any ideas nor ideological doctrines can take away from them.
In essence, the political upheavals that have taken place recently, and the pressure and propaganda against the Church haven’t in any way affected people in our churches destructively. Moreover, in an atmosphere of pressure many of our believers felt the need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, be closer and more consolidated. I am sure that during the period of trials our Church has become better and stronger spiritually.
—The evidence of this is the recent Great Cross Procession on the occasion of the 1033th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’...
—I think the great procession of the UOC-MP in honor of holy Prince Vladimir Equal-to-the-Apostles is getting ever larger year by year because a permanently growing number of believers want not only to pray and mix with each other, but also to demonstrate their civic position. They want to support their Church with their presence and participation. Driven, among other things, by a sense of their civic position, they come to Kiev.
However, without really understanding the prayerful content of the processions, secular society views them as some kind of demonstration or manifestation. Despite the fact that our Church is the largest religious denomination in the country, unfortunately it often comes under heavy criticism from petty-minded individuals and politically engaged people who have a distorted perception of Church issues because of the information war that is being waged against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church today.
—Your Eminence, the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to Ukraine aroused the protest of Orthodox Christians, with over 10,000 people demonstrating it in the prayer vigil outside the Verkhovna Rada [the Ukrainian Parliament.—Trans.]... In your opinion, what was dangerous about this visit?
—In this respect I am a reserved optimist. I think that the visit of Bartholomew had no particular effect on Ukrainian society or our Church. Moreover, the scenario of this visit has clearly displayed that this is a purely political action. Bartholomew has once again shown his criminal nature, violating the holy canons, entering the canonical territory of the Ukrainian Church, “like a thief in the night.” By the way, he arrived to the Verkhovna Rada and entered the building from a side entrance, knowing that thousands of believers were calling out to him on the Rada’s central square.
The whole world has seen the hidden lie in Bartholomew’s unwelcome visit
But common sense suggests even to members of the OCU, and more so to government officials, that the tension caused by such visits cannot play into the hands of the uninvited guest and doesn’t lend credibility to Ukraine. As you can see, this visit was limited to the fact that Bartholomew was greeted by state officials headed by the President and a few OCU “parishioners” with a group of schismatics of this structure. And that was all... The Ukrainian public and the whole world have seen the hidden lie in Bartholomew’s unwelcome visit. Those like him are described in the Holy Scriptures through the Prophet Isaiah: For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness (Is. 59: 3).
—Vladyka, what does the normal relationship between the Church and the state depend on?
—Church-state relations directly depend on the attitude of the state towards the Church. The attitude of the Church towards the state (unless it is openly criminal) is always the same: The Church is peaceful, quiet and law-abiding—it prays for the secular authorities.
—Your Eminence, on the eve of Independence Day, what would you wish to our politicians and officials of all ranks?
—We can wish politicians, officials and employees of various state structures who are faithful children of our Church peace, openness, and firmness in defending their Ukrainian Orthodox Church—each in his place. They see and know what is happening, and everyone to the best of his ability tries to do everything to support the Orthodox Church.
As for those who aren’t members of the UOC-MP, I would like to wish that they finally understand that human life on earth is fleeting. It will surely end someday, and they will need to answer before God. Living here on earth, you must always act according to your conscience, especially if God allowed you to be appointed to high state or public service. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required (Lk. 12:48). And you will have to answer for any mistake before God in eternity. And not just for mistakes—you will definitely have to answer for having opposed the truth, for the crime of breaching the law of conscience and the law of truth, committed in a high state office.
Discrediting the historical Church of your people, the Church of God, and the Church of your ancestors is a very grave crime. Perhaps someone will be brought to justice and have to answer for this crime even here on earth. If they aren’t afraid of God and eternity, maybe at least this thought will stop them...
—The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is celebrating the seventh anniversary of the enthronement of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, who was given to the whole of Ukraine at the most difficult time of 2014—in the midst of political upheavals. How do you assess this period in the life of the UOC-MP?
—The Lord constantly cares for His Church, the Orthodox Church worldwide and each Local Orthodox Church in particular. The Lord also takes care of each diocese, monastery, and the most remote rural parish. Every parish, every believer is under the watchful eye and providential care of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord sends the Church pastors and primates who correspond exactly to their time.. For example, His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine was a man of his time. Thanks to his talents and the breadth of his personality, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, during a quarter of a century of freedom, developed easily, freely and very widely, rising to its feet after decades of godless persecution. Now that our Church is under informational and political pressure, it was His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry who was the gift of God, thanks to whom the Church can feel protected. We know for sure that His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry is as solid as a rock. He will never betray his principles, his loyalty to the Church. He will stand to the end.
And when the flock has such a pastor, it becomes easier for everyone to walk boldly through this difficult life.