Metropolitan Timothy from the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem comments on the Uniate Church, Kiev Patriarchate, and the persecution of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church
March 3, 2017 – Metropolitan Timothy (Margaritis) of Vostrsky responded to questions about the persecution of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and many other topics, as reports pravlife.
“Most Reverend Metropolitan, Orthodox believers in Ukraine find themselves in a very complicated situation nowadays, and they need the support of other Orthodox Christians. The Church of Jerusalem is the mother of World Orthodoxy. It was in Jerusalem that the Church of Christ was born and Christianity spread across the world. In Cyprus, you are an Exarch of the Holy Tomb, and I would like to take this opportunity to ask you some questions that worry many believers in Ukraine”.
I am very grateful that my opinions on these questions are important for you. In addition, even though I am not the “official voice” of the entire Church of Jerusalem, I will nevertheless express my point of view. Seeing that I was the General Secretary of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, my position is based on Church tradition and Church rules. I would also like to use this as an opportunity to express my deep regards for the Orthodox believers in Ukraine.
Ever since the Euromaidan of 2014, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is experiencing pressure from the new government and radical groups. According to the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, there were over 40 Churches seized from them over the past three. These seizures are done with physical force, and includes cases of assault against the clergy and the believers themselves. A few days ago, there was an article about the activists of the “Right Sector” and the schismatic group calling itself the “Kiev Patriarchate”. They have captured a church in the village of Kotushina in the Ternopol oblast. Could you please comment on this situation?
I sincerely regret that such a tragic situation is occurring in Ukraine. I have visited this country several times, and I have many friends there among the clergy and believers. Some of them have joined the schismatics, but we pray for them and we know that the Lord will bring them back to the bosom of the canonical Orthodox Church. History shows us that the Church often goes through trials from people, but it always comes out triumphant. The Prelate John Chrysostom said that when someone wages war against the Church, the Church wins, and when it is rocked by waves of trials, the Lord’s ship does not sink.
The multiplication of the amount of Churches that the schismatics have captured by force is a theft of the Lord’s property. It cannot be justified and it is reminiscent of the actions of the pagans, who conducted attacks on the holy Churches in ancient times.
When I hear about the seizure of churches and the beating of priests, I cannot understand how someone calling himself or herself an Orthodox Christian can attack another Orthodox Christian. The Orthodox Christians of Ukraine are citizens of the same country, and yet divided by their political views. The actions of those who seize churches are not worthy of Orthodox believers.
Most Reverend Metropolitan, when speaking about schismatics and the seizure of churches, we cannot ignore the main culprit, who is harassing Orthodox believers and conducts the beatings of priests. It is the schismatic Kiev Patriarchate, which conducts its attacks with the support of radical groups.
The division of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church occurred because of political, and not religious reasons. Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected for our Salvation. And thus, there where the Son of the Lord reigns, must also reign the Lord’s Truth and Peace, and not personal political interests and opportunities.
When a person does not rely on the Lord, his heart is seized by the Devil. Schisms and heresies are often planted by such passions as egoism, vanity, love for power and the pursuit of self-elevation above the Church and people. Church history has numerous such examples.
The Devil is responsible for the aggressions and destructive actions against our brothers. We must love not only our friends, but also our enemies. If certain people in Ukraine believe that they are the more “more genuine Orthodox Christians” than others, then they must pray for their brothers, and not persecute them. For one can overcome all passions and divisions with the Love of Christ. In addition, one must never show aggression against their brothers, for any aggression is a temptation from the Devil. Those who support aggression, war and blood spilling are under the power of the Devil and are capable of any evil deeds. The history of the Middle Ages shows that the Catholic Church used various methods to force people to accept their faith, including torture. This contradicts the teachings of the Gospels. Unfortunately, today we can compare the actions of the schismatics and radicals of Ukraine (which includes seizures of churches and the assault of believers), conducted “in the name of Christ”, as the dark and cruel times of the Inquisition.
Thanks to its media outlets, the heads of the schismatics are breeding rumors that the World Orthodox Synod will soon recognize the canonicity of their “Church” and it will accept them among other Orthodox Churches. Is this true?
Every parish located outside of the bosom of the canonical Church seeks support in order to continue to exist and to strengthen. Certainly, certain believers outside of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church would like to know that their Church is accepted by other Churches. Thus, they attempt to find support from other recognized Orthodox Churches. All the Orthodox Churches currently have liturgical dialogue and canonical unity with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, headed by the Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev and all of Ukraine.
Most Reverend Metropolitan, the media outlets of the schismatics regularly spreads rumours about a supposed recognition of “their Church” by other Orthodox Churches, hoping first and foremost that their congregation does not return to the canonical Church. With this disinformation, they attempt to create strife among the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, creating the impression that it does not matter which Church to visit, either that of the Moscow or the Kiev Patriarchate. How do you view this situation?
The Lord warns us that we must keep ourselves away from false prophets and false teachers. Thus, an Orthodox believer should only go to the Church that is officially recognized by other Orthodox Churches: it is there that believers receive the continuing grace of the Lord. This grace is continuing and uninterrupted to our current days since the times of the Apostles. Certain archdeacons claim that they have the Apostolic continuity, but without the blessing of the canonical Church, it does not bring to Salvation. The Orthodox Church teaches us to follow the true Shephard, who cares for the salvation of ours souls, and not to follow false prophets.
Most Reverend Metropolitan, if the representatives of the schismatic groups do not belong to the members of the Church of Christ, than can we call “sacraments” that which occurs during their Church services? Do they have a sacred character, or is this something like an illusion of a sacrament? Does it make a difference as to where one must take the Holy Communion – in a canonical Church of Christ or in a schismatic one?
It is important to know that the Lord’s Grace only exists in the canonical Church. It is evident that the sacraments that occur in schismatic Churches do not receive neither Lord’s blessing nor his grace. Because the forces of strife are trying to plant seeds of discord and to lead a war against the Church, they cannot have the Lord’s grace. The Church is led by the words of Basil the Great, who said that those who leave the Church lose the Lord’s grace and the ability to conduct sacraments.
Most Reverend Metropolitan, you might have heard that the Ukrainian authorities are attempting to control the current Church situation: they have sent delegations to the Patriarch of Constantinople with an attempt at recognizing the schismatic Kiev Patriarchate and with the creation of a “single Church” out of the pre-existing ones.
Since the first centuries of Christianity, the authorities have attempt to influence Church life. But this does not mean that this interference is the work of God. In our times, the authorities of Ukraine are attempting to subjugate the Church and to use it for political goals. They sent their delegations to the Jerusalem and Constantinople Patriarchates with an attempt at gaining an advantage. But the canonical Churches are above politics, because the Lord warns us that “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save”. The Church must distance itself from such interferences.
Can an Autocephalous status be granted to a schismatic group in Ukraine from one of the Orthodox Patriarchs, and what are the chances of such a false congregation to obtain such a status?
All Orthodox Churches defend first and foremost the unity of Orthodoxy and are subjugated to the canons of the Church which regulate its internal life. The decision to grant an autocephalous status is discussed and decided at the Great Synod.
Can you please provide some ways to overcome the schism in Ukraine? Is there an alternative way, other than repenting from the schism and reuniting with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
Metropolitan Onufriy heads the canonical Church of Ukraine. Any questions pertaining to the overcoming of the schism can be solved through dialogue with this Church and realizing the goal of healing the wounds on the Body of Christ, to reunite the parts of the Son of God, to heal the souls of all Orthodox believers, who were seduced by the actions of certain Church figures. And this dialogue must be accompanied with humility, repentance and love. There is no doubt that political interference must be done with in order to build Church life based on its Lore, rules and the Love of Christ.
If there is no repenting from the schismatic group, than can the Constantinople Patriarchate or any other Orthodox Church grant an autocephalous status to them?
I cannot predict the behavior of one specific Church, but every Church is the keeper of the Holy continuity and the Holy Canons, and thus it defends the unity of Orthodoxy. Above all, this means respecting the territorial jurisdiction of each individual Church. Any transgression from these principles leads to conflicts and divisions, which goes against the teachings of the Apostles and the challenges that the Church is facing today.
One must note that the territory of Ukraine falls under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
You regularly speak with representatives from other Churches. How do other Patriarchs view the schismatics? Is there some sympathy towards them from some Orthodox Churches?
In Church, the word “sympathy” applies to all people, because the Church calls people to love everyone, the same way that the Lord loves us and wants our salvation. Thus, we pray for the unification of the Church, about the end of schisms and the return of the lost ones to the rightful Church. Every rector of local Churches is guided by the fact that he is a blessing for the Church, and they act according to this principle.
Many people in Ukraine recognize that the government authorities and the false Kiev Patriarchate work together in order to eliminate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. (UOC-MP). For example, there is a draft bill, which would force the UOC-MP to change their name. Other initiatives would force the clergy of the UOC-MP to coordinate candidates with the secular authorities. Do you believe that secular interference into Church affairs is allowed? Does the state have the right to force the Church to coordinate who should be a rector, and how the Church should be named?
I will re-emphasize it again – secular authorities always try to interfere into Church life to obtain an advantage. Our faith teaches us, that we must pray for our rulers, but we must not obey their tenets of faith when they contradict the Gospels. The Lord teaches us, “Give to Caesar the things that are the Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. Every person must first obey God in order to save his soul. Thus, if the authorities insist on actions that go against the salvation of the soul, then the believers that do not accept these demands will be justified in the eyes of the Lord.
As for the renaming of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I believe that the secular authorities must take into account the rights and freedoms of religious organizations in their self-determination, the choice of their name and not to interfere in these questions.
Most Reverend Metropolitan, in the recent all-Ukrainian Cross Procession, Father Viktor Zemlyansky of the UOC-MP (the organizer of the event) was harassed by the law-enforcement agencies with searches. According to the lawyer of Father Viktor, the searches were conducted with procedural violations. Moreover, these agents were threatening this priest, his wife and three small children (7, 8,9 years old) with their semi-automatic machine guns. They closed them up in small rooms and did not let them out. The official website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has a message from the head of the Church’s legal department, father Alexander Bakhov about this affair, who stated the following, “The Rivne oblast is one of the most conflictual regions, there were 12 seized churches of the UOC-MP since 2014. The number would have been greater, had Father Viktor and the people around him not put in a substantial effort. They helped prevent the seizure of several churches, and several courts ruled in their favor against the raids of the Kiev Patriarchate. Undoubtedly, such activism could not have been unnoticed. I am inclined to think that the search was a method of harassment and intimidation. In your opinion, in the event that this persecution of the Church, which can be compared to the era of the Soviet Union, continues, do you believe that other Orthodox Churches would come to defend the canonical Church of Ukraine, which faces systematic discrimination?
The persecution of Christians has existed in all times and continues to this day. Persecutions will exist in the future, because the Devil seeks to pull people away from Salvation. Canonical Churches can bravely express this dissatisfaction with what is happening in Ukraine, because they are obliged to defend the rights of believers.
The discrimination of believers and the persecution of the Church are the works of the Devil. We must conduct a prayer, fasting and Love of Christ, and forgive them, as Christ forgave them when he was crucified on his cross. During Church services, we ask the Lord to give wisdom to the authorities so that they allow every individual to practice their faith.
Most Reverend Metropolitan, I would like to bring up a complicated topic for Orthodoxy – the Uniates. It is well known that the members of the radical group “Right Sector”, which conducts seizures of churches, used to call themselves the “Trizub of Stepan Bandera” and they collaborate closely with the Uniate Church. Moreover, they always arranged for security during mass meetings of the Uniate Church. Now, these people are capturing churches in favor of the false Kiev Patriarchate, they assault believers and priests. The head of this schismatic Kiev Patriarchate, Filaret Denisenko, recently stated in an interview that his “priests” occasionally conduct Church services with the Uniates, and they are considering merging. In the eyes of some believers, this looks like a collusion between the Uniates and the Schismatics, ready to create a Union in order to suppress the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In one interview, Professor Yaroslav Gritsak of the Lvov Catholic University openly cites one individual from the Uniate community, who states the importance of battling the Byzantine-Orthodox legacy of Ukraine. What is your opinion on the Uniate question, and can an Orthodox Christian discuss the possibility of a Union with the Uniates?
The goal of the Uniates is to subjugate Orthodoxy to the Roman Pope and to the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, the actions of Uniates in different parts of the world, and the aggression of Uniates against the Orthodox faith is a well-known fact, ever since the Uniates began to exist. In the Near East, there have been attempts to replace the Orthodox Patriarchs with Uniate structures. In their actions, the Uniates resemble wolves in sheeps’ clothing. We remember well the events in Ukraine in the XVI and XVII centuries, when the Catholics of Poland (with Western support) attempted to eliminate the Orthodox Church through the Uniate Church. They had the goal of spreading the Pope’s power into Ukraine. The situation was saved by a series of Jerusalem Patriarchs, who became the spiritual guides for the people near the Danube. Patriarchs Theophanes III, Paisius I and Dositheos II were the enlightened and spiritual Sheppards of Jerusalem, who defended the Orthodox Faith in Ukraine. It is a well known fact that the Patriarch Theophanes gave ruling diocesan authority to certain bishops of Ukraine. At that time, it seemed as if the Uniates would seize power in Ukraine, but the plans of the Lord were different.
The recent news about seizures of churches hurt us greatly, but we are sure, that Orthodoxy will continue its way. Moreover, those who conduct mutual Church services with Uniates, can no longer call themselves Orthodox Christians.
It would have been better for Uniates to change their position and to re-join Orthodoxy. We would share a mutual joy. But joining them through compromise is a major sin, and the Lord will not bless such an enterprise. In order to avoid such a rash action, we must pray to the Lord. In our time, there are many temptations aimed against Salvation. Thus, we must be warriors of Christ, who do not sleep on the watchtowers of Orthodoxy.
Most Reverend Metropolitan, you might have heard that the schismatics and the authorities are actively trying to create a project called a “Unified Local Church”. The emphasis is on patriotism, and the rules of the Church and its canonicity are secondary. According to them, if you love your country, than you have to support such initiatives, otherwise, you are a traitor of national interests. How would you have acted, if you had a choice between joining such a schismatic project under the pretext of patriotism, or to remain in the canonical Church and be labelled a traitor?
Faith in Christ and the Church is the most precious side of a human life. A Christian must firstly live according to Church rules. Their elimination is a way towards anarchy within the Church. If everyone does whatever they want in the Church, than the Lord’s commandments will be destroyed. We must obey the Church. There is no salvation outside the Church. Moreover, as such, I would like to remind believers to give to Caesar the things that are the Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Of course, it is important to love one’s country. However, to love a country and to obey laws that destroy the Church is a big sin. If a person is faced with such a dilemma, than he or she must choose the salvation of their soul. We must be patriots, love our country, but not act in such a way that our love to our country goes against our love towards the Church and Christ.
It is well known that Metropolitan Onufriy, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, never supported aggression against anyone. Moreover, the believers of the UOC are located in Donetsk and Lugansk, where there is an ongoing armed conflict, and in other regions of Ukraine, where there are no armed conflicts. He notes that we are all brothers in Christ. Thanks to his intervention, some captured Ukrainian soldiers have been liberated from the Donetsk Republic. However, his peacemaking actions are creating a row of criticism from schismatic and Uniate preachers, who claim that the War in Donbass must be done from a position of strength. Is peacemaking acceptable when the country is experiencing an armed conflict, or the questions of peace between the populations must be solved after the end of an armed conflict?
I know Metropolitan Onufriy as a truly spiritual man, a true Sheppard, who puts his soul for another one. It is out of this root that his peacemaking position is based. Those who are guided by war and blood spilling do not belong to Christ and are guided by the Devil, who always hated people and seeks to create strife between believers.
Today we are witnessing a tragic situation. We see how the Eastern Slavic people have been divided into several parts. It is similar to brothers from the same family feuding against each other. It is a fratricide which is guided by hatred rather than the love preached by Christ. It is not only painful but also sinful – for those who divide up the Church, are dividing up the body of Christ. Moreover, this sin is not washed away even with the blood of martyrs.
We would like to have your opinion about the Roman Pope and his peacemaking mission to Ukraine and to the regions peopled by Orthodox Christians. It is well know that the Pope tried to help the Christians of Syria who live in the territory occupied by ISIS. They are known to persecute Christians. Now the Pope is initiating a humanitarian mission in Eastern Ukraine called “the Pope for Donbass”. Are there any results from such initiatives? Did some countries or organizations partake in them to help the Christians of Syria and are there any possibilities for the Vatican to change the situation in places where Orthodox Christians are in a poor situation?
It is a difficult question. On the one hand, Christianity teaches about helping your neighbor. On the other hand, the Vatican and other international organizations help with a certain goal in mind. The calls to help Christians in various countries have been made, but I believe that real help can be given if there is a pan-Orthodox fund whose goal would be to help those in need, and not pursue religious expansion.
Recently, during a meeting between the head of the Uniate Church and the Papal secretary Claudio Gudjerotti in Ukraine, he expressed his interest to expand into the east of the country. What do you think about that?
It is true that the Vatican, when providing help, is guided by its personal goals. This gives reason to suspect them in using humanitarian crises for expanding their religious convictions.
What would you like to wish to the Orthodox believers in Ukraine?
Today, Orthodox Christians live in difficult times and follow the path of Christ. Conviction in faith and an unbreakable loyalty to the Church is something heroic. We must recognize the pastors, who keep the integrity of the faith in the Church. We must remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you”. I would like to wish for there to be peace in Ukraine, and to stop the division of the Church and civil divisions, for there to be times, when there would no longer be schisms, but one unified canonical Orthodox Church. May the Lord keep all of you. Thank you!