Results of the Patriarchal visit to the Ukraine. A press conference.

A press-conference on the results of Patriarch Kirill’s visit to the Ukraine was held on July 30, 2010, at the Interfax news agency. The visit took place from July 20 to 28 at the invitation of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its dioceses.

The press-conference was given by Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Synodal department for church-state relations, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, DECR vice-chairman, and Vladimir Legoida, head of the Synodal information department.

Opening the press-conference Metropolitan Hilarion said:

First of all I would compare this visit to the first one made by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to the the Ukraine because they are very similar in format. Both visits were fairly long but the climate in which the first visit was made was very different from that of the second visit. When His Holiness the Patriarch first came to the Ukraine, his visit was seen as an extraordinary event. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II had visited the Ukraine not long before his death, and before his visit there had been a very long interruption lasting seventeen years… Perhaps it was prompted by some political circumstances, but at any rate one can say that people in the Ukraine became estranged from the Patriarch.

When His Holiness Patriarch Kirill first came to the Ukraine, his visit naturally aroused great interest; at the same time, there was a certain tension on the part of those who are not interested in a stronger presence of the canonical Orthodox Church in the Ukraine. These are first of all schismatic groups and some nationalistic political parties. The political situation in the the Ukraine itself at that time was unstable, and the visit took place in a rather strained atmosphere. Nevertheless, we remember that already at that time the utterly dominating tone of the visit was the enthusiasm with which many of the people welcomed their Patriarch, who had come to visit the Ukraine and to pray together with his flock. Already at that time, His Holiness the Patriarch said that he came to the Ukraine not as a guest, or a foreign citizen, but as the First Hierarch of the largest religious organization in the Ukraine, the First Hierarch of the Church to which most of the Ukrainian population belong.

The recent visit of His Holiness the Patriarch was made in a much more pleasant political atmosphere. First of all, it should be stated that after the election of Victor Yanukovich as president of the Ukraine, a certain political consolidation has been observed in the country. The demagogic tone with which some politicians discussed issues of religious life has been dropped. This positive development in the political sphere could not but have an impact on the general tone of the visit.

When His Holiness the Patriarch came to the Ukraine, he was asked about the purpose of his visit. He answered that there was no purpose. It was a regular Patriarchal visit made by the Patriarch to his canonical territory. His Holiness the Patriarch repeatedly stressed that he was not an “envoy” of the Russian Federation, but rather an envoy of Holy Rus’, and that Holy Rus’ is the spiritual and cultural realm that was created over the course of ten centuries. Its cradle and heart is Kiev, in which the key and primary role belongs to the Patriarch as First Hierarch of the Orthodox Church, uniting the peoples of the Russian World.

I believe this good sentiment, which the Patriarch brought to Ukrainian society with his words and prayer, was communicated to all the Ukrainian people, and determined the general atmosphere of the visit.

His Holiness the Patriarch plans to visit The Ukraine on a regular basis. In this sense, I hope his visits will cease to be extraordinary events. They will always attract people’s attention and the attention of the mass media but, there must be no unhealthy stir around these visits.

I would like to note that one of the leitmotifs of the Patriarch’s stay in the Ukraine was the theme of overcoming the schism. As is known, the schism has existed in the Ukraine for some fifteen years now. It is a persistent wound on the body of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, and His Holiness, in his addresses to various audiences, repeatedly spoke of the destructiveness of the schism, and the need to overcome it as soon as possible. At its session on July 26 in Kiev, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted an Appeal to the Orthodox Christians in the Ukraine who are in the schism, calling them to return to the canonical Church.

The schism has inflicted severe wounds on people. It has gone through people’s lives, dividing families. The schism tears people away from the Church, depriving them of an opportunity to partake of the same Chalice with Orthodox Christians, and to visit common holy places. In recent times, we have received reports that many clergy and laity who are in schism are aware of the peril of being in it, and wish to reunite with the canonical Church. The Appeal also states that it is terrible to live in schism, but it is even more terrible to die outside the Church; unfortunately, many people have died in recent years. We say that one should not put off repentance; there is nothing humiliating about it. Repentance is a natural process of returning to the Church for those who fell away from it.

An answer was also given in the Appeal to the question concerning the recognition of Baptism should schismatics return to the canonical Church. The Church herself will decide how to accept them into her fold, and the question concerning the recognition of the Sacraments can be settled only in this perspective. In other words, as long as a person remains in schism, the sacraments administered to him in that schism cannot and must not be recognized, because a schism is not a Church, and the “sacraments” administered in a schism are devoid of grace and salvific power. But if his return to the Church is considered, history knows of cases when a Church recognized particular “sacraments” administered in schismatic communities, including baptism. We are not saying that this recognition will be given; we are saying that the Church herself will decide how such sacraments will be accepted.

I think this Appeal is the states the essence of all that was stated concerning the schism during Patriarch Kirill’s visit to the Ukraine. His Holiness attaches a great importance to a speedy healing of the schism. However, his efforts in this respect are met with certain misunderstanding and opposition from the schismatic groups’ leaders. Thus, the group led by the false patriarch Philaret has responded to the Patriarchal visit and the Synodal Appeal aggressively, but I think this reaction cannot open a way to dialogue. The road to dialogue can be paved only by a calm pastoral word. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill addressed precisely this kind of word to those who are in the schism.

I believe the visit of His Holiness the Patriarch to the Ukraine was a very significant event. It is not accidental that it received such a broad coverage. His Holiness, not only by his wise words, but also by his whole appearance and inspiration with which he speaks and celebrates, has made a great impression upon an enormous number of people. I hope this visit will contribute to the further consolidation of the Ukrainian nation, to rapprochement between the peoples of Russia and the Ukraine, and to the healing of those wounds which have been inflicted on the Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the last years.

Archpriest Nikolai Balashov was asked whether the Patriarchal and Synodal Appeal could be considered effective if one of the schismatic leaders publicly rejected repentance as the proposed condition.

Father Nikolai answered:

The Appeal of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was not addressed to a religious organization which calls itself “Patriarchate of Kiev” and which is not recognized by any of the Local Churches. It was actually addressed to people who are outside of unity with the canonical Orthodox Church. Any positive reaction to the Appeal from the leaders of the “Patriarchate of Kiev” is not to be expected, to my mind.

It is another matter that very many people who are outside the canonical Church have begun to consider their return to the Church during the year since the first visit of His Holiness the Patriarch to the Ukraine. Many petitions of this kind have come. Some parishes in several regions, and a group of parishes in the “Patriarchate of Kiev,” have already returned to the fold of the Church together with their priests. We know that a number of schismatic leaders also thought and think about their return. Unfortunately, as His Eminence Hilarion already made public during the Patriarch’s stay in the Ukraine, the former Metropolitan Andrei Gorak of Lvov from the so-called “Patriarchate of Kiev” was stopped on the threshold of this step by death. There have also been discussions with several other groups which have separated themselves from the Church.

His Holiness the Patriarch said that we have no special strategy, in a temporal, political sense of this word, for overcoming the schism. He stressed that our strategy is that of prayer; we believe that the schism will be overcome by the will of God and not through political efforts, and that the Church in this sense should be the antipode of schismatic organizations, as she cannot resort to such means as aggressive polemics, insults, or distorted facts. This path is closed for the Church. We will use different means for struggle with the schism, and the truth of God will ultimately triumph.

Journalists asked Father Nikolai if there has been in recent years a growing dynamic of the return from the “Patriarchate of Kiev” to the canonical Church. He answered:

Yes, there is. It should be stated that many of the schismatic leaders have long wanted to return, but speak very frankly about the fear they feel, including a fear for their physical existence. Recent events have shown that these fears are not at all groundless. I am referring to the strange death of Andrey Gorak, who headed the largest diocese of the so-called “Patriarchate of Kiev” in Lvov. Feodosy Petsina also died suddenly and under unclear circumstances during the Patriarchal visit. He was one of the leaders of the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” in the same Lvov region.

To develop Father Nikolai’s statement, Vladimir Legoida emphasized:

The real situation that has developed today in the so-called “Patriarchate of Kiev” makes it possible to state with all certainty that the statements made by the officials of this organization do not reflect the real sentiment of believers. We know it and we can confirm it on the basis of petitions we have received, and by the number of people returning from the so-called “Patriarchate of Kiev” to the canonical Church. True, this process has not become a mass movement as yet, also for reasons mentioned by Father Nikolai.

With your permission I would like to say another thing, which seems to be of importance for those who are not well aware of the nature of Church life and Church canons. Sometimes people draw an analogy with everyday human life, saying: “You see, there was a family, but its members failed to share one thing or another and the family broke up. Years pass, and one half says to the other: We got worked up. Let’s admit our mutual mistakes and come to live together again.” This analogy does not in the least reflect the reality of this situation.

I discussed this on several occasions with Ukrainian journalists and I would like to say once again: if we continue to consider the situation along the lines of this analogy, then the family—the canonical Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—continues to live as it did before. But if we use biblical analogies, then those people who have fallen away from the Church find themselves is the situation of the prodigal son. Regrettably, today’s prodigal son tries to impose conditions, and even to accuse the father, instead of repenting, which is the most important step in everyday Christian life. It seems to me that it is very important that this should be understood by all those who are closely observing Church life in the Ukraine.

Then the floor was given to Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. He said:

In spite of attempts by some people—who are already becoming marginal—to present the Patriarchal visit in the mass media as a political one, the visit was definitely pastoral, as was already stated, and by no means should it to be taken as involving some expansion of Russian interests in the Ukraine.

The day before yesterday, Patriarch Kirill, said these words during the farewell dinner before his departure from Kiev: “This is my country, this is my people, this is my Church.”

There is no expansionism whatsoever in these words. He is equally the Patriarch for the faithful in Russia, the faithful in the Ukraine, the faithful in Belarus, and the faithful in Kazakhstan. He believes the interests and aspirations of these believers to be equally his own interests and aspirations. Those who rather persistently try to declare their protest are an absolute minority.

When His Holiness the Patriarch prayed on St. Vladimir’s Hill, there were thousands of people praying together with him. There was a rally held nearby in which several dozens of people partipated, their faces contorted with malice. I think their mode of behavior, which does not presuppose any dialogue and represents only an attempt to deprive a pastor of contacts with his flock, becomes more and more marginal. This is very good; it shows that the political situation is truly stabilizing, as radicals are losing the support of society in the Ukraine, just as they did earlier in Russia—and this is very gratifying.

When people carried placards saying, “Away with the Moscow priest!” during the march organized by the “Patriarchate of Kiev” on July 28, this organization showed once again that it identifies itself very strongly with radical forces. It is not ready for any dialogue; it is ready only for accusations and divisions.

I am afraid that these forces, however good our attitude to some mistaken people may be, do not and cannot have a future in a civilized society. With these rather miserable and ridiculous protests in the background, it was very interesting to see people of different generations and walks of life coming to meet His Holiness the Patriarch, to ask them very interesting questions, and receive answers to each question. People asked about the economic crisis, about the relations of the Orthodox Church with Islam and Catholicism, and about how to educate today’s young people in the spirit of high morality. People were really interested in what the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia thinks about the life of contemporary man. Judging by his answers, these questions are very near to him.

I think the direct communication between the Patriarch and the people is an indication of people’s love towards the Patriarch. People came to him with joyful faces and enormous interest. They did not come just to stare at a famous person, but to pray and hear his word; and they left very joyful and spiritually satisfied. To my mind, this is the main result of the visit, if viewed from its public side. His Holiness the Patriarch was open to various people. He also met with the scientific community and with the youth, both those in the Church and the secular, with factory workers and with ordinary parishioners, with a small girl who needed aid and to whom he gave a wheelchair…

Our Church is multinational as it unites people with diverse and even opposing political interests. It unites people of various generations and cultures beginning from lovers of Znameny chant to rap singers. It unites citizens of various states, and it will always share people’s interests and aspirations even if political and state interests drift apart, even after splits in cultures, generational norms, and social conditions…

We are open to both millionaires and the homeless, to people of different nationalities and walks of life. This is how the Church will always be, because Christ calls it to this!

Journalists asked Father Vsevolod about his opinion as to what extent the weakening of schismatic groups is associated with the change in political power. Father Vsevolod answered:

I believe it is associated first of all with the fact that the society has become wiser. The day before yesterday I was at a grand concert organized by the Day of the Baptism of Rus’ organization in the Singing Field. It was a rock-concert. A legendary Moscow group, “Voskresenie,” performed, followed by the Ukrainian groups “Boombox” and “Brothers Karamazov.” There were all kinds of people, but they seemed to represent two generations. Some came to listen to Boombox, while others preferred Voskresenie (Resurrection)—a group known from the 80’s. These were people around fifty years of age.

The people of older generation began to ask me: Why do we have church divisions? Why do we have the “Patriarchate of Kiev,” the Moscow Patriarchate, and other church entities? These people did not clash with me or challenge me, but they already had their own answer: The Church must go beyond nationalities and politics.

Any wise society, having gone through a period of political turbulence, will sooner or later come to understand that the Church should be beyond politics and nationalities. I believe that in the the Ukraine today there are a growing number of people, including those of the so-called “politicum,” who realize this and refuse to turn the gift of Christ’s faith into a small political coin or a rumpled national ruble.

One of the journalists asked Metropolitan Hilarion a question concerning the next visit of Patriarch Kirill to the Ukraine. Metropolitan Hilarion answered:

I think His Holiness the Patriarch will make annual visits to the Ukraine, to stay for a few days in July, to be present on the Day of St. Vladimir in Kiev, and to visit two or three more dioceses of the Ukrainian Church. This year he visited the dioceses of Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk; next year with will visit other dioceses.

Besides, His Holiness will come to the Ukraine for particular events. I suppose the next important event which will serve as an occasion for His Holiness to visit the Ukraine will be the 75th birthday of His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All the Ukraine, the First Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which His Beatitude will celebrate on November 23.

In April 2011 there will be commemorative events to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. His Holiness the Patriarch may wish to come to the Ukraine for that.

Another question concerned the possibility for negotiations between Patriarch Kirill and the leader of the “Patriarchate of Kiev.” His Eminence Hilarion answered:

I do not think we should comment on statements by schismatic leaders, but the readiness for dialogue on our part can be seen first of all in our readiness to hold a calm and unbiased discussion on the situation in the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. The false patriarch Philaret is one of the main perpetrators and perhaps even the main perpetrator of this schism. This man can certainly, if he so wishes, put his structure on the path of dialogue, but the statements he and the “Synod” of his structure made during the Patriarchal visit show that they are not ready for dialogue. These statements are imbued with an aggressive spirit. This man seems to be concerned most of all with seeing to it that the already existing movement back to the canonical Church should not gather momentum.

Otherwise, why would the so-called “Synod” state that the transfer to the Moscow Patriarchate is inadmissible, and that “sacraments” celebrated in the schism ought to be recognized as valid? Moreover, it states that there is no schism in the Ukraine at all, that there is only an autocephalous church whose validity is only temporarily unrecognized, that is, it tries to present its own desires as reality… In fact, it is definitely a schism, a tragic schism.

As for how schismatics should return to the Church and by what means they should be accepted—as I have repeatedly mentioned, we intend it to be a procedure by no means humiliating. As the Appeal of the Holy Synod states, we liken the return from the schism to what the Lord Jesus Christ said in his parable about the lost sheep: If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off (Mt. 18:12-13).

Metropolitan Hilarion also answered the question about the terrorist act in Zaporozhe:

The Church’s assessment of this event has been already voiced in the message of condolence that His Holiness Patriarch Kirill has sent to His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All the Ukraine, and to Bishop Joseph of Zaporozhe and Melitopol. It states in particular, “Anyone who aims at heaven will ultimately hit himself.” I believe this is all that can be said about it. Of course, he hits not only himself, but also other people and all society, but it is very important that such tragic events should not impede the consolidation of the society and cohesion of all the faithful around the one canonical Church.

DECR Communication Service

Edited by

4 августа 2010 г.

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