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We will never stop regarding Kiev as the mother of all Russian cities

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We will never stop regarding Kiev as the mother of all Russian cities

27.10.2018

Julia Goryacheva

On October 15, 2018, the Holy Synod of theRussian Orthodox Church passed the Decree on termination of communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This step was taken in response to attempts of Constantinople to separate the Ukrainian Church from the Moscow Patriarchate and grant it autocephaly. We turned to Nikolai Balashov, an archpriest and Deputy Head of Department for External Church Relations of the ROC.

- To what extend can this religious confrontation cause threat to turn into a large-scale civil and political conflict in Ukraine? To what extend can such church rift affect other countries?

- It is certain that the attempt to break centuries-long oneness of the Russian Orthodox Church and separate from it the most essential, initial cathedra of Kiev is aimed to destroy integrity of the great Eastern-Slavic Christian civilization, which dates back to Christianization of Rus' in waters of the Dnieper.

Kiev Pechersk Lavra. Photo credit: youtube.com

Let us remember that Kiev was the place where it was conducted 1,030 years ago according to the will of Saint Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Prince, the Christianizer of Rus’, the founder of our civilizational family and the forefather of our statehood.

With unfailing respect to political realities formed by the end of the 20th century, with all due respect to independence and state sovereignty of Ukraine, we will never stop regarding Kiev as the mother of all Russian cities, as the font of our christening, birthplace of our Christian culture. Establishment of some new, so called Orthodox local church under command of a secular political leader, the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko is aimed to reformate spiritual life of the Ukrainian people in a political way. There is only one goal: they should not have anything in common with their Russian brother and neighbour.

However, establishment of his own new church is beyond powers of any secular politician, even if he would have the greatest, absolute support of his people and their trust. The head and founder of the Church is our Lord Jesus Christ, not a president of some republic.

And it looks like they forgot to ask people… And that was wrong! Ukrainians are passionate believers, most of them are Orthodox. Majority of such believers belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which did not request any help from Constantinople; it has no intention to reconsider its status, as well as to break its ties with the Church of all Rus. I hope to God that this dispute would not escalate to forced confrontation, examples of which we have been observing time and again in Ukraine during the past four years.

- The latest developments show large-scale interference of Ukrainian politicians into internal church affairs, and their persistent attempts to establish church autonomy in Ukraine – autocephaly. From your point of view, which actions could follow from their side to separate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) or its part, and individual believers from the mother church?

- I wouldnt really like to speculate on what measures Ukrainian state officials could choose to ensure implementation of the plan they worked out to reformate religious landscape of their country. I really wish that the promise given by Petro Poroshenko publicly and on several occasions would come true: no one will be whipped into new church against the will. And believers that wish to stay in the church they currently belong to will not be forced by violent or any other means. However, if past experience is anything to go by, sometimes politicians fulfill their promises only in so far as in their opinion it serves the interests of political expediency.

It should not be left unmentioned that three bills are pending review in the Verkhovnaya Rada (Parliament of Ukraine), which, if adopted, will provide all available capabilities for systematic discrimination of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Nikolai Balashov, an archpriest. Photo credit: Vslov.ru

One of them is the bill No. 4128 on changing of jurisdiction by religious communities; it stipulates a possibility for a community of any temple to change its subordination to any other religious organization (from the church it currently belongs to) following the majority voting at the general meeting of citizens (who claim to be members of such religious community based on their self-identification). Which means some strangers may come and state that they identify themselves as members of this community, and they will vote, rather than those who raised the temple, have been taking care of it and building up the church life.


It is not coincidence that in Ukraine the above mentioned bill was called the legalization of church takeover by raiding.


Another one, the bill No.5309, is aimed to deprive the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of its name, which, probably, is intended to be given to a new religious structure established based on church-building activities of the president of Ukraine. This bill stipulates that a religious organization affiliated with any religious structure, canonical, spiritual or administrative center of which is located within “aggressor state”, has to indicate this fact in its official name.


It is apparent, that adoption of such laws will signify gross discrimination of Ukrainian citizens based on religion, which contradicts international instruments on human rights and so-called European choice of Ukraine.

And finally, the bill No.4511 stipulates special status for such religious organizations, as well as the obligation for them to secure approval for all personnel appointments from the governmental authority of ecclesiastical affairs; it also imposes various restrictions on activities of such churches.

Unfortunately, state intervention into church affairs has extended so much, that adoption of the above mentioned and similar to them discriminating laws shall be expected in the nearest future.

Divine Liturgy in the Church of Saints Antony and Theodosius of Pechersk in Kiev Pechersk Lavra. Photo credit: church.ua

- After 2014 Maidan, cases of takeover and aggression towards Orthodox temples of the UOC MP by radicals became more frequent in Ukraine. How many Orthodox temples have been taken over in Ukraine by now? Has the situation been monitored in any way? And for the sake of clarity: how many parishes and worshipers are there in Ukraine, which belong to the canonical UOC MP, on one side, and to non-canonical UOC of Kyiv Patriarchate and the UAOC on the other?

- Certainly, we do continuously monitor all violent actions aimed to overtake Orthodox temples in Ukraine. Reports in this respect are drawn time and time again; corresponding information has been shared with representatives of numerous human rights organizations and state figures of various countries. Unfortunately the response to such violations of human rights sometimes is quite sluggish.

But still, in the past four years, despite full-force governmental propaganda machine, which night and day tars priests of the canonical church and its believers with a brush as if they were the fifth column and Kremlins agents; despite all the support of temple overtakes by the Kiev Patriarchate; despite backup from such nationalistic organizations as Right Sector, as well as patronage by governmental and local authorities, a little more than fifty village temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been overtaken. They are mostly located in Western regions of the country and comprise less than 1 per cent of total number of its parishes.

Despite such strong political pressure, harassment of believers, temple overtaking by schismatics, in recent years number of new Orthodox temples of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church has massively increased in Ukraine. According to official statistics of Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, there are more than 12,000 communities of the UOC in the country; and it is twice the number of communities of so called Kiev Patriarchate and so called Ukrainian Autocephaly Church.

It is rather difficult to count Orthodox believers. Ukraine, just as Russia, does not maintain records of citizens based on their religious affiliation. However we can count priests and monks. Number of clergymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is three times greater than such number in two schism organizations put together. And number of monks and nuns is 20 times greater!

- After the Russian Orthodox Church broke off with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, believers of the ROC will not be able to receive Holy Communion in temples on Mount Athos. How will such tough response of the ROC to Constantinople affect humble believers?

- I would not classify the Synods response as tough or soft. It is not an attempt of revenge. It is mere execution of mandatory requirements of Holy canons of the Orthodox Church.

Meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on October 15, 2018 in Minsk. Photo credit: patriarchia.ru

If the Patriarchate of Constantinople entered into canonical communion with those who have departed into schism (including those who have been excommunicated from the Church), the Russian Orthodox Church has to terminate canonical communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Undoubtedly, consequences of such decisions will cause certain discomfort for believers of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Holy Synod emphasized that its decree was adopted with deep sorrow and pain in respect of forced measures it had to take in response to anticanonical actions.

Yes, from now on we will not be able to receive Holy Communion in all parishes on Holy Mount Athos, where name of the Patriarch of Constantinople is mentioned. If it is a price we have to pay for showing solidarity with our persecuted and oppressed brothers in Ukraine, lives of which have been affected by the deepest schism caused by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, we will pay such price.

- What is the best solution from your point of view to overcome this crisis? What do you think could be the worst scenario?

- The worst scenario is entrenchment of schism in the Orthodox world caused by anticanonical actions of Constantinople for ages to come. We hope to discuss the solution through at advisory meetings with celebrants and synods of local Orthodox churches. Unfortunately today unity of the global Orthodox family has objectively been no more. And together with other sister-churches we are called to find a way to overcome the profound crisis that has emerged.

Unfortunately we have already observed similar event in the Churchs history: it happened in the 11th century for various reasons, the major one of which was intention of Roman bishop to have autocratic power over the whole Christian world. At that time it caused schism within the Christian world: the church was divided into Western and Eastern churches. The reason was just the same: claim for ecumenical power, aspiration to be superior to his fellow brothers, to reconsider and overrule their decisions, to change borders of other churches at his own and sole discretion; and today it may cause just the same schism.

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