Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine gave an exclusive interview to Orthodox Times and journalist Kostas Onisenko.
In his interview, which we present in two parts, the Metropolitan of Kyiv speaks openly and analytically about how he and the Church experience war, talks about the instrumentalization of Orthodoxy by the Russians even in Greece, addresses Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, speaks about the decision of the government of Ukraine regarding the status of the Monastery Lavra of Kyiv but also about the process according to which parishes will be transferred under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
He reveals whether and how a union of his Church with the Russian Church in Ukraine under Metropolitan Onufriy would be possible.
Read the first part of the interview given by Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine to Orthodox Times and Kostas Onisenko.
Your Beatitude, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by Orthodox Times. Orthodoxy was extensively instrumentalized by the Russians both within Ukraine and in other countries. Can you explain to the Greeks why Russian “penetration” through the Church can be dangerous for Greece as well?
First of all, I would like to thank you for your publication on its work aimed at objectively covering the life of the Orthodox Church for both the Greek-speaking and the English-speaking audience. And this work is very important.
Because we clearly see that the Russian forces and other forces, that are in solidarity with them in various countries and religious communities (not only among the Orthodox, but mainly in the Orthodox world), use lies and propaganda as a weapon of hybrid warfare. This goes for both the current Russian war against Ukraine and the war against the truth in general. We know that in Greece, for example, there is a whole network of websites that systematically support Russian narratives (and obviously they do so not only because they love Moscow but also because this propaganda is always generously paid for by Moscow funds).
Therefore, it is very important that both the Greek-speaking and the English-speaking audience know the truth about what is happening in the Orthodox world in general and in Ukraine in particular. Your publication puts across true information and I wish you, and your colleagues, success in this endeavor.
As for your question; what is the Church all about? It is all about the soul. When one comes to the Church, they give up their soul. They entrust themselves to the priest and show confidence in him. Moscow takes advantage of the fact that, through ecclesiastical preaching and influence on hierarchs and on Christians, especially those who play an important role in social, economic or political life, its maneuvers favor its neo-imperialist plans. It also deftly manipulates various conflicts, intensifying them and preventing their resolution. (Moscow) wants everyone else to be weak and to be forced to ask for protection and help.
For example, does Moscow want Greece to be a strong state? Does Moscow want to have stable and long-term predictable relations with all its neighbors? If Moscow wanted to, then it would have acted very differently. But its actions show that it incites conflicts, both internal and external, including within the Church.
It is no coincidence that the government expelled a number of Russian diplomats from Greece who were accused of trying to bribe hierarchs and other important clerics. Why would they be bribed? To make them serve the interests of Greece? There is no need for bribery for this! The reason was to serve Russia’s interests, even when those interests are contrary to Greece’s – that is why bribery exists.
We can clearly see how this system worked in Ukraine. And we see the result; the Russian invasion and the ideological preparation the Kremlin made through the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to carry out the invasion. We see Moscow’s aggression in Africa against the Patriarchate of Alexandria. We see the attempts to create division within the Church of Cyprus. These and many other examples show that Russia exerts influence on the church word to the detriment of the Orthodox Church and with the aim of serving the interests of the Kremlin and its bloody neo-imperialist plan.
There is also a very important point about the Greek reality. In Ukraine, we have seen how various slanders and lies about the Orthodox Church of Ukraine have spread over the years through certain media and certain individuals. One of the most recent examples is an article that falsely and unjustifiably claimed that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine allegedly violated the Tomos and the Charter, rejected the canonical rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch, which belong only to him.
These and similar publications aim to create a constant tension and suspicion against the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The reason why is to promote Moscow’s view that the Tomos is not real, that autocephaly is wrong, and that everything must be decided anew with the participation of Moscow this time.
The facts show that, among all Churches that have appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in recent decades in order to resolve complex Canonical matters, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has been the most consistent in fulfilling its obligations. It has never exceeded what is stipulated in the Tomos, the Charter and the rights of an autocephalous Church. However, despite these facts, Moscow associates constantly arouse suspicion – acting like the devil, which sowed doubts in people about God’s words in order to grab them and lead them to sin.
Yes, indeed, we have adopted a new administrative provision dealing with internal matters of Church life – those that are either not reflected at all in the Charter or are reflected very succinctly. These are issues of dioceses, parishes, monasteries, educational institutions and synodical organs. The Tomos explicitly states that the Primate and the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine resolve all these issues on their own – this is what is called the autocephaly of the Local Church. But we have not changed anything – not a word, not a letter – in the Charter of the Church, and we are not going to change anything.
Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to address your readers: Whenever you are dealing with media reports that are known to be linked to Moscow, treat them as if they were statements of the devil.
In a previous interview you said that you were among those people whom the Russians want to assassinate. Do you think this is still the case?
Has anything changed in Moscow’s attitude towards the Orthodox Church of Ukraine or its Primate? They understand very well that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine strengthens the spirit of our people in the fight against the aggressor and at the same time supports our soldiers and our state. Therefore, the Kremlin sees our Church as a hostile organization. And we know very well how the Kremlin treats its enemies.
Given the calamities brought to Ukraine by the Russian invasion and the Russian Church’s involvement in the invasion, what would you say to Patriarch Kirill if you had the opportunity to meet him personally?
I would say that God exists and that soon he, Gundyaev, will give an answer to Him because he is an old man and the end of his earthly life is near.
I would say that we should fear God not Putin. Because God is eternal while Putin will die, as all tyrants and murderers have died. I would say that he, as patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, bears a special responsibility – he has in his hands the blood of tens of thousands of Ukrainians whom he blessed to be killed. This blood will not be washed away with water but with tears of sincere public repentance, if he still believes in God and is able to repent.
To what extent is the Orthodox Church of Ukraine satisfied with the decision on the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves? In Greece some have spoken of “persecution of the Russian Church in Ukraine.” What is your opinion on these matters?
The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is an important component of the spiritual identity of the Ukrainian people. With the support of pro-Russian former politicians, the Moscow Patriarchate usurped the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and turned it into a place from which the ideology of the “Russian world” has been spreading. The head of the Monastery from the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Pavel, has become the most scandalous hierarch in Ukraine during the three decades of his administration, blatantly ignoring public opinion. He is known for his love for luxurious lifestyle and especially for Mercedes cars, the media even began to call him “Pavel- Mercedes”.
Should the Church, society and the state tolerate all of this? Can you imagine a situation where a foreign state – with which Greece is at war – controls the monasteries of Athos and in these monasteries they preach that there is no Greek nation, that the Greek language does not have God’s blessing and that it is a sin to serve in the Greek language? Would such a situation be tolerated? I do not think so. But we, in Ukraine, have been patient for a long time. However, this patience has come to an end. Due to violations of the terms of the lease, the state, as the owner of the entire Lavra complex, decided to terminate the agreement with the Moscow Patriarchate. And now, under the ownership regime, the Moscow Patriarchate has no right to use the Lavra complex.
We, as a Church, created a legal entity for our Monastery last May. It is indeed registered. And the Monastery has been regularly celebrating Liturgies in the main temples of the Lavra, the Cathedral and the altar, since January. Archimandrite Avraamiy, from the brotherhood of the Monastery of the Moscow Patriarchate, decided to unite with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and, he was, therefore, appointed by me abbot of the Lavra Monastery which is considered part of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. We also keep regular contact with other Lavra monks awaiting the final decisions of the state regarding the Lavra buildings. They want to remain in the Lavra Monastery as a part of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and we are ready to receive them. We will renew the Lavra Monastery, put an end to the ideology of the “Russian world” and bring back the ancient monastic traditions together.
The process is underway and we are in favor of a peaceful solution. But it is important for the Church, the state and society that the enemy does not use pilgrimage as a way to spread their ideology according to which our extermination is justified. Anyone who wants to pray to God and live as a monk in the Lavra Monastery can do so. However, anyone who wants to pray and serve the “Russian world” must leave.
We see priests of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine at the forefront of the battle. How does the Orthodox Church of Ukraine contribute to Ukraine’s victory over Russia?
Firstly, we pray for the victory of truth and peace for Ukraine and we call on all those who believe in God to pray for the same things too. Because victory depends on God – We thank Him for helping us resist the enemy, who is much bigger and stronger than we are. We believe that God will help us achieve complete victory.
Secondly, we testify the truth to our people and to the whole world. The truth is that Ukraine is the victim of unjust aggression. And, as a victim, we need support and protection. Because if Putin had succeeded in Ukraine, as he had hoped, he would have begun a war in Europe too. Russia would attack the Baltic States or Poland. He can only be stopped by force. Therefore, if Europe and the world want to live in peace, this peace must be protected in Ukraine now.
Thirdly, we collect and distribute humanitarian aid for the victims and work with those who donate and encourage others to donate to charity.
Fourth, we send priests to our defense forces to provide spiritual support to our defenders.
Fifth, we are fighting against the ideology of the “Russian world” which is the cause of the war and a way to justify aggression. Just like the ideology of Nazism caused the Second World War, the ideology of the Russian world is the cause of the present war and must, therefore, become widely known and condemned.