Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine gave an exclusive interview to Orthodox Times and journalist Kostas Onisenko.
In the second part of Metropolitan Epifaniy’s interview (read the first part here), His Beatitude speaks openly and analytically about how he and the Church are experiencing war and reveals whether and how a union of his Church with the Russian Church in Ukraine under Metropolitan Onufriy would be possible.
He also refers to the transition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to the “new style calendar” and how easy it is for the faithful to get used to it, analyzing the process of transferring the parishes to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
He expresses his own view on what the day after the war will be like for Ukraine and for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Interview of Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv to Orthodox Times and journalist Kostas Onisenko
I would like to ask you about the transition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to the “new style calendar”. In your opinion, how long will it take for believers to get used to this change? How will this change be implemented in practice? Will believers be able to choose when to celebrate religious holidays?
The decision to reform the calendar is an important step towards the development of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. I can point out three key steps that have been taken to ensure that the Church of Ukraine is able to respond to modern challenges and is truly the one that assures the salvation of the flock entrusted to it. These steps are: the use of the Ukrainian language during worship and the affirmation of the autocephalous status of the Church, when Moscow’s lawless and non-canonical rule over the Church of Ukraine ends. Calendar changes are the third step.
We took all three steps in a balanced and responsible manner, realizing that they must be done consciously within the church environment – this is the only way to have solid foundations. That is why, for example, our Church allows people to freely choose the language of worship and there are communities that use ancient Slavic, Greek, Georgian, Romanian and other languages – those used by Local Churches. But it is obvious that priority is given to the “living” Ukrainian language because it is understandable to the majority and makes the Liturgy understandable, encouraging the laity to participate more consciously in it.
The same goes for the autocephaly. The Moscow Patriarchate seized power over the Church of Ukraine in the late 17th century by force, bribery and violation of the Canon law. This has brought much harm to both the Church and the Ukrainian people. And as soon as favorable external conditions allowed overthrowing Moscow’s yoke, the Church of Ukraine began to fight for its independence. This struggle culminated when we received the Tomos of the autocephaly in January 2019.
Now it is the duty of all Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, according to the religious Canon law and as the Tomos stipulates, fall under the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In fact, we see that some Orthodox Christians still follow the Moscow Patriarchate. We encourage them to abandon spiritual possession, fulfill their Canonical duty and join the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. And many of them have already done so voluntarily because we want this ongoing process to take place consciously, as an expression of the will of the parishes.
We act in the same way in relation to the style of the calendar we follow. In previous centuries, the subject of the style of the calendar, that is adherence to the old style calendar, was one of the signs of resistance to attempts to change the ethnic and religious identity of Ukrainians. Therefore, the majority in the Church was in favor of keeping the old style calendar. But now conditions have changed – the majority of both Church and society see that the new style, the New Julian calendar is used as a sign of unity with those Orthodox Churches, notably the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which supports both the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in their just struggle. And the old style calendar has been linked to the Russian cultural tradition and is now causing negative reactions.
We dealt responsibly with the issue of the style of the calendar and for several years we looked for ways of solving it. And this year we saw that the majority of both the Church and society seek to the realization of the calendar reform. That is why we brought this decision to the Bishops’ Council, which approved the calendar reform (it was adopted with only one vote against among all the bishops).
Now, in the Local Council, which is the highest authority within our Church, along with the participation of representatives from the clergy, the monks and the laity, we will have to ratify the final decision. Afterwards, from September 1, when the new ecclesiastical year begins, we, as a Local Church, will join the majority of the Orthodox Churches that follow the New Julian calendar.
However, the parishes and monasteries that wish to continue to follow the old style calendar can do so if two-thirds of the community supports this decision. We will not force anyone but we would like the acceptance process to be voluntary and conscious.
In my opinion, a smaller part of the communities will use this right and the vast majority will use the common New Julian calendar. And over time, even those who initially used the old style calendar will begin to adopt the new style because they will be convinced that this decision is better for the Church and our people. I think that during the first year there will still be some questions because it will be a new experience for everyone. This is because the usual holiday days will change. But in a few years, everything will become familiar. Also, I think that at the next Local Council (Sobor), which is going to take place in five years according to the Charter, we will be able to declare the success of the calendar reform.
How is the process of the passing of the parishes under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine progressing? Have the difficulties you recently encountered in registering the relevant decisions been addressed?
Well, daily reports have been published about the decision of parishes of one or another region to join the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In general, this process goes through several phases – some internal or external events lay the foundation for greater mobility – but in general it does not stop. For example, the attack by clerics of the Moscow Patriarchate against a military officer in Khmelnytsky Cathedral, who criticized them for their ties to Russia, was an incentive to proceed more actively with the transition. This attack provoked an outcry and led to the decision of many communities, including those in Khmelnytsky and its district, to finally oppose the Moscow Patriarchate.
The actions or more precisely, the inertia of Metropolitan Onufriy and his Synod also provoked the decision to leave the Moscow Patriarchate. Some priests and communities expected their hierarchs to take some appropriate steps and change their stance in relation to the war, Gundyayev (Patriarch Kirill of Moscow), and dialogue. But every meeting of the Synod of Onufriy turns into a disappointment for many who have such expectations because no new decision is taken. Onufriy and his entourage are certain that they are doing everything right, while laymen and clergy can see that this kind of behavior has led their jurisdiction to a complete public disaster (in other words, this tarnished their image). Because 85% of the population of Ukraine, according to polls, is in favor of the restriction of the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate by the state and, in particular, more than 60%, that is, two-thirds of our citizens, support a total ban on the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Let us talk about the delays in recording the will of the parishes. These delays were generally eliminated after the change of the leadership of the Security Service of Ukraine and the state agency responsible for religious matters. The previous leaders of these authorities clearly and publicly expressed their sympathy for the Moscow Patriarchate and used their authority to prevent the parishes from liberating themselves from the yoke of the “Russian world.” However, over the last six months, the situation has changed for the better and there is no longer any unlawful interference in these proceedings.
Now let us talk about the Church in Ukraine as well. Do you think that there is room for discussion with Onufriy and is union with the Russian Church in Ukraine possible? What would be your terms for such a union?
We have repeatedly called and continue to call on Onufriy and others who, contrary to the rules, remain subservient to Moscow, to start a dialogue. Let us start without any preconditions. Just let us sit down and start talking, so that through dialogue solutions can be found that will benefit both the Church and Ukraine.
But Metropolitan Onufriy completely denies any attempt to start a dialogue. He refuses to have any contact and forbids everyone else from doing so, even when it is proposed to be done informally. Therefore, church unification is taking place – but in contrast to the position adopted by him and by his Synod. It happens in a bottom-up manner.
A year ago, during an important meeting led by Onufriy, he adopted three prerequisites. The prerequisites were not about unification but about whether the hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine would start thinking whether they would start a dialogue with us.
The first prerequisite was to publicly acknowledge that we are not clergy and that we have not been ordained. That is, in order to satisfy the Moscow Patriarchate, we must renounce God, the sacraments we have joined and performed ourselves, and finally to renounce the decisions of our Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch. Is this a really prerequisite for dialogue? Any reasonable person would say no.
The second prerequisite was to publicly acknowledge that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine had no Tomos and that it was not an autocephalous Church. This is what Moscow really aims at in order to be able to reject canonical authority and the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is clear why they need this to happen – so that, if not on paper, then in practice Moscow would have the right to “veto” Orthodoxy and, therefore, no one would be able to decide anything without them. But does the Church need this; can something like this be accepted by the faithful and the people of Ukraine? Any reasonable person would say no.
The third prerequisite was to state that we would not accept into our jurisdiction parishes that voluntarily withdraw from the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate. But we have never recognized and cannot recognize that the Moscow Patriarchate possesses parishes. It is as if it was the master who possesses slaves. The parishioners and clergy are not slaves of the Moscow Patriarchate and whoever acknowledges this sins.
Therefore, their preconditions are a way for the Moscow Patriarchate to refuse dialogue with us. We will never accept such conditions because no reasonable person would accept them. If they abandon their ultimatum and are ready to talk with us without preconditions, we will be ready for dialogue as of tomorrow. But so far, there has been no sign of their willingness to do so.
What do you see in the post-war future for Ukraine and for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
Our future will be happy but mournful. We will rejoice in our victory but we will also mourn for the humans lives that have been lost.
And after the victory, we, as a Church, as the largest religious community in Ukraine, supported by more than half of our people, will have a special mission; the one of restoration. It will be about the restoration of internal, social unity, spiritual rehabilitation of those who suffered from the consequences of the war, rehabilitation of the soldiers who will return from the front. There will be a lot of work to do for many years to come. It is going to be really difficult. But the main thing now is to contribute to the victory over the aggressor and to hasten this victory.