Staunton, December 31 – Filaret, the patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine, said yesterday that Moscow has put in place a plan to split and destroy his patriarchate and that it has assigned “the main role in this plan to the organs of state power in Ukraine” rather than in the past to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Expressing his regret for talking about unpleasant realities on the eve of holidays, Filaret said in his declaration that “the rapid development of events and the increase in pressure on the Kyivan Patriarchate had forced him to take this step in order to mobilize Ukrainians against its realization (www.cerkva.info/ru/news/patriarkh/1143-zajava-patr.html).
Filaret said that the plan to destroy the Ukrainian Patriarchate had been “created in Moscow and proposed by Moscow Patriarch Kirill and his subordinates.” But according to the Ukrainian churchman, “the main role” in its implementation has been assigned to the Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovich rather than to hierarchs subordinate to Moscow.
Last spring, Filaret noted, the Moscow Patriarchate as part of its preparation for Kirill’s visit to Ukraine dispatched agents to various oblasts of Ukraine to seek allies within the hierarchy of Filaret’s church. “But this plan failed,” the Kyiv patriarch said, and consequently, Moscow decided to try another approach.
Then, beginning this summer, he continued, reports came in to Kyiv that priests loyal to him had been summoned by government bureaucrats who questioned them as to why they were loyal to Filaret rather than to Kirill. And as of now, Filaret said, “in some bishoprics, up to 70 percent of the priests” had been subjected to such “pressure.”
In a number of these cases – and he provides details on several across Ukraine -- Filaret said, the local officials were supported “from offices in the capital,” a reference to Yanukovich’s regime. And “in all of these cases … the representatives of the Ukrainian authorities … acted in the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate” rather than in defense of religious freedom.
That will lead to trouble, Filaret said, although “at present” no one can say exactly where the next clashes between Ukrainian Orthodox and those who want to be subordinate to Moscow will break out. “But if the realization of the Moscow plan doesn’t stop, conflicts will arise in the future.”
To date, the combined Moscow church and Ukrainian government effort has “been able to find in the Kyiv Patriarchate only a few traitors” because most of its parishioners and priesthood remain loyal to the idea of an autocephalous Ukrainian church and do not want to be subordinate to a church in another country.
Filaret added that he was sure that this effort by Moscow in alliance with Ukrainian officials will generate “strong anger” among Ukrainians, a development that the Kyiv Patriarchate hopes can be avoided. But “in response to all our appeals to the authorities, we do not hear anything” except empty declarations about equal protection of all churches.
What is happening, the Kyiv patriarch warned, could reignite the church conflicts that marked the first decade of Ukraine’s post-Soviet existence, including the kind of violence that took place on July 18, 1995, when the Ukrainian militia beat those who were taking part in the funeral of the late Patriarch Volodymyr, an event known as “bloody Tuesday” in Ukraine.
“We are not afraid of new persecutions,” Filaret said. Nonetheless, he called on “all parishioners” to show “vigilance” and not allow the Moscow Patriarchate working together with Ukrainian officials to shift their congregations to the Russian church without the explicit consent of the members of these churches.
Filaret also called on “society and the international community [as well as journalists in Ukraine and abroad] to focus attention on [this latest] violation of the rights of the believers of the Kyiv Patriarchate and to the increase of pressure on our Church. Your voice must be raised in defense of the truth!’
The Moscow Patriarchate has three reasons for seeking to gain control of parishes and even entire bishoprics of the Kyiv Patriarchate. First of all, Kirill and the hierarchy oppose any autocephaly for the Ukrainian church. Second, nearly half of all the bishoprics of the Moscow Patriarchate are in Ukraine. And third, the Russian church has ties with business groups there.
Consequently, it is no surprise that the Moscow Patriarchate is continuing to put pressure on Filaret’s organization. But what is disturbing is that the Yanukovich government, apparently in its effort to curry favor with Moscow, appears to be working hand in glove with the Russian church against Ukrainian believers.
Such a combination is certain to disturb not only Filaret and his church but all Ukrainians who value the independence of their state and all people of good will who support the principles of freedom of religion. Clearly, President Yanukovich needs to consider whether he wants to continue to offend both groups.