Reflections on the future of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church



Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and All Ukraine


REFLECTIONS ON THE FUTURE OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHXX century was the era of trials for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It faced physical elimination of her clergy, and the famine of 1932-1933, the servile life of the Church in the atheistic Soviet Union and ecclesial dissents after gaining independence ... I personally experienced in my life most of the historical challenges that befell the Ukrainian Orthodox people in the last century. I would like to share this experience that I have gained during more than 75 years of life in the Church with my brothers bishops, the people of God, and especially with the youth who influence the future of our Church.


The division of Orthodoxy in Ukraine is a tragedy for the faithful Ukrainian people, being one of the main challenges not only for our Church but for the plenitude of universal Orthodoxy.

Splits exist in many local churches nowadays. But the Ukrainian issue is especially complicated if compared with the said, both by the scale of division (in Ukraine about a third of those who profess the Orthodox faith are out of Eucharistic communion with universal Orthodoxy) and by the character of entities that are in split (being not recognized by the Universal Church, these entities are recognized by the state as legally competent religious organizations).


Whether we like it or not, we have to admit: the hopes of many that the autocephalous movement in Ukraine gets localized in the western region and eventually comes to naught are groundless. People have changed, many of our compatriots have converted to the Orthodox faith within this movement. The ideology of autocephalous entities has changed as well. While at the end of last century, the leaders of the self-proclaimed Kyiv Patriarchate publicly stated their intention to join the unrecognized Orthodox Churches, thus creating the “parallel Orthodoxy,” today this church community is committed to a different scenario: obtaining canonical status by joining the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s jurisdiction, to which the Kyiv Metropolis belonged from its inception until 1686. I know that these negotiations proceed rather intensively, although with varying degrees of success.


Establishment of a metropolis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate based on autocephalous entities in Ukraine and the parallel existence of two Orthodox jurisdictions mean that the current division of church and society will remain fixed for many years. There are other evident things: in current conditions the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has no right to idly contemplate the present division. Indeed, following the establishment in this country of the parallel entities recognized by the Ecumenical Church, there may be no further historic opportunity to restore the ecclesial unity in Ukraine. Coming under the omophorion of Constantinople, autocephalous entities may lose not only the opportunity to negotiate a union, but the very need of it – the need for the canonical recognition of their hierarchy.


The situation where one third of Orthodox Christians in our country remain in split with universal Orthodoxy is absolutely abnormal and needs to be urgently addressed. There are a number of decisions of the Holy Synod and the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which outlined the position of our Church on the unification. However, applying the canonical requirements to those who are in split, we have yet to witness them our love and desire of unity.


The Church and the state sorely lack unity, but the unity cannot be recovered mechanically, on a political request, it is impossible without deeds of love. If someone wants to reconcile with another person, he must make the first step towards the person he wants to reconcile with, even if the latter were wrong. Similarly, in the matter of reunification with those who are in split – we should not be waiting for the steps from the other side only. If today we fail to open an embrace of love and to sincerely strive for unity, doing it tomorrow may be too late.


The movement for autocephaly in modern times originated in Ukraine in late 80-ies of XX century, when the Orthodox clergymen of Galicia sought for opportunities to preserve Orthodoxy in the situation of rapid revival of the UGCC congregations in western Ukraine. Based on the national idea, the autocephalous movement was actively spreading throughout Ukraine. From the time of Ukraine’s declared independence in 1991, the movement was supported by the then government, which put forward the slogan “Independent church to independent state” (Kravchuk).


The autocephaly adherents considered it an indispensable attribute of independence. Instead, those who professed the values of the great Russian culture or was a supporter of the preservation of the USSR emphasized that upon acquisition of the autocephalous status the Church will allegedly depart from the path of salvation.


These two antagonistic approaches revealed themselves in two theological concepts, both carrying obvious signs of ecclesiological heresy. Absolutizing autocephaly, the adherents of ecclesial independence from Moscow generated an ethnophyletic concept, according to which a national church is nearly the main means of forming the Ukrainian nation. Thereby, the unity of Universal Orthodoxy receded into the background. In the perspective of the opponents of the new canonical status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, autocephaly was reinterpreted as means to undermine the unity church-wide.


Thus, the problem of church administration was artificially transferred to the plane of political and civilizational debate. Two opposing ideological models were created out of the two models of canonical unity of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine with universal Orthodoxy (being autocephalous or remaining part of the Moscow Patriarchate) that divided the Ukrainian people on the basis of political and cultural sympathies.


The position of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in these discussions was that the theological or canonical discussion in the Church should not develop in the situation of artificial politicization, while any decision concerning the canonical status of the Church should be conciliar, based on the church canons, and not the political interests.


Refraining in principle from adopting a particular ideological stance, I tried all the time to strictly adhere to religious priorities: remaining in Eucharistic unity with universal Orthodoxy and maintaining the unity and conciliarity in the internal life of the Church.


I was advised, and sometimes required to arrange the ecclesial life following the example of states and political parties: Russian or Ukrainian Church, the Church of the right or the left, the Church of the West or the East, the state Church or the one that stands in opposition to the state and its institutions.


However, ignoring these requirements and advice, all this time, by God's mercy, I tried to the best of my abilities to promote the development of the true Christian Church, building up a local and not an ethnical church, a church that would assume social responsibility, but would not be politicized, the Church that would not associate herself only with a certain part of Ukraine, but would unite the faithful of East and West, North and South of our country.


Almost every day I heard from people of different political views the similar words: “you have to decide definitively as soon as possible,” “your Church would now face difficulties catching up with the political process” and so on. To avoid conflicts, I mostly kept silent in response.


Subsequently, if the Lord gave me such opportunity, I tried to explain my position both to the faithful, and these “secret advisers”: the Church is not a property of either a Primate or a Synod, but is guided by her own laws.


What the future of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine should be like? Will the Orthodox in Ukraine manage to unite?

Will the autocephalous status crown our unification efforts or will the Ukrainian Orthodox Church continue to actualize its local status via the canonical communion with the Russian Orthodox Church? Assuming the office of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I believed that these issues would be finally resolved in my lifetime. But now, as my life is slowly coming to an end, I see that making the final choice of the model of unity of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine with Universal Orthodoxy remains one of the main objectives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for my immediate successors.


Whatever their views on these issues should be, whatever a model the hierarchs and church people should prefer – it is important that the issue of autocephaly is considered soberly, and its understanding is free from political implications.


Therefore, being concerned about the purity of ecclesial life and the future of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I, on the one hand, have to convey to my flock the correct theological understanding of the concept of autocephalous church, on the other – to closely monitor that the ethnophyletic heresy does not penetrate the church reason under the guise of fighting “for” or “against” the autocephalous church, whatever form it might take: the pro-Russian “political orthodoxy” or Ukrainian nationalism.


Our Church unites people with different views regarding her future. Some see it in the status that we have today. Others hope that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the future will obtain autocephalous status and become yet another sister Church in the family of the local Orthodox Churches.


From the political perspective, the Primate of the Church should perform governance with a view to invigorate the like-minded and harass opponents. But if the Primate takes one or another side (or ideological party) within the Church, he ceases to be the center of unity and loses the moral right to appease the internal church life. Therefore, professing my personal views on the future of the Church, I deliberately tried to stand aside the heat of discussion and respect the freedom and outlook of everyone, being father to all.


Do the church members need freedom, and where are its limits? Should the conciliarity be a way of ecclesial life or a literary concept, which I mention only to explain how the Orthodox concept of the Church differs from the Catholic or Protestant ones? Only a few know the right answers to these questions. You need to live so that the values of freedom and conciliarity were implemented in ecclesial life. Sincerely trying to do this, I urged myself to acquiesce, take time and sometimes change my position or plans when the latter were confusing or upsetting others.


To sum up my experience, I can now give advice to my successors in the office of Primate, keeping in mind that any episcopal power is exercised within the Church and collectively with the Church. The Primate of the Church is a friend and servant to all. Of course, it is the Primate who is responsible for the unity of state and church. But in order that the church unity was not based on administrative principles, the Primate should respect freedom of others not violating conciliar principle of church organization.


Remember that in any case, despite multiple duties and fatigue, the Primate should remain humane and open, selflessly accepting in his soul everyone who needs it. Appreciate and sincerely love your neighbor, which the Lord gives you. Do not rush to make a final opinion about a person, do not surround yourself with those alike or always agreeing with the views that you express, do not only require from employees responsible performance of their tasks, but also sincerely forgive if they make mistakes or show weakness. Trust your employees, but at the same time do not forget to personally monitor the status of church affairs, being aware that you are responsible for the Church. Surround yourself with conscientious assistants, but do not refrain from personal management. After all, the responsibility for the mistakes made by others still rests with the Primate.


Let me express some views on the election of a new Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.


The ecclesial history knows Primates enthroned with the blessing of God or by God’s will, when the Lord saw our sins and distrust of His Providence, for the sake of our future of repentance, he lets us harvest the fruits of tyranny. While imploring God open-heartedly to deliver us from this trial, I appeal to all the bishops of the Church: elect a Primate not being guided by benefit, not guided by your own interests or someone else's advice, but keeping in mind only the interests of the Church.


Choosing the Primate from among yourselves, think about the challenges facing our Church and that the modern world can be called too transparent when our lives are entirely open to the world. Although any and all of the bishops probably have personal opinions on the matter, I urge you to remember those requirements to be met by the candidate for the Primate.


In carrying out his ministry in a society where the majority is poor, the Archpastor should not love wealth or flaunt his high position. If the power belongs to the rich in the life of the Church, as it is the case in the social life, she becomes no different from this world.


Living in the society that is deeply divided by political preferences, a candidate for the Primate should always avoid politics. If the Church will be led by a man whose soul is obfuscated by political passions, instead of sowing the seeds of faith in the people, such a pseudo-hierarch will sow passion that has taken possession of his soul.


The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church should know and feel from inside the culture and traditions of the people among whom he lives and performs his archpastoral ministry. The one who does not accept and does not perceive the local culture is incapable to fully carry the Good News to the people among whom he preaches.


Do not choose the man, whom you know to be irresponsible or power-lusty. An irresponsible man will not take care of the Church governance or will actually surrender it to other people. A power-lusty man, having gained confidence of his brothers bishops by artifice or flattery, would betray and oppress them in future.


Finally, the main requirement, which the future Primate should undoubtedly meet – he must have a living Christian faith and witness with his life his sincere desire to be with God, live according to His will, be concerned about God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Without a living faith and prayer experience all the other virtues of the candidate for the Primate will have no value.


Only the one who can, becoming the head of the Church, forget about his own interests, sincerely serve the Church plenitude, is capable of bringing the real fruit. The laws of life are inevitable. And one of them is that there are always more candidates for a high office than the posts. The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the only one, and the hierarchs willing to assume this office were numerous already two years ago.


Knowing this and having sincere friendly feelings to all the concelebrating bishops, I exhort and encourage all of you who intend to apply for the position of the Primate, to soberly look once again at yourselves and those talents that God bestowed you, and consider whether you are capable of performing this obedience. Remember, lots of things that people forgive you now, will be brought against you. The Primate is actually deprived of the opportunity to live a private life, to choose where and when to serve, with whom to communicate. Moreover, he often is not able to read a favorite book or complete his theological studies started earlier – this also takes time, which the hierarch who voluntarily agreed to become the head of the Church painfully lacks.


The climate in which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will take this fateful decision is also important. In political life the election to senior positions usually involves competition, partisanship and deep division. In the Church, everything has to proceed differently. But in the history there are many examples how the struggle for power set the hierarchs at variance and compromised their unity. Therefore I warn and exhort my fellow bishops – find strength to resist temptation and do not let the spirit of wickedness and disputes disrupt the ecclesial peace.


Remember that the day after the election of a Primate you will need to build the Church together. Do not search for “enemies” among yourselves. Do not pay much attention to imaginary or even real human flaws. After all, whoever is appointed as Primate – be it a person close to your beliefs or not - when he becomes the head of the Church, each one of you shall become his co-worker, sharing his prayers and works for peace and unity of the Church.


The twenty years that I led the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by God’s grace fell for the turbulent times of changes. Society got divided into the rich and the poor. The latter hastily separated themselves from the former with high fences. Many people, especially the elderly who could not adapt to new social realities found themselves below the poverty line.


In this situation, the Church should be initiator and mediator of dialogue between the rich and the poor, not only reminding the new rich of their social responsibility, but also effectively helping the disadvantaged. However, the Church, unfortunately, failed to timely respond to new challenges, partly because it had long been artificially separated from public life, and partly because it was actively healing the wounds inflicted by the Soviet repressive apparatus. However, I must recognize that I am also to blame.


Today, when our church is finally reviving the practice of social service, it is time that the Church pay special attention to the problems of the disadvantaged. Effective real aid to these people should be provided at all church levels: parishes, deaneries, dioceses. But doing the deeds of love, we must not assume that we are doing something extraordinary, which is worth special gratitude. One should keep in mind: without the daily affairs of Mercy, the Church cannot be the image of Christ's love and, therefore, cannot be what she is.


“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” (Prov. 21:13). Commenting on this place from the Parables of Solomon, St. Theophanes the Recluse wrote: “We often wonder why God does not hear our prayers. That is the reason! This is because that was probably the case when we shut our ears from words that the poor begged us, so the Lord does not hear us. It is not a great problem when the prayer for something temporary is not heard, but woe to us if the Lord does not hear us, when we start to pray to Him for forgiveness of sins. And he would not if the cries of those whom we neglected are more intensive than our prayers. You need to hurry to avert this disaster, like Zacchaeus, to whom the Lord said for his wise decision, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk. 19: 9).


Starting my ministry in Ukraine as the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I happened to face a situation of strict rejection of the Church and its positions by the government. Subsequently, the interference of state agencies with the church life weakened. The multi-denominational situation, existing in Ukrainian society, had its drawbacks and advantages. On the one hand, the power was tempted to manipulate the churches now perceived as plural, to advance its interests. Yet, paradoxically, multiple denominations kept both the state and the church community from the temptation of governmentalization of the Church, turning her into a government component.


In her relations with the state, the Church will continue, on the one hand, to welcome the willingness of the state to cooperate, especially in the social sector and education, on the other hand – to value and protect our freedom, remembering that it is very easy to lose and too difficult to recover. Remember that too close an alliance of the Church with this world and the “princes of men” can lead to the fact that people lose their trust in the Church, consider her only as an external entity, i.e. t a government institution, which organizes their religious life and satisfies their religious needs.


Instead, the Church should pay more attention to developing relations with society, being aware of its aspirations and concerns, adequately responding to them. The Church must mediate between state and society. In the conflict between state and society, which Ukraine inherited from the Soviet era, the Church should side with society, as the church members are its integral part. The future head of the Church must support programs of social aid – especially for the underprivileged population.




The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has a special mission to unite Ukrainian society. Ukraine is the state of perceptible division into two socio-cultural communities, the eastern and western, the Left Bank and Right Bank ones. Eastern Ukrainians were educated not in the least by interaction of Ukrainian and Russian cultures. The western socio-cultural community developed mainly as a result of interaction with other European cultures.


Unfortunately, many politicians exploit cultural differences between the east and the west of our country for their own ends, thereby dividing it. But from the ecclesial perspective, these differences are not the weaknesses of Ukraine, but its power. After all, diversity always carries great potential for development. And the Church must boost the creative potential of Ukrainian diversity. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church unites east and west, north and south of our country. She provides for Ukraine an example of the association where no one considers other people less worthy. My successor shall work towards the unity of the Church and the Ukrainian people on the basis of mutual respect and patience commanded by God.


Ceding the ancient throne of the Kyivan Metropolitans to my successor, I will also say a few words about the importance of the God-preserved city of Kyiv for Ukraine and our ecclesial mind.


Conceptualizing the place of Russia in world’s history, ancient scribes symbolically identified it with its main city of the state - Kyiv, rebuilt in the time of Yaroslav the Wise on the model of Jerusalem. Thus the “Kyivan idea” emerged that intended to determine the place of Russia and Ukraine in world’s history through the perception of ancient Kyiv as the “New Jerusalem.”


The origins of this idea date back to the times of the Kyivan Rus. “Tale of Bygone Years” with its legend on the emergence of Kyiv with the blessing of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, the idea of Kyiv as a city elected by God and the place of His Presence in the “Sermon on Law and Grace,” the idea of Kyiv as the “second Russian Jerusalem” by Metropolitan Job Boretsky or “the image of the heavenly Holy Kyiv” in Shevchenko’s works ... naming but a few prominent figures of national history and culture and it becomes clear: the idea of Kyiv as a new Jerusalem had really played a fateful role in consolidating the Ukrainian consciousness and culture for a long time.


Resting our hopes in the Lord, let us pray for His assistance and abundant grace and believe that together with us the hosts of saints will lift their prayers for the people of Ukraine and their Church to the Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary: St. Volodymyr and Prince Yaroslav the Wise, saints Hilarion, Michael, Macarius and Peter, Metropolitans of Kyiv, St. Dimitrius of Rostov, St. Anthony, Theodosius and all the venerable fathers of the Kyiv Caves, the venerable fathers St. Job of Pochayiv, St. Athanasius of Brest, St. Nicholas, the Prince of Lutsk, St. Macarius of Kanev, St. Theodore, the Prince of Ostroh, Hieromartyr Volodymyr, Metropolitan of Kyiv and Galicia, all the martyrs and confessors of faith who witnessed by their suffering and blood their fidelity to the Risen Lord, and the entire host of saints, who shone forth in our land.


I would like to remind to all the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and first of all to my brothers bishops, the wise words of the testament of St. Prince Yaroslav the Wise, whose reign will forever remain the “golden age” in the history of Kyivan Rus:
“Now that I depart from this world, you, my sons, live together in love ... If you live in love with each other, then God will be with you and will conquer your enemies so you could live peacefully. And if you live in hatred, quarrels and strife, then you will ruin yourselves and lose the land of your fathers and grandfathers that was gained with such a great difficulty” (Tale of Bygone Years).


Let us avoid temptations and keep peace in our hearts, preserve the unity of the Church and of our terrestrial home so that coming to the gate of death, by God's mercy we get to the eternal city seen by the mystic Apostle: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven ...” (Revelation. 21: 2).


May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.

Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine



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