ORTHODOXY IN CRISIS: “Do Not Be Afraid of Isolation”

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk - on the reasons for the conflict with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the possible church schism and its political subtext


The ongoing controversy and potential schism within Orthodoxy is a socio-psychological and geopolitical warfare project of Atlanticism upon the Slavic and Orthodox world. Orthodoxy has proven a resilient institution and faith, which has provided not only for its more strict observers but also for broad secular communities at large, a shield from the travesties of modernity, finance capitalism, and globalization. Working with western intelligence agents, Poroshenko conspired with a corrupt and ill-suited Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and went over the legitimate leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and declared it autocephalous – contrary to the Ukrainian Church’s own pleading and warning. The move was anticanonical, illegal by the Church’s rules, and essentially Papistic in terms of the authority declared by Bartholomew I, who will have to ‘answer for his sins in the hereafter if they are not rectified’, according to the Russian Church. The following is an important and in-depth interview with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk,  the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow. He is also a noted theologian, church historian and composer and has published books on dogmatic theology, patristics and church history as well as numerous compositions for choir and orchestra. – ed,. J. Flores

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) on September 25th announced the suspension of joint service with the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. And the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate demanded that the Constantinople exarchs leave Kiev. The question of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a pre-election political project, and the actions of Constantinople in Ukraine are anticanonical, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk believes. In the following interview, he also explained why the events would not heal the split, but legalize it, why the ROC is not afraid to be isolated from the local churches and why the Russian Church calls for initiating a pan-Orthodox discussion of the problem.

Q: – In the history of Orthodoxy, there were many cases of granting autocephaly or autonomy to the churches of independent states. Have such decisions always been taken under political pressure? By what criteria does the Church make such a decision? Is the autocephaly of the UOC now necessary?

A: – The Church determines the optimal form of the organization of church life in a particular territory, based on intra-church expediency. Many factors are taken into account. The acquisition of state independence is not at all a decisive factor.

For example, after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into two separate states, the Orthodox Church remained unified in these countries. The same goes for the Serbian church, which preserves unity in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk Photo: Izvestia / Alexander Kazakov

The change in the political system is not an occasion to establish an autocephalous church in every single country. Otherwise, it would be necessary to have 54 autocephalous churches instead of one Alexandrian patriarchate.


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Local authorities, large political forces are often interested in having the church structure as much as possible isolated from external influence on its territory, a kind of “pocket church”. After all, for secular politicians, the Church is a part of the electorate, a lever of influence on society. But church people separate church expediency from political interest and do not succumb to catchy political slogans. The slogan “an independent state is an independent church”, which now often sounds, is a purely political manifesto, which was born not in the Orthodox environment, but in Catholic Italy and not related to the norms of the organization of church life.

The issue of autocephaly in Ukraine now is a political pre-election project, which has nothing to do with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Read its charter: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is already independent, it has more rights than church autonomy presupposes. It is a self-governing local church with its Synod and councils, with an independent administrative structure. It is completely independent in its internal management, personnel decisions, strategy of its development. She does not need to participate in dubious political projects, and this is clearly stated by her hierarchy. Moreover, under such pressure of the state and with the participation of non-canonical, that is, not recognized in the Orthodox world, groups that undermine church unity in Ukraine.

*Eucharistic communion between churches is not interrupted”
The outcome of the conflict between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople will depend on the position of the local churches.*

Q: – You stated that in case of granting autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, bloodshed may begin: the schismatics will take control over large monasteries, such as the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, and Orthodox believers will protect these holy places. What are the moods of the parishioners of the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate? What allows you to assume that a tough confrontation between believers will begin?

A: – The declared goal of the project is to unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which for more than 20 years suffers from a split. But the canonical norms for restoring the unity of the Church through the repentance of those who made the split are ignored. The position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is also not taken into account. So, the union will try to implement by political means, creating an artificial structure and trying to join the communities of the canonical Church with administrative and public pressure.

The Ukrainian authorities promise the equal existence of all denominations in the country, but these are only words. Recent years have shown that Ukrainian politicians took the path of discrimination of the canonical Church. More than 50 churches of the canonical church in Ukraine have already been illegally seized, and judicial decisions on their return to the rightful owners are not being carried out. Politicians and the media daily incite hatred towards the so-called “Moscow priests” – the clergy of the canonical Ukrainian church. The Verkhovna Rada has prepared a package of legislative initiatives aimed at legalizing the mechanism of further seizure of the churches of our Church, striking it in rights and even denying the name. The leaders of the split openly demand that they hand over to them the Kiev-Pecherskaya and Pochaev laurels, which are in use of the canonical Ukrainian church.

The procession in Kiev in honor of the Millennium of the baptism of Kievan Rus

The procession in Kiev in honor of the Millennium of the baptism of Kievan Rus Photo: RIA Novosti


You can use as many as you want the data of customized public opinion polls. But in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church more than 12 thousand real, not fictitious communities – this is the largest confession of Ukraine. It would be naive to believe that millions of parishioners across the country will stand and watch armed militants take away their monasteries and temples under the guise of police, explaining that this is a “voluntary transition.” Even the seizures of small village parishes in Ukraine were accompanied by facts of violence. The massive seizure of numerous city parishes or an attempt to take away all Ukrainian sacred objects, like laurels, will inevitably lead to a surge of violence, and possibly, to a large-scale interfaith conflict throughout the country. Such fears are confirmed even now by the episcopate of the UOC and its clergy: believers in the localities are very determined.

Q: – It is unlikely that at least one local church will be able to stand apart from the history of the UOC. In the hierarchy of Orthodox churches, the Church of Constantinople ranks first in honor. Is there a danger that the Russian Orthodox Church, taking a categorical position with respect to Constantinople, will eventually be isolated?

A: – Since the XI century, after the fall of Rome, the Patriarch of Constantinople took the first place in the diptychs of the Orthodox Church, that is, in the order of commemoration of the priests of local churches for worship. This primacy was always understood as the primacy of honor, but not of power, and the Patriarch of Constantinople himself was the first among the peers of autocephalous churches equal to him. Only in the twentieth century, the Patriarch of Constantinople began to declare their special authority in the Orthodox Church, but these claims are devoid of theological and canonical grounds.

What is happening now in Ukraine is not just a territorial dispute between the two churches, as it may seem to somebody. This is something more. This is the deliberate and open imposition by Constantinople of its authoritative, essentially papistic claims. We see that the Patriarch of Constantinople no longer considers other local churches as a subject of inter-church relations. From his point of view, all decisions are made only in one place – on Fanar. The question of Ukrainian autocephaly Constantinople does not intend to coordinate not only with the Russian church, but also with other churches. Even the delegation that was commissioned by Fanar to negotiate with the local churches on the Ukrainian question, visited the priests not to seek their opinion on the intentions of Constantinople, To inform them about the decision already taken. Representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople have repeatedly stated this.

Meeting of Patriarch of Moscow Cyril and Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew

Meeting of Patriarch of Moscow Cyril and Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew Photo: TASS / Press Service of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia


The Russian Church does not need to be afraid of isolation. If Constantinople continues with its anti-canonical actions, then he himself will put himself outside the canonical space, beyond the understanding of the church organization that distinguishes the Orthodox Church.

Q: – Which churches have already firmly and unequivocally expressed support for the position of the Russian Orthodox Church? Will they make official statements on this issue? Is there a chance that they will change their mind?

A: – Lately, I have had conversations with many leaders of Orthodox churches and can testify that in the Orthodox world there is a common understanding that overcoming the split in Ukraine is possible only on canonical principles. The intention of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to create an autocephalous church by uniting the schismatics in one structure without repenting of the sin of the split and with total disregard of the canonical church already existing in Ukraine is incompatible with canonical rules. It is not a way to heal a split, but its legalization. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church appealed to the local churches with an appeal to initiate a pan-Orthodox discussion of the church situation in Ukraine. I hope that the local churches will respond to this call,

Parishioners in the Temple

Parishioners in the Temple – Photo: JOURNALISM / Alexey Maishev


Q: – How will the Russian Orthodox Church build relations with those churches that will take the side of Constantinople?

A: -I believe that all local churches realize that the legalization of the split, if it happens, does not give it a canonicality, and does not enter into dialogue with the structure created from the schismatics.

Q: – Was the financial side of the loss of the Ukrainian dioceses assessed by the Moscow Patriarchate?

A: – Questions of church unity in general are incorrectly associated with any kind of financial calculations.

In addition, it should be noted that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church enjoys the rights of broad self-government in the Moscow Patriarchate, including full independence in financial and economic matters. For many decades, no funds have been transferred from Ukraine to the general church budget.

Therefore, our unity is in no way connected with money, and it would be strange to think that this question would be of interest to us even now.

Q: – Does the Russian Orthodox Church receive support from other faiths?

A: – As for other religious confessions in Ukraine, it can be said that there is a clear support for the canonical church.

*The Exarch of Constantinople called the path to autocephaly of Ukraine irreversible*

The Vatican does not support any relations with the Ukrainian schismatics. Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church have repeatedly publicly condemned the oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, particularly the discriminatory bills No. 4128 and No. 4511 before the Verkhovna Rada, which provide for the deprivation of the canonical church in Ukraine of its rights and the legalization of mechanisms for the seizure of its churches.

Pope Francis wrote to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill about his concerns about the appearance of discriminatory bills, and in their joint declaration following the meeting in Havana in 2016, it was stressed that “Orthodox and Greek Catholics need reconciliation and finding mutually acceptable forms of coexistence.”

At a meeting with the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate in May of this year, Pope Francis very clearly formulated the position of the Holy See in Ukraine, saying: “The Catholic Church will never allow an approach that provokes separation on its part. We will never allow this … Catholic churches should not interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, including for political reasons. “

Apostolic nunciature in Ukraine reported about meetings of high-ranking representatives of the State Secretariat of the Holy See with the Ambassador of Ukraine to express concern, the theme was also raised during the visit to Ukraine of the State Secretary of the Vatican Pietro Parolina.

Participants of the All-Ukrainian peace procession of peace, love and prayer for Ukraine, in Kiev

Participants of the All-Ukrainian peace procession of peace, love and prayer for Ukraine, in Kiev Photo: RIA Novosti


High-ranking representatives of the Kharkov-Zaporozhye diocese, bishops Stanislav Shikoradyuk and Jan Sobylo evaluated draft law No. 4128 directed against the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church as provocative, capable of provoking a religious war in Ukraine. According to their unequivocal assessment, this bill is a raider and “the creation of a corrupt scheme in order for the parishes to freely move into the Kyiv Patriarchate”, and in fact “return to the 1930s”.

*The UOC urged the Constantinople exarchs to leave its territory*

The Archbishop of Canterbury J. Welby expressed his concern about the situation: “We are deeply saddened by these complications … and their potential impact on the entire Orthodox world … we offer heartfelt prayers for their peaceful resolution.”

The Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches, Olaf Tveit, in his letters to Peter Poroshenko and Andrei Parubia, protested against the draft laws, seeing in them a violation of the freedom of religion in Ukraine.

Intervention in internal church affairs was called by bills and the secretary of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church Igor Rudzik. Similarly, Evgeni Ziskind, executive director of the Association of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, said that bill No. 4128 “opens the way for raiding, the seizure of temple structures and lands.”

Q: – In your opinion, what are the most optimistic and most pessimistic scenarios for future events?

A: – I would not like to act as a futurist now. In a recent statement, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church clearly indicated its position, pointed out the consequences that the further invasion of the Patriarch of Constantinople into Ukraine would inevitably lead to, and which I mentioned above. I believe that the all-Orthodox discussion of the church situation in Ukraine can prevent a tragic division of Orthodoxy.


translated by and for FRN, from Izvestia




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