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His Holiness, Patriarch Filaret Visits USUF

February 6, 2015 @ 12:00 am

By Oxana Parsons U.S.-Ukraine Foundation Volunteer Patriarch Filaret

“Everything depends on the God, but we should also act” – this was one of the key thoughts that his Holiness, Patriarch Filaret shared with the audience during his visit to U.S. – Ukraine Foundation on February 6th 2015.

Patriarch Filaret, the Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv and All Rus’-Ukraine shared his views on the conflict in Ukraine and explained why the Ukraine Freedom Support Act should be implemented.

He started off by trying to explain why about 80% of Russians are ready to fight for Ukraine. It was stated that, just like Gorbachov, Putin cannot imagine a strong Russia without Ukraine. Representatives of the Russian political elite do not see Russia just as any other country; they want to create a world’s superpower. The majority of Russian citizens seem to like that idea, but in order to achieve this status Russia needs to restore the control over quite a few Eastern European countries.

Thus, we can see that implementation of the Minsk Protocol was not something Russia was looking for. Putin’s plan possibly includes not only occupation of Crimea and Donbass, but also occupation of Kyiv, Warsaw, Vilnius etc., and the only way to stop him could be providing necessary aid to Ukraine.

His Holiness mentioned that while there is a lot of enthusiasm among the Ukrainian armed forces, a lack of lethal weapons makes it hard for the Ukrainian soldiers to defend their land. Much of the weapons that are currently in possession of the Ukrainian military are outdated. Ukrainian armed forces have to use old Soviet-era equipment to battle Russian forces. What can happen if the Ukraine Freedom Support Act is not implemented? It could lead to more aggression and even World War III since it seems unlikely that Putin will stop after he seizes Donbass.

Can providing military aid to Ukraine lead to the same consequences? One of the questions asked to Patriarch Filaret was: “Can providing weapons to Ukraine have an effect of adding oil to a fire and lead to even more violence?” His Holiness replied to this metaphorical question with a great metaphorical answer: “You can hold the oil in your hand without pouring it into the fire”. Some would question the right of a religious figure to even ask the USA for weapons, His Holiness stresses that he is not a politician, and he hopes that knowing that Ukraine has real support from the West, could possibly cause Russia to rethink its actions and eventually bring peace to the region.

Patriarch Filaret also touched upon the topic of religion. He talked about the tension that exists between the Kyivan Patriarchate and the Moscow Patriarchate.

According to his Holiness, “A country cannot exist without a national and religious base”. Unfortunately, the Moscow Patriarchate has had a great influence on some people in Ukraine, especially in the eastern parts of the country and Crimea, which led to the destruction of this base and a major misunderstanding between people living in different parts of Ukraine. At the moment there is no religious freedom in Donbass, and churches that belong to the Moscow Patriarchate, are the only religious institutions that still function in that area. They also have been the only religious institutions which have been reluctant in showing support for the Ukrainian army (Mitropolit Onufrie says that collecting the money will emphasize the weakness of the Ukrainian army). Meanwhile, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyivan Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine and Protestant churches in Ukraine have all shown support for the Ukrainian armed forces.

Another great point made by His Holiness, Patriarch Filaret, was that Russia is not the biggest enemy of Ukraine at the moment. The biggest enemy, according to him, is corruption. Unfortunately, even after the Revolution of Dignity, there are still some members of Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) as well as representatives of local administration in different cities and towns in Ukraine, who belong to the old Ukrainian political system that could be characterized by an extremely high level of corruption. Rebuilding and reforming the system in just one year is impossible, which means that Ukraine still struggles with its biggest enemy.

Hopefully, Ukraine can defeat this enemy and transition to being a thriving democracy. The meeting was concluded with a prayer. It was a prayer for peace, a prayer for Ukraine, a prayer for all of us.

Oxana Parsons serves as a U.S.-Ukraine Foundation volunteer. Opinions expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. Ms. Parsons can be reached at okhristich@gmail.com.

  Philosopher, Pontiff, Patriot By Peter Voitsekhovsky Research Director, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation
Photo - by Oxana Parsons
Photo – by Oxana Parsons

Patriarch Filaret, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, came to Washington to attend the National Prayer Breakfast. His itinerary included other meetings as well. And like a year before, His Holiness paid a visit to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation to meet with Friends of Ukraine.

Below, I summarize my impressions from the Patriarch’s public appearances, both at our meeting at USUF and elsewhere in the Nation’s Capital.

Despite his age, Filaret is a keen thinker and an energizing speaker. An audience of political experts at the Atlantic Council listened to him intently for over an hour and gave him a round of applause in the end. His speaking style reminds the listener that the pontiff is a former teacher: he covers difficult subjects in simple and eloquent words, and his thoughts are articulated lucidly and crisply.

A year ago, during the Maidan protests, Patriarch Filaret famously said, “The church must be out of politics. But it has to be with the people.” His church consistently follows this principle. St. Michael’s Cathedral – a temple of the Kyiv Patriarchate nearest to Maidan – gave refuge to young protesters beaten by riot police at the start of the anti-Yanukovych revolution. Two months later, in the days of the uprising, St. Michael’s monastery opened an infirmary for the wounded.

By the same token, Filaret gets featured these days in a weekly program on Ukraine’s TV Channel 5, “Dialogs with the Patriarch.” In those soulful conversations, he holistically connects questions of faith with citizen virtues. Does Christianity have room for patriotism? Yes it does; it teaches to defend your land and your people. How do we face good and evil in our daily lives? We make daily choices between truth and lies. How to reconcile Christian forgiveness with hatred to enemy at war? We must hate Putin’s aggression, for it is an evil and sinful deed, explains the Patriarch; but we can pray for Putin’s soul asking God to forgive this sinner.

He shared the same holistic thinking while speaking in Washington. We do not claim a role in politics, he said, but we understand that people are driven by ideas, and in the domain of ideas they can seek guidance from church to distinguish between truth and lies. The Patriarch eagerly discussed political history as a source of moral lessons. Moscow’s idea of Rusky Mir (“the Russian World”) is an example of lies and falsehood; nice packaging for the idea of a new Russian empire. The Patriarch also spoke at length comparing Hitler’s course to World War II with Putin’s course today. He emphasized that both Hitler and Putin used lies to cover their aggressive aspirations, and that Western powers must not make the same mistake again. He also stressed that Ukraine, by confronting the Russian aggressor, was defending not only itself, but the rest of the world as well. He continuously reminded about security assurances given to Ukraine when it was dismantling its nuclear arsenals. As the Patriarch pointed out, helping Ukraine with defensive weapons now is the right moral choice for the U.S.; but besides, that choice must also be driven by concerns of international security and the need to save international trust in the United States.

Photo - by Yaro Bihun
Photo – by Yaro Bihun

Many decades ago, Filaret began his rise in the Orthodox Church hierarchy owing to his success in theological scholarship. In late Soviet days, he used his considerable influence to gain an autonomous status for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; yet, when he pressed for its full independence (the autocephalous status), this caused a bitter conflict with Moscow. Looking back at Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, one can view that as a step of providence. For more than two decades after that, Ukraine’s politics was plagued by “the creole syndrome” of uncertainty and ambiguity in relations with Moscow. But Filaret resolved that uncertainty for himself and his followers when breaking off from Moscow in 1992. That act of great moral courage may be seen, in fact, as a precursor of the break up with Moscow that took place in the minds and souls of millions in 2014. In due time, history will fully appraise how much Filaret has done for his country. But no doubt, the Church of Kyiv Patriarchate was able to fend off at least some of the subversive Russian influence that came via the Moscow-controlled church, UOCMP. Since 2004, UOCMP became an openly “anti-Orange” political player in Ukraine. “Putin would not have seized the Crimea if our church had been there all along instead of the Moscow church,” remarked the Patriarch.

He confirmed that UOCMP was losing numbers of its faithful. Filaret quoted statistics showing that over 50% of the Orthodox faithful attend the temples of the Kyiv Patriarchate, whereas UOCMP has only a third of them. However, UOCMP has a bigger number of registered parishes – because, said Filaret, under President Kuchma the government wanted to register a UOMCP charter in every village across the country. It is not surprising that people would like to switch from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Kyiv Patriarchate, said Filaret. They can do this easily in cities where there are temples of both denominations – and that is how this should be. Conflicts and animosity arise only if there is but one temple in a village, and the community is divided.

But the situation would change as soon as the Ecumenical Patriarch officially recognizes the Kyiv Patriarchate as an autocephalous church. In that case, according to Filaret, big numbers of parishes, with their clergy and faithful, would switch from Moscow to Kyiv. Clearly, Moscow will resist that as much as it can. Once there is a united autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, it will easily surpass the Russian Orthodox Church in size and influence. According to data earlier quoted by Patriarch Filaret, only 5% (or 8 million people) in Russia go to a church on Easter; whereas in Ukraine, that number is 25% (or over 11 million people). Accordingly, the ROC has about 12 thousand parishes and 67 dioceses, while in Ukraine there are 15 thousand Orthodox parishes and 87 dioceses. If the two Ukrainian churches unite, Russia will cease to be world’s biggest nation of the Orthodox Christian faith.

The Patriarch is convinced that the European choice of the Ukrainian people means an important role for the church in defining the nation’s new European identity. He emphasizes that the European values are deeply linked to traditional Christian values. Christian faith and Christian values, according to him, must help in creating a united Europe that would have enough power to stop and defeat an aggressive adversary who tries to challenge those European values – like, for instance, Vladimir Putin.

Written by Peter Voitsekhovsky, Ph.D., Research Director at the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.  Opinions expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. Dr.Voitsekhovsky can be reached at:  pvoit@usukraine.org.


February 6, 2015
12:00 am
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