"By its actions on October 11, the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself has actually been self-dissolved. The refusal to adhere to the canons of the mother church is evidence of abandoning Christ. For me, the Patriarchate of Constantinople does not exist."
There are a number of false churches in Ukraine. Now Constantinople has joined them. "If, after October 11, someone is baptized in the Church of Constantinople, for me it is an unbaptized man."
A Ukrainian bishop, member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, told the BBC how the broken relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate will affect ordinary Ukrainian believers, whether he expects the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine due to the appearance of a new church there, and whether it makes any difference whether Christians pray in one church versus another.
On October 15, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to break eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate. This happened four days after Constantinople announced its decision to grant autocephaly (independence) to the not-yet-created Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Constantinople also claimed to reinstate the canonical status of the heads of two schismatic churches in Ukraine, and announced their return to the bosom of world Orthodoxy.
After the synod ended, late on the evening of October 15, correspondents from the Air Forces in Minsk met with one of two representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, who are currently in the synod of the Russian Church. They interviewed the 47-year-old Metropolitan Luke of Zaporizhzhya.
He supported the decision of the Russian Orthodox synod.
Even more, the metropolitan says, he proposed to break the relationship with the Constantinople church at the last meeting in late September.
BBC: The meeting of the synod ended with a nearly four hour delay. Why did it last so long?
Metropolitan Luke: The meeting of the synod is not a flight of an airplane or a train ride. When such a serious question is being discussed and the document takes six full pages of text, each word of it must be discussed, because the approved statement is fateful. By its actions on October 11, the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself has actually been self-dissolved. The refusal to adhere to the canons of the mother church is evidence of the abandonment of Christ. For me, the Patriarchate of Constantinople does not exist.
BBC: Shortly beforehand, the Synod was informed that the Russian Church situation in Ukraine was discussed by the Russian Security Council, headed by Vladimir Putin. These formulations did not appeal to many in Ukraine.
Metropolitan Luke: The trouble is that the situation is being judged by people who absolutely do not understand the issues of the church. Was the Patriarch present at that meeting? He was not there; he was here [in Minsk]. There was nobody from the church.
I also read this news and I do not know what they could discuss there. Maybe they see something as a politician. But as a church man, I do not know what such a policy can do, except to cause pain.
BBC: Did you discuss the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church, in the event that a meeting of the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at the end of November will grant a tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian church?
Metropolitan Luke: Look. Suppose a document appears, issued by a janitor at home number six, claiming that his hometown is now an independent nation. Would you accept such a document?
I do not know such a [Patriarchate of Constantinople] since October 11, and everything that will be published and resolved there is already a patch of aunt Masha's carton paper, with no authority in the Orthodox Church. That so-called Patriarch has disappeared, and is no longer in the church.
BBC: Is it possible now to consider that the UOC-MP has terminated relations with Constantinople?
Metropolitan Luke: All the fulness of the Russian Church, including the UOC, broke Eucharistic communication with Constantinople.
BBC: Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and the UOC MP repeatedly spoke about possible pogroms of churches as a result of the decision on autocephaly. How likely is that?
Metropolitan Luke: First of all, I would like to express my words of gratitude to the police, because there really are police near the churches, and preventive measures are being taken.
But remember what Mr. Klimkin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine, wrote several hours after the synod in Constantinople?
He said that Moscow's bishops have no place in Ukraine.
[In a column for the Ukrainian Truth, Pavlo Klimkin had written: "The Moscow Patriarchate has nothing at all to do in Ukraine, because it is now a canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate."]
BBC: On October 14, Petro Poroshenko stated to the faithful of the UOC-MP: "I guarantee that every Ukrainian will be entitled to a right to worship God, but I would ask everyone to be thinking about the flock and the faithful of this denomination," and then he proceeded to criticize the Russian Church.
Metropolitan Luke: "Thinking" — does not it tell you something? I believe this is a hidden threat. You understand, when a person of this level says: you "think" ... I have a friend who says to his son, "Vita, think about it," and he immediately answers: "Dad, I understood everything."
BBC: Do you personally feel any threat to yourself?
Metropolitan Luke: As God is with us, who is against us?
BBC: So you're not afraid?
Metropolitan Luke: I fear God. Most of all in this situation, I'm afraid to sin. "Do not be afraid of the one who kills your body; be afraid of those who kill your soul," Christ tells us.
BBC: At the same event on October 14, Petro Poroshenko said that Patriarch Kyrill prayed for the "Russian army, which kills Ukrainians." "Can the churches, which commemorate Patriarch Kyrill, who prays for the Russian army, be called Ukrainian?" - he asks.
Metropolitan Luke: At worship, we pray for the armies of Ukraine. I clearly know one thing: I pray for my homeland, Ukraine. This situation reminds me of times when they start to announce someone as an outlaw, make dissidents, and so on. It hurts me very much.
BBC: Did you talk about the situation in Ukraine with Patriarch Kyrill? Did he give you or the UOC-MP some guidance, advice on how to do better, advice on how to behave?
Metropolitan Luke: The patriarch in this regard is a very delicate person, and he never imposes his point of view. He said, "We pray for you, I pray for you, I request your prayers for me." But not, "do not be afraid, we'll protect you" - he said nothing like that.
BBC: Did you ask him for advice on this situation?
Metropolitan Luke: Here too, the wisdom of the patriarch is manifested. He says in such situations: "You have a presiding officer." He shows who our first bishop in Ukraine is — His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphrius.
BBC: What Metropolitan Onuphrius' position on this subject? Many noticed that he was not even present in the delegation of the UOC-MP, who traveled to Istanbul for talks with the patriarch about Ukrainian autocephaly.
Metropolitan Luke: When he was elected head of our church, he was told to focus on prayer, to be a monk. Do you often see him at public events? No. You often see him in churches.
Some may say that it is weakness. But he gives us autonomy and shows his respect for us. This is the style of his work, his style of ministry.
BBC: Do you support the decision of the UOC-MP to not meet exarchs (representatives) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, sent to Ukraine? After all, it is possible to start a dialogue with them, to suggest if you think that they are wrong.
Metropolitan Luke: The church lives under the authority of official church laws (canons). As a bishop, if I have to go somewhere, I must bring it to the attention of the local bishop in the territory where I am traveling. Even if the patriarch comes to the territory of the Zaporozhye diocese, he has nothing to do in this territory. It is a canon law.
These two salesmen (the two exarchs) broke into the territory of the blessed Metropolitan of Onuphrius. These are thieves, gangsters. No one called them.
BBC: Nevertheless, as a result of a tomos being published in Ukraine, supporters of autocephaly expect that a new church structure will appear, which will be canonical. Why can't two churches exist in one country? For example, in Estonia they co-exist. (Since 1996, there have been two Orthodox churches in this country, simultaneously operating under the jurisdiction of Constantinople and Moscow.)
Metropolitan Luke: You think like a secular man. Do we have a dollar as an official currency? No, we have the state of Ukraine and its Ukrainian money, the hryvnia. We have exchangers to handle dollars and euros, but only the hryvnia is in actual circulation here. Similarly, for one city there is one bishop. This is the law of the church.
BBC: Another Estonia?
Metropolitan Luke: What about Estonia? There's the same problem there. The state took away all the property of the Russian Church, and gave it to a citizen sent by Constantinople - not even an Estonian.
[The head of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church — Metropolitan Stefanos (Charalambidis) — was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a family of Cypriot refugees.]
And the people in Estonia do not go there [to the churches that are under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate]. I was in Tallinn and I saw what is happening in our churches - they are packed - and that in the temples of this Stefanos.
BBC: However, there are two jurisdictions formally in one country. Is such a situation still acceptable?
Metropolitan Luke: No, Estonia is another example of the anticanonical behavior of Constantinople.
BBC: It is said that if the Russian Church loses Ukraine, it will lose one third of its parishes and a third of its financial wealth. Does the ROC depend on the UOC and vice versa?
Metropolitan Luke: This is ridiculous. How many statements have already been issued on this point ... In fact, not a single penny from Ukraine is sent to Moscow. Not a penny! Everything that we need, we are doing calmly in Ukraine.
But look at Filaret, and his so-called priests. Here is my Greek panagia [an image Orthodox bishops wear on the chest]. And they go in Moscow panagias. They buy crosses there.
BBC: If we often say that "all is for the will of God," then perhaps the sending of exarchs to Ukraine, the removal of anathema from Filaret, and the possible publication of the "Contemporary Ukrainian Tomos" by Constantinople is all the will of God?
Metropolitan Luke: It is very dangerous to say "all is for the will of God, God is love, God loves all". By speaking this way, we erase the framework of love and the framework of laws - the framework of the canons.
The attitude of "all is for the will of God" leads to indifference, so we cannot speak in this way. The will of God will never break. The Lord creates, and all that destroys it is no longer the will of God. We must understand that there is the will of God, there is the will of the devil, and there is the will of man. Was the will of God to be that Adam sinned? No. God gave man a free choice.
BBC: How will the decision of the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to influence the rupture of relations with Constantinople affect the ordinary Ukrainian believer? For example, how will it influence a grandma who goes to the local church in Zaporozhye?
Metropolitan Luke: Grandma, of course, will not go to Constantinople, where there will be no compassion with anyone. But it is important that the grandma will know that given a legal and canonical assessment of those actions that are in its land in Zaporozhye, can lead to irreparable consequences. She will know that her church protects her, because her church adheres to laws, canons.
BBC: In the comments to the decisions of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, the idea that the Russian Church itself puts itself in a deadlock sounds like an isolation from all Orthodoxy. Yes, and in general, many observers believe that the Russian state is trying to protect itself from the West, and the church is now following the same pattern.
Metropolitan Luke: I ask you not to reduce the canonical space of the Russian Orthodox Church — and this is more than 17 countries of the world — to the borders of the Russian Federation.
Now, in fact, there is a division of the world. The centers of influence in the world are changing, and the world is becoming multipolar, distributed to those who are friends with whom. And when Russia began to grow economically, somebody needed to start it.This is an example of life without God.
And this is exactly the case today with a Turkish citizen who lives in the Istanbul district of Phanar [patriarch Bartholomew]. After all, look at when the Russian Church is having a difficult situation, the Patriarch of Constantinople immediately goes on the side of her enemies, just as a hundred years ago when Constantinople supported the "renewed" Communists, the Soviet government.
BBC: The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said that he was disappointed with the vote of Ukrainian representatives at the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church — that is yours and Metropolitan Onuphrius' — and added that you are not for the unification of the people.
Metropolitan Luke: To comment on someone's actions, you need to understand them. This is how the cook will comment on the doctor's actions. I do not comment on the actions of the president in accordance with the 35th article of the Constitution [on the separation of the state from the church]. I'm a little surprised [to hear Poroshenko's comment] ...
The Synod gave a competent canonical assessment of the non-canonical illegal actions of Constantinople, nothing else. I am for legality.
BBC: Nevertheless, all over Ukraine, billboards of Petro Poroshenko hang with the slogan "Faith, Language, Army," and experts in Kiev predict that in the upcoming presidential campaign, the current head of state will actively use the theme of autocephaly. Will the UOC and you personally somehow oppose this? Probably campaign for other candidates?
Metropolitan Luke: In no case. I do not have the right to campaign for anyone. I'm not a political intelligence and not an agitator. My job is to talk about Christ.
And if we talk about the slogans of Poroshenko, what kind of faith does he speak of [on these billboards]? As a guarantor of the Constitution, he is the president of Muslims, Jews, Orthodox — everybody. Does he have the right to speak only about the Orthodox faith in his understanding? He is the president of a secular multi-confessional country, and speaking of faith, he violates the 35th article of the Constitution.
BBC: Dmitry Peskov — the Press Secretary for Vladimir Putin — declares that Russia will defend the rights of the Ukrainian Orthodox, in political and diplomatic ways, in the event of persecution. Do you consider this application acceptable?
Metropolitan Luke: This is a question he needs to ask. May the Lord protect me.
BBC: Do you and your fellow believers need Putin's protection?
Metropolitan Luke: No. I want only one thing — that the Lord will not leave me, and that He will never cast me away.
BBC: Many believers worry about a simple question: To please God, in which church building should I go to light a candle [for prayer]?
Metropolitan Luke: We must understand: Where is God? There is no God in the Phanar (in Constantinople). Phanar refused God and fell away from the church. The head of the church for us is not Phanar, but Christ. And Phanar itself decided to become the head of the church, basically telling the Lord to leave and walk away. And if you go there, where there is no God, then this is a misfortune, because your soul perishes.
BBC: But God hears us everywhere?
Metropolitan Luke: He sees and hears. But He gives us a free choice. One can hear the following argument: "I go to church, and I do not care what patriarchy there is. I'm coming closer to this, and I am going to God." It is a misunderstanding of God. What if there is no God where are you going?
If you turn to God and do some rituals, it is important where you do it. If you decide to do something, please do it right. You do not go to the pharmacy for a sausage.
BBC: A weekly paper in Kiev highlighted the phrase "no more unrecognized boys" as one of the main results of the decision of the Constantinople Synod. (Earlier this year, a UOC-MP priest refused to commemorate someone who was deceased, because he had been baptized in a church in the schismatic Kiev Patriarchate.) Here we are talking about a point that involves the return to the bosom of the church of the supporters of Filaret and Macarius (heads of unrecognized churches of the UOC-KP and UAOC). Do you still support your argumentation at that time?
Metropolitan Luke: Nothing changed. What did Constantinople do? He wants to pretend that a corpse is alive.
Let's gather the scientific community, the president will issue a decree, and the Academy of Sciences will write a document stating that this pillar over here is officially alive. Will it come to life because of this? That's the same sort of thing that happened.
BBC: But you will agree that the winter case with the boy, Zhenya, has become symbolic. He seems to have swept public opinion towards ...
Metropolitan Luke: ... and many people came to us and had their children baptized again. Throughout Ukraine. In our area alone there were more than 40 people who did this. And to this day people continue coming to ask. People understand what has happened.
This paper (the decision of the synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople) does not give us the right to commemorate everyone. They are still ungrateful people. They are living corpses, deprived of divine grace, unequivocally.
Metropolitan Luke: Followers of [the leaders of unrecognized churches] Denisenko and Maletech. Now also Constantinople has joined them. If, after October 11, someone is baptized in the Church of Constantinople, for me it is an unbaptized man.
BBC: And its followers, too, cannot be commemorated?
Metropolitan Luke: Correct. They tore themselves and all their flock away from Christ. They are gone, because of human ambitions.
Source: BBC - Ukraine