THE CRISIS IN THE UKRAINE AND THE LATE POPE JOHN-PAUL II:
VIEW FROM AN ARCHBISHOP OF THE CANONICAL UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
The following is our faithful translation of an extract of a telephone interview with the Moscow Patriarchal Archbishop Augustine of Lvov and Galicia on the Church situation in the western Ukraine. It is taken from the excellent Russian-language website www.pravoslavie.ru.
After the obscene Communist persecutions and genocide of the past, including the artificial famine created by Stalin, the relatively recent Communist persecutions of the Monasteries in Kiev and Pochaev, the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine is still under persecution. This time it is besieged from three sides - indeed, from four sides, if we include the very wealthy American Protestant missionaries active in the Ukraine. Bringing with them the gospel of American culture, Macdonaldization, and acting with impunity (as also in Georgia and elsewhere), they seem to be receiving support from the newly-elected EU- and US- financed President Yushchenko and his American wife.
All these movements are, like all schismatic movements, purely secular, political, financial and ethnic, and have no spiritual reality. The three main sources of persecution of Orthodoxy come from:
The uncanonical Ukrainian nationalists, led by the ex-(?) Communist, married and so defrocked, 'Metropolitan' Philaret Denisenko of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate. He appears to have considerable political influence with the ex-(?)Communist authorities. His friends there have enabled him to set up his schism and hoodwink many simple people. This is clearly a political, and not a spiritual, movement without any canonical legitimacy. At present the only 'Orthodox' sect which recognizes his 'Kiev Patriarchate' is the so-called 'Macedonian Orthodox Church'. Some Orthodox would suggest that had the Moscow Patriarchate defrocked him for his well-known deviations long before the collapse of Communism, including his palace-building, this situation would never have arisen (1).
The very aggressive Greek-Catholics or Uniats, fully backed by Rome from Poland. Since the late 1980s these have violently seized dozens and dozens of Orthodox churches in the western Ukraine (and across the border in Slovakia), leaving the real Orthodox there as a persecuted minority. For example, in Lvov itself there is now only one Orthodox church. The Uniats have made use of political support from the local anti-Orthodox authorities and, as usual, played on secular nationalist sentiment. (We should not forget that until 1945 this area was under Polish control, and Poland, with apparent EU support, seems keen to retrieve 'its territory'). Orthodox cannot forget how the Vatican closely co-operated with the murderous atheist Bolsheviks in the 1920s in helping to dismantle and persecute the Russian Orthodox Church then. They see in the Roman Catholic aggression since the 1980s further political opportunism on the part of the contemporary Vatican. Uniat persecution here is largely responsible for the very poor relations between Moscow and the Vatican. These are reflected in the recent official messages of condolence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Pope John-Paul II's death. After the usual diplomatic niceties, these unambiguously make clear the hope that relations will improve under a new Pope, now that the Polish one is no more. Some Orthodox would suggest that, had the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate maintained its integrity and an Orthodox position on ecumenism long before the collapse of Communism, instead of making startling compromises then, this situation would not have arisen
Finally, there is another group of political opportunists. This is a group of quite uncanonical, self-consecrated, right-wing emigrants under an Archbishop Vsevolod of Chicago. Many of their founders left the Ukraine with the Nazis in 1944-5, where they had persecuted the Jews. In the 1990s they were, amazingly, taken under the canonical protection of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, one of the tiniest Orthodox Churches. And since then they have been interfering in the Ukraine itself. This has given the impression that the Phanar is playing a political game to get control of more territory, just as they have done in Estonia, in Greece, on Mt Athos, and within their own dissident jurisdictions in the US, Australia and Western Europe, causing schism, division and canonical chaos. Among other things, Archbishop Vsevolod has already tried to set up a mixed Orthodox-Uniat group in the Ukraine under the joint jurisdiction of Rome and Constantinople (!). An alternative opportunist policy has been to work with their ultra-nationalist 'brethren' of the 'Kiev Patriarchate'. Archbishop Vsevolod has recently met President Yushchenko and made disturbing, but unconfirmed, statements about imperialistic intentions of Constantinople to set up a new Church in the Ukraine, the 'canonical territory' of the Patriarchate of Moscow. If this group does receive overt, and not covert, backing from Istanbul, there will no doubt be a second and more major schism between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Archbishop Vsevolod has already committed some totally uncanonical actions in the Ukraine, making out that it is the 'canonical territory' of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. There are concerns that the 'primacy of honour', naturally due to the Second Rome of Constantinople since the defection of the First Rome, is becoming a 'primacy of power'. In other words, under the present controversial leadership of the 'Patriarchate of Istanbul' (as another canonical bishop in the Ukraine has called it), this primacy of honour is becoming a sort of 'Eastern Papism', just as St Justin of Chelije (+ 1979) and Romanian Elders call it. Such also appears to be the view of Archbishop Augustine below. It seems incredible that any who consider themselves patriotic Russian Orthodox can remain in the anti-Russian jurisdiction of Constantinople today (2).
Interviewer: Your Eminence, I would like to ask you some further questions in connection with the death of the Pope of Rome, John-Paul II. Do you consider that it is possible to assert that Pope John Paul II personally took part in the events which occurred in the Ukraine at the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s? Or do you think that the destruction of the Orthodox Church and the regeneration of Uniatism in Galicia is the natural consequence of political changes, conditioned by the policy of Perestroika and then the collapse of the USSR?
Archbishop Augustine: I would like to point out that I expressed condolences on the death of the Pontiff to the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Cardinal Lubomir Husar, the Roman Catholic Archbishop Marian, Cardinal Yavorsky and also to the Papal Nuncio in the Ukraine, Archbishop Ivan Yurkovich.
From the Catholic viewpoint, John Paul II was indisputably an outstanding Pope, who did a lot to strengthen the Catholic Church, an incredible amount. For non-Church people, he also did a lot of positive things, including as a peacemaker. But I cannot help assessing his activities from our Orthodox viewpoint. I consider that John-Paul II is largely responsible for the destruction and sufferings of the Orthodox Church in the western Ukraine. He did not condemn those who violently seized our churches, he did not put forward any plan to settle disputes in Galicia. The Uniats threatened us and chased us out with his tacit consent, and this is a fact that will not go away.
But even when this tragedy came about and canonical Orthodoxy in Galicia was turned into a minority, discriminated against, whom the Uniats could no longer in any way fear, John-Paul II did nothing that could even slightly have eased the lot of the situation here of the Orthodox 'sister-Church'.
Personally, in Rome in the year 2000, I asked the Pope himself and his secretary - Archbishop Stanislav Dzivish - to help us. I spoke to the Pope for about five minutes, and then, so as not to tire him, set out the issue in detail to his secretary. I asked them to help resolve the issue, setting aside premises or a plot of land in Lvov. With its authority the Holy See could have solved the problem within a few days: since 1992 the authorities in Lvov have not wanted to give us a building or land. The authority of the Pope among the Greek-Catholics is such that a single word from Rome would have been enough to solve the problem. But this word was not given. Understand me, in relation to us, this is like kicking a defenceless rival, who has long been down, for the last time and who no longer has any strength to fight back.
I can say that, of course, I respect John Paul II, as a man, as a public figure. But at the same time I cannot understand and I am offended by the situation. He travelled to various countries and asked forgiveness for what happened a thousand years ago, for what his predecessors did - that was good. But why, during all the long years of his pontificate, did he not once write a letter, open or secret, or an epistle to his flock, the Greek-Catholics, in which he would have said to them: 'My dear brothers and sisters, you know yourselves what persecution is, you were in the catacombs, you lived through all this yourselves, so have compassion for your brother Orthodox, do not be vengeful towards them and try to live in peace'. But this never happened.
Interviewer: Do you think that the Polish origins of Pope John-Paul II somehow influenced his attitude to the problem of Uniatism and in general to Church life in the Ukraine?
Archbishop Augustine: Of course all this is amazing. Until the end of the twentieth century not one Slav, and not even a Pole in particular, sat on the Pope's throne. And suddenly a Pole became the Pontiff, at that very time when the issue of the collapse of the socialist system was being resolved. Astoundingly, just at that time, the Polish Pope became part of the context of political events, which was being defined by the new realities of the Gorbachev-Reagan era (3). The events in the western Ukraine became a direct consequence of those political changes. But I am convinced that if the Pope had been Italian, French, German, African or Latin American, then the Church problems of Galicia would have been resolved quite differently from with a Polish Pope. I think that in such a case there would have been more objectivity and a constructive approach. And dialogue with the Orthodox Churches would not have been thrown back half a century and Galician Orthodox would not have been thrown out of their churches onto the street.
I think that the Polish mentality counted for a lot in the attitude of John-Paul II towards the Ukraine. On an unconscious, genetic level, a Pole cannot be indifferent to the Ukraine. At the same time, this attitude will inevitable put the Ukraine on its historic Moscow-Warsaw axis. The Polish view of the Ukraine is almost always subjective: it always implies competition for the Ukraine with Moscow. Such an approach inevitably causes many new problems. I hope that this will at last be understood in the Vatican with the successor to John-Paul II.
Interviewer: In other words, you are expecting that, with a new Pontiff, the situation of the Lvov Orthodox Diocese can change for the better? And what do you think, which Cardinal, having become Pope of Rome, could build more constructive relations with the Orthodox world?
Archbishop Augustine: Personally, I would like to see Cardinal Christopher Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna and Primate of Austria, to be elected as the new Pope. I know him personally. He is a major theologian and has a very sober view of the Church and the episcopate. It seems to me that if he were elected Pope, our relations with the Catholic Church would be better. Although you cannot guarantee it 100%, I think that, for Orthodox, relations cannot be worse than at present.
1) For further information on the true Church situation in the Ukraine, see the articles on this website under 'Current Events' and 'Orthodox Holiness' concerning the contemporary Ukrainian Orthodox Elder, Fr Zosimas.
2) Being a faithful member of the Russian Orthodox Church is not a question of nationality or language, it is a question of spirit. For example, Metropolitan John of St Petersburg and Ladoga (1927-1995), without doubt one of the greatest Russian Orthodox bishops and patriots of the last half-century, called us all to battle on behalf of Holy Russia. He wrote as follows: 'The understanding of 'Russian' is not an exclusively racial characteristic. Anyone can participate in the service of the Russian people, as long as they recognize that this service was established by God, identifying themselves with the Russian people in spirit, aim and meaning of life, independently of national origin'. (See p.17 of his articles in The Good Shepherd, Ed. Constantine Dushenov, St Petersburg 1996).
3) Possibly, here, Archbishop Augustine is referring to the widespread belief among Orthodox and even more among Non-Orthodox, that the Polish Pope was elected only with the connivance of the CIA as a Cold War ploy. Some have suggested that this was in return for financial support from the White House at a time of financial scandals in the Vatican and for help with covering up the pedophile crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in the USA at that time. However, none of these beliefs have ever been proved.