(RISU) - A public debate on the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine (in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate), the inter-Orthodox conflict and changes in church environment following the conflict is still ongoing. The religious map of Ukraine is changing, but it is not that we may analyze and even notice its latest trends. That is why we took the opportunity to talk with Archimandrite Cyril (Hovorun), former speaker of the UOC (MP), Senior Lecturer at Stockholm School of Theology and National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Researcher at Yale and Columbia Universities (USA).
- I would like to talk about the policy of the UOC (MP) that has been criticized over the past two years. What may be the implications and is the position of neutrality on the part of the clergy reasonable enough?
- In my opinion, the UOC displays a certain tendency to distance itself from social and political processes in Ukraine. Perhaps it sees no place in this process or does not want to see it. In any case, there is a distance, which is broader and deeper than it was previously. There is also a problem of communication between the Church and society. I do not think that society regards this situation as a problem as, unfortunately, it regards the UOC as an important institution to a much lesser extent. Neither I am sure that the Church regards this situation as problematic. In other words, we have a paradoxical situation. Communication between the Church and society has greatly narrowed, but neither society nor the Church deem it a tragedy. However, in my opinion, this is a real problem. And it can be solved only after both sides – the Church and society – become aware of the problem and decide on how to resume dialogue with each other.
- How should this dialogue be resumed?
- Perhaps, when the church leaders decide for themselves that the dialogue with society is still important, when they once again recognize that loss of the faithful is a problem. I am afraid to make a mistake, but it seems that withdrawal of people from the parishes as part of the general trend of the Church’s distancing from society is not regarded as a problem. The gospel principle that a shepherd should leave his flock for a sheep was replaced by the principle of a small flock that shall be faithful but not necessarily large, even if we are few, it is still not a problem, as long as this little amount of people is faithful to the principles that we deem important for ourselves. I think that this approach is not consistent with the Gospel. When it is reviewed, it will give the impetus for the Church to change its attitude to the relationship with society. It certainly will find a positive response in society.
- During the events on Maidan the idea of emergence of true ecumenism in action was expressed. But after the revolution, there was a partial loss of confidence in religious institutions. In your opinion, what it can lead to or will religion find a new place in Ukrainian society?
- I fully agree with this assessment. No doubt, Maidan has given a huge boost to the Churches in action. They approached each other like never before. And I personally have a hope that it really will lead to a new quality of relations between the Churches and that we come to some form of unity in Orthodoxy. But it did not happen, and there was a return to the hostile relations between the Churches that existed in the early 90s. A part of this rhetoric was inspired by Russian propaganda. The Churches proved to be the most vulnerable to this propaganda. How can this vulnerability be explained? - I cannot say. But I think that it should at least be stated.
Since the beginning of the split, Ukrainian religious organizations based their identity on the rejection of others, of other churches. Thus, they were creating a comfort zone for themselves when it is convenient to be in the state of cold or hot war with others. Hostility and discord as a comfort zone for churches were built during the period of independence and have not gone. Now the Churches are returning to these zones - to their fundamental identities. But this return does not coincide with the aspirations of society, since the social demand for church unity is growing. I think that Ukrainian society is still very religious and will not become secular in the near future. But the Churches are not the points of unity for it. I do not want to talk about specific examples or about all the Churches in a single definition, emphasize particular roles but there is a definite general trend. Although, of course, there are Churches whose contribution to the unity of the Ukrainian society is constructive and positive.
I think that this situation makes the breach of the status quo between the Churches inevitable. The configuration, which currently exists between the Ukrainian Churches, will be unable to survive, as it is built on the sand of comfort zones, which are in fact the zones of conflict. One cannot build comfort for their own jurisdiction while fuelling conflict with the others. This construction is not long-lasting, and it is doomed to destruction. Therefore, in my opinion, soon the religious map of Ukraine will change. What it will be like is very difficult to say. This will be determined by both external and internal factors. Internal factors are normalization of situation in the country after the war, consolidation of society – let us hope for it.
Although the conflict between society and government resumed again, fortunately, society is stronger. And I think that the strength of civil society will be able to overcome this conflict. The same force will lead to the consolidation of the churches, because society will give a new mandate for the unity of the churches. There will also be external factors: Russian propaganda, which is currently very powerfully works to fuel the conflict, will become weaker. When the flow of hatred decreases, it will affect the Churches as well.
Another very important step to be implemented is deoligarchization of religious life in Ukraine. The situation where money may affect the position of churches and their mission in society is not normal! This refers both to strategy and information policy of the churches. Unfortunately, they are arranged along a line which does not coincide with neither the interests of society nor the interests of the majority of believers. Maybe the churches need deoligarchization even to a greater extent than society.
Another factor is the legal one. The question is often asked: what should be the role of the state in the unification of the Ukrainian churches? In my opinion, the role should be one - equality before the law. The state should not interfere with the internal life of religious organizations, but must supervise that they observe law and the law is observed in their respect. If church leaders break the law – whether it is separatism or economic crimes or inciting violence – they shall be liable under the law on the equal basis with all citizens of Ukraine. I think that the restoration of law in society will also to lead to normalization of relations between the Churches and will contribute to the resolution of conflicts on religious grounds.
There is another point related to the law. The relationship between the Churches has been historically built on the basis of canon law. And its situation in the Churches is the same as in society: selective justice, selective application of canons, the Latin American principle of “mercy for my friends and law to enemies.” Canon law in the post-Soviet context became a purely political instrument for solving problems. It must not be like that.
- You mentioned the social demand for unification of the Churches. During more than one year are conducted discussions on the establishment of One Local Church in Ukraine, of Orthodox environment. Do you think it possible?
- I am not sure that in Ukraine there will be the One Local Church that is the only canonical Church. Ukrainian society is pluralistic and has identified itself as such. We have a similar phenomenon in ecclesial life. Many religious sociologists, studying the situation in Ukraine, think that establishment of the One Local Church is unlikely here. I do not think that even in a strong state, which is still weak, and God forbid that it should be weaker than society, unification of churches may be possible. Normalization of the situation in Ukrainian Orthodoxy envisages a significant element of plurality.
- Why do the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church destroy the reputation of their structure in Ukraine?
- I sometimes think that this reputation is not much important for many of those who make decisions in the ROC. They do not so much care about what is said about them in Ukraine as about the attitudes of the Russian political elite. It is not communication with the public or even the Ukrainian Orthodox Church believers they rely on but the “work” with church leaders in Ukraine, including with the aid of oligarchs, who are considered to be a more effective impact factor.
- In your opinion, should we expect some revolutionary solutions from the Pan-Orthodox Council?
- Absolutely not. This Council is convened just for the sake of assembling. I sometimes call this assembly a “selfie council” intended to assemble, take a photo and thus certify that we can assemble at least once in 1500 years. It is good if the bishops may at least assemble. No significant solutions are expected from this council. Therefore, all the fears that certain damage can be done to Orthodoxy are groundless.