Metropolitan Luke: the Lord gives us an opportunity to prove our faith
Met. Luke (Kovalenko) of Zaporozhye on how to properly react to what is happening around the Church, how to distinguish the Church from a political organization, etc.
– How should believers feel about the trials that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is currently undergoing?
– We know clearly that the earthly Church is a militant Church, and the Heavenly Church is triumphant. But we do not fight each other, we fight with the sin that is trying to enslave us, we fight with the enemy of the human race. Therefore, when the Church is patted on the back when the Church performs the functions of a state or echoes the state — this is no longer the Church. And so today the process of self-purification is underway, and the Lord gives us an opportunity to prove our faith so that the Lord will believe us.
How we teach children – how happy a child is when they are given a difficult task. I watch my goddaughters, as one gets excited: "Mom, can I cook my dad's breakfast today?" She is 8 years old, and she can already cook her dad's breakfast – not only fried eggs but also something more substantial to please her parents because she feels responsible.
In the same way, our parishioners feel the responsibility that the Lord entrusts them with. He is testing their faith. In other words, we have reached a certain age when, as the Gospel, the Holy Scripture says, we can already take some harder food. And now this time for us is not trials in a secular sense but in the spiritual sense – the time for testing our faith, the saving time for us. Why? As John Chrysostom said: “The worst persecution for the Church is no persecution.” Are we being patted on the back now? Not the case.
People, after all, understand where truth is, because they feel it with their heart, which is filled with the grace of God.
Of course, a man consists of spirit, soul, and the body. And we grieve in a worldly way; we are worried about the processes that are taking place in our society. But at the same time, from a spiritual point of view, people rejoice. I remember one parishioner, before participating in the cross procession, took communion, tidied herself, got dressed in clean clothes and said, “If enemies of the Church are to kill me, Lord, I'm ready! But I will go to the cross procession, I won’t leave my Mother Church.” So, people, after all, understand where truth is because they feel it with their heart, which is filled with the grace of God. And they understand that there is no such grace where they feel the shower of regular political dirt poured on them instead of grace. Therefore, I think that for a person this is very important now.
– Does what is happening around the Church affect the people inside it? Has anything changed in the spiritual life of believers?
– Now at confession, priests more often hear people getting worried about their future. But we must understand that a person is worried if they do not feel the presence of God in their life. We, for example, conducted such surveys of parishioners in 2015 and 2018. There was a question: “How often do you take communion – once a month, once every two weeks?” And I noticed that real numbers indicate that people began to take more frequent communion. It means that people began to turn more to God, because Communion, union with God, gives strength.
Yes, at confession you often hear that a person is worried, worried about the future. But a bigger concern is, all the same, the economic component. Well, now people began to worry about what happens to us next. On the other hand, we began to hear more often: “What patriarchate are you?” And when we say that we are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, we are asked: “And at the head of your Church is Onufry?” (sorry for people’s familiarity towards His Beatitude), we say: "Yes, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry.” “Oh, this is a real Church, I’ll go here,” we began to hear this more often. Once a woman was following me: “Wait, father, do you commemorate His Beatitude Onufry here?” Yes, I say. "Oh, then I will go to this Church."
They are afraid, seeing that no one goes to them, they begin to daydream and speak of mass transfers.
– Now the authorities throughout the country are massively "transferring" the UOC temples to the "new" Church. What is going on in the Zaporozhye eparchy?
– We have no transfers yet. I don’t know what happens next – the authorities are pressing, officials are reaching the priests, some ask diplomatically (“Would you like to transfer?”), others demand straightforward (“Join, you are Ukrainians, why are you serving this Moscow Church?”).
But I would like to say that we have the situation now as in the saying “fear has big eyes” – they are afraid, seeing that no one goes to them, they begin to daydream and speak of mass transfers. Here is our example - Zaporozhye. Now all the media, except the lazy and the truthful ones, are trumpeting, that in Zaporozhye the first parish has passed from the MP into the OCU, HCU, or I don’t even know how this structure is called, I call it a religious chimaera, – passed into a religious chimaera. I immediately think: for God’s sake, I do not even know who. I read: the citizen Igor Sawa has transferred. So wait, it's like in the fairy tale about Kolobok (Roly-Poly). He was with us, then he declared that he wasn’t satisfied with something, accused us, left with a lie — left of his own will — our church, the parish did not support him, for the exception of a few like-minded people. And then he began to rent office space in the business centre, and on YouTube you can view the services he performed there: cut liturgies, messed up prayers.
Just imagine – “The Symbol of Faith” is sung, playing the bandura, the bouzouki, some other musical instruments and they believe that this is the Orthodox Divine Liturgy.
They passed into this religious chimaera. Once again I say, I don’t know what to call it — the OCU, HCU — I don’t know, headed by the citizen Dumenko or, maybe, the citizen Denisenko. I do not know who the chief is there.
In the same way, if you look at each community that has allegedly passed, how many cases of seizures were there? They presented all as a community transfer.
They say they are the patriots of Ukraine. What is their patriotism about – the destruction of their own kind? This is not patriotism.
– Is there a violation of Ukrainian legislation in the work of the authorities on the “transfer” of communities to the OCU?
– Definitely. And this is done by government officials, those people who must observe the state canon - the Constitution. And they do it because they allegedly find political expediency in this. But because of political expediency, they do not see people. They are ready to destroy their people. They say that they are the patriots of Ukraine. What is their patriotism about – the destruction of their own kind? This is not patriotism.
Take this new law. It does not clearly define what a religious parish is (it must decide for itself) and what a rural community is. How does the rural community relate to the Orthodox parish when they have never been members of the Church? For example, God-knows-who comes to my family, the Kovalenkos, and tells me how to live a family life. On what grounds? He will say: “I am entitled by law, I consider myself your relative.”
Nowhere did Christ call for the overthrow of power; nowhere did Christ promise anyone political superiority or economic prosperity.
– The Сhurch is often reproached for serving politics and politicians. Are such allegations fair and how to avoid them?
– I do not know who of the priests leads some kind of political campaigning. For a man, it would be good if he compared what he hears on TV and what he hears in the temple. Nowhere did Christ call for the overthrow of power; nowhere did Christ promise anyone political superiority or economic prosperity. Christ says one thing: repent and prepare yourself for the Kingdom of Heaven. He doesn't tell us anything else.
Spiritually, we have a hierarchy – spirit, soul, and the body. And when earthly, worldly values are presented, idolatry comes out on top, which is manifested in the trips around Ukraine, which I call the “yoke tours”, because they are taking out and about the Turkish yoke that they are trying to hang on a religious chimaera. This is terrible – a religious chimaera and in the Turkish yoke. It is supposed to be bowed to, people have to stand in the cold for hours to worship this yoke. Who are they? Idolaters.
The political leaders of our country promulgate idolatry, and at the same time, they talk about the Orthodox Church, that they are praying. What are the political leaders, the powers that be, doing now in the temple – preaching? What is a mannequin in priestly robes (there is no other word for it), doing next to a politician? And in this, the politician does not say church things, not call for Christ, but speaks only with political slogans. This is terrible; there is a perversion, and, in fact, the destruction of any faith.
They see that no matter how they destroy the Church, it is still the most authoritative institution in the state, people listen to the Church. And they want to take over this authority, so they are satisfied with a mannequin in church robes next to the Istanbul yoke and a politician, a citizen in a tie – this all leads to people being deceived, and people weak in faith are subjected to this spiritual degradation.
Our politicians, I call them "thimble-riggers", are trying to cheat on people: you will get a penny if you guess under which thimble the ball is. They shift things around, swindling.
– Now the authorities call the UOC the Church of the aggressor state, while the OCU is a “patriotic” Church. What would you say to such rhetoric?
– Our politicians, I call them "thimble-riggers", are trying to cheat on people: you will get a penny if you guess under which thimble the ball is. They shift things around, swindling, and take money for themselves. And the deceived man is left without money and anything.
The current politicians are now deceiving people in the same way while putting labels on our Mother Church. Who am I – a citizen of Russia? I am a citizen of Ukraine.
If he says that he breaks off any ties with Russia, let him first cut those cash flows that flow from Russia into his pockets, because he has factories and other enterprises there. Just think that during the Second World War, Stalin’s factories worked in Germany or Hitler’s plants worked in the territory of the Soviet Union. What is this madness, this lie? And most importantly, people are getting distracted from this. After all, it is not as if someone had whispered to me – the state statistics reports that the export of products from Russia to Ukraine has increased by 30%. Or the same politicians shout: so-or-so, they don't give us gas. So you decide who you are and what you are. How come – and here, and there, and in the evening at home? This is a sign of political blindness and lack of spirituality, spiritual degradation of an individual when they are lying and no longer even understand that they are lying, but they honestly believe in this and infect other people.
Indeed, one of the most terrible sins is demagogy when a person doublespeaks even in their speeches.
Worst of all, they are drawing millions of people, Ukrainians, into this huge deception. They themselves are going to death and dragging similar weak souls down with them. This is horrible!
Therefore, it is very important that our people could give the right assessment of the events taking place, compare them with the Gospel, with the Word of God, and in no case listen to all the lies addressed to our Church. Come and listen to what they are saying, who they are praying for. Have you been to the church? Come and see. Do you hear them or not? Then don't lie. Indeed, one of the most terrible sins is demagogy when a person doublespeaks even in their speeches. This terrible thing is happening in our society now, and we hear this demagogy from the lips of our politicians.
– Phanar exarch, Archbishop Daniel, said in an interview with the BBC that too many temples had been built in Ukraine. What would you say to such words?
– I would answer this sugary bishop, by the way, an officer of the US special services, a lieutenant colonel, that he should not compare what is happening with his own diocese but take for comparison at least Hellas, where there is a temple per every thousand people or even less, the number of priests there. They have more parishes than our Ukrainian Orthodox Church does – only in one small Hellas there are 11 million. And we have one temple per 100 thousand people - and they say that’s a lot? I want to ask a question: you, a church person, you throw a stone into the Church! “Why did you build so many temples?”...
To put it mildly, you need to work with people. The temple is not only a place for prayer, but it is a place where a spiritual personality is formed. Do you think the fewer temples, the more people? In no case, there will be more people. People will forget what a temple is at all. And in general, understanding the temple, even the building, the relationship to it is a silent sermon, a sermon in stone.
– Now for those who do not stand firm in faith is a rather difficult situation. What would you say to the doubters?
– I cannot say anything from myself, and I do not want to say anything from myself. The Lord clearly said to us: Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
In Zaporozhye, we greet one another these Christmas days as follows: God is with us, and will be, and do not be afraid of anything. That’s great!
– In difficult times, people are especially inspired by the examples of the Church saints. Whose examples support you?
– In connection with these events, which are now taking place in our Church, in order to spiritually support our congregation, we have declared this year the year of the New Martyrs of Zaporozhye. If we draw parallels between the beginning of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, when we live, in fact, the only difference is the way information is delivered and disseminated. Everything else is the same.
We often recollect Father Taurion’s words. He used to be a monk of the Glinsky desert. He vividly described his stay in a Soviet concentration camp: you are dragging a cart, and it is cold and hungry, and there are no forces, but there is joy in your soul – Easter. On a working day, a person is already exhausted at the limit of human capabilities but still rejoices, because it is Easter.
Speaking of St. Luke the Crimean – how much did he endure? But he did not betray his homeland, the homeland that tried to destroy him.
This is an example for us, modern people. Not modern top models, not politicians, not those who lie, not artists, not comedians – they are not an example. These are corrupt people: today they say one thing, tomorrow they will talk differently if paid. They will be polished, rich, well-fed, but they will not be happy because they have deprived themselves of their main happiness — the realization of the presence of God in their lives. And our new martyrs are just an example of the realization of God's presence in your personal life.
Speaking of St. Luke the Crimean – how much did he endure? But he did not betray his homeland, the homeland that tried to destroy him (the famous telegramme to Kalinin). I just tell it to young people, who wonder – how could that be? I would have long run away from this state! Look what is happening now, what migration flows we have, how many people emigrate from Ukraine. Achievements of the visa-free regime? We are losing the younger generation, we are losing the labour force, there are pensioners, disabled people left, who cannot leave, and we are thinking about a pension reform. This is what is happening in the country. This is terrible. But people still need to know and nourish spiritually, and this alone, if we compare the dullness of adversity and the joy of torment, no matter how it sounds incomparable, is the joy of torment, but the joy of the presence of God in your life. This is the most important thing.
– What is happening now to the Church is a period of purification?
– Certainly, the Church is now being purified. The Church fulfils its function – it helps people to be purged of sin. And at the same time, the Lord does not leave us, through the Church, through His Body, since the Church is the Body of Christ, it helps us to save.