His Beatitude Onufriy: Hold on to the Church that keeps purity of Orthodoxy

His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy

The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church about the “SLC” project, about how to treat power, and about the destiny of canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine.


The interview was published in No.3 Issue of the Shepherd and Flock journal.

Your Beatitude, according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the Church is separated from the state. When at the beginning of the 20th century, Bolsheviks adopted this law, a lot of believers perceived it as a serious religious catastrophe. However, as it became clear very soon, the Bolsheviks separated the Church from the state only in order to speed up Her destruction. Then, in the early 90s, the situation changed: the Communists left the historical arena, and the times of revival began for the Church. At that point the law on the separation of the Church from the state played, to some extent, its positive role – the Church was able almost without pressure from the authorities to develop in the right direction. But now, when the authorities are trying to influence the solution of ecclesiastic issues, how would you comment on what is happening? Can the government contribute to the creation of a single local church? And how should a believing person respond to all this?

– The law on the separation of the Church from the state is a fruit of the revolutionary transformations taking place at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Bolsheviks separated the Church from the state in order to show that the country had embarked on a new, atheistic path of development. Also, this law was necessary for the Soviet authorities to untie their hands in the struggle against the Church, the ultimate goal of which was its complete destruction. This struggle took place under the slogan "The Church is the enemy of the state".

However, the Lord, doing everything for the sake of His faithful, arranged so that the separation of the Church from the state served as a new incentive for Her powerful development. And we humbly thank the Lord for such mercy to us, unworthy children of His Holy Church.

Now some politicians are trying to create a single local church in Ukraine. This church is sometimes called Orthodox, and sometimes simply as a "local church".

Politicians do not care, they are not quite aware of what the Church is, and do not try to figure it out. The tragedy of such efforts lies in two things:

Firstly, politicians by their nature are not able to heal spiritual schisms – politicians can only divide people. Only clergy, with the help of prayer, humility, and divine love are able to unite people with different temperaments, characters, and worldviews into a single society, which is called the Church of Christ;

Secondly, the state, unfortunately, is following the course adopted after the revolution, i.e. the one alienating man from God.

Someone may object and say that we have believing politicians: they pray and go to churches. I do not argue this is true. But there are forces that make our believing politicians adopt laws that promote naturalization and legalization of sin. If politicians legitimize lawlessness, they go against Christ despite the fact they believe in God and go to churches. They break themselves and the people, who follow them, from God. These politicians want to adjust even the Church to the rhythm of their lives. They want to create a Single Local Orthodox Church, which would indulge them and direct people who are going to God, to the path they, unfortunately, chose to go themselves.

We love our politicians and respect them, but we cannot follow them. Otherwise, we will cease to be a Church, turn into a political organization and the days of our existence will be numbered by God.

Answering the question how we, believers, should respond to attempts to create the Single Local Orthodox Church, I will say with the following words: he who believes in God, but at the same time is obsessed about the idea of the Local Church, does not trust himself to God and lives according to his own mind. With such an attitude, we will soon come to the reality when every political force wants to have its own local church, which would obey this party in everything and force God to fulfill its political desiderata.

Live piously, take pains to conquer yourself to Christ, to fulfill His holy commandments, which for us are the light, the path leading to eternal life. On this path, you will find your own personal autocephaly, i.e. freedom from sin. Or maybe you will meet the Ukrainian Local Church, but it will be completely different from the one they are trying to build today. It will be filled with love, peace and joy in the Lord. It will not be a political Church, but the Church of Christ to be never defeated by the gates of hell.

In other words, people who believe in God but do not entrust themselves to God, want to subordinate God to themselves and think that this can be done through the creation of the Single Local Church.

But if a person not only believes in God, but also entrusts himself, subordinates himself to God, he searches for the will of God, he remembers that all people are children of God. He wants to live with everyone in peace and find Christ in his life, Who is our life, the beauty of our life and its purpose. Such people do not look for the Local Church but create and decorate the inner temple of their soul every day.

Live piously, take pains to conquer yourself to Christ, to fulfill His holy commandments, which for us are the light, the path leading to eternal life. On this path, you will find your own personal autocephaly, i.e. freedom from sin. Or maybe you will meet the Ukrainian Local Church, but it will be completely different from the one they are trying to build today. It will be filled with love, peace and joy in the Lord. It will not be a political Church, but the Church of Christ to be never defeated by the gates of hell.

Suppose the Tomos on autocephaly and thus, the recognition of schismatics by the Ecumenical Patriarch, is granted, how should we react to this news and build our relations with these religious organizations?

– If such Tomos is granted, it will spawn new schisms, bigger and deeper. These splits concern not only our Ukraine – they will affect the entire World Orthodox Church.

I will explain briefly why this happens.

Firstly, according to Orthodox canons, the highly esteemed Church of Constantinople does not have the right to give an autocephaly to the Church, which today is not part of its jurisdiction. The title of “Mother Church”, which today is very often exploited, does not give the canonical right to invade the spiritual life of the “Daughter-Church”, which has been separated from the “Mother” for a long time and de facto leads its independent spiritual life.

If the Tomos recognizing the schismatics by the Constantinople Patriarch is granted, it will generate new schisms, bigger and deeper. These splits will affect not only our Ukraine but the entire World Orthodox Church.

And if we consider the fact that Mother-Church itself suffers from its deepest schism, as a result of which the former Orthodox Byzantine Empire has become a country where Islam is now practiced, it would be appropriate to recall the words from the Holy Gospel: “Physician, heal yourself! (Luke 4, 23).”

If the doctor, who, unfortunately, is seriously ill himself, and therefore is unable to heal others, but still dares to act, then it will lead to only more large-scale lawlessness in the form of a worldwide Orthodox split.

As regards the question on how to treat religious organizations born from lawlessness, I will answer it with the words of psalmist David: "Lest the righteousness reach forth their arms into iniquity (Ps. 124, 3)."

The Holy Scripture says that "all power is from God." How to understand these words? For example, if the power is from God, then should a Christian fully obey this authority? If so, in what case? And if the power is the same as it was 50 years ago, how should it be perceived then? In general, in what specific cases can and should a Christian not obey the commands of those in power?

– Indeed, all power is from God. But God gives power in our hands not to use it arbitrarily, not to act as we please, but to do what God wants. We ourselves should live according to the commandments of Divine love and teach our subordinates to live in the same way.

Unfortunately, when one gets power, all this is often forgotten. The power makes us blind and we start to believe we are allowed to cause mayhem.

It's wrong to think so. With great power, even greater responsibility is imposed on us. We should bear in mind we will be held to account in the face of the Lord for how we bore the Cross of power.

When asked how to treat authorities, if they do something wrong and contrary to our will, the Savior Himself answered: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). It means one has to give all the earthly to power: taxes, work, patience, respect, but give their hearts to God.

On the other hand, if the government starts to act arbitrarily, we should not contempt or hate it for this – we should pray for the power. We must pray to the Lord to give our leaders the grace of the Holy Spirit, which will help them to carry their Cross worthily. And to the question of how to treat power, if they do something wrong and contrary to our will, the Savior Himself answered: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). It means one has to give all the earthly to power: taxes, work, patience, respect, but give their hearts to God.

If a parish priest is asked to perform a funeral service or give Communion for the people who are baptized in the confession of the Kiev Patriarchate, how should he respond to this request? Perhaps, it would be more consistent for our churchmen to be responsible only for those people whom they guide directly and who are within eyesight of their spiritual care?

– Regarding the question of performing the funeral service for those who were “baptized” by schismatics, the answer is clear: he who is baptized in the canonical Church testified to his/her desire to be buried by this Church. And if someone is “baptized” in the schism, he thereby expressed the desire for this church to pay him/her last respects. We do not provide burial services to the dissenters because we do not want to violate the freedom of their choice.

However, in our life every single case has its subtext. And before rejecting the seeker, a canonical priest must thoroughly look into all circumstances why the deceased chose another faith. If at the same time the priest finds arguments that relate to human weakness, and not to his fanatical persistence, then he has the right, with a hierarchal blessing, to apply the principle of oikonomia, i.e. a concession.

Many are concerned about the further lot of canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine. What should we worry about more at this time — the destiny of the Church or the destiny of our souls and revelation of our personal loyalty to Christ?

– Indeed, our Ukrainian Orthodox Church is going through difficult times. But to our consolation, I would like to remind you that there is no easy time for the earthly Church. Even when everything seems quiet around us, when we are praised, the Church is still facing a difficult time. And this difficulty lies in the fact that praise and prosperity lead us to hibernation and carelessness, and through them – to spiritual degradation and decay. Therefore, in times of well-being, we need to struggle with ourselves and force ourselves to stay awake so that spiritual relaxation does not corrode us.

There is no easy time for the earthly Church. Even when everything seems quiet around us, when we are praised, the Church is still facing a difficult time. This difficulty lies in the fact that praise and prosperity lead to hibernation and carelessness, and through them – to spiritual degradation and decay.

We must compel ourselves to constantly pray and repent of our unworthiness. And humbly thank the Lord that He does not turn away His Divine Face from us, but constantly surrounds us with His grace and bounty, of which we are able to see only a small and insignificant part, because we are unable to see and grasp the rest.

However, we must also know that our spiritual blindness and our ignorance do not free us from the obligation to be grateful to our Creator. We must firmly humble ourselves and say: “Today, by God's grace, you lie on the soft feather bed of earthly welfare and hear the sounds of human praise. Take care that you don’t think it is just or that you are worthy of all this. Otherwise you will become a blasphemer, appropriating to himself what belongs to God. And then you will share the bitter part with those who once rebelled against God and were cast out of the circles of heaven.”

He who does this will have peace and joy in his soul. And he will not fall away from the True Church of Christ, which will be on earth until the end of time.

Your Beatitude, today our Church with its faithful is living through a difficult time. What would you like, first of all, to wish our flock as a blessing and edification?

– Hold on to the Church, which inviolately keeps the purity and intactness of the Orthodox faith, and in all the rest, “Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. He shall reward evil unto mine enemies: cut them off in thy truth (Ps. 54:53).” Live according to the commandments of God and attend to your steps in life so that they will be directed toward the words of the Lord, and hand all people into the hands of God. He is the only One to correct life paths of humans.
 

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Poll

How do you assess the Phanar's statements about possible union with Catholics?
negatively, association with heretics is impossible
66%
why not, we used to be one Church
22%
this is the case of Phanar and the RCC, we have nothing to do with it
11%
Total votes: 161

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