“Church is an isle of common sense amid insanity”
Metropolitan Mitrofan (Nikitin) of Gorlovka and Slaviansk on the role of the Church in securing peace, activities of schismatics and what distinguishes a true Christian.
In the wake of personnel changes in the highest echelons of power in Ukraine, talk about the prospects for peace in the east has revived. The dissenters are in a hurry to catch the “peacemaking wave”: the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, together with the US State Department, is preparing projects for the “reintegration of Donbas”.
However, all the years of the war in the conflict zone in fact, there is only one canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has never stopped providing spiritual guidance to the Ukrainians without dividing them into friends and foes and helping those in need as much as She could.
Metropolitan Mitrofan (Nikitin) of Gorlovka and Slaviansk is one of the two ruling bishops of the UOC, whose diocese is located on both sides of the demarcation line. By the beginning of Lent, Vladyka Mitrofan told the UOJ how exactly the Church can help achieve peace, what is behind the beautiful declarations of schismatics and how to remain a Christian all your life.
– Your Eminence, recently the Advisor to the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council on the reintegration of Donbas, Sergey Sivokho, said that it is the Church that can become a “mediator” of the conflict in the east. Moreover, the Church has always been distinguished by charity and peacekeeping, and in the most difficult times Sviatogorsk Monastery would receive thousands of refugees. Vladyka, you are one of the two ruling bishops of the UOC, whose diocese is located on both sides of the demarcation line. Can the Church really become a peacemaker?
– Firstly, it’s nice to hear that something good is said about the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For six years, we have already lost the habit of hearing some kind words addressed to us. We were continually tagged as the “fifth column”, “FSB agents” and almost the cause of the war.
And if today this picture has changed and there is a sensible assessment that the Church also means the people and citizens of Ukraine, who suffer in the same way from everyone in this conflict, this, of course, will help us move forward, closer to peace.
Another thing is that social and charitable activities of the Church are not specifically related to hostilities. Charity is part of Her nature. Should there be military actions or not, the Church would still be engaged in charitable activities and social ministry.
But the fact that in this insanity, when everyone blames each other and hatred practically deprives people of reason, the Church is an island of common sense and calls on people on both sides of the conflict to seek common ground, looking for something in common that unites them rather than what separates them – it has always been so.
If today this picture has changed and there is a sensible assessment that the Church also means the people and citizens of Ukraine, who suffer in the same way from everyone in this conflict, this, of course, will help us move forward, closer to peace.
Being such an isle of common sense, She can center around Herself people who are far from pursuing their political or economic benefits, derived from the events on different sides of the conflict, but aimed at primarily reconciliation of people and an early end to hostility and hatred.
The Church is a point of attraction around which such people could gather and unite. And if the Church’s Adviser to the NSDC Secretary views it as such an island, so to say, “an assembly point,” I think this gives us hope that there will be more such people. And when there is a sufficient amount of them, they will become capable of somehow influencing the situation.
– How can the Donetsk and Gorlovka Dioceses, which are actually on the line of fire and whose parishioners are affected by the hostilities, help overcome the conflict?
– We are not party to any political process and categorically avoid giving an assessment of political actions or political slogans of whatever side in the church sermon. Treating people as our flock on both sides of the conflict, we retained the ability to be the Church for them in the first line, rather than some political organization.
And this resource, of course, must be used, since people have confidence in the Church, since the Church has the ability of pastoral care and does not divide people into “friends” and “foes”, treating them not as enemies but as their own flock; through Her voice one can convey some thoughts and suggest real steps that will lead to genuine, not imaginary, reconciliation, behind which there is no hypocrisy, double bottom, double standards and which will really serve the good of the country.
And if people hear about such steps, including from the Church, then we can move forward through this trust, through the Church’s pastoral authority.
Treating people as our flock on both sides of the conflict, we retained the ability to be the Church for them in the first line, rather than some political organization.
– The head of the OCU Epiphany Dumenko constantly speaks at international events about the oppression of his structure in the Donbas by the authorities of unrecognized Republics. Do you often visit this territory? Can you confirm or refute this information?
– There is no one to oppress. For six years, I have not seen a single priest of the OCU in Donbas and have not heard of any oppression. If specific cases are known to him, let him name the day, time, place, address and details. I do not know a single temple, not a single priest of the OCU who would be here and perform his ministry.
In Gorlovka there is a prayer house of the Kiev Patriarchate, where they used to gather before the war. All these six years it has been closed. I have no idea who is located there, what people are doing there, who is looking after it, whose property it is. Nor do I know why their cleric left there, I also do not know. There is no one to oppress, because there is no one here.
– The heads of the OCU and the UGCC interpret the conflict in Donbas as the Ukrainian-Russian war and have repeatedly said that it should continue “to the end”. In your opinion, can such a position of the "patriotic" Churches help or hinder the process of real reconciliation of the parties, initiated by President Vladimir Zelensky?
– I have not seen here either the head of the OCU or the head of the UGCC who would provide any real help to the people in the midst of hostilities, and I don’t see them now. Therefore, what they know about the war to a victorious end and about real reconciliation – I cannot understand.
In general, it seems to me that the heads of the OCU and the UGCC when speaking about such a thorny topic as fighting, bloodshed, conflict in which people who call themselves Christians die, might look for a way to reconciliation, rather than inflame the issue.
Only the one who has no idea of what a war is like may want continuation of the war. People who are at the forefront, in the trenches from both sides, do not want the war. Wars are good for those who profit from them. I wish the heads of the OCU and the UGCC were not among these people, for they should have sought something different.
– After the January meeting of Dumenko with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, it became known that the State Department intends to work with the OCU to reintegrate Donbas through social programs. Could this be just a step towards strengthening the position of the OCU in Donbas, where it has almost no temples?
– Any initiative that is related to the social component, of course, may have some tricky plan. Like, here we come to people through social aid schemes and begin to influence them.
But seeing how people are suffering in Donbas, I would very much like to see social assistance from the State Department and personally from Epiphany. I think people would be happy to receive this social assistance. Let them start to do something, and we will appreciate it. There is nothing to evaluate so far.
Only the one who has no idea of what a war is like may want continuation of the war. People who are at the forefront, in the trenches from both sides, do not want the war.
– All the developments over the past year have caused embarrassment and sorrow with many believers of the canonical Church. How do you advise the Orthodox to live through the Lent? What can be done to maximally protect the soul from the influence of adverse factors and to cultivate Christian love and forgiveness in oneself?
“I am opposed to being a Christian for a month.”
I wish the Orthodox to feel Christian love and joy from the fact that we have the opportunity to live on earth, do something good, leave good traces, carry out something useful throughout our lives, not just during fasting or Easter time.
Life is God's great gift to us all. To each of us. Every second, every minute and every hour of this life is an infinite value. We need to learn how to live it, how to experience it, how to be grateful to God for it, and how to use our talents and endowments to the best advantage in order to leave as much good as possible here on earth.
I want this to be relevant not only before fasting, during fasting, before Easter or before any holidays but throughout 365 days of the year.