Defials from “hierarch” Pysyk: what we can learn from members of OCU
“Bishop” of the OCU Nestor Pysyk gave an interview in which behind the manipulations and untruths there are issues Orthodox Christians can find it useful to reflect on.
The “bishops” of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), unknowingly, pose questions to the real Church, over which it must seriously think and give an answer not so much to these “bishops” as to itself. We analyze the interview of "Archbishop" of the OCU Nestor Pysyk of Ternopil and Kremenets to the "Religious Truth" publication.
Recently, the "bishop" of the OCU, Adrian Kulik, claimed that Orthodoxy is close to sectarianism, and therefore the OCU needs to strive for Christianity. Thus, he made us think about the issue of what the true Church is, how it differs from a sect, and why an uncompromising defence of truth is not sectarianism. Some reflections on these questions can be found in the article: "Orthodoxy and ‘true’ Christianity: what's the difference?" This time another "bishop" of the OCU has raised some of the following important questions:
- about true and nominal Christians;
- about the relationship between the pastor and the flock;
- about "Greek" and "Russian" Orthodoxy.
Now, first things first.
Genuine and nominal Christians
Nestor Pysyk claims that the people who come to the church are not so important for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as the church building itself and the legal affiliation of the UOC community. Here are his words: “If we talk about transitions, then there is an important point. What is the real struggle for? In none of the parishes where the transitions took place, the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate did not try to convince people. They did not try to convince believers with theological or historical arguments, there was no awareness-raising; the struggle was boiled down to the struggle for a temple and a legal entity. It seemed that the main goal was to keep the church, so that the statute of the Moscow Patriarchate would not be re-registered, so that the legal entity would be preserved – that’s all. They were ready for this temple to be empty so that there was one priest and a temple, and they did not need people. To simplify, they said: these five people are our community, and five hundred villagers are not our community. People do not matter, the premises and documents matter to them, this is not a struggle for ideals, but a struggle for premises."
Of course, there are a lot of lies in these words, lies so blatant that Nestor Pysyk cannot fail to understand this.
First, only a few communities passed from the UOC to the OCU in a legal civilized way, i.e. when it was a religious, not a territorial community that held a meeting and voted for such a transition, and there was no struggle and opposition. Indeed, in one locality there can be many different religious communities: Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Uniates, Protestants, Jews, etc. There are also many atheists. That is, all residents of the settlement cannot in any way be members of a religious community and resolve its internal issues.
In one locality there may be many different religious communities: Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Uniates, Protestants, Jews, etc. There are also many atheists. That is, all residents of the settlement cannot in any way be members of a religious community and resolve its internal issues.
In the vast majority of cases, it was not the transition, but the illegal seizure of the temple and the legal status of the UOC community. A meeting of the villagers was held, which is illegal, because the fate of a religious community can only be decided by the religious community only. The residents, who for the most part did not participate in the permanent life of the community, voted for the transfer of this community to the OCU. The local authorities approved this illegal act with their regulations and the temple, together with its legal registration, was considered to have passed to the OCU. If necessary, activists from nationalist organizations were involved in the forceful seizure of the temple. The UOC community itself remained faithful to its Church but lost its temple and property. Of course, they had to fight for them in courts and law enforcement agencies within the framework of Ukrainian legislation.
Secondly, the loyalty of the communities that have been affected by such a seizure of their Church is precisely based solely on theological arguments, namely, on the Orthodox dogma about the Church: "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." Nothing else can explain why believers agree to endure accusations of "zrada" (treachery – Trans.) and unpatriotic behavior, put up with humiliations and insults from their fellow villagers, often suffer deprivation of housing and property, and sometimes physical violence and threats (including children) – but to never join the OCU. The reason for this behavior of Christians in Ukraine today, as in all difficult periods of the history of the Church, is only loyalty to God and His Church, the hope that only being in the Church can help achieve the Kingdom of Heaven.
The faithfulness of the communities that have been affected by such a seizure of their Church is precisely based solely on theological arguments, namely on the Orthodox dogma about the Church: "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
Thirdly, if, as Nestor Pysyk says, the UOC needed only a temple and legal registration, then there would not have been those dozens of cases when the UOC community, expelled from the temple, cedes the temple building to the OCU community and continues its full-fledged liturgical life in temporary premises and even builds a new temple to replace the seized one. The UOJ news feed is simply replete with messages about the laying of the foundation, construction or consecration of such temples, while the Charitable Foundation "Favor" collects donations throughout Ukraine from believers to help Orthodox communities that have lost their churches.
Fourthly and finally, the situation with empty churches looks exactly the opposite: the churches seized by the OCU are empty, while those private houses, former warehouses or shops, which the believers of the UOC have accommodated for temples, are full of people. One can be convinced of this simply by driving through such villages on Sundays. In the vast majority of cases, there are many times more UOC believers at the liturgy than there are representatives of the OCU in the seized churches. This is natural: churches are seized by the OCU in order to drive out “wrong” believers from them, not in order to pray there, because those who pray and lead a truly Christian way of life will not take over churches.
Now about the problem posed. Nestor Pysyk worded it as follows: "To put it simply, they said like these five people are our community, while five hundred villagers are not our community." Most likely, without realizing it, he raised a serious problem.
Indeed, there is one and the same situation in every village or city where an Orthodox community exists. Very few people participate in the daily life of the community compared to the total number of residents. Everyone else may consider themselves Orthodox, but their religious outlook boils down to the fact that children need to be baptized, water consecrated alongside Easter cakes. If religiosity is limited only to this, then we can safely state that this is not Christianity, but the paganism of the Orthodox rite. There is also a softer definition of such a phenomenon – ritualism.
However, both the Gospel and many of the holy fathers of the Church speak of its harmfulness for the spiritual life of a person. As you know, the Pharisees were the most meticulous connoisseurs and performers of rituals, and this is what the Lord said about this: “For, I say to you, if your righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, then you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Can these five hundred, as Nestor Pysyk said, the inhabitants of the village be considered members of the Christian community and accordingly decide on its fate? Or are only conventional five true, speaking in terms of Pysyk?
Of course, by and large, only God alone knows who is faithful to Him and who is not, but there are also some external signs in the Church by which one can determine whether a person is a true Christian or only nominal by baptism. One of these signs is regular participation in divine services and acceptance of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Canon 80 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council commands the removal from church communion of a layman who has not been at the liturgy for three Sundays in a row. Note that neither donations for the temple, nor participation in the construction or repair of the temple, according to the canons of the Church, is a criterion for a person's belonging to the Christian community. But according to public opinion, indeed, everyone who identifies themselves with the community is a member of it. Nevertheless, the Church lives according to her sacred canons, not according to the volatile public opinion.
Canon 80 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council commands the removal from church communion of a layman who has not been at the liturgy for three Sundays in a row. Note that neither donations for the temple, nor participation in the construction or repair of the temple, according to the canons of the Church, is a criterion for a person's belonging to the Christian community.
There is another side to this problem: did the priest do everything in his power so that not the conventional five, but many more of those living in the village were not nominal, but true Christians? At this point we move on to the next problem.
Relationship of the pastor and his flock
As you know, a person's loyalty to God and His Church is tested not in a calm, prosperous time, but in a time of trial. “Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). For many Christians in Ukraine, such a test was the emergence of the OCU and the temptation to continue their calm, prosperous existence by transferring to this confession. An alternative to this is to remain faithful to your Church, while testing yourself and your children with all kinds of threats, humiliation of groundless accusations, public censure, and often deprivation of housing, property and physical violence. What should a priest do and say, how should he guide his flock, so that during the trial people would remain faithful to the Church?
Here is what Nestor Pysyk says: “In none of the parishes where the transitions took place, the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate did not try to convince people. They did not try to convince believers with theological or historical arguments; there was no awareness-raising ...”
Yet, during the forceful seizures of churches, which Pysyk calls transitions, it is already too late to say something, to convince someone of something. At this time, the moment of truth comes when the priest simply sees the results of his labors, his sermons, his personal example for people. At this time, it is revealed what the priest taught people, how he formed their church worldview, what values he was able to instill in them.
In this regard, we will quote the words of the rector of the community in the village of Postoinoe, Archpriest Alexander Malchuk. This congregation was expelled from their church in 2019 and since then services have been held in a hut. Fr. Alexander and his family were evicted from their lodgings and now have to travel tens of kilometers to reach their flock. This is what he says: “I have been serving in this village for eight years. And when it all began – all these threats, persuasions, pressure, demands to go to the schismatics in the OCU – then most of all I was afraid that my parishioners, my flock, would go and join schism ... That would mean I have been working in vain for eight years and failed to explain to them what the Church is and why we should be loyal to Her, no matter what. I did worry about it. But everybody remained loyal. Nobody left. None of those who constantly attended services left. And this is my delight."
Nestor Pysyk gives a figure of 40 parishes having joined the OCU and notes at the same time: “... in those almost forty parishes that passed from the Moscow Patriarchate, only one priest moved with the believers. There was another one, who first passed but then returned ..."
This is a very convincing testimony that the clergy are faithful to the Church. In this connection, one can recall how in the run-up to the creation of the OCU, we were made to believe that once this religious organization appeared, almost half of the episcopate of the UOC, let alone the clergy, would go there. And now the “bishop” of the OCU Nestor Pysyk testifies that only one out of forty priests has changed to the new church structure. This is a complete failure of the ideologists of the creation of the OCU and personally Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Having mentioned it, let's move on to the third issue.
In the run-up to the creation of the OCU, we were made to believe that once this religious organization appeared, almost half of the episcopate of the UOC, let alone the clergy, would go there. And now the “bishop” of the OCU Nestor Pysyk testifies that only one out of forty priests has changed to the new church structure. This is a complete failure of the ideologists of the creation of the OCU and personally Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
"Greek" and "Russian" Orthodoxy
Of course, this is an oxymoron, but this is the terminology used by of the “bishop” of the OCU Nestor Pysyk. In fact, Orthodoxy can be neither Greek nor Russian nor any other type. In the Church of God “… there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all." (Col. 3:11). Still we can talk about some differences in liturgical practice, ascetic rules, spiritual life in different societies. We can talk about a different attitude towards Orthodoxy among Russians, Greeks and other nations.
Nestor Pysyk was impressed by his getting familiar with divine services and some aspects of religious life in those Greek-speaking Local Churches that had recognized the OCU and opened the doors for contacts. Let us recall that these are the Alexandrian, Greek Churches and the Patriarchate of Constantinople . Here is what Pysyk says: “We all felt a way out of isolation, but not so much canonical, but intellectual and educational as such. Before that, although we were in the Kyiv Patriarchate, we used to acquire basic knowledge from the sources of Russian Orthodoxy. A year later, we saw other Churches with different eyes. An invitation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and their visits to us gave us the opportunity to see in a different way both Ecumenical Orthodoxy and other Churches of the Greek circle. Previously, all information came to us through the prism of the vision of the Russian Church and its fosterlings, we were taught: the Greeks consider all Slavs to be second class, they have a semi-ecumenical secession from Orthodoxy. "
Here, too, there has not been without a deliberate lie. “The prism of the vision of the Russian Church and its fosterlings” has nothing to do with it. It is the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople themselves who claim that the Slavs are inferior in comparison with the Greeks.
For example, here is a statement of Patriarch Bartholomew at a meeting of the Greek Diaspora in Istanbul on October 21, 2018: “Whether our Russian brothers like it or not, sooner or later they will follow the decisions made by the Ecumenical Patriarch, because they have no other choice. <...> Our brothers Slavs cannot tolerate the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and our nation in Orthodoxy."
And here is a quote from the article "Two main threats" of Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos, published back in 1947. "If the Slavic peoples forgot that the Greeks gave them culture and that they received the light of the Christian faith from the Christian lamp of Greek Byzantium through the Greek missionaries out of gratitude, we must give due respect and favor to the Greek race, which educated and enlightened them ... <...> The Greek Orthodox Eastern Church is called again to wage a gigantic church struggle after the war, on the one hand, against the Western Roman Catholic Church and its propaganda, and on the other hand, against Slavic communism and the Slavic Churches."
As for the "semi-ecumenical breaking away from Orthodoxy," it has long been not semi-, but completely ecumenical. This is evidenced by the highest leaders of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Here is the latest statement by Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis), dated September 22, 2020: “Today more than ever, we need to think not only of our differences, but about how we can anticipate our Churches being united through a rediscovered experience of communion based on: mutual recognition, a common confession of faith, the acceptance of diversity, liturgical sharing, synodality and conciliarity, mission and evangelization, subsidiarity, renewal and reforms, and finally the role of the Papacy.”
Here is another statement of Patriarch Bartholomew, made in 2018: "Let the process of restoring the unity between our holy Churches (Orthodox and Catholic – Ed.), albeit encountering problems at times and proceeding slowly, be irreversible ..."
Now about the crux of the matter. The spiritual experience of the Greeks in Orthodoxy is almost a thousand years more than ours, the Slavic one. In our religious consciousness, there is often a stereotype that the Greeks understand spiritual life better than we do, understand worship better, carry out pastoral care better, have a more elevated monastic tradition and a more correct view of many things. It is possible that we do have a lot to learn from them. But the following is alarming: the Greeks, or rather the episcopate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, has a historical experience of betraying Orthodoxy twice: in 1274 (Union of Lyons) and in 1439 (Union of Florence).
These unions ended in failure, since the church people did not accept them, but the act of signing them by the Greek hierarchs speaks volumes. Therefore, the delight in communion with the Greek Churches and particularly with the Patriarchate of Constantinople seems inappropriate. Blind submission to the authority of Phanar threatens in the very near future with being drawn into the third union, the third betrayal of Orthodoxy, given that such a union has already been declared at the highest level.
Summing up, we can say that the problems, raised unwittingly by Nestor Pysyk, are important for the life of the Church. It is worth pondering over them and looking for an answer based on the Gospel and the historical experience of the Church of Christ.