Did the UOC follow the "Filaret" path?

Is there a difference between the Filaret schism and the decisions of the Council of the UOC in 2022? Photo: UOJ

Opponents of the independence of the UOC argue that the Council in Feofaniya, in fact, repeated what Filaret Denisenko did in 1992. Is this true?

One of the theses of Russian critics of the Council of the UOC is the accusation of the “Filaret scenario”. They say that the UOC fell into “Filaret’s pattern”, hence it is not different from his. And since Filaret caused a schism, now the UOC is also in schism. Are such accusations on the part of certain brothers from the Russian Church justified?

In order to understand if there is a difference between the Filaret schism of 1992 and the declaration of independence of the UOC in 2022, it is relevant to compare:

  • personalities of His Beatitude Onuphry and Filaret Denisenko;
  • eventualities;
  • rationale of events in 1992 and 2022 and motives of the participants.

Comparison of personalities

The search for any information discrediting His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry does not give any result. At all. No accusations of breaking monastic vows, no narratives about luxurious living, no evidence of arrogant treatment – there is nothing of the kind. On the contrary, both those who have known Metropolitan Onuphry for many years, and those who met him briefly, note his asceticism, non-acquisitiveness, simplicity, prayerful attitude and love for people.

Here are some statements from these people:

Bishop Longin (Krco), Serbian Orthodox Church: “I know Bishop Onuphry well, even when he studied at the academy and was a monk of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. Everyone knows that Vladyka serves in very difficult times and bears a great cross, and we all love him as a man of great faith, deep humility and a man of the Church. A man who has never looked for any rewards, but humbly, modestly, evangelically followed Christ."

The abbot of the Holy Trinity Jonah Monastery in Kyiv, Archbishop Iona (Cherepanov), once told about one of his telephone conversations on his Facebook page: “Yesterday, the abbot of one of the Athos monasteries called me to find out the opinion of our Beatitude on one issue. At the end of the conversation, he was touched and said that on the Holy Mountain they consider Metropolitan Onuphry the most spiritually experienced and sensible person in all of Orthodoxy."

Maybe these words are not objective? Here are a few quotes from those who, in fact, betrayed Metropolitan Onuphry, acceded to the OCU and stopped communicating with the Primate of the UOC.

Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria: “I myself lived in Odessa for ten years, I personally know Vladyka Onuphry and I know that he is a holy man!”

Archbishop Job (Getcha), Patriarchate of Constantinople: “His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry is a holy man, a real monk, a good shepherd who sincerely preaches the Gospel not only with words, but also with personal example. He is far from politics, but close to God.”

Alexander (Drabinko): “This (Metropolitan Onuphry – Ed.) is a man of peace ... He looks at everything through the prism of Holy Scripture.”

All these are people who turned their backs on His Beatitude Onuphry. However, they could not accuse him of anything indecent or sinful.

As for Filaret Denisenko, the situation is exactly the opposite. Some positive assessments of him as a person can only be found in the statements of his entourage, people who owe him a career and welfare. True though, now that they no longer depend on Filaret, they began to talk about him as an imperious and exorbitantly ambitious person. It is enough to read the numerous statements of Dumenko, Zoria and other "bishops" of the OCU.

A whole train of scandals stretches behind Filaret, starting from not just cooperation, but fruitful work for the KGB of the USSR under the pseudonym "Antonov" and ending with actual family life, which is a gross violation of monastic vows.

Here is a description of Filaret by the former Chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers of the USSR K.M. Kharchev: “He has always done brilliantly anything he was tasked with in the external arena. He would always get out of difficult situations with honor and give acceptable results for us. He was an excellent performer. We, in turn, tried to clearly set a task for him and discussed in advance the boundaries he could act within. Everything was done, of course, to defend and promote the party line.”

The current situation in the UOC

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church received its independent status almost simultaneously with the emergence of Ukraine as a state. Many Ukrainians still thought of themselves as citizens of the USSR, and believers as parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since 1990, the UOC has been independent and self-governing, having the status of broad autonomy. Most believers were satisfied with this status. As for the word "autocephaly", it was compromised by various schismatic groups, which could only be attributed to the Church hypothetically. Sure, there were some sympathizers of complete independence in the UOC, there were those who stood up for the former status of the exarchate of the ROC, but the majority chose the “middle ground”. At the same time, the hierarchs and clergy tried to prevent the radicalization of their positions and agreed that maintaining the internal unity of the UOC is much more important than acquiring this or that status.

Therefore, the autonomy of the UOC was the compromise that suited everyone and allowed to maintain unity. This consensus lasted until February 24, 2022, when Russia launched a war against Ukraine, and its people alongside the Russian Orthodox Church, to our deep regret, actually approved it. With the beginning of the invasion of the Russian Federation, everything changed. Many parishioners went to the front, the priests blessed their own children and grandchildren to go to defend their country. In many villages, there are parishes where almost all the men of the community are serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. A huge demand arose within the UOC to sever all administrative ties with the ROC that formally remained, while maintaining the Eucharistic unity that unites the Church worldwide. On May 27, 2022, the Council of the UOC was convened in Feofaniya, which satisfied this request, removing all references to the ROC from the Statute of the UOC and declaring complete independence, although it did not call this status as autocephaly.

With the beginning of the invasion of the Russian Federation, everything changed. Many parishioners of the UOC went to the front, the priests blessed their own children and grandchildren to go to defend the country.

Here one should also answer the question why the event was announced as a simple meeting, but in fact, a full-fledged Council took place. Critics of the Council see this as a sign of fraud. However, there is no fraud here at all, but rather the wisdom of the hierarchy.

Firstly, the meeting had to be held in order to hear the opinions of the hierarchy, clergy and laity and find out whether there was unanimity in the UOC on the issue of declaring full independence or not. If there had not been such unanimity, then there would have been no need to hold a Council.

Secondly, even if candidates were selected in the dioceses to participate immediately in the Council, and not in the meeting, then absolutely the same people would go to Kyiv that ended up in Feofaniya. All of the critics are well aware of this. Moreover, the procedure for electing participants to the Council is not prescribed in the Statute of the UOC. Every diocese did it in its own manner.

The participants of the Council testify that absolutely all of them had the opportunity to express their opinion. There were also opponents of the adopted decisions, they openly expressed their position. On the whole, however, there was unanimity at the Council. Someone claims that more than 80% of the participants supported the decisions of the Council; someone calls the figure of 90%. Be that as it may, the absolute majority supported the resolution: “The Council adopted the appropriate additions and amendments to the Statute on the administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, testifying to the complete independence of the UOC.”

Moreover, no one forced the minority to implement this decision. Dioceses in the occupied territories received the right to retain a "pre-council" status.

Thus, it can be said that the decisions of the Council of the UOC in Feofaniya are decisions of the fullness of the Church, which were adopted freely, voluntarily and after appropriate discussions.

Events surrounding the Filaret schism

On June 7, 1990, Filaret Denisenko, at that time the Metropolitan of Kyiv and locum tenens of the Moscow Patriarchal Throne, lost the election of the Moscow Patriarch at the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. This was a heavy psychological blow for him, because according to the established tradition, the locum tenens became the patriarch almost automatically. Many analysts and hierarchs claimed that after that he took a course toward a complete separation from the ROC.

On October 27, 1990, the Kyiv Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church was transformed into the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent and self-governing. Filaret put forward the need to fight the Uniates and the UAOC as an argument for this.

On November 1-3, 1991, Metropolitan Filaret convened a Council of the UOC, which issued a Petition on the complete independence of the UOC and asked the Moscow Patriarch Alexy II and the ROC as a whole to grant autocephaly to the UOC. However, soon the bishops Onuphry (Berezovsky) of Chernivtsi, Sergiy (Gensitsky) of Ternopil, and Alipiy (Pogrebniak) of Donetsk revoked their signatures under the Petition, for which they were removed from their sees.

On March 31-April 5, 1992, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church took place, at which the issue of autocephaly of the UOC was raised. It turned out that not only the three above-mentioned bishops do not support autocephaly, but practically the entire Ukrainian episcopate, and the signatures under the Petition were put under pressure from Metropolitan Filaret. Also at the Council, Filaret was exposed to something that could no longer be hidden or hushed up: his immoral behavior and despotic methods of leadership, which discredited the entire UOC in the eyes of both believers and society as a whole.

As a result, after all the discussions and deliberations, Metropolitan Filaret announced he would leave the post of Primate of the UOC, taking an oath before the Cross and the Gospel. “If I said I would do it, then I will do it. I will submit a request to the Council of Bishops of the UOC to take away these powers from me – the rights of the Primate of the UOC and to elect a new Primate for this place,” pledged Filaret Denisenko.

However, upon arrival in Kyiv, he broke his word. On April 14, 1992, Filaret held a press conference, at which he stated that he was crucified as Christ on Golgotha  in Moscow and he would not resign in any way. When he was reminded of the bishop's oath, he replied that this was done for diplomatic reasons. This evoked a real popular indignation in Ukraine. Signatures were collected in the dioceses demanding that Filaret be dismissed, diocesan assemblies expressed no confidence in him, and most churches of the UOC stopped commemorating him at divine services.

Since Filaret refused to convene the Council of Bishops of the UOC, which was supposed to accept his resignation, the Ukrainian bishop, Metropolitan Nikodim (Rusnak) of Kharkiv and Bogodukhiv, was entrusted with organizing this event. The Council took place on May 27, 1992 and went down in history as the Kharkov Council. It resolved to depose Filaret and ban him from the priesthood, while Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) was elected to the Kyiv throne.

On June 11, 1992, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church was convened, which decided:

  1. “To depose Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko) from his existing rank, depriving him of all degrees of the priesthood and all rights associated with being in the clergy.
  2. To consider all ordinations to the rank of deacon, presbyter and bishop, which have been carried out by Metropolitan Filaret in a defrocked state since May 27 of this year, as well as all bans imposed by him on clergy and laity since May 6 of this year, illegal and invalid.
  3. To defrock and deprive of all degrees of priesthood Bishop Yakov (Panchuk) of Pochaev for complicity in the anti-canonical actions of the former Metropolitan of Kyiv Filaret.

On June 25-26, 1992, Filaret held his "Council", which decided to unite the UOC and the UAOC. The UAOC was represented by 9 "bishops" out of 11, three of whom left the "council", being apprehensive of unification with Filaret. The UOC (so to speak) was represented only by Filaret and the former vicar bishop Yakov (Panchuk). Despite the fact that they had already been defrocked, by the beginning of the "Council" they had "ordained" two more "bishops." Thus, in fact, the UOC was not represented at that event at all. However, the "council" decided to form the UOC-KP and transfer to it all the property and finances of the UOC and the UAOC. Moreover, the head of the UAOC "Patriarch" Mstislav, who lived in the United States, was not notified of this event at all, and when he found out, he did not recognize either the "council" or the association with Filaret. This is how the schismatic Kyiv Patriarchate was born.

Subsequently, both Patriarch Alexy II and Filaret Denisenko sent letters to the primates of the Local Churches explaining their position. All the primates (including Bartholomew of Constantinople) recognized His Beatitude Vladimir (Sabodan) as the legitimate Metropolitan of Kyiv, and Filaret as the one deprived of all degrees of holy dignity. After that, the Filaret schism took shape in its final form. The UOC and Filaret went their own ways.

Logic and motives

Finally, it remains to find out what motives moved the UOC in 2022 and Filaret in 1992, as well as to understand the rationale of the events described above.

As already mentioned, with the outbreak of the war, the UOC felt a huge demand for a complete administrative separation from the ROC. Literally from the first days of the war, this was manifested in the fact that many churches ceased the commemoration of Patriarch Kirill. In turn, when commemorating the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Onuphry stopped using the phrase "our father." The motive is clear: a father can hardly approve of the killing of some of his children by others. And no matter how bitter it is to realize, the father himself gives up paternity in relation to his children.

The unwillingness to have at least some administrative connection with those who actually bless this inhuman war was one of the main reasons for the declaration of complete independence of the UOC.

It is widely believed that in this way the UOC tried to avoid persecution by the authorities and radical citizens. This opinion has certain grounds, because after the outbreak of the war, local governments in many settlements began to make decisions to ban the UOC, which is a gross excess of their powers, a violation of the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. The incidence of seizures of churches and illegal re-registration of communities in favor of the OCU has grown and become commonplace.

However, this motive cannot be recognized as dominant, since the majority of hierarchs and clergy nevertheless realized that the enemies of the UOC are fighting against the Church, rather than statuses, and that in any case, the UOC will not be left alone. Subsequent events confirmed the correctness of this assumption: both the seizure of temples and other illegal actions continued and even stepped up. Therefore, the desire to stop the persecution can be recognized as only a secondary motive for the decisions of the Council of the UOC in Feofaniya.

There is another reason to distance ourselves from the ROC. It is not so obvious, but may be the most important. The fact that the Russian invasion led to numerous casualties among Ukrainians and a catastrophe in the country is a fact accompli. In addition, there is an assessment, a comprehension of this fact, and in the case of the Church, a theological comprehension. And this very theological understanding by the hierarchies and theologians of the Russian Orthodox Church causes, to be frank, bewilderment and shock.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church not only justify the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, but also try to “mandate” it theologically.

Of course, this is not yet the official position of the ROC, and besides, it is still far from being formulated, but what is already there can be defined as "the theology of war". Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church not only justify the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, but also try to “mandate” it theologically. This is a very serious issue that requires a separate analysis, but just as an example – a quote from the sermon of Patriarch Kirill on June 21, 2022:

“It would seem that God is Love, everything around God is permeated with love, so why is the angel closest to the Lord called the Archangel, that is, the commander? But because in the world there is such a phenomenon as the struggle between good and evil, and it takes place both along state borders and along many other borders that divide human society. <...> It is very important that our servicemen, our army are always on the side of good. This will provide them not only with full support from the people, but will undoubtedly help them gain Divine support in response to their feat – support by the power of the Divine, through the holy Archangel of God Michael."

However, the Holy Scriptures, and all Orthodox asceticism, all spiritual work, all the experience of Christian asceticism, without exception, testify that the struggle between good and evil takes place exclusively in the human heart and not along state borders. Therefore, the words of the Patriarch cause, speaking in diplomatic terms, bewilderment among Orthodox Ukrainians.

“There is such a phenomenon in the world as the struggle between good and evil, and it also takes place along state borders.”

Patriarch Kirill

If over time such a “theology of war” really becomes a consolidated point of view of the Russian Orthodox Church, then it will be just right to talk about a terrible distortion of the gospel truth and the Orthodox understanding of the struggle of a person with the devil for his immortal soul, about a distortion of the fundamental provisions of Christianity, which, of course, one should distance themselves from.

On the motives of Filaret Denisenko

For 30 years now, “patriots” and Filaret’s associates have been assuring everyone that he was deprived of the leadership of the UOC and imposed canonical penances for striving for autocephaly. Now the critics of the "Feofaniya" Cathedral are beginning to promote this thesis. However, this point of view is absolutely wrong.

Here is what the late His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) said about this: “The Council of the ninety-second year judged Filaret neither for the idea of nationality nor for the idea of autocephaly, as he tries to present it. He was judged for his style and methods in the management of the Ukrainian Exarchate and then the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He was judged for his personal life and for his activity, which has already reached the masses of people and has become a great temptation among believers, not only among the clergy.”

The motives for Filaret's schismatic activities are simple and understandable: firstly, to realize his bossy ambitions, if not in Moscow, then in Kyiv, and, secondly, to avoid condemnation for his crimes against the Church. Do the participants of the Council in Feofaniya have similar motives? Hardly.


Attempts to put the decisions of the Council of the UOC on a par with the Filaret schism are manipulative and incompetent.

In the early 1990s, the hierarchy, priesthood, and laity of the Church were resolutely against autocephaly. Filaret advocated the complete independence of the UOC because of the desire to create a church structure "for himself", where he could "reign" undividedly. There was no talk of any support for autocephaly among the episcopate. Denisenko forced the bishops to do as he saw fit and dealt with “non-conformists”. Filaret's actions were assessed by the fullness of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Only one bishop supported him. All the people subsequently “ordained” by him in the schismatic UOC-KP are laymen without rank.

By 2022, the attitude in the UOC towards full independence has changed a lot. The decisions of the Council of the UOC were largely triggered by the attack of the Russian Federation on Ukraine and the actual support of the war by the Russian Church. At the Council in Feofaniya, everyone could express their position. There was no coercion, all decisions were taken by an absolute majority. As regards the minority, they were allowed to have a "pre-council" status.

Now that we have drawn a line, let everyone determine for themselves whether there is something in common between the Filaret schism and the Council of the UOC in Feofaniya or not.

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