July 31, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture announced that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) ceased its activity, as it joined another structure – newly-created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), headed by Epifaniy. Filaret, primate and Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate, during his sermon on August 4 noted that "for 53 years he has been serving in the St. Volodymyr Cathedral in Kyiv, and now he is thrown out into the street," and urged the parishioners to use all legal means in order to "protect the Kyiv Patriarchate from the OCU and the Ministry of Culture." We met with the patriarch in his residence in order to refute the rumors about his poor health (Patriarch is 90 years old), to learn about plans for the revival of the UOC-KP, the future of the OCU, relations with Metropolitan Epifaniy, ex-president Poroshenko and current head of state Zelensky.
Ministry of Culture has liquidated the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate by merging with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. What measures are being taken by the UOC-KP to determine its legal status?
Why did Metropolitan Epifaniy (Primate of the OCU, - ed.) form a liquidation commission? Because Patriarch Bartholomew (Patriarch of Constantinople, - ed.) insisted on the quick liquidation of the Kyiv Patriarchate. And therefore, fulfilling the request of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Metropolitan Epifaniy created an illegal liquidation commission. But in order to liquidate the Kyiv Patriarchate, firstly, you need to have the consent of the patriarch, there is no such agreement, and we do not recognize any liquidation commissions. In addition, in order to create this liquidation commission, the Council that liquidated the Kyiv Patriarchate should do this. Secondly, on June 20, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church held a Local Council, at which it adopted a resolution that we do not recognize the liquidation of the Kyiv Patriarchate on December 15, 2018, and continue to exist as the Kyiv Patriarchate. Thus, we withdrew from the OCU. And if we are out of its composition, then the decision to create a liquidation commission on July 29, 2019, does not concern us.
That is, you don’t recognize the decision of the Ministry of Culture to eliminate the UOC-KP?
They have no right to do it because it is not their church.
You noted that Metropolitan Epifaniy created a liquidation commission at the request of Patriarch Bartholomew. Do you have a personal conflict with the Ecumenical Patriarch?
It became known from the media that at the meeting of our President Zelensky with Patriarch Bartholomew on August 8, it was a question of accelerating the liquidation of the Kyiv Patriarchate. The President said that he would not interfere in the church affairs, but would equally treat all churches, including the Kyiv Patriarchate. And we are grateful to Volodymyr Zelensky for taking a principled position. Because according to the law, the church is separated from the state, so he does not want to interfere in the internal life of the church. But he said that he would support the existence of all the churches of Ukraine, and these are not only Orthodox churches.
Did the president respond to your recent appeal to him and to the OSCE (July 31, Filaret appealed to OSCE in order to save this legal body, - ed.)?
Ministry of Culture removed the Kyiv Patriarchate from registration without our knowledge, without our request. They had no right to do this. But after a while, the Ministry of Justice did the same. Therefore, we appeal to the President of Ukraine to legally influence that the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Justice do not violate state laws. The violation is that they deregistered the church. We (the UOC-KP, - ed.) do exist and have not contacted them about liquidation.
But President Zelensky did not provide you with an official answer, right?
No, we have not received an official answer yet.
So far, you had only one meeting with President Zelensky?
Yes, I had a meeting with the president, he assured that he would support all churches and would not interfere in church affairs.
Regarding your relationship with Petro Poroshenko, have you communicated after receiving the Tomos about Ukraine’s church autocephaly?
We stopped communicating with Petro Poroshenko after receiving the Tomos. But he achieved his goal: Tomos was received, but which Tomos was that – he was not interested in it.
How many parishes the UOC-KP has, how many bishops are thereafter some of them joined OCU?
At the moment, we have five bishops (until December 15, 2018, the UOC-KP consisted of 42 bishops, - ed.), I cannot say the exact number of clergy and parishes. Now I do not know which parishes in different dioceses remained within the UOC-KP because there are parishes all over Ukraine that have not re-registered in order to join OCU.
And do you expect a large influx of the clergy from the OCU again to the UOC-KP?
I expect that the UOC-KP will exist in Ukraine, and it would be independent of Moscow and Constantinople. Now there is a struggle for the liquidation of the Kyiv Patriarchate. Why do they want to eliminate it? Because patriarchy cannot be part of another patriarchy, and the metropolis can be part of it. And since the Patriarch of Constantinople wants the Ukrainian Church to be under his influence, he demands that the Kyiv Patriarchate be destroyed. Because he cannot have any influence on the patriarchy. And in order to have influence, it is necessary to eliminate the UOC-KP. Then the OCU, the Kyiv Metropolis will be under the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Therefore, Tomos that was given to us does not satisfy us. It also changed the name of our church from the UOC to the OCU. This means that the Ukrainian parishes and dioceses that are outside of Ukraine do not belong to the OCU, but belong to Constantinople. Therefore, this does not satisfy us and does not satisfy those Ukrainians, who want to belong to the Ukrainian Church. We wanted to have such a charter (Tomos), which other churches that have left the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Such as the Greek Church, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Russian - they have complete independence.
Why does Patriarch Bartholomew have benefit from his influence on the OCU parishes?
In Turkey, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has only 6-10 thousand believers. And so he (Patriarch Bartholomew - ed.) needs to expand the flock. For this reason, he does not concede his dioceses in the northern regions of Greece (Greek Orthodox Church), the islands also belong to him, although this is a different state. He owns all the Greek parishes outside his state. And the dream of the Ecumenical Patriarch is that all Orthodox emigrants do not belong to their churches, but belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Therefore, he wants our Ukrainian parishes to belong to him, and he wrote this in the Tomos. We are not satisfied with this.
Previously, you appointed Metropolitan Epifaniy as your successor, but now he heads the OCU. Perhaps you have already chosen a successor who will lead the Kyiv Patriarchate after you?
I don’t think about a successor now. I’m thinking now about how to approve, increase and show the strength of the Kyiv Patriarchate. That’s what I’m thinking about.
Do you communicate with Epifaniy? And when was the last time you met?
We do not communicate and have not communicated. Because after he was elected head of OCU, he never chanted the liturgy with me. Even on the day of my 90th birthday, when many bishops came to chant, he did not come. And the fact that we never chanted a liturgy with him is an anomaly. And if he wants other heads of churches (other local churches) to chant with him, then why did he never chant with his patriarch?
Do you think that this is his personal decision or is he subjected to some pressure from Constantinople?
I think this is his personal decision. He does not meet with me and does not discuss church issues. But I have no resentment against him in my soul, just as I have no resentment against Patriarch Alexiy (Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Alexiy II, until 2008, - ed.) and Patriarch Kirill (patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church since 2008, - ed .). And therefore, I have peace in my soul, because I have no hostility and hatred.
Do you recall the time when in 1990 you were elected locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne and could head the Russian Orthodox Church?
I prayed then that God's will be upon me. If God would have chosen me to become the Moscow Patriarch, I was ready to bear this cross, I know what it means to lead a church. I prayed that God's will be, and I did not become the Moscow Patriarch.
Please tell me why you wear a Roman koukoulion (headdress), which is more often called "Moscow," Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill wears the same.
Each church chooses the shape of its headdress. If you look at the primates of all churches (local churches, - ed.) - all have different koukoulions. I did not design this koukoulion. It was worn by both Patriarch Volodymyr and Mstyslav (second and first patriarchs of the UOC-KP, - ed.). There is nothing unworthy in it.
You recently gave an interview with a Russian television channel, which was released under the title "Nothing Holy." Didn’t you expect then that this would cause such a flurry of criticism due to the fact that this is a channel of the aggressor country?
I did not expect that there would be such an attitude to the fact that I gave an interview to a channel hostile to Ukraine. I did not see any sin in this, because it is necessary to testify to the truth to everyone: both friends and enemies. And since there were negative reviews, I apologized for giving an interview to a channel that works against the Ukrainian state.
Recently, former head of the Information Administration of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Archbishop Evstratiy (Zorya) said that your health condition quickly deteriorated and you began to lose working capacity.
He is telling a lie. Yes, he was my "voice" (his press-secretary, - ed.,) Epifaniy was superior, but betrayed. And I am not surprised at this, they betrayed the patriarch who nominated them. Because Judas was also among the twelve apostles, performed miracles, for the Lord gave him a gift, like the other apostles, but betrayed him.
Do you think the OCU will develop?
The OCU will not develop in the conditions in which it exists, because it is a dependent church, and Ukraine wants to have an independent one.
Please, tell us about the procedure for the restoration of the Kyiv Patriarchate, perhaps it needs to obtain a new Tomos in order to be recognized by all local churches?
We must first create one Orthodox Church in Ukraine. I am convinced that all Orthodox will unite in one church. And when there will be one Orthodox Church, and it will be necessarily patriarchy, not a metropolitan, then we will not ask to recognize us, but they will come to us and chant with us. Because this church will be big.
Do you communicate with representatives of the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate?
Currently, there are no negotiations and no contacts. But God creates the conditions, and he will create such conditions that whether we want or don’t want, but we have to unite.