The Head of the UGCC: "We never took any donations from the government, so were and are free"

Friday, 26 December 2014, 15:13
The Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church His Beatitude Sviatoslav is convinced that every time, when the Church becomes an instrument of a state machine or ideology, it falls into captivity. "In this bondage there is always someone else is using religious institutions, which people mostly trust, to manipulate their mind or override them with its power" - He states.

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which this year celebrates 25 years of its legal status, in the Soviet Union, according to the researchers, was the largest group socially opposed to the contemporary system, which tried to control everything. And now the Church's role in public life, according to the Head of the UGCC, is reflected in the fact that it is a "mother and a teacher of society" and this fact answers the question of why it was present at Maidan. Today it, inter alia, would manifest itself in service to reforms, thinks His Beatitude Sviatoslav.

These ideas he promulgated during the international dialogue forum "Religion, democracy and values" in Ukrinform and then agreed to answer the questions of the agency.

- Recently, in the appeal to the congregation you advised not to expect miracles from power. Did you mean the proposed by the government reform program?

- I meant the assessment of a person's own capabilities. For he who is in power, can suggest himself as an omnipotent or latter-day Messiah, and, on the other hand, the members of our society that has wounds from the Soviet historical period usually expect that someone will do something for them. So that’s why I said that we should not expect miracles from the government, since only the Lord God makes miracles, that is what people really cannot afford.

And our task – is to do that is due to our competence, strength, ability and personal responsibility. We should not expect that someone will do something for us - whether the IMF will give money for living, or power today will improve our personal situation.

Because personal responsibility - this is what we now urge each other to.

- In what form can citizens express their opposition to the government actions, including, perhaps, plans to cut the social budget, affecting many?

- Protests moods in our society today are indeed very high. Obviously, that Ukrainian civil society finally awakened and every member has the right to express his views and aspirations. So expressing our disagreement or agreement - it's the question of finding form, not content. I cannot say exactly what it should be, but in all our actions we must be really constructive. Even when we choose a way to protest, it must be such, as to build, not destroy.

- In other words we should not burn tires under the Council and throw the deputies into the garbage cans, because this is not constructive?

- I think that when society will require some reforms from the government and will really carry out public control over its actions, it will help with joint efforts and shared responsibility to build or rather rebuild our society and heal its wounds.

- Reforms are inevitable, and the government, in particular the prime minister, warn people, that they have to tighten their belts. Arseniy Yatsenyuk is a parishioner of your church. If he came to you, asking how to explain to the public the government's plans, what would you advise him?

- I do not know if the compulsory tightening of the belts is sacrifice, but I think that we should feel common responsibility for saving the country. Today Ukraine is at war. Each war is connected with devastation and great economic difficulties. So I would advise everyone, no matter what position he occupies in society, to provide solidarity. Solidarity lies down to community, compassion. And then I'll tighten my belt to help a neighbour. This is what we all need today.

Do not be idealists - we have difficult times, and we must be ready for this. But it is solidarity and unity, in my opinion, that will help us to pass this way.

- Can you see in our Prime Minister the readiness to compassion?

- You have to ask him about it! (laughing)

- Do you see him often in your church?

- No. As far as I know, he is a parishioner of our Church of St. Nicholas at Askold’s grave, but not of our Patriarchal Cathedral. He comes there as an ordinary person, he never advertises his presence as a big government person.

- It is obviously that because of the critical economic situation, many of our fellow citizens will become poorer. However, some people remain rich, and some may also get rich. What do you think should be the culture of wealth in a poor country?

- Today we have the phenomenon of so-called quick wealthy, who grew up on the ruins of the Soviet economy and became rich quickly not always in honest and ethical way. They have the money, but they are often lack of skills, being people with financial capabilities, how to handle it with proper culture. For a man of culture always feels himself as a part of wider community. The culture of this person is manifested in clothes and in conversation, and in the ability to serve, and in understanding the role that society should play.

Being rich is not a sin, but it is extremely heavy responsibility, sometimes even burden. So I think those people, who have the resources and see the country in great need, should revalue the content of the property. They should ask themselves: "Why did the Lord give me today such resources into the hands? What should I do with them? What is my task? How can I best serve my neighbour, society and state?"

Perhaps today we need to help these people to answer these questions. 

- Has the Church always accept donations from rich, but perhaps not very moral people?

- I'll give you a very concrete example. We blessed the last year our Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv. We built it on certain moral principles; in particular, we never took donations from people who have received the property in a dishonest way. Therefore the cathedral was being built for a long time. We never took any donations from the government, so we were and are free. It is a great blessing!

On such moral foundations lives and acts our church.

- How large is your church's presence in the Crimea and the Donbass? How many parishes there have you lost in the connection of the occupation of the peninsula by Russia and the military operations in the East?

- Crimea and Donbas - a little bit different contexts, although the situation there is something similar.

In the Crimea today we have five parishes that comprise 12 communities, so we have preserved our presence after the annexation of the peninsula. But the way the presence and the various legal nuances cause great anxiety today. The prospect of legal existence of our communities in the Crimea is not always clear and the fact that the so-called Crimean authorities issued a new law on the existence of religious organizations and churches, according to which they all, without exception, must be reregistered. However, the law creates very difficult conditions for such registration.

Concerning Donbass I have to say, that in our Exarchate of Donetsk, which covers Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya and Dnipropetrovsk regions there are 67 priests and about 80 parishes. On the territory that is now under the control of illegal armed formations there are 12 of our parishes. Particularly in Donetsk left two of our priests, and the rest had to leave because of a direct threat to their lives or they are physically unable to stay in their parishes. I know that 11 of them are moving across the front line to be with their faithful. In this situation, we finish our service, because people who live in daily danger of death, most require the presence of their pastor.

- Your church for a long time had no legal status. Won’t you have to go back into hiding in the current situation in the East and in the Crimea?

- Underground Church, particularly in times of the Soviet Union was considered as a taboo structure, but it existed as a home church. When it was impossible to serve in the church or somewhere in a public place, the priests moved from one family to another, and worships took place in the families. In other words, the burden of the underground church was born on the shoulders of the laity.

So, whatever social and political circumstances in a particular part of Ukraine or the world are, while believers exist, the church will live. While in the Crimea and Donetsk there are simple Greek Catholics, until the church is.

Perhaps there will be certain circumstances that will make the presence of the clergy or freedom of worship impossible there. But even when such a life is banned, the Church will exist.

- Do your priests, who are now in the occupied territories, have to hide?

- There are various circumstances. I'm not sure that in all our churches we can accomplish the worships, because some were incurred under the firing. I know that our Cathedral in Donetsk still open, and two priests who remained in the city, are providing the pastoral care for their parishioners.

- How do you feel about the fact that voluntary battalions are blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid into Donetsk through seemingly not the right content? Does your church do charitable assistance to the inhabitants of the East?

- It is difficult for me to give a definite assessment of these actions, because there are so many ambiguous situations. Today we do not have some clear and honest way to help people who need it, because there is always the danger that any humanitarian aid can be misused.

We mainly provide the assistance through "Caritas". The system of "Caritas" (National Catholic Charities. - Ed.) operates on the principle of helping each other. That is the foundation upon which any humanitarian action or public ministry of our church is simple Christian solidarity. So if the community is in need, another community will help it.

- Kyiv Patriarch Filaret declared that priests of this confession will not administer holy community to the corruptioners and grafters. Does your church have the own program to fight corruption?

- In my opinion, the issue of corruption is very complex, and some simple recipes or replies are not there.

The word "corruption" means spoilage, first of all moral. It is based primarily on the fact that people live as if God does not exist. And then for this person all other people, particularly in the current difficult circumstances, become merely a tool to meet his or her own needs. Such degenerated interpersonal relations are de facto the nature of corruption.

I think that all churches today are unanimous that we need to treat our country from corruption – it is perhaps the most internal enemy that decays it from the bottom. On the one hand, we need to understand that we finally have our own state, from which we do not need to defend ourselves, but rather need to protect it. On the other are those who today received power as a mandate from the people, should understand that power means service to those entrusted it to them.

So now we need to heal the relationships between people, for example, between a teacher and a student, between a doctor and a patient. The list goes on, but in the end we can put - between our government and society. Only then can we say that we have stepped forward at least little to cure corruption.

- In addition to the internal enemy we now have the external ones. What is the attitude of the church to the enemies during the war - they must be destroyed or forgiven?

- When it comes to war, we are called to defend our country, that is we have not only the right but also the duty to defend our people from external aggressors. But the church teaches that we have no the right to hate. That was very clearly said these days (December 10, during a visit to Kyiv. - Ed.) by the Papal Legate Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who arrived in Ukraine as a representative of the Holy Father to show support for the Ukrainian people.

On the other hand, evil should be called evil and it must be punished. This is not about revenge, but about justice. Because if evil is not named, nor punished, it will spread. This is not a personal hatred for the person who has committed an evil act. These are some principles of social construction.

- But still the killers of Hundreds of Heaven are not punished...

- Certainly, all the crimes that were committed against society or directly at Maidan, or before Maidan, should be primarily proven guilty and all the guilty must be identified and punished. But when we talk about the punishment that they must endure, it must be fair.

- Isn’t it too much, in your opinion, in our information space the presence of our external enemies - Russia and Putin?

- If they have a role to evil, I think it is fair – to talk about it. Evil fears when it is opened. When evil is exposed to light, it is weak.

- Perhaps, it will be news for you, but my colleague had witnessed, that the UOC MP called your church the evil and begin again to curse the members of Uniate Church...

- We never answer evil for evil, and never curse any church. Therefore, we try in these circumstances nonetheless to be good Christians. And we love someone, not because someone is good or bad, but because God loves them.

- Patriarch Filaret said that Moscow has recently been making efforts to embroil Kyiv Patriarchate with your church.

- I think the attempts will always take place. We call them temptations. They can be of different levels, but this should not scare us. We have to be Christians everywhere and always.

- Do you see now the prospect of formation in Ukraine one local church?

- The question of one national church in Ukraine today is widely debated, not only in church circles but also in the form of public debate. The extraordinary push for the unity, for consolidation was the Maidan. It created, I would say common social request for the church unity, which in our history has never been manifested so hard.

I think that this desire of believers to have a single Christian community, which would call single Ukrainian church, is an answer to this question. Therefore, this community, this movement of unity will grow, and the only Ukrainian church will be.

What should we need to do? Not always the scheme of human society can be imposed on the scheme or the dynamics of church unity. But I still see some steps. To be sincere and honest, the first step of this road to a unified national church in Ukraine – it’s a unity of Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, Ukrainian Orthodoxy today is divided into three denominations between which there are no dogmatic differences, but there are certain canonical disciplinary discussions and more.

Therefore, while in Ukraine there is no a single Orthodox Church, to us, Greek Catholics it is rather difficult to speak of a constructive ecumenical dialogue. Because if you start a dialogue with one church, two others will be offended, and communicate with all three together it is difficult.

With each of the Orthodox Churches we have very good bilateral relations - much better than they have with each other. So we from our side try to help our Orthodoxy to achieve internal unity without violating the rules of the existence of this community.

The next step – is the one, which was written by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytskyi in his pastoral letter, "How to build a native house". He said that in order to build a native house, which we would call the only Ukrainian church or the local church in Ukraine, must be the combination of Orthodox and Catholic branches of Kyiv Christianity. He then even said: "If the Church unites, let the Head of it be one of the Orthodox side".

This perspective of unity, I think, is the most realistic. I hope that God will hear our prayers, and our faithful wait of what they are asking from God and their hierarchs.

- Our conversation takes place on the eve of two major holidays - St. Nicholas Day and Christmas. What are your wishes to Ukrainian and about how to live and how to celebrate these holidays in a war?

- First of all the holiday St. Nicholas reminds us that we are called to follow God's mercy. At the time of devastation, in the war the mercy is saving and vitally necessary for our country for so we can save someone’s life.

In war, we feel that perhaps with purely human forces we cannot always solve everything; we need a Saviour who would help us. And Christmas – it’s a celebration of just that he is the Saviour, that He was born, He comes.

This holiday is primarily a family holiday, so we need to have to think of those who may now suffer or feel the loss of their relatives or friends.

I would support the idea of Mr. Pete Cox (the Chairman of the European Parliament (2002-2004, the member of the special European Monitoring Mission of the European Parliament "Cox-Kwasniewski", the member of the International Dialogue Forum at Ukrinform. - Ed.), who addressed those, in whose competence is to exchange prisoners before Christmas. I think it would be a very nice gesture and a great holiday for many families, if our prisoners of war could go home and celebrate with joy this Christmas.

Let the Lord God help us in this!

Nadiya Yurchenko, Kyiv







Prev Next