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Professor Oleksandr Sahan: “Many Ukrainians, especially believers, are in fact captives of Moscow myths...”

January 16, 2019
<p>Professor Oleksandr Sahan: “Many Ukrainians, especially believers, are in fact captives of Moscow myths...”</p>


Interview with Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Leading Researcher of the H. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine


— Can we say that the topic of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the features of which you were one of the first in Ukraine to investigate, “lay on the surface”, but was avoided because of the public “explosion risk”?

— In Soviet times, the study of such themes was “boundary”, because it was about some peculiarities of spiritual life in Ukraine. And this is almost “entrenched” (there was such a term) nationalism. One “unsafe” publication — and one could be honored with the status of “bourgeois nationalist” and your career of a scientist would be over. However, I entered the graduate school in 1990, when the Soviet political “repressive machine” was already bogging significantly.

…I was interested in the aspect of our spiritual heritage, in particular — what Moscow Orthodoxy destroyed having appeared in Ukraine? Were there any features of the development of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, not only in the ceremonial sphere, but also in the doctrine? The conclusions were shocking not only to me — the majority of Orthodox clerics with whom I spoke, had no idea of the enormous spiritual heritage we lost after 1686! My monograph on this topic (“National Manifestations of Orthodoxy: the Ukrainian Aspect”) had two additional editions and, despite the fact that 25 years have passed since its writing, to this day it remains still relevant in all its aspects… Now, in view of the institutionalization of a local Orthodox Church in Ukraine, this topic (the peculiarity of the spiritual life of Ukrainians in pre-Moscow period) is again interesting, and there is a growing demand for it.

…The principle of “independent state — an independent (autocephalous/local) church” is the norm of the Orthodox tradition, which was explained back in the 11th century by the first Metropolitan Ilarion of Kyiv (990–1088) of local origin. In 1051 he was elected by the Sobor (Council) of Ukrainian Bishops, and later this choice was approved by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In his “Word of Law and Grace” the Metropolitan, for the first time, outlined the place and role of Rus-Ukraine in the world historical process and affirmed the need for an independent status of the Rusan (Ukrainian) state and church.

But having no statehood, and most importantly, being torn among several foreign powers, for the centuries were obstacles in the way to unity of the Ukrainian people both, socio-politically, and religiously. And the Kyivan Metropolitanate's falling under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate (from 1686) for three centuries actually stopped even theoretical reasoning on this topic. Exception is only short periods of the First and Second World Wars, when Ukrainians tried to realize the idea of the territoriality of their Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

It is interesting that the delegates of the First All-Ukrainian Military Congress, which took place in May 1917 in Kyiv, were the first to officially declare the idea of organizing their own local Orthodox Church in Ukraine (obtaining autocephalous status and restoring ancient Ukrainian Orthodox customs). The military in practice felt the urgency of the problem. After all, at that moment the Russian Orthodox Church in the Ukrainian territory was an instrument of Russification of the population, and its clergy received substantial additional payments for the Russification of the territory (unfortunately, this still is so for the most part — in the activity of that part of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is in Ukraine with the name of the UOC-MP)

The call of the Ukrainian military was heard — in the second half of 1917, the All-Ukrainian Church Council, which consisted of the clergy and believers, was created in Kyiv. This council convened in January 1918 the All-Ukrainian Church Sobor, the main decision of which was the creation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — independent from the Moscow Patriarchate. However, the Bolsheviks' offensive and their seizure of Kyiv stopped the Sobor's work on the establishment of autocephaly.

The new organizational incentive for the idea of the territoriality of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine was in the times of Pavlo Skoropadsky's Hetmanate. But all the efforts of the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council and the Hetman's government to establish the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church were actually stopped by the Russian bishops, whom the tsarist government had always been selecting carefully and, as a rule, not from Ukrainians. Suffice it to say that from 1799 (after the death of Metropolitan Iyerofey Malytskyi) and till 1966 (until the appointment of Metropolitan Filaret /Denysenko/) — at the Kiev Cathedral (167 years!) there was not a single ethnic Ukrainian… Instead of autocephaly, Orthodox bishops in Ukraine agreed and received in 1918, according to the decision of the Moscow Local Sobor, an autonomy, which was realized only during the years of occupation of the Ukrainian territories by German troops during the Second World War. By the way, that autonomy has never been canceled, and therefore the current status of the UOC-MP as an “independent church with the rights of broad autonomy” (without inclusion into the diptych) is artificial and far-fetched.

Unfortunately, unlike other peoples, such as Georgians, for one, Ukrainians, first of all, their political leadership, at the beginning of the 20th century failed to assess correctly the role of the spiritual factor in the establishment of political independence. The proclamation of autocephaly on January 1, 1919, by the state decree during the Directorate, was not successful, since very soon Ukraine was under the Soviet rule. The Soviet repressive bodies saw (and not without reason) the autocephalous idea as a serious threat to the existence of the Bolshevik/Soviet regime. Therefore, the autocephalous movement of the early 20th century was quickly destroyed — the clergy were repressed, and the temples were closed with the use of force.

…The present formation of the idea of the territoriality of Orthodoxy in Ukraine is connected with the restoration of independence of the country. By the way, I believe that at one time our legislators made a mistake when they proclaimed, not restored the independence of Ukraine, which was proclaimed in January 1918. And now the paradoxical situation has arisen — the country celebrates the 27th anniversary of independence and the 100th anniversary of many of its state bodies (ministries and institutions) and of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, where I work…

— I consider extremely relevant and educational your brochure “The Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine: a Public Request and the Need for Institutionalization”, where you analyze the problems of creating a unified Ukrainian local Orthodox Church. It would be useful for such a publication to be in every Ukrainian educational institution, every school where our young people are getting education. Right?

— Yes, I agree — the need for such literature is enormous. After all, the Moscow Patriarchate overwhelmed Ukraine with its myths and frankly false imperial literature. The idea of the territoriality of Orthodoxy in Ukraine is presented as a project, either L. Kravchuk's, or V. Yushchenko's, and is presented as a purely political project. All this must be refuted and objective information should be provided. My brochure is intended to answer most of the issues related to territoriality — what is it about? what is the history of this issue? why is it important for Ukraine? how does it work in other Orthodox churches?..

Two years ago, like-minded people and I restarted the activity of the Kyiv Bohoyavlenskyi (Epiphany — transl.) Episcopal Brotherhood (founded in 1615 and never liquidated). Today, the Brotherhood is actively engaged in the distribution of brochures (we chose this format for the convenience of the reader, first of all, rural) about the objective history of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. In particular, the brochure mentioned by you has had several editions and now more than 15 thousand copies of it have been distributed. The text of the brochure is based on the questions that I have most often asked in my lectures on the existence of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and the prospects for the recognition of our Orthodoxy. I've been reading these lectures for many years in all regions of the country. Incidentally, even in the front-line Kramatorsk, this topic has recently caused a great deal of excitement, which suggests an increase in interest to territoriality even in regions of total domination of the Moscow Patriarchate.

— You quote an extract from the “Fundamentals of Social Concept” of the Moscow Patriarchate, which defines the tasks in the patriotic education of the faithful, and you warn that the UOC-MP is trying (it is no secret for what purpose and in whose favour) to control the Ukrainian military. Agreeing with your reservations, I want to give you an example: right after the collapse of the Soviet Army, many retired officers on the territory of Russia became rectors of Orthodox parishes or pastors of Protestant churches. In your opinion, what is this?

— As for the social concept adopted by the UOC-MP, for many clergy who attend my lectures, this is a discovery. They do not know their program documents, which encourage them to “protect the Motherland from the enemy, work for the good of the Motherland and improving people's lives”. As well as — “to preserve and develop national culture, national consciousness”. All this is not about any imaginary Motherland, but about the specific country in which this cleric serves — that is, about Ukraine.

…Some hierarchs of the UOC-MP still, in the situation of war, get awards from Moscow, which are given only “for special merits to Russia”. That is, there is now a serious problem — can a Ukrainian bishop or priest hierarchically subordinate to the patriarch, declaring through his sermons and his activity the Russian national idea, the Russian patriotism and the ideology of the “Russian world”, bring to his parishioners Ukrainian patriotism, love of Ukraine as it is written in the social doctrine of the UOC-MP?

It should not be forgotten that the Moscow Patriarchy is closely connected with the state structures of the Russian Federation and political organizations of the nationalist direction, in particular, with the Russian People's Sobor, a number of so-called “Black-Hundred” organizations, movements such as “Forty Parishes”, etc. The Moscow Patriarchate has signed agreements with all the ministries and departments of Russia that have a military contingent or paramilitary structures. In particular, the agreement with the Ministry of Defense of Russia provides for the development of mutual relations in the sphere of ”spiritual and moral education of soldiers, patriotic education”, etc.

…With regard to reserve officers (as we know, an officer in the Soviet era could not be a believer) who suddenly became pastoralists. Incidentally, in Ukraine even among bishops there are former officers. I can assume that a certain part of the military really thought over its existence and sincerely believes in God. But, unfortunately, there are many examples of the church's activity being a continuation of active service. Some siloviki in Russia like to say that there is no such thing as a “former” officer.

— To continue this issue, one more observation: in recent years, Orthodox churches are actively developing in Ukraine. This can be seen not only in our capital. But one can't help noticing their area, the size of the premises, where you can deploy a few motorized companies with military equipment. Do some politicians mean this when they are calling for armed protection of churches of the UOC-MP? Is this a warning about armed confrontation in our society after Tomos is granted?

— Yes, the UOC-MP is actively working on the development of its institutions, especially monasteries, behind the high walls of which, as you rightly observed, you can place a lot of things. Major General I. Hordiychuk, the Hero of Ukraine, repeatedly mentioned in his interviews the militants' hiding in the caves of the Svyatohorsk Lavra. In the Zaporizhzhya diocese of the UOC-MP nearly openly are being created so-called “self-defense groups”.

About “heroic deeds” of individual clerics in serving the “Russian world” one can write the whole study. Will the clergy of the UOC-MP play forceful scenarios to confront the institutionalization of the local Orthodox Church? I think they will. At least they will try to. The second person in the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Ilarion Alfeev even pointed out the possibility of bloodshed in defense of the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. Whether they will go this far — depend on the believers themselves, activists and Ukrainian state authorities, whose task is to prevent and neutralize such attempts.

— Are the factors dividing the Orthodox Church in Ukraine so indestructible that a compromise between its branches is impossible? If so, what is the basis of this “principled stand”?

— Nowadays Orthodoxy in Ukraine is divided sooner by the 300-year long history of the Ukrainian Orthodox believers' being under the Moscow Patriarchate's jurisdiction rather than by any canons or church traditions. Many Ukrainians, especially believers, are in fact captives of Moscow myths that partly or completely distort the history of Orthodoxy in Ukraine and the world, deform and falsely convey church canons, rules and traditions. Some of our believers are convinced that “God does not hear prayers in Ukrainian” or that “salvation is possible only in unity with Moscow”. Therefore, this “principle” of holding on to Moscow is based on false conclusions. And so, we must fully support the efforts of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in trying to take us out of this “vicious” circle of lies. Without this, further development of Orthodoxy — both as a confessional direction and as the largest institution in Ukraine — is impossible. Without such changes Orthodoxy will become one of the most dynamically “disappearing” denominations.

— At the moment, Orthodox churches of neighboring countries of the West (I mean Poland, Bulgaria, Moldova, Hungary) take a rather unambiguous position regarding Tomos for the UOC, which is in line with the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church. What explains this — is the simple old habit, or the policy of their states, which want to please their complexes?

— This is a difficult question, and the answer for each country will have its own specifics. Religion throughout history of our neighborly relations was often a tool of political influence and even denationalization. That is why, as it often happens between neighbors, the history of our relationships, including in the inter-confessional sphere, is not always festive. However, I would not tie so clearly the position of these states to the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Hungary, for example, there are eparchies of Serbian and Romanian Orthodox churches, as well as the eparchy belonging to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But the Orthodox in general are so few there, that they are unlikely to affect the political position of the country's leadership. Hungary is more concerned with the problems of its ethnic minority than the particularities of Orthodox relations.

As for Poland, Bulgaria and Moldova — the situation there is also not so clear. The Moldavian Orthodox Church is part of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is located on the territory of Moldova (just as it is in Belarus or Ukraine). Orthodox churches in Poland and Bulgaria are autocephalous, however, here I agree with you, they have a “habit” of being guided by the Moscow Patriarchate. These “habits” often have financial (as I have already said about scandals in Bulgaria) or “human” basis.

However, I believe that the situation is not so critical for our local Orthodox Church. In the future, relations (mutual recognition — eucharistic unity) will be established with all churches, except, and this is very predictably, with the Moscow Patriarchate. But for this we have to work out a single position, first of all within the country. It is about putting an end to the confrontation between the Orthodox churches and their uniting under the leadership of the Primate recognized in the Orthodox world.

— Thank you for answering my questions.

Interview recorded by Oleh Makhno

The full interview was published in the “BINTEL. Geopolitical Analytics Journal”, Issue 4, 2018


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