Exclusive interview with Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv

While in Kyiv as a representative of the Orthodox Faculty of Belgrade at a conference of the Ecclеsiastical Academy of Kyiv on March 26, 2019, Nikolaj Sapsaj interviewed Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv. Topics include the events that have marked his ministry so far, the relationships with the Patriarchate of Serbia, and the situation in Ukraine..

– Your Beatitude, please bless all who will read this interview.

– May the Lord’s blessing and good health be on all the readers. May the mercy of God be with each of us, always!

– Your Beatitude, what changes have you seen in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate during your ministry as the primate?

– During the exercise of my ecclesial obedience as the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, there has been no changes. The Church traditionally lives her life of prayer, she has an active role in society, and is involved in charities. However, I consider that during this period, prayer has been strengthened, because of the great suffering the Lord has allowed us to experience, such as war and political changes. Such situations compel us to focus more on prayer. In our time, the world is very complex and prayer is needed. Today, it has become customary for people to criticize each other and argue, but very few are those who pray and gather everyone in unity around them, through their love. This is essential for today’s society, because sin divides, and if there’s no prayer, sin wins. It is for this reason that our Church has been multiplying her prayers. We have all strengthened our prayers at this time, so that through them and through repentance, the evil that is in our hearts and among us may be destroyed and eradicated, the evil that separates us from faith in God and from others. Thus we always turn to prayer, especially in the present time.
Likewise, we help those who suffer, especially those who suffered during the war. We strive to help them financially, and even more to provide them with psychological support and spiritual help, as this is the ministry of our Church, and that’s what the Lord called us to do.

– Which event would you identify as the most important during your ministry as the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?

– I would say that one of these events is the procession we organized between East and West Ukraine, at the difficult moment of the civil war. The procession began in the East, from the Sviatohirsk Lavra in the Donetsk region, and from the West, from the Pochayiv Lavra  in the Ternopol region. These two processions crossed the whole territory of Ukraine and met in Kyiv. It was very touching, because these people went on foot, in summer, in the heat. Many joined the procession, they came with children, even the disabled participated in the procession, according to their possibilities, all gave their little coin (Lk 21: 2-3) in prayer, for this event that united the people in our State.
And when all the participants in the procession gathered in Kyiv on St. Vladimir Hill, you could not look at them without shedding a tear, all these people tired because of the journey, but spiritually satisfied and happy, and embracing each other, and rejoicing to see each other and to be together.

– Have you had the opportunity to visit Serbia during your ministry?

– I would like to visit the fraternal Serbian land and the fraternal Serbian Orthodox people. They have always been near and dear to our hearts, as Orthodox, as Slavs, and as people who have also gone through many trials in difficult circumstances and times.

– The Serbian Orthodox Church has recently published its official position on the ecclesial crisis in Ukraine. How did the Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church evaluate this gesture?

– We received a letter with a communiqué by Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, and we are extremely grateful to him for the position taken by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
You know there are spiritual and bodily diseases. In this case, we are dealing with spiritual illnesses that exist in our people. We must find the right medicine for each disease. A disease cannot be cured by fake drugs. Today, there are attempts to remedy schisms by legalizing them and giving them a canonical structure. The schismatics were accepted without penance, without spiritual healing. This is not the good way by which a schism is cured. All schisms are due to the pride and ambition of people who want power.
Let it be known that in our Orthodox Church, there is only one Primate: Christ. We, patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, priests, we all serve Him, we are all servants of Christ. In our Church, there is not this human love of power. As members of the Church, we look at Christ and consider what He tells us, and what He wants us to do. This is the correct approach in the Orthodox Church.
Politicians see us as a kind of political organization, a kind of party. For politicians, the principles of this world are the most important. But in our Church, the main thing is the commandments of God, not of people. That is to say, human laws change, whereas God’s laws never change, because God is eternal. What God created and gave us is also eternal.
Thus we strive to be in communion with all Orthodox around the world. I call on all who are in a schism to remember that Christ is the Head of the Church (Eph 5:23), to humble themselves before Him, and to return to fraternal communion with all who are in the holy canonical Orthodox Church.
That said, we wholeheartedly thank His Holiness Patriarch Irinej, the Holy Synod, and the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church for the correct attitude they adopted. It is very strong and authoritative. We also consider that this official position of the Serbian Church has forced many people to become aware of the way they were going.

– Your Beatitude, the Serbian people know the sufferings of your Church. What is the real situation in Ukraine, and what difficulties is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church facing today?

– Unfortunately, the concerns of the Serbian Orthodox Church related to the situation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate are fully justified.
Some politicians interfere a lot in the life of the Church. They try to bring us on their side, that is to say, they want us to become part of their political organization, they want us to be involved in politics, and if we refuse, they strive to take away our legitimate rights. This is the reason why new laws are being promulgated, such as for example the law that allows each person to decide which Church they belong to.
In our Church, we consider her members to be the people who attend regularly, those who participate in ecclesial life, who regularly fast and receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ. These are the members of our Church . Those who come to Church only once a year and perhaps even less often, are not members of our Church.
But according to the new law, each person is given the opportunity to declare themselves a member of the Church, that is, it is not the Church that determines who is a member of the Church. Now anyone can say, “I am a member of this Church!” But in fact, they are not members of the Church, not according to our laws. By thus perverting the Orthodox tradition, many people who are far from the Church settle the fate of ecclesiastical properties. They gather in some villages, and vote to take over the church belonging to the canonical structure. Unfortunately, from a legal point of view, it is considered legitimate, and that’s in fact the way they are taking over our churches. This is not right, this is a way to legalize the taking over of our churches. We cannot accept it.
There is also a law according to which we must change the name of our Church. We do not plan to do it. We will not change the name of our Church. Her name has always been the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We live on the territory of Ukraine, Ukrainians frequent our churches, it is called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
If there is a conflict between some Ukrainian and Russian politicians, the Church is not responsible for it. In Russia, there’s separation between the Orthodox Church and the State, like for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church here. In the religious field, we are in communion, we pray for each other, we care for each other, and we help each other. It is the testament given to us by Christ, we live it and will continue to do so.

– How can the Serbian Orthodox Church, as a communion of hierarchs and faithful, help her sister the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and her own faithful?

– We are grateful to the hierarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church for taking care of our Church, by giving her canonical support, in prayer and in words. Of course, we ask for the most powerful spiritual weapons, through which we will overcome all the trials and temptations of this world: prayer and fasting. Please do not to forget us in your holy prayers.

Translated by Orthodoxie.com