“I don’t know what wing people refer me to. I only want to say that I am a Ukrainian man”

Interviewed by Nadia TYSIACHNA, The Day
16/2/2012

Archbishop Oleksandr (Drabynko) on the situation in the UOC.

Over the past few months the Ukrainian Orthodox Church attracted special attention. The Day asked Oleksandr (DRABYNKO), the secretary of Metropolitan Volodymyr, Archbishop of Pereiaslav-Khmelnytsky and Vyshnevsky, head of external church relations department of the UOC to comment on the events that now take place in the Church. We have chosen him not only because he is the “right hand” of His Beatitude Volodymyr but, primarily, because he is quite an unusual archbishop. He is a young person with modern Christian way of thinking, not dogmatic, and rather open in comparison with other bishops of this Church.

There is a struggle for the throne in the UOC in process now. One can not hide it. The confrontation between supporters of self-government and the adherents of strengthening relations with Ruthenian Orthodox Church became sharp in this struggle.

“I cannot say anything in response to this as I am not a contender in the struggle for the throne. The main task that the Holy Synod gave me is providing treatment and taking care of our Head.”

And how is Metropolitan Volodymyr doing?

“Thanks God, after the performed surgery his health is improving little by little. Of course, a long rehabilitation period will be needed. However, we believe that things will get much better. It is already better than it was before.”

In one of recent interviews your bishop of Cherkasy and Kaniv Sofronii (DMYTRUK) noted that the status of a self-governing church with the rights of broad autonomy, that the UOC has now, does not accord neither with historical conditions, nor with present time realities. What is your opinion on this? It is known that you, Bishop, belong to the, so-called, pro-Ukrainian wing.

“The current status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which it gained thanks to well-balanced foreign and domestic policy of Metropolitan Volodymyr, is totally sufficient. Obviously, within the Orthodox Church there exist differences of opinion about its past and future. And in order to avoid imbalance, this policy of His Beatitude should be continued. Unity of Church – that’s what important!

“The next thing, I do not know what wing I am referred to. I will only say that I am a Ukrainian man. I love my land, my country, my people, and my Church and I don’t want to see discord in it. These are things I learned from my parents, from His Beatitude, and from the present day situation.”

Bill No. 9660 on the possible transfer of national sanctuaries of Kyiv Cave Monastery and Pochaiv Lavra to the UOC ownership caused a stormy reaction in society. Would you please comment on the situation?

“Perhaps you should get the comments from those who will receive the mentioned sanctuaries. Restitution is a law.

“I believe that this bill will be approved and during the process of the transfer agreements will be signed with relevant government agencies on the UOC commitments regarding Kyiv Cave Monastery and Pochaiv Lavra, as well as regarding the believers of other confessions. I would like our Church to have tolerant and adequate attitude towards them. In short, we must do things the way they are done in civilized, both Orthodox and Catholic countries, that we often visit on pilgrimage trips.”

Recently the UOC and UGCC seem to establish better contact: your representatives were present at the enthronement of His Beatitude Sviatoslav (SHEVCHUK), Archbishop of Poltava and Myrhorod Fylyp (OSADCHENKO) at the invitation of the Primate of the Greek-Catholics took part in the opening of Ukrainian Christmas Tree in Vatican. Is it a new page after a new head has come?

“I know His Beatitude Sviatoslav. He makes a very nice impression.

“I would not say that it is a new page because His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr had meetings with His Beatitude Liubomyr. Similar meetings are now conducted with the current head of the UGCC. We have many common topics for discussion because we live in the same country, on the same land, and have same problems and when we, as Christians, begin to look for solutions for those problems it works out better than if we would try to do it alone. There are also relations at the local level, that is, between our communities, who live in a particular city/town/village and conduct certain social work there. However, they are situational. Yes, there is a lot common between us but there are also many problems which have not been overcome and now hinder further cooperation.”

And what are you relations with the Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate?

“At the present moment, there are no particular relations except for the fact that we know each other.”

It was interesting to observe how after an “ecumenical” press conference Bishop of UOC KP Yevstratii (ZORIA) was waiting for the press secretary of Metropolitan Volodymyr Reverend Heorhii KOVALENKO and then they went to the exit together.

“This is a professional relationship of two speakers from different confessions. And when it comes to the overall dimension, the preparations for the dialogue that was begun are now frozen. There were certain reasons for that. However, subjectively I would still like to have an interfaith dialogue in our country.”

What are the most common challenges the UOC faces?

“With secularization. With people’s indifference to a neighbor. Unfortunately, we are not able to fully implement everything we have a calling for. In particular, we can not fully implement Christ’s second command ‘Love your neighbor.’ In practice this would mean visiting prisoners, comforting those seriously ill, helping orphans, and feeding the hungry. In order to have a Christian country we must cultivate Christian spirit in children since early childhood. And then they will grow up into good Christians and responsible citizens, regardless of what their religious views would later be. In order for them to choose Orthodoxy we should teach them by our own example. Of course, as an Orthodox bishop I would like everyone to be Orthodox. However, looking at the realities of life, I would like everyone to be if not a good Christian then at least a good person.”

Sure you destroy the established image of an Orthodox bishop: young, relatively democratic and optimistic, you like traveling and are fond of photography. Do you experience God’s joyful feeling?

“Yes, I do. I feel the world in my own way. I see it through the lens of my camera through the talent given to me by God.

“The first words that Jesus Christ said after the resurrection were: ‘Rejoice! Once again I tell you rejoice!’ and ‘Peace be unto you.’ We don’t need to draw a gloomy medieval God. We just have to love Him. And He will pay us the same. ‘I am love!’ said the Lord. His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr always taught me that Christianity is a religion of joy. He often repeated this in his sermons. We believe that when we will die we will have the eternal life with the Almighty. There is a good proverb: can one pray for rain without an umbrella. In other words, if we believe we have to rejoice.”

What else have you learnt from His Beatitude?

“To be humane, I hope.”

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