February- March 2015
The third day – Thursday, 19 February, 2015 – of the current visit of our UOC of USA delegation to Ukraine as part of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops beyond the Borders of Ukraine (PCB) to the various ecclesiastical jurisdictions in Ukraine was an extremely busy one with very important discussions and prayerful homage to important Ukrainian memorials.
The first round of discussions took place in our hotel conference room with His Eminence Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko) head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Diocese of Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine. The Archbishop made the long journey to Kyiv to share the history and current status of his diocese with our American and Canadian Bishops: His Eminence Metropolitan Yurij, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony and Their Graces Bishops Ilarion, Andrij and Daniel. Life in the Diocese is difficult for the clergy and faithful in the Kharkiv Region. In spite of the difficulties, the Church is still active and preaching Christ’s salvation to all.
In responding to questions from the members of the PCB and the Canadian and USA delegations, Archbishop Ihor expressed his firm conviction that unity will, indeed, come to the Church in Ukraine, although the path to that unity will be long and difficult and that it will take the cooperation of responsible and committed individuals from all of the present separate churches to build a firm foundation for strong and lasting unity. He is willing to be part of that effort, which will change the face of the Ukrainian nation.
Living in the Eastern regions of Ukraine with the separatist attacks and threats to local populations has caused much stress and apprehension amongst the population of those regions. It is not so profound as to disrupt normal life in the area, but the perceived threat seldom disappears from the conscientious thoughts of all the citizens.
Shortly after the visit with Archbishop Ihor the USA and Canadian delegations arrived at Kyiv Pecherska Lavra (the Monastery of the Caves) for a meeting with the Chancellor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony (Pahanich), representing His Eminence Metropolitan Onufry, head of the Church, who was out of the city of Kyiv on Church business. Metropolitan Anthony greeted our joint delegation and expressed that theirs was the largest and the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine and that the path to ecclesiastical unity could only be accomplished through canonical means, inviting the churches in the Diaspora to join in the effort for such unity, when and if it is possible.
Metropolitan Yurij greeted the UOC-MP on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch, described the recent meeting of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church delegation with the Patriarch in Constantinople. He outlined the mission of the PCB and the Church delegations in Ukraine to commemorate the EuroMaidan and the Nebesna Sotnya.
His Eminence stressed that the present ecclesiastical disunity in Ukraine was abnormal, explaining the position of the Mother Church of Constantinople and of the Ukrainian Orthodox Diaspora that the annexation of the Kyivan Metropolia in 1686 to Moscow as uncanonical and invalid, resulting in the present day dysfunctional situation. Further, the Metropolitan stated that the Ecumenical Patriarch is willing to facilitate and assist with normalizing this situation.
Metropolitan Yurij further stressed His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew’s willingness to bless a second Symposium on Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which would continue the work of consensus-building among Ukrainian Orthodox churches of Ukraine. The first such Symposium (May 2014) took place in Toronto, Canada and brought together Ukrainian and Orthodox scholars from around the world.
Metropolitan Antony (Scharba) expressed the American Church’s desire for church unity and quick peaceful resolution of the present conflict in eastern Ukraine with the realization that it would be a very long process. He stressed the strong desire of the immigrants to the USA throughout the 20th century for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be autocephalous and one. They were forced to flee Ukraine for economic, political and spiritual reasons and all had the firm desire to see the freedom of their nation and its independent church before their journey through this earthly life ended. Now it is their children who have the same desire because the dream never became a reality during their lifetime. The Metropolitan stated that there must be a strong and unquestioning will on the part of all in the various Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions for unity to be accomplished.
The next stop for our delegations was at the Holodomor Museum, which began with a prayer to commemorate the Holodomor victims at the statue, “Bitter Memories of Childhood” followed by the laying of flowers by His Eminence Metropolitan Antony (on behalf of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA) and His Eminence Metropolitan Yurij (on behalf of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada). During the tour in the Holodomor Museum it became very apparent how this Museum was playing a crucial role in developing Holodomor awareness not only where it is much needed in Ukraine, but also in many other countries of the world, including Canada and the USA. It is an abundant, but very thoughtful and interesting exhibition, which reaches deeply into the heart and soul of every person blessed to view it.
In the afternoon both delegations met with three representatives of the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Stavropegial Brotherhood located in Lviv. They expressed their desire for church unity and presented their views on how this could be achieved based on the two Stavropegial Churches in Ukraine. They presented detailed information about the seven hundred year history of the Brotherhood and its efforts throughout that history to defend Holy Orthodoxy. Metropolitan Antony expressed the gratitude of the PCB members and the church delegations for the presentation and the value placed in the work of the Brotherhood by all the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in and beyond Ukraine. He explained that the Brotherhood has always been valued most highly by the successive Ecumenical Patriarchs of all periods of the Brotherhoods existence. The Patriarchs responded – and still do – to the Brotherhood because they believed that it was acting responsibly to protect Holy Orthodoxy under what often were circumstances that would seem to make their work successful. The Brotherhood’s efforts are just as important in today’s difficult ecclesiastical situation as they always have been because, as His Eminence stated, they are sometimes able to say things more clearly and directly than even the Hierarchs are able to do at times.
The final meeting of a very busy day took place at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church of Ukraine (UAOC), which is adjacent to St. Michael Golden-domed Church and monastery. Hierarchs of this Church, lead by Metropolitan Mefodii of Ternopil, Metropolitan Andriy of Ivano-Frankivsk and Metropolitan Makariy of Lviv expressed their views on the present state of ecclesiastical life in Ukraine. The three hierarchs covered the important points of view concerning the necessary moral behavior, an understanding of history and the desperate need for a qualified and charismatic leader to emerge for any real effort toward unity to have any chance of success. Both Metropolitan Yurij and Metropolitan Antony responded with their own thoughts about the path to unity. Metropolitan Yurij again outlined the Canadian delegation’s recent visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the will of Patriarch Bartholomew to assist in any way possible. Metropolitan Antony spoke of the need for the Church to reclaim its long held (throughout the history of Ukraine) position as the moral conscience of the Ukrainian nation. It can only do this through and honest and sincere will, which will be recognized by the faithful. No claim to be that moral conscience has reality without the confidence of the faithful.
On Friday, 20 February, the UOC of USA delegation’s first meeting took place at the United States Embassy with His Excellency the USA Ambassador to Ukraine, Mr. Geoff Pyatt. The Ambassador offered a highly insightful and clear picture of the USA perspective on today’s Ukraine – including the events of the Maydan through the war raging in the nation’s Eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. He further shared his perceptions about various aspects of Ukrainian government, civil and ecclesiastical life as developed over his extensive activity around the nation. He loves the Ukrainian people as a proud, independent and rich culture that if extremely resilient following even the almost incredible attacks, repressions and suppressions that have been inflicted upon them through Ukraine’s history. The delegation was deeply moved by the Ambassador’s decision to set aside nearly two hours with them and his profound understanding of the nation.
Later in the dayi the delagation of both Churches gathered on Istytutska Street for the Memorial Service for the lost souls of over a hunded innocent studendts, who firmly chose to stand up to the corrupt government and to demand a better way of life and the freedom of choice for their government and country.
Metropolitan Antony, Bishop Daniel and the UOC of USA Council of the Metropolia delegation responded to the conversation with Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate at the meeting with the President of Ukraine and visited the Patriarchal Center in Kyiv, which resulted in several hours of conversation over a conference table and later during dinner. Metropolitan Antony informed Patriarch Filaret about the mission of the PCB and Church delegations from Canada and the USA, with which the Patriarch was familiar having met earlier in the week with the Canadian delegation.
The Patriarch provided, along with bishops from the UOC-KP Holy Synod, an in-depth and informative description of the events throughout Ukraine following the murder of the Nebesnya Sotnya (the Heavenly Hundred) on the Maidan on 18-20 February, 2014. He informed the delegation about all the tremendous effort put forth by the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the UOC-KP through the past year, which included converting the St. John the Theologian Church building at St. Michael Monastery into an actual hospital to treat the wounded from the Maidan and the entire monastery property used as a safe harbor for those fleeing from government troops and agents. These were just a few efforts among many, many more by the Church all throughout the past year and all around the country. The most recent and important effort since the separatist battles in Eastern Ukraine has been the purchase of 18-20 ambulances, which have served in the battle regions to bring wounded soldiers home to Kyiv and Western Ukraine for badly needed medical treatment.
During dinner, further in-depth and very frank discussions, with members of the delegation participating, took place regarding relations between the UOC-KP and the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the UOC of USA. There was a shared willingness on the part of all present to put significant effort into a better understanding of each other’s position regarding ecclesiastical life in Ukraine and that the best way to accomplish this would be for more frequent communication and discussion. Everyone present agreed that the real effort for ecclesiastical unity in Ukraine must begin within the borders of Ukraine, but can be significantly inspired by others beyond the borders of Ukraine.
Following dinner, Patriarch Filaret escorted the UOC of USA delegation on a tour of the historic chapel of the Patriarchal center, which contains the relics of many of the saints of Ukraine through whose prayers the Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine will be blessed with the unity desired by all the faithful of the nation.
The Saturday, February 21, 2015 the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA departed the capital of Ukraine for Lviv in order to deliver financial aid from the faithful of the Church to wounded soldiers (and their families) of the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.