PUTIN: "IF FILARET HAD HEADED THE R.P.TS., UKRAINE WOULD BE OURS"
Interview by Olga Guk.
Segodnia, 21 July 2019
--From 1966 to 1990, you were the patriarchal exarch of all Ukraine from the Russian Orthodox Church. What do you remember most often from this time?
--These were difficult years. In Khrushchev's time there was persecution of the church. In 1966, true, by then Khrushchev was gone, I was appointed exarch. Parishes had been closed not by the dozens but by the hundreds. And when I became exarch, I sought to end the closure of parishes in Ukraine. They wanted to close the St. Vladimir's cathedral, the Florov monastery, and many other things. In Kiev, only ten churches remained. When I became exarch, the process of closures was halted.
--How did you succeed? Whom did you act through?
--I succeeded because I insisted on it. For example, when I became exarch, the commissioner [for religious affairs—tr.], an old chekist, said: "You should not be serving every Sunday in the St. Vladimir's cathedral. See, your predecessor served once a month, and you should serve the same," And I answered that I will serve every Sunday, because if he did not serve perhaps he was feeble. He was old, but I am young. If I don't serve every Sunday, then what kind of exarch am I?
I constantly had discussions with these chekists. Once I had a conversation with the same commissioner. He said: "The end has come for all you priests. Because all your clergymen are old, you will die out, and there will not be a young clergy. In addition, in 1980 we will reach communism and in communism there must not be a church." To this I answered him: "We are living under socialism and we will also live under communism." He replied: "No, now we are simply tolerating you, but under communism we will not tolerate you." To this I replied: "If you will not tolerate us under communism, then there will be no communism, but the church will exist. Because Christ said: 'I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.'" That's how I fought this.
On the other hand, the church often sent me abroad. I worked in the Commission on International Affairs of the World Council of Church, which in those years was a second United Nations, because all the same questions were discussed there that were discussed in the U.N.
I worked there in the Commission on International Affairs. And there I defended the interests of my church and my country, the U.S.S.R. Considering that I worked there and acted and defended the interests of the church and state, I was treated with respect and my opinion was considered. This helped me to defend the Ukrainian exarchate.
--Do you recall the time when the Kiev caves lavra was opened for monks?
--The lavra had been closed. But when the celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Rus was being planned, I placed the question of returning the Kiev caves lavra to the church before the Council on Religious Affairs in Moscow, that the monastery would be revived. Only Shcherbitsky and Grishin (the first secretary of the Moscow city committee of the party) objected. The rest of the members of the Politburo voted for it.
--Why were they opposed?
--They were ardent and aggressive atheists. They did not sign the decision. But the decision for the transfer was adopted. And by the millennium of the baptism of Rus the Politburo, led by Gorbachev, issued the decision—to return the lavra to the church. I came to Kiev in order to receive the document for the transfer of the Kiev caves lavra. True, at first only the far caves were transferred. And the near caves remained under the museum's control. That is, the lavra was transferred thanks to my persistent efforts.
--In 1990, you were counting on heading the Russian Orthodox Church. You became the acting patriarch after the death of Patriarch Pimen. And suddenly, you were not elected and you had to return to Ukraine. After this you began fighting for the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Did the offense perhaps affect you?
--No. I was chosen acting patriarch at a session of the Holy Synod by secret ballot. And nobody expected that! Because the KGB had chosen Alexis (Ridiger) as locum tenens and patriarch, but the Synod elected me by secret ballot. This was unexpected by everybody. That is, they had agreed that it would be Alexis, and it turned out to be Filaret.
But then the KGB's "work" began and they persuaded the bishops to vote in the end for Metropolitan Alexis. I knew that the patriarchal ministry was difficult and therefore I prayed to God and left everything to his will. If he wanted me to become patriarch, I was ready to bear that heavy cross. If it did not please God, then I did not have any aspirations or wishes.
It happened as the KGB had decided. Although the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union placed its stake on me, as I later learned on the sidelines. That is, Alexis was the choice of the KGB and I was the choice of the Politburo. Later Putin told his inner circle: "We made a mistake in choosing Alexis patriarch. We should have chosen Filaret. If Filaret had been chosen, Ukraine would be ours."
I did not fight for the Moscow patriarchate and I submitted to God's will. I remained exarch. When I became the primate of the UPTs, within the Moscow patriarchate, I strove for the Ukrainian church to get the status of independence and autonomy in administration. The status that the UPTsMP now has occurred thanks to my efforts.
Why did I strive for the expansion of rights? Because Ukraine, as part of the U.S.S.R., was striving for expansion of rights. And on the premise that Ukraine was receiving more rights, I wanted that the church also would receive more rights, but within the structure of the patriarchate of Moscow. When Ukraine declared itself independent, voting in a referendum, I understood: now such a status for the church is insufficient. We held a local council at which we decided that the UPTs should be autocephalous, and I sent to Moscow a request to give us a tomos for autocephaly.
--And when you did not get a tomos from Russia, then the idea of the creation of the patriarchate of Kiev appeared?
--No. When we sent the request for autocephaly to the patriarch of Moscow, he did not agree and did not refuse. They began to put off this decision until a local council. Then everything dragged on and on. In a word, our request was put off and a tomos was not granted. The issue was not raised and our request was not considered and the matter was delayed. We were not refused, but we were not given anything.
And at the same time, church pressure began for me. I was illegally, not in accordance with the canons, forbidden to ordain bishops. Then my episcopal rank was removed. Then an anathema was imposed. That is, a struggle against me began so that I would not implement the creation of an autocephalous Ukrainian church. And why was I so insistent? Ukraine had become independent!
--Ukraine, yes; but the church is separate from the state and politics.
--That's right, but the church plays, and will play, a political role also. Well, for example, during the Second World War, did the Russian church play a political role when it called for fighting against fascism? It did. And it was separate from the state. Just like now. The church does not interfere in internal policy, but it has played a political role in the life of the country, and it plays and will play one.
--What was the role of the first president of Ukraine, Leonid Makarovich Kravchuk?
--Leonid Makarovich supported me. When it was suggested that I renounce the primacy in the Kievan see, and I was offered any other one, even in Russia, just not the Kievan see, I asked Leonid Makarovich what I should do. Renounce it or not? He said, do not renounce the Kievan see. And the people did not want for me to leave. Therefore I did not renounce, and I am continuing. So I have been in the Kievan see for 53 years now, since 1966. No metropolitan has been in the Kievan see anywhere near as much. Only one was 34 years, but nobody has been more than 50 years.
--After the formation of the UPTsKP, why did you not become the patriarch right away, but you became the "gray cardinal" as a deputy?
--I have been accused that, they say, when I did not become the patriarch of Moscow then I wanted to become the patriarch of Kiev. But I did not become the patriarch of Kiev at first. The first patriarch was Mstislav (Skripnik, the son of the sister of Simon Petliura—author), and the second was Vladimir (Romaniuk)
--Why did it turn out that way?
--I wasn't chosen. But I did not have any aspirations. This is proof that I did not aspire to the patriarchate. My goal was not the patriarchate, but service to the church. I served the church originally as the exarch of the RPTs, and then as deputy of the patriarch of the UPTsKP, and then later as the patriarch of the UPTsKP.
--Why did the RPTs not declare an anathema on you right away? Not in 1992 when you became the deputy of the primate of the UPTsKP, and not in 1995 when you became the patriarch of the UPTsKP. Why did they announce the anathemas only in 1997? Did they expect that you would return?
--I do not know. It was Moscow's decision. But I did not recognize the anathema from the very beginning, because it was illegal and unreasonable.
--Why was it unreasonable? After all, you had created your own church separate from that church.
--An anathema is not imposed for that. An anathema is imposed for heresy, for grievous fault before the church, for that. I always served the church. And an anathema is not imposed for a bishop's serving the church.
--Indeed, there were not doctrinal differences. But still you created the patriarchate of Kiev without the blessing of the patriarch. Isn't this a reason for imposing an anathema?
--Did Metropolitan of Moscow Job declare the autocephaly of the Russian church on the basis of the blessing of the patriarch of Constantinople?
--In the 15th century?
--Yes, in 1448. It also was not based on a blessing. But because the grand principality of Moscow had been formed, which wanted to have its own independent church.
In order for a state to prosper, it must have a firm and independent spiritual foundation. And this applies not only to us, but to any state. When the Balkan states were formed, they began demanding the independence of the church. And therefore the Ukrainian church did not dream up anything new. We are moving on the same path as Russia, and Romania, and Bulgaria, and Greece, and Serbia, and all. It is nothing new. Therefore we are accused of violation of the Moscow patriarchate without any basis. We were illegally held within the Moscow patriarchate and an anathema was imposed on me also. Therefore Patriarch Bartholomew removed it.
--After the break with Epifany, after many of your colleagues left, who once called you their teacher, do you now think about a successor?
--I still have not thought about a successor. It is necessary to make the patriarchate of Kiev like it was.
--How do you make important decisions? Priests with whom we have talked say that they open the New Testament at random and read an excerpt from which they get an answer to their question. Do you have some such method?
--No. I take account of circumstances and the interests of the church, since I serve it, and the interests of the people and of the state. This guides me in making decisions. But I do not make them autonomously but as the canons of the church require—in synods or councils of the church.
--The UPTs originally expanded its authority by your efforts, and then by the efforts of His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir, and now His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry. The UPTs can open parishes abroad, decide it own internal issues, and assemble the Synod. That is, doesn't it have greater independence than the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (PTsU)?
--I got the broad rights of the UPTs. And what I got is what the UPTs now has. It is not true that Metropolitan Vladimir Sabodan expanded the rights that were given me as the primate. Nothing new was gained. On the contrary, they became yet more dependent on Moscow than they were in the early 1990s.
--How is that expressed?
--They listen to Moscow and I listen to Ukraine. I listen to the Ukrainian people and to Ukraine, and they heed Moscow. I also heeded it when I was a part of the Moscow patriarchate. But I have always worked for the good of the Ukrainian church, both while I was an exarch of the RPTs and while I was patriarch of the UPTsKP.
--Some priests of the UPTS marvel: "They call us Moscow priests, but we have never even been in Moscow; we speak Ukrainian; we pray for Ukraine." Incidentally, the vicar abbot of the Kiev caves lavra, Metropolitan Pavel, in an interview with our publication, spoke warmly about the times when you were the exarch, and he said that you were very concerned for the lavra. He suggested that if you were to return to the bosom of that church where you received your office, then the anathema would be removed from you and your ecclesiastical regalia would be returned as a former Beatitude. Have you ever thought about such a step?
--The fact is that I appealed to Patriarch Kirill that he would declare the anathema invalid, which had been imposed on me in 1997, and they decided in a bishops' council that if I returned to subordination to the Moscow patriarch, then they would remove the anathema. I appealed not because the anathema bothered me. It did not exist for me. I appealed so that there would not be conflict between the patriarchate of Kiev and the patriarchate of Moscow. So that we, belonging to different churches, could serve together, and have fellowship and fraternal relations. With this goal I also appealed to the patriarch of Moscow about removing the anathema. The bishops' council did not go this way.
--When did you appeal?
--In 2012 or so, I do not remember exactly. Incidentally, during the presidency of Yanukovich, representatives of Putin were sent to me and they suggested I return to the patriarchate of Moscow and become the primate of the entire Orthodox church of Ukraine. I declined.
--Ninety years is a venerable age. How do you maintain your strength? Perhaps you eat some kind of food that gives you strength?
--The life of a person is in God's hands. It depends on him, but much also depends on us as how we live, for example. It is necessary to eat in order to live, not live in order to eat. So you see I eat in order to live. I do not have a favorite dish. I listen to the doctors and I do what they require; but the main thing is God gives the strength.
At some point I suddenly felt a surge of new strength. And I thought that perhaps the Lord was giving me strength in order to fight further. Therefore I have this strength.
--There are rumors that you have children. Some say: well that's fine, even the Catholics renounce celibacy.
--There are no children. That's not true. I was accused of this in 1992 at the bishops' council, and I proved that it is all untrue.
--Would you wish there were children?
--No. I chose the monastic form of life in 1949, when I finished the first year in the academy, and then I considered which path I should choose, the monastic or family. Then our professors and students were arrested. I recalled the 1930s. And I reasoned thus: if I were to have a family, then I would not be free. I would depend on the family. The times were difficult. But if I choose monasticism, then I will be free. Therefore I chose the monastic form of life.
And I had just decided this when in 15 minutes a novice came from the abbot of the St. Sergius Holy Trinity lavra and suggested that I enter the monastery. And I saw God's hand in this. It meant that it was pleasing to him that I go this way. I have been monastic for 69 years and I have never had the thought that I chose the wrong path. Therefore all these discussions about children and a wife are fantasy.
--You were born in Donetsk oblast. Your village, Blagodatnoe, is now under the control of the so-called DPR. When do you think the war will end and how can it be ended?
--When—only God knows, but that the war will end, everyone knows. And the fact that the Donbass will remain within Ukraine, and Crimea—the whole world talks about this. Therefore sooner or later both the Donbass and Crimea will be Ukrainian.
--With whom of the strong of this world have you met? And who has had special impact on you?
--I have met with thousands of prominent people throughout the world, with presidents, kings, prime ministers, senators, church leaders. I could not even single out one of them.
--What do you dream about?
--About the Kingdom of God. To arrive there after death. I dream about this and I pray for this and I labor for this. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 July 2019)
Editorial disclaimer: RRN does
not intend to certify the accuracy of information
presented in articles. RRN simply intends to certify the
accuracy of the English translation of the contents of the
articles as they appeared in news media of countries of
the former USSR.
If material is quoted, please give credit to the publication from which it came. It is not necessary to credit this Web page. If material is transmitted electronically, please include reference to the URL, http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/.