Patriarch Filaret and a Nation's Rebirth
An Interview with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Stephan
By Paul Peter Jesep
Published in Sobornopravna, Fall 2000 Issue
The Ukrainian Autocephaous Orthodox Church (Sobornopravna), headquartered in Cleveland, OH,
without compromising its canonical independence or self-governing status, has
increasingly embraced opportunities to work with Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv.
"There are many ways that the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church abroad can assist with social, political and theological matters in Ukraine," said His Beatitude Metropolitan Stephan Petrovich during a recent interview. "His Holiness, Filaret and our Metropolia share a common goal -- the reawakening of a strong national Ukrainian identity. By working in partnership, we can
achieve many great things for Ukraine."
His Beatitude added, "His Holiness has been a leader in asserting the right of Ukrainian Orthodoxy to be independent of Moscow. He should not only be praised for such efforts, but also assisted by all Ukrainians. An independent church also speaks to the issue of the nation's emerging identity."
"It's wrong," the Metropolitan reflected, "that a Patriarch in Kyiv, mother of all Ukrainian and Russian cities and the birth place of Eastern Slavic Christianity, must ask someone in Moscow for permission to do anything." Patriarch Filaret's efforts to further an independent church has resulted in his excommunication by Patriarch Aleksei II.
Sounding very much the patriot, His Beatitude noted, "First there was Ukraine. Later came Russia. Grand Prince Volodymyr reignedfrom Kyiv. Moscow at the time was irrelevant. It is in Kyiv's Dnieper River that the first Eastern Slavs were baptized. Historical honesty will always undermine the Moscow patriarch's claim of supremacy. Patriarch Filaret is a constant reminder of this truth."
The Metropolitan praised Patriarch Filaret for his ability to walk a fine line in Ukrainian politics. Leonid Kuchma, the Ukrainian president, has surrounded himself with advisors that keep him a comfortable distance from the conflict between the Kyiv and Moscow patriarchates. Patriarch Filaret has had to delicately manage this reserved political approach from Ukraine's top elected official.
Kuchma told Reuter Information Service that he does not want "to create divisions between one church that is ours and another that is alien. Our policy is to create equal con-ditions for all churches and ensure peace between all confessions."
Feeling the pressures of a powerful neighbor to the north, Kuchma has been very cautious in dealing with both churches. The volatility of the situation was evident last year. In 1999, supporters of Aleksei II attacked Patriarch Filaret. The Ukrainian patriarch was in the city of Mariupol to bless a new church site.
Kuchma is concerned about his country's relations with Patriarch Aleksei II, whose church owns much property in Ukraine. The current Ukrainian president, whom some contend is "Russified," refused to allow the burial of Patriarch Volodymyr, Filaret's predecessor, inside the walls of Kyiv's most sacred cathedral, Saint Sophia. Today, Volodymyr remains buried near a bus stop just outside the cathedral's walls.
"Patriarch Filaret," observes the Metropolitan, "has critics. But gossip or living in the past does not serve modern Ukraine as it tries to solve social and political challenges. He has shown a shrewd pragmaticism, without compromising his spiritual integrity, to further Ukrainian self-awareness. That's what matters in the end - the national rebirth of Ukraine. Patriarch Filaret has played a key role in igniting a uniquely Ukrainian spirit in the nation. He deserves our support."
Born in 1929 in the Donetsk Oblast, Patriarch Filaret received monastic tonsure twenty one years later. He became an ordained priest in 1951. His numerous theological achievements include professor at the Moscow Theological Seminary, Inspector of the Spiritual Seminary in Saratov and later Kyiv, and Bishop of Leningrad. He has also authored books and articles on Orthodox spirituality.
"His Holiness," says Metropolitan Stephan "is in the homeland shaping the national debate on what it means to be Ukrainian. Either we can be part of
this historic period or we can be left behind. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the United States, while maintaining its canonical
independence and self governing status, chooses to play a role in shaping Ukraine's future."
Paul Peter Jesep, a Ukrainian-American, is director of public relations for the Metropolia. He is a lawyer, political and public policy commentator, published author, lecturer, director of a Washington-based think tank and a freelance writer in Portsmouth, NH. Often a guest on radio and television shows as a political analyst, Mr. Jesep may be reached at www.jesep.com
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