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Metropolitan Epiphanius: “We are ready to start a dialogue on the unity of all in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine”

"In such a difficult time, we can only get help from God, God really helps us. We can see this even in the first days of this terrible war. Kyiv could have fallen at any moment, but by the grace of God it did not fall, the Lord kept the possibility of protection. And as you can see, with God's help, Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions have been liberated gradually, and I am convinced that in the future we will gradually win a complete victory in the east as well, "said Metropolitan Epiphanius in response to a question on how not to lose. faith in this difficult time.

Like the country's top political leadership, he remains in Kyiv, at his residence in the St. Michael's Monastery. Although he admits that in the first days, especially when the Diversionary Intelligence Groups were working in the capital, the danger was very great - St. Michael's Monastery suffered several attacks, but, fortunately, managed to repel. "From the data of various intelligence services, I know that I am in them (russian - S.K.) in certain lists - those who pose a threat to them… But I must be where my flock needs me. When the news came that Borodyanka was opened after demining, there is an opportunity to go and visit people there, I decided without hesitation to go, although it may be dangerous," he added.

In a long interview, we spoke with Metropolitan Epiphanius about how the OCU is experiencing a military invasion; what is happening inside the church itself; whether it is ready - and under what conditions - to accept not only parishes, but also the highest bishops of the MP, who have decided to break off relations with the russian church; What is the future of the ROC and what is the probability that the Pentarchy court will deprive Gundyaev of his patriarchal rank?

In addition, we tried to find answers to the questions most often asked by our readers: why God allows war and mass suffering; how not to despair after the horrors of Bucha and Irpin; will we ever be able to forgive the russians?

Photo: Photo: Metropolitan Epiphanius

"For the past 30 years, we as a nation have to some extent underestimated the great gift we possessed - the gift of freedom and independence."

Almost immediately after the liberation of Kyiv region from the occupiers, you visited Irpin, Bucha, Borodyanka. Tell me, how to survive what you - and all of us - saw there? How to restore faith in people's hearts?

Indeed, in recent days I have visited almost completely destroyed towns near Kiev: Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel. Yesterday (April 8 - SK) I visited Borodyanka, which had just been demined, and saw with my own eyes the atrocities committed against the civilian population by the occupiers. Especially in Bucha. After praying at the mass grave, I saw how much the city had suffered. Hundreds of innocent civilians were killed. There was no military reason to do so. But as we see, the ideology of the "russian world" has brought great sorrow to our land. It brought pain and suffering, which we are experiencing now.

We have to go through these trials that befell us, there is no other way out. We must fight to the end to stop this evil that is now raging on our soil so that it does not spread further. Because I always tell, especially to our foreign friends, foreign partners, that they support us, Ukrainians, as much as possible during this difficult time. Because if we do not survive, if we fall, this evil will spread further and the war will be in the homes of Europeans.

We are strong, we are spiritually strong, but we also need help in this difficult time.

… It is horrifying that people could do such violence to other people, such terrible things. To kill, to mock, to show simply inhuman cruelty. In Bucha, in Irpin and in Gostomel great destructions are visible, but they are more noticeable, probably, in Borodyanka, because Borodyanka is a small city, it is compact, but completely destroyed. Now they are dismantling these blockages, and every day they find many dead Ukrainians who were not able to evacuate because Borodyanka took the first blow. On February 24-25, air strikes were carried out on it, as a result of which high-rise buildings in the city center were almost completely destroyed.

Many people ask how not to lose faith when you see all these shots and realize that this horror really happened?

On the contrary, we must be established in the faith because we place our hope in God. We must understand that in the world there is not only a good force, not only God, but also, of course, an evil force, the devil. Evil has no nature as such, it parasitizes on good. And that is why we are now experiencing more than just a visible struggle in Ukraine. The enemy shows devilish qualities, because the devil tries to destroy all living things. And we see that the enemy destroys all living things - people and even animals, that is, they do not have the qualities that people should have, there is no empathy, basic human compassion.

Among our people, on the contrary, I see in people now a manifestation of deep faith. Because in war it is difficult to remain an atheist.

In such a difficult time, we can only get help from God, God really helps us. We can see this even in the first days of this terrible war. Kyiv could have fallen at any moment, but by the grace of God it did not fall, the Lord kept the possibility of protection. And as you can see, gradually, with God's help, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy regions have already been liberated, and I am convinced that in the future we will gradually gain a complete victory in the east as well.

The enemy will withdraw gradually, and we will pass these trials, become even more spiritually strong, more enduring, analyze in the future what we have been doing for the last 30 years, perhaps not. We see that the war has changed the situation in general, and here in eastern Ukraine, those who have so far "swayed", that is, been a supporter of all things russian, are now changing, and we as a single nation are repelling the enemy.

But why did God allow this war and such suffering?

It is sometimes difficult for us to explain why certain things happen in our lives. Sometimes the Lord allows people trials and tribulations to become better, to change, to choose the path of truth, and to walk in salvation. And so these trials that the Lord has given us, we must endure, we must pass them, re-evaluate what we have done so far, change, become better. And together continue to build our common future.

That is, terrible trials are sent to us for our strengthening, and not for our sins, as some fathers say?

You see, over the last 30 years, we as a nation have probably underestimated to some extent the great gift we have had and still have - the gift of freedom and independence. But through these trials we will realize once and for all that this is truly a great gift of God, we will become stronger and we will continue to move only forward.

Photo: Photo: EPA/UPG

Hatred and anger are considered sins. But during the war everything is different and emotions are different. How to prevent self-destruction by this hatred of the enemy, anger at him?

In fact, hatred of the raging enemy is a natural phenomenon. Because when a person sees the atrocities committed against his neighbors, he has a feeling of hatred for the enemy. But according to the holy fathers, we must not accumulate in ourselves, in our souls this hatred, this malice, because if we accumulate it, it can destroy us internally, destroy us spiritually.We must direct this anger and hatred in a good way that will help us win. This strength and energy should be directed to good and useful deeds, relying on the will of God, because if we do not keep this hatred inside, but on the contrary, try to do good and useful deeds to our neighbors at this time, deeds of mercy, we will feel relief, we will feel relief. further support of God. Because we need God's support at this time.

Hatred, anger, resentment are a sin. Therefore, we must eradicate this from our souls and do everything we can to make the world a better place. That is, to analyze, to see, to understand that evil has been committed (enemy - SK), but to direct this anger, rage and hatred in a good way, in the way that will lead us to victory.

Is it possible to forgive the enemy? And do I need to forgive?

First, forgiveness involves changing, repenting, understanding the evil done, and wanting to correct and correct what has been done. And we do not see repentance in those who have done this evil. And God forgives, as we know, sin precisely because the sinner condemns himself and his evil and wants to change and be different. Then God helps the former sinner to become another, already renewed person. And if there is no repentance, then forgiveness on our part means asking God for retribution. For we know what is written in Romans: “Do not take revenge on yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath of God. For it is written, "Vengeance is mine; I will give it," says the Lord. Therefore, we must forgive those who repent of what they have done. And since there is no repentance, we give it to God in retribution.

"They tried to attack St. Michael's Monastery, my residence, but thanks to our servicemen, our guards, this attack was repulsed."

How did the war affect the Orthodox Church of Ukraine? We see that the church is mobilized, helps soldiers, civilians, works, and what is happening inside?

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine sympathizes with the Ukrainian people, because the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is part of civil society, an integral part of the Ukrainian people.

And, accordingly, after the 24th we mobilized. Every priest, every faithful supports as much as possible. That is, every priest is either a chaplain, and hundreds of such chaplains who serve in the army support our Ukrainian servicemen in this difficult time. This is very important - to support the spirit of the Ukrainian army. Accordingly, at this time, those who have the opportunity, take up arms, those who do not have such an opportunity, if it is a priest, he serves the needs of his fellow men. Because the chaplains are directly in the military units, the chaplains are with the servicemen on the front line, and in the rear, in the center, in the west, every priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has become a volunteer. He collects aid, accepts refugees, children, evacuates the needy, helps. That is, our whole church as a whole is working to bring about a common victory as soon as possible. We all together support the Ukrainian government, we pray for the government, for the Ukrainian people, for our glorious new warriors who defend our territorial integrity. 

And so together, all united, we will certainly achieve what we all dream of now: a just peace in Ukraine. And a just peace can prevail only when there is a final victory over the enemy. And this victory will definitely be, because we defend the truth, we do not seek someone else's, but we will defend our God-given Ukrainian land to the end. And we know that where there is truth, there is always God, and where there is God, there is always victory.

Bishop, even in the first days of the war there was information about the intentions of the russians to strike at Sophia of Kyiv. It is clear that for them the very fact of the existence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is already quite annoying, they hate the OCU, and we know this from the behavior of the ROC. You are the same target for them as President Zelensky, as well as other leaders of the country, but you stay in Kyiv and even travel to liberated cities. How is your safety now?

As far as I know from various data from foreign and our intelligence, I am on a list of those who pose a threat to the russians. But in spite of everything, I have no fear. In the first days it was very dangerous when the so-called sabotage groups were working, they even tried to attack the Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, my residence, for the first three nights, but thanks to our servicemen, our guards, this attack was repulsed and I For more than 40 days of the war, I have been in our spiritual center of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine - St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery.

This monastery has played a decisive role in the modern era of our history. Since the Orange Revolution, the Revolution of Dignity, as you know, and now this monastery is such a spiritual symbol of the revival of our church and our Ukrainian state in general. It has a glorious history - about a thousand years, has survived a lot, the central temple was destroyed, the monastery did not operate in Soviet times, but was revived, restored. In our modern times, it plays a very important role - the spiritual center, so I as the Primate are on the spot, fully perform my duties as Primate, visit our servicemen, city leaders, constantly offer daily prayers and convinced that the Lord hears them and fulfills them for good, and this common prayer of ours will inevitably lead us to complete victory. So when I have the least opportunity to visit my flock where they are suffering, I do so.

When the news came that Borodyanka was open after demining, there was an opportunity to go and visit people there, I decided without hesitation to go, although it may be dangerous, but I must be where my flock needs me. I must support them both materially and spiritually. As a church, we collect humanitarian aid, financial aid and deliver it. Dozens or even hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid have already passed through the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, and we are also trying to support financially families and priests who have lost their homes, who have lost almost everything in connection with this war. Therefore, I plan to continue to visit the affected areas in order to spiritually support and strengthen them.

Because everyone says that if the head is in place, with us, then everything will be fine with us.

"Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine de facto believes that they are independent, but de jure it is clear that they are part of the ROC"

Let's talk about the future of the russian Church in Ukraine. Formally, the MP is independent, but we understand that it is very closely connected with the ROC, and the head of the MP Onufriy and his right hand, Bishop Anthony, are members of the Synod of the ROC. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, there have been mass protests by MPs against what is happening, and many of them have declared their readiness to sever relations with the moscow Church. What is the situation now? How many have already made the transition to the OCU, how many are going to do it?

As you have said, the moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine de facto believes that they are independent, but de jure it is clear that they are part of the ROC, an integral part, as both Metropolitan Onufriy in Kyiv and Metropolitan Anthony, the manager of affairs, are members of the Holy Synod of the ROC. It is as if our Prime Minister and the Minister of the Cabinet were members of the russian government. Therefore, they try to pretend to be an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but this is not the case.

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We see certain internal movements regarding the distance from moscow at this time, there were statements at the beginning of several dozen bishops about the non-mention of Patriarch Kirill (during the liturgy. - SK). But this does not significantly and radically change the situation. They remain part of the moscow Patriarchate, and since their leader commemorates Patriarch Kirill during the service, it does not matter whether they commemorate him or not. But these brighter movements were in the beginning. Now we see that to some extent they are trying again to maintain this structure, similar to what happened in 2014.

They think that they will stay, the war will end, and the issue will be resolved later. But it is clear that after the war no one will return to it. We, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, call for unity not just in words. We are ready to sit down at the negotiating table, to start a dialogue on the unity of all in the only already recognized autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

We have already started this dialogue from the grassroots, because we accept those parishes that are ready for unity.

And there are already more than a hundred of them in different regions.

We are not announcing this yet, but the process has moved in different regions, not only in the west, in the center, but also in the east, in Kyiv and in the south. The process has begun, and we are ready for the fact that bishops with certain dioceses may be able to join the canonical order.

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For three decades, we have heard representatives of the moscow Patriarchate always talk about the canonical order. And now, unfortunately, they do not follow it, because according to Tomos, as we know, Ukraine is the canonical territory of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. But we do not want to impose our jurisdiction on the representatives of the moscow Patriarchate by force. We want it to be peaceful, calm, loving. Because what is done with love will have a future, and what is done solely by coercion will have no future. That is why we call on us to continue to move towards full unity. We have the Tomos, we have the recognition of a number of local Orthodox churches. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has Eucharistic unity through the Ecumenical Patriarch with all local Orthodox Churches, even those that have not yet formally recognized the OCU. But, of course, not with the russian Orthodox Church, because it voluntarily severed the canonical connection and Eucharistic union with the Ecumenical Patriarch.

What should be the form of repentance for MP representatives? Perhaps they have to go through some sort of cleansing path before moving to the OCU? At least apologize for the words of Kirill Gundyaev that Patriarch Bartholomew is allegedly creating a split in world Orthodoxy?

As you can see, we do not set any requirements. We say that we are open, ready to communicate, ready to forget everything that has been done over the last three decades. Because if we set the conditions, we will never be able to unite. Therefore, on our part, on the part of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, there are no demands for repentance. We only ask you to show good will to unite. Sit down at the negotiating table, discuss certain difficult moments, forget what was done, and for our good, for our future, unite and continue to pray to God in one church, serve the interests of the Ukrainian people, support our Ukrainian state.

We do not set any requirements. We invite. They (parishioners - SK) - Ukrainians, Orthodox Ukrainians, most of whom, I am convinced, are patriots. Unfortunately, there are those who openly work for the enemy. And this is such a common stain on the entire structure of the moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. And because they are silent, do not communicate with society, it seems that everyone there is working for the enemy. Therefore, they must still overpower themselves, raise their voice, declare. And we are open and ready to communicate, ready to unite in the only already recognized autocephalous Orthodox Church.

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Is it necessary for such a union to hold a Unification Council similar to the one in Kyiv at the end of 18, when we received the Tomos?

The Unification Council of Ukrainian Orthodoxy was held in 2018, and in accordance with the decision of this Unification Council, the Ecumenical Patriarch gave us a Tomos on autocephaly, on full independence.

We are an independent, autocephalous Orthodox Church. Therefore, there is no need to hold another Council.

We can see this also in the example of the All-Orthodox Council of 2016, which took place in Crete.

Where the russians never came.

So. Several churches did not take part in it, but there is no need or need to hold another All-Orthodox Council with their participation. The council has taken place, it is full-fledged, and other churches can only join in its decisions, as it happened with our church. Because after the recognition, after receiving the Tomos, we joined the decisions that were made by the All-Orthodox Council. And similarly, our Unification Council is the founding council, so it is impossible to hold another such council.

We are ready for negotiations, for communication, when people communicate, they find a common language. And if we communicate, we will agree on how to complete this common unity without violating the canonical order. But we see that the moscow Patriarchate, as a whole, has no desire to communicate. They cannot acknowledge our subjectivity, because if they acknowledge our subjectivity, what will they say to their faithful? Until now, they have said that we are uncanonical, ungrateful, using many more such epithets, and now, if they recognize that we are a subject, they will no longer be able to mislead their faithful.

"In different areas, a lot of former parishioners of the MP began to visit the churches of the OCU"

What will happen to those MPs who do not want to go the way of unification? The war aroused fierce hatred of everything russian in all spheres. Under such conditions, they are unlikely to be able to save the flock, I do not understand what they expect?

It's also hard for me to say what they're counting on. You may not have yet realized what is really going on. Especially after the events in Bucha, Gostomel, Irpin. What the whole civilized world has seen is the genocide of the Ukrainian people. The russians came to "liberate" Ukrainians from Ukraine. They are trying to destroy us as a Ukrainian nation. And now we see, and I receive information that in various areas, many former parishioners of the moscow Patriarchate began to visit the churches of the OCU. Where possible. In large cities, where there are several temples, there is no need to immediately decide to relocate the temple. People just leave the temples of the moscow Patriarchate and visit the OCU church.

After the victory, we will see that the people will ask them (MP bishops - SK) after the war what they did, where they were, what they plan to do in the future. Because, in fact, we now see that everything related to russian and moscow causes rejection in Ukrainian society. How can we perceive what is trying to destroy us? I am convinced that after our victory, the Ukrainian people will clearly raise the issue of the moscow Patriarchate. And they will have to make the appropriate decision. If they continue to seek to remain in the moscow Patriarchate, there will be very few who will support them in this.

Photo: Photo: EPA/UPG

Recently, two bills were submitted to the Verkhovna Rada, which propose to actually nationalize the property of the MP in Ukraine, to evict them within 48 hours from the Kiev-Pechersk, Svyatogorsk and Pochayiv laurels. These bills are widely supported, but they also have some procedural aspects that seem rather strange. In your opinion, how to correctly resolve the issue of laurels, so that it was legal, canonical and morally correct?

Over the past two weeks, we have heard about certain bills submitted to the Verkhovna Rada. But it is important: now we should not talk about certain prohibitions. We need to talk about protection. The state protects its territorial integrity. We live in a hybrid war. The state is protecting its information space - several pro-russian channels have been closed so that they do not negatively affect the consciousness of Ukrainians. The state protects its financial system, energy system, and, of course, on religious grounds, it must also protect Orthodox Ukrainians from negative kremlin influence. Because as a structure, the moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine has a direct institutional connection with moscow.

Even pro-russian parties are banned, although they did not have open institutional ties with moscow, as the moscow Patriarchate has in Ukraine. Therefore, the bills that were registered in the Verkhovna Rada (on the nationalization of MP property. - SK) - is a matter of debate. If we take as an example the bills on chaplains, of which dozens were introduced in the Verkhovna Rada - they were discussed with the state and with various military institutions, in the end we got the bill. Therefore, the issue of protection of the faithful of this church (MP - SK) from the negative influence of the russian federation is open for discussion. They say that they have no connection (with moscow. - SK), but open the official website of the ROC - there are published daily reports of the ROC dioceses on assistance to refugees, and the dioceses in Ukraine also report how much they provided humanitarian assistance. And if they make reports on humanitarian aid, I am convinced that they make reports not only about it. Therefore, the Ukrainian state is called to protect Orthodox Ukrainians from russian influence. But this must be formulated correctly, it should not sound like a ban, but like the protection of the Ukrainian state. Because we are at war, the state is called to protect all areas of its existence in order to resist. If we do not do this now, we will not win.

As for the laurels, the question is twofold. Laurels as such are the property of the Ukrainian people. This is property owned by the Ukrainian state. And it is managed by the government of Ukraine. But another question is that these laurels are owned - under the terms of the agreement - by the monasteries of the moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine.

The state may decide to terminate the contract, although as far as I know, the lease agreement for the Pochayiv Lavra is coming to an end.

But we also know that in these monasteries there are a large number of monks who support the idea of transition to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. If this critical mass of monks is recruited and they make a decision (on the transition to the OCU. - SK), it will not be a problem for the state to transfer the right to occupy the laurels to them. Well, because it is the property of the Ukrainian state. According to our information, the number of monks in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra who raise issues with their leadership regarding the adoption of a decision is already approaching half. When there is an absolute majority, they will decide to move, to join (to the OCU. - SK), and since this property belongs to the state, the state will renegotiate the contract or in some other way resolve this issue.

Let's explain to readers the procedural moment. The monastery is a religious community consisting of monks and other dignitaries, and decisions are made collectively - at democratic meetings. So the transition is really the best option for them.

The situation with monasteries is a bit more complicated - they have to make a collegial decision, as it is registered by the assembly of this structure. It is necessary that the majority of the inhabitants of a monastery support this decision, legalize it, re-register, join the OCU. Then the opportunities they had so far in the moscow Patriarchate remain with them.

Photo: Photo: Oleksandr Rudomanov

In a recent interview with, well-known theologian Kirill Govorun said that a high church meeting was being prepared to consider the possibility of holding a church trial over Kirill Gundyaev and the ROC. In fact, this is the so-called Pentarchy Court - the five oldest churches. This idea first arose at the end of last year, when the ROC seized the canonical territories of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Africa and tried to establish its own parishes there. If you are very rude to translate into secular language - I tried to create a kind of "DPR" in another's territory.

But now the Ukrainian question has been added to Africa. According to Govorun, the meeting was scheduled for Easter. And there is not much time left for him. Do you know anything about this and what is the probability that the church trial of the ROC and its leader will take place?

As far as I know, negotiations are under way between the member churches of the Pentarchy. They need to get together, but before they get together, they need to discuss the agenda - issues that will be brought up for discussion. Because the ROC did make an annexation to some extent, it invaded the territory of another Local Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

Therefore, this issue should definitely be put on the agenda of the Pentarchy.

As well as the issue of the war in Ukraine. Because as we see, the head of the moscow Patriarchate Kirill Gundyaev blesses the murder of our people. Although this is surprising, because he does not define Ukraine as the canonical territory of the OCU, considers it his canonical territory, considers Ukrainians his flock, his faithful - and at the same time blesses their destruction. We saw and heard from his service how he handed over the icon to the head of the rosguard, in his person he blessed the russian army for the destruction of the Ukrainian people. Therefore, the very ideology of the "russian world", which supports the war, supports the killings, supports the genocide of the Ukrainian people, co-creator of which, as we know, is Kirill Gundyaev and his associates, must be rejected and condemned as it was done with ideology genocide.

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The question of the trial of the actions of Patriarch Kirill must also arise, because he violates the canonical order that exists in the Orthodox Church, in the Universal Orthodoxy. Like putin's assassin, who invaded the territory of the Ukrainian state, he does the same, only spiritually, in the same way with regard to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. If the Orthodox world does not condemn this, it will continue to commit aggression. Just as the world now condemns putin's actions in Ukraine, so the whole Orthodox world must condemn Kirill's actions in Ukraine, condemn his blessing for the destruction of our Ukrainian nation.

Sonya KoshkinaSonya Koshkina, editor in chief
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