“The younger generation is the future of Ukraine, saved and protected by Poland and its people. The common future of our peoples is being formed today in the hearts of young Poles and Ukrainians,” says Bishop Michael Anishchenko of Koman. In an interview with the Polish publication KAI, the Exarch of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Kyiv comments on the impact of the war on the Orthodox Church and Polish-Ukrainian relations.
David Gospodarek (KAI): A year has passed since Russia launched a full-scale war on Ukraine. The tragedy of hostilities also affected the state of Orthodoxy in the country. Could you tell us about the current situation of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and the prospects for the united Orthodox Church?
Bishop Michael Anishchenko: The war left an indelible mark on the entire Ukrainian society, including the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. This sad reality has gone some way to bringing people together, regardless of jurisdiction. Despite the fact that there is a certain number of both clergy and laity who are determined to cooperate with the occupiers, the vast majority understand the situation very well and rise to their feet. Everyone understands their personal responsibility and the need to help, stand up for the defense of their people and country.
KAI: In wartime conditions, it is probably not easy to conduct even intra-church dialogue….
– The call to protect the earthly Motherland unites Ukrainians, despite jurisdictional and ideological differences. But the lack of high-quality dialogue and personal contacts does not contribute to understanding. The current situation harms the authority of Orthodoxy in Ukrainian society. At the same time, it is primarily an opportunity and motivation to be a Christian. Everyone must come to terms with reality – there is a Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Mistakes in mutual relations exist on both sides of the Ukrainian jurisdiction, but they do not concern the nature of the Church – they are a consequence of the worldview of certain individuals.
I hope that the Orthodox community in Ukraine – hierarchs, clergy, and laity – will be able to grow out of their own prejudices, which they are hostage to today.
KAI: What is required for unity?
– In order for unity to become a reality, in my opinion, it is necessary to overcome 30 years of mutual resentment, which both sides have become hostages of. It is necessary to put the good of the Church and God’s people first, even if it harms personal interests.
Ukrainian society needs unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the Ukrainian state seeks to ensure it, and the Holy Mother Church in Constantinople has always helped to this end, and can help in the future.
KAI: War is also a tragic reality. It makes clear who is a friend, who is a true ally. The solidarity and support of the Poles is now manifested at many levels, the gratitude of the Ukrainians is noticeable, I felt it myself during my visits to Ukraine. Can all this also serve a deeper Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation, especially in terms of working out painful historical issues?
– The enormous support and assistance that the Polish people and state have provided and continue to provide to Ukrainians is an important expression of unity. It inspires gratitude not only today, but long into the future. This is a historical moment. Such things are not forgotten. Millions of Ukrainians who lost everything in their Homeland found refuge and hope for a life with dignity in Poland. The younger generation is the future of Ukraine, saved and protected by Poland and its people. The common future of our nations is being formed today in the hearts of young Poles and Ukrainians.
It is clear that in the history of relations between our peoples there are different sides, both bright and tragic. It’s good when there are more bright moments. But we cannot erase the painful moments of history – we cannot rewrite them, we inherited them. However, we can learn to live with the awareness that the present and future of our nations depend on how we behave now.
In my opinion, it is necessary to analyze the unfortunate and tragic moments of our common history and draw useful conclusions so that no similar things happen again in the future. Mutual forgiveness is necessary. You can’t live only in the past. After all, the current generation is not to blame for the tragic events that took place back in history.
KAI: The Moscow Patriarchate directly supports Putin’s war, Patriarch Kirill seems to be one of the main ideologues of the “Russian world”. This ideological confusion was condemned by the Christian churches as directly contradicting the Gospel. Tensions in relations between the Moscow Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church in Ukraine existed even before the war. How are relations with the Moscow Patriarchate developing today and what are the prospects?
Today, unfortunately, the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate broke off Eucharistic communication with the Mother Church in Constantinople and with those Local Churches that recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This unfortunate decision was made unilaterally by the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate. Other local Churches, led by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, never severed the Eucharistic unity. Such actions on the part of the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate testify, in my opinion, to a distorted understanding of church ecclesiology and an attempt to exploit the Church to realize their own power ambitions. But this situation is temporary.
KAI: How would you assess the attitude towards the Orthodox Church in Poland, especially in the context of its relations with the Moscow Patriarchate and still – non-recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine?
– There can be no generalizations in this matter. Because, as in other countries, the Orthodox Church in Poland has a different opinion regarding the recognition of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. This issue is jurisdictional in nature and does not concern dogmatic teachings. I cannot assess with certainty the reasons for the delay in the recognition of autocephaly. I am sure that this problem will be solved over time.
At the same time, it is necessary to keep in mind that the presence of church jurisdictions as a phenomenon does not tear the Church into separate parts. The Orthodox Church is one and indivisible, therefore the Orthodox of one Orthodox jurisdiction, who are in another local Church, automatically become children of the local bishop and members of the local Orthodox church community. Even in the case of temporary interjurisdictional disagreements, they remain in the same Church, believe in the same thing, and can freely participate in sacraments. Legal aspects in this case do not affect the possibility of a full-fledged Christian life.
Thus, with the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the forced resettlement of Ukrainians to Poland, the number of spiritual children of the Orthodox Church in Poland increased by magnitudes. We believe that the clergy from the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church will fulfill their duties responsibly and in a Christian manner, as well as accept them as brothers in faith – surround them with proper pastoral care and love, taking into account the peculiarities of tradition and ethnicity, as it has been done throughout history . This is exactly how the Republic of Poland and its wonderful citizens treat the citizens of Ukraine.