Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, spent two days on an archpastoral visit to Volyn. He led the festive Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Volodymyr and spoke with Ukraine’s defenders.
The metropolitan also found time to sit down with journalists to tell them of the transition of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate to the OCU, vetting of priests seeking to join the Ukrainian Church, the ultimatums put forward by the Moscow Patriarchate, and the transition to a new calendar, reports Volynski Novyny.
The trend toward the transition of UOC-MP parishes to the OCU
The transition of parishes from the Moscow Patriarchate to the OCU is taking place in certain waves. If we talk about the year 2019, when the OCU received the Tomos of autocephaly, there was a big wave of transition. Then it stopped. And after a full-scale invasion, it revived again. Recently, we see that many parishes in different parts of Ukraine are joining our single Ukrainian church. We want the transition process to take place only peacefully and calmly, so that the communities make their decision without confrontation. According to Ukrainian legislation, any community has the right to change its jurisdiction. When this change is accepted, the state must protect this community, take certain registration actions, and then it will go without obstacles. The transition process will continue. I think that gradually, all the parishes that are currently part of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine will become part of a single local recognized autocephalous Orthodox Church.
After the full-scale invasion, more parishes joined the OCU than in 2019. It all depends on the region. For example, there is not a single parish of the Moscow Patriarchate left in Ivano-Frankivsk region. Lviv region also has virtually no parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate. The most important thing is that recently, the communities have been joining the OCU together with their priests. We see a tendency where priests begin to understand and realize things, losing their fear. They used to be intimidated and corrupted but gradually, clerics are starting to support the decisions of their communities and join the OCU.
Vetting of UOC-MP priests who seek to shift to the OCU
If the priest did not openly preach the ideology of Russian world, did not stain himself with this ideology, then of course we accept him. You can check this very easily by listening to the community. When the community decides on the transition and the priest supports the community, this proves that he is a patriot, even though he was part of the Moscow Patriarchate for a certain time. I am convinced that there are still many priests who are patriots of Ukraine. Of course, those clergymen and bishops who openly preached this ideology, who hold Russian passports, but want to join the OCU in the future, must repent, renounce Russian citizenship and the ideology of the Russian world. Then there will be an appropriate decision regarding their acceptance into the OCU. I see and hear that Ukrainian society is concerned about this. Therefore, we will vet them and do everything to ensure that such people, coming to the Ukrainian church, do not destroy it from within.
Moscow Patriarchate puts forward ultimatums before the OCU, like Putin – before Ukraine
The process of transition to the OCU continues, it began with the parishes. For the past four years, I, as the presbyter, and our church have been appealing to and calling on the top leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate, bishopric, and clergy for dialogue, communication, and unity. But there was no willingness on their part, and until now there is none. We officially applied last year in May before their so-called Council. But they responded by putting forward ultimatums before us like Putin was – before Ukraine. That is, we must capitulate, surrender and then join them. But we will never accept such conditions. We are ready to communicate, but without any ultimatums or preconditions. If we start a dialogue, then with a clean slate, we forget what happened, and decide how we can continue to move toward unity. Unfortunately, there is no desire on their part.
Changing church calendar
This is a difficult question because it does not enjoy absolute support either in the church or in society. Most of our citizens want to switch to a new style. We are exploring this issue, preparing to make an appropriate decision, but we are doing it openly, communicating with the public. In recent years, I have said that when society is ready, the church will make a decision, it is not a problem for the church. Of course, the calendar is a universal church document. Therefore, in order to accept the change, an appropriate decision is needed. We will hold a meeting of the bishops’ council in two weeks, so we will see how many episcopates and dioceses are ready to make a decision to change the calendar. Then we will work further. I am convinced that in the end, most will switch to the New Julian calendar.
This change will apply not only to Christmas, but to all non-transitional holidays, for example, the Intercession and St Nicholas Day, that is, holidays respected by Ukrainian society. We must understand that if we switch, we must shift 13 days down the calendar.
This question always arises on the eve of Christmas. Throughout the year, it subsides a little. But we are communicating with society over this issue because we don’t want to make yet another division. Divisions are beneficial to the enemy, and Ukrainians must unite in times of war. And the issue of the calendar is sometimes divisive because there are those who do not accept changes. Especially, this applies to Galicia, where there is a certain lack of acceptance because this is how it happened historically. It takes time. The church will eventually switch to a new style calendar but some people will remain with the old style. No one will force anyone. Now we have allowed communities in Ukraine to make own decisions, and there are already many communities that have completely switched to the new calendar.