In an interview for the Spiritual Front of Ukraine, philosopher, scholar, volunteer, and military serviceman who was a sniper with the Ukrainian Armed Forces Yuriy Chornomorets, talks about the Church situation in Ukraine and the world and his vision of dialogue between the UOC (MP) and the OCU.
The expert gives advice to the leadership of the UOC (MP) and touches on the topic of the break with Moscow. In an almost hour-long interview, the man who manages to raise money for hundreds of sniper rifles between his scientific work will share his vision.
Yuriy, tell us a little about your career in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and what are you doing now?
I joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Feb 27, after the Great Invasion. Because my wife wouldn’t let me go on the first day. So I went, took my Remington 700 sniper rifle, and reported to my district conscription office of our Territorial Defense. They told me: “Oh, you have your own gun, then we will take you. Now the people from the Aidar unit will come, you will come with them.”
Snipers were in short supply, so in the first days we performed tasks in Kyiv, and then on March 6 we fought on the Irpin River, near Horenka. Then they fought in Moshchun, when the enemy broke through. We fought at Zhebrivskyi’s dacha. This guy was a Christian democrat. After that, 10 of us, the most experienced guys from the Aidar, as well as 20 from the Zakarpattia Sich unit, and 10 foreign volunteers were sent behind enemy lines, to the exclusion zone. There we performed tasks until the liberation of Kyiv region. When Kyiv region was liberated, we were the first to enter Ivankiv, took control of some important bridges which, accordingly, led to a situation where the Russians failed to blow up these bridges. Well, it wasn’t bad there.
After that, when we evacuated this place, the exclusion zone, on the third day I started to feel very sick. My blood pressure rose to 220 and I checked into the Heart Institute. It turned out that this was caused by radiation. My partner and some other people from the team had the same problems. We must have been affected pretty bad.
Accordingly, after that, I could not serve any longer. About a month later, maybe more, I was dismissed from service. While I was still at the Heart Institute, I started volunteering, because it turned out that I was almost the only sniper who was in the city of Kyiv at that moment on a permanent basis, and snipers from all over Ukraine began to call and say: “Get us this or that… You are right there. Go there, ask them to give you this stuff.” And then everything was in short supply, everything cost 4 times more than before the war. Twice the current price. And our guys needed this stuff. So we started this activity.
To date, we have purchased 165 long-range sniper rifles. They are all equipped with sights, cartridges, and rangefinders. Almost 20 vehicles for snipers were also bought and transferred. Many other pieces of equipment, too. That is, these are massive funds. Thank God, our people, the Ukrainians, love us, support us, and we also see support from businessmen.
Is your scientific activity somehow preserved, or have you now focused specifically on the front line assistance to the Armed Forces?
Scientific activity is minimal. We are now the only ones at the university to have been awarded a scientific topic by the Ministry of Education – a topic about the unity of the Orthodox in Ukraine, the search for models of reconciliation. I’m even the head of this research group because I have articles published in Scopus and stuff like that. The university is forcing me to go back to research. But somehow it doesn’t work out like that all the time, because every day when you think that now you need to return to science, lead four graduate students at the specialized academic council in theology, religious studies that we have, and a doctoral student, too, when you try to return to this activity, you get a flurry of calls that our guys need something, and then another call… So you get in the car and go find this stuff. This is such a huge area and there is very little time to devote maximum attention to teaching, or science as such. There is a catastrophic lack of time and energy for this. Well, thank God, colleagues from my department support me as much as possible and help me with everything they can, especially with bureaucracy. I am very grateful to them for that.
Regarding the issue of Orthodox unity… It is known that now the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate does not want to merge with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. As a scientist working on this topic, what could you advise the Ukrainian state or society do to somehow achieve this unity? Maybe you have some ideas about this, specific tips?
The very first, very simple setting should be that the main value is a break with Moscow. That is, we need not so much unity as a break between the UOC and Moscow. Therefore, I believe that in principle, ideally, the draft law submitted by the Cabinet of Ministers should be adopted, where any unity with Moscow is prohibited, including concealed, affiliated, or symbolic. And based on such a ban, the UOC would have to look for its own way of existence, and accordingly, the state could help if the UOC was necessary. But in principle, I’d like to emphasize here that as a person, as a religious scholar, as a believer, I believe that the goal should not necessarily be about unity.
The main thing is the break with Moscow. Because having unity with Moscow is a crime today, It is clear that this includes maintaining ties with a religious center located in the aggressor country. And secondly, it is very important that today it is simply not a Christian thing in my opinion, given a heretical concept of religious Nazism, which is preached today by Patriarch Kirill, who is supported by all the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church on the territory of Russia and abroad, to maintain communication with these hyper-heretics. That is, I believe that this is not just one of the heresies that distort Christology or triadology or slightly interfere with the correct doctrine of deification, correct practice, and the like, as it was in the times of ecumenical councils. This is precisely a type of ancient heresy, similar to Manichaeism, similar to Gnosticism.
That is, it is a kind of alternative religion, which is currently being preached there under the guise of Orthodoxy. That’s why, for example, when this war started, first in 2014, then now, when a big conflict started, Father Kyrylo Hovorun said that the doctrine of the “Russian world” does not have the status of heresy. Well, now he is already saying: “Well, in a way you can say that this is a heresy.”
I believe that this is actually a hyper-heresy, similar to Gnosticism. This is an extremely big challenge for the entire Church of Christ at the moment. And that is why we need to seriously, indeed as Christians, be concerned about making sure that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not have unity with the Russian Orthodox Church, because today it is actually unity with heretics, and even more so, it is absolutely immoral. Religion, after all, is a bit about morality, and having unity with those people who preach genocide of your people is an immoral thing.
And here again, we are constantly faced with the fact that this unity does not really exist. Well, it should be said that there was a religious examination. I participated myself. I was invited, thank God. I’d like to say that a lot of work was done very quickly. We analyzed the existing norms of documents.
Have you analyzed the amended charter of Feofania?
That was the edition that was provided to the State Service for Ethnopolitics, the amended one. The charter that was filed by Metropolitan Onufriy. And two letters of Metropolitan Onufriy were analyzed. It is very important here that 6 or 7 documents were analyzed there. And only one of these documents was the charter of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Moreover, it was analyzed last. That is, it was important for us to analyze the charter, to analyze documents that are internal to Ukraine. First, we analyzed that and there were conclusions based on the analysis of each document. Each time we came to the conclusion that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, unfortunately, remains part of the Russian Orthodox Church. There is a norm of the so-called “rebranding” law, which is in effect at the time of the religious examination. The Constitutional Court actually unblocked it. In accordance with this norm, it was necessary to analyze the charter of their superior organization. This is the current norm.
We have only analyzed the document for its compliance with the law. Now we are told that lawyers from the Lavra will sue us for this. That is, we should not have implemented the law, because Yulia Kominko, their lawyer, does not like that we have implemented the laws and analyzed the 7th document, or the 6th, and also the charter of the Russian Orthodox Church? And we confirmed that the charter of the Russian Orthodox Church also indicates this dependence. See what’s going on about this dependence? These are parts of one thing.
And when Archbishop Sylvester, for example, does the analytical work, he says that “We have declared our intention to have autocephaly in the future.” If you announced your intention to have autocephaly in the future, if your superior said late last year that we will ask Moscow for autocephaly, then what is the conclusion? If you do not have autocephaly, then you are now in the state of being part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
We also analyzed law enforcement. Because it is very important. For example, there could be such a situation where, let’s say, there is a formal dependence according to documents, but there is no real dependence. And it is very important, that is, that law enforcement, that is what it shows us since the Kharkiv Council or from 1991 to today. We analyzed this law enforcement and then we released the article separately, we decided not to include it in the examination report, but law enforcement proved that the dependence is even deeper than the letter of today’s documents suggests.
And it is an unambiguous thing that until now you are part of the Russian Orthodox Church, which means you are a Russian religious organization operating on the territory of Ukraine and something must be done about it. That is, before merging with someone, you must disconnect from Moscow.
Roughly speaking, it should not matter to the state, after they have separated from Moscow, whether they will join the OCU, whether they will be independent there, or something else. To the state, roughly speaking, it doesn’t matter. To me, as a person, it doesn’t matter – whether you want to keep your own independence or join the Local Church.
We are a free country – free people. We do not force anyone to do anything. The main thing is not to tell that “You know, let’s wait a little longer, and we will still be a part of the Moscow Patriarchate, we will still be a Russian Orthodox Church”, which is called Ukrainian and for some reason claims some rights and the like. And [UOC MP] gets really jumpy when someone says: “You have broken the law here. You are to blame here. Here, your leaders are to blame and must bear responsibility.” They historically relate to this. “Repression! Repression!” they immediately claim.
So the idea is that your bishops have some sort of veto, they have immunity? Are they living now in the Middle Ages? You yourself say all the time, if someone is guilty of something, then let’s press charges.
He is your bishop Josaphat, the right hand of Metropolitan Antoniy (Pakanych), his confidant in the elections of 2014. This metropolitan accepted… in fact, he agreed with the sentence, that this sentence was fair and pleaded guilty. This guilt will be absolutely proven. I think it is necessary to continue this process.
In my opinion, about 90% of their episcopate specifically falls under various articles of the criminal code. Starting from inciting religious enmity, justifying Russian aggression, cooperation (with the enemy), collaborationism and so on. And I think this is their historical disaster. And why people behave as if nothing happened is strange to me, this is the second time I have observed such a phenomenon in my life.
The first time I saw it was at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. That is, it was already 1991, it was already clear that everything was going to collapse, and people continued to publish big discussions in their newspapers about what should be the measure of democracy in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and so on. I looked at these newspapers and thought: “God, what kind of world do you live in? People in general already… just laugh at you. No one needs you anymore. They say goodbye to the past with a laugh. You are already a laughing stock for everyone.” But people continued to live in such a strange world. And this is the second time I am watching this happening. People don’t feel that they already live somewhere, I don’t know…, after the August putsch. A law banning them should have already been signed, similar to how the Communist Party was once banned.
On the other hand, they say that a break with the Moscow Patriarchate will mean a church split for them, and this is even more frightening for them than unity with the murderers, the very ones who bless the crimes against Ukraine. Therefore, this is the situation here. How to convince them that the break with these killers will not be as terrible for them as this unity that they currently have?
Well, here you should even listen to Metropolitan Theodosius, who is also close to Antoniy (Pakanych) and who preached directly that he is suffering because he is a supporter of the unity of that church, which is the only one since the time of Volodymyr’s baptism.
I am very surprised. Organizational forms in this space, which was once Kyivan Rus, were most diverse. Why should it be assumed that some single spiritual space must necessarily be preserved?
And he suffers for this, that this is our goal – the preservation of this spiritual space. The man here directly says the same thing as Patriarch Kirill, only in different words, even despite having already been charged by the SBU.
And this shows the level of illiteracy. They do not know the very simple fact that an independent Church is in an independent state. This is what the Apostolic Rule 34 says. There is an independent Orthodox state with a thousand-year tradition, with a sufficient number of episcopates, churches and the like, and its own seminaries. Why shouldn’t there be its own Local Church? This is completely incomprehensible. That is, it is clear that it should be there. It is clear that all bishops should know their superior. The superior must act in line with all the bishops. Apostolic Rule 34, no one canceled it.
It’s very simple here. In addition to being illiterate, they choose unity with the neighboring Nord, with the church of the neighboring people, instead of choosing unity of their people, not choosing the unity of their church. It is very important.
That is, for me, even before this war, it was always very strange. Why don’t you choose the unity of Orthodox Ukrainians? Why do you necessarily choose some greater unity? Who needs it?
Orthodox ecclesiology does not provide for this to be the case. And they constantly referred: “You know, in Africa, there is a whole continent and one patriarchy, and we should have it that way.” That is, you treat us, I apologize, I don’t know… as, say, Nigerians to whom the Patriarchate of Alexandria preached, appointed bishops for them, or what? What is the logic, I don’t understand. That is, we are an independent ancient Orthodox culture. We have our own Orthodox traditions. Any person who thinks objectively can simply go to Russia and see how zombified everything has been, how bad it’s been even before Patriarch Kirill, and conclude that Ukraine has its own Orthodoxy. Not a fake on like there.
When Patriarch Kirill began to preach about the “Russian world”. It was November 2011, he had already named this doctrine that he had been preaching all along. He called it a “Russian world” and he said: “We have a single Russian Orthodox tradition.” And I thought, what is he talking about? Excuse me, we have our own traditions in Ukraine. We have a lot of regional traditions. We are very diverse, we are not like you in Russia.
Then he mentioned this “Russian language space”. Sorry, but that is absolutely not the case. Come on! This language is used for completely different purposes and there is no such “space.”
You cannot find a single cultural space there. One thing is singer Olga Sedokova with her “Russian language” and another is a Wagner Group mercenary with his “Russian language” – so these are two completely different cultural worlds that never intersect at all. And there are many such cultural worlds.
Then he said that these are the only traditions of statehood and public life. I’m sorry, our traditions of public life are completely different. It would take months for them to raise funds for some old Soviet truck, and here we have a nation that raises money for the entire army.
I am not talking about public life. We never had these Russian traditions. No chieftainship, no tsarism. We were completely different.
Starting from the time of Kyivan Rus, we have had this democracy. They had it in Novgorod and in fact there was a separate political nation of Novgorod. It was destroyed. Nowhere else did they have it. They never had this in Muscovy. To say that we have the same [traditions]…they are just opposite, you see.
Kostomarov in his classic work “Two Nationalities” wrote about the fact that these are not just two separate nationalities that are typologically slightly different. He clearly wrote that they are opposites in terms of their main features.
Russia is about cult, and Ukraine is about Gospel. Russia is about religious illiteracy. Ukraine is about people who are literate, everyone singing, and so on. One of my great-great-grandfathers was the regent of two choirs in the village of Vitachiv. A simple Ukrainian village, a big one, actually. There were two huge choirs there, which took prizes at international competitions, performed Leontovych, Koshits, even before the revolution. What can we talk about here? Has anything like that ever happened in Russia? Never has any village in Russia seen such things. But in our case, it was a regular village.
It always surprised me that they see that we are the opposite of them in everything – it pisses them off and they want to strangle our independent tradition in every possible way and always start saying: “You are the same as us.” And then these turncoats turn up who claim “Not everything is so clear-cut, we want to be cool with you and them, too, ” and the like.
It always upset me a lot, of course because I always thought that we have nothing in common. And accordingly, it is necessary to fence off in order to avoid a culture war. And since the culture war was already a reality, it had to be waged non-stop.
I tried… “Religion in Ukraine” was out there, as well as a theological portal, and so on. I reflected on all of this as acts of religious war, in order to somehow defend our spiritual space. I did what I could. It is clear that the churches underestimated the importance of this, but since, unfortunately, we have not won the culture war, we are now fighting a real war, and we must win it.
Then we will see, maybe we will revisit the culture war after this one is over.
by OCU priest Ivan Petrushchak