Vassiliy Anisimov, the Head of the Press Service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, in an interview to the “United World International” accused Fener (Istanbul) Patriarch Bartholomew of dividing the Orthodox world.
Two years ago, the frictions between the two important centers of the Orthodox world came to a head: On the one hand, there is the Fener (Istanbul) Patriarchate, which is considered in the Orthodox world as the honorary center, on the other hand, there is the Moscow Patriarchate, which has the largest community in the Orthodox world, with more than half of the Orthodox believers in the world. The Patriarchate of Fener two years ago declared that Ukraine is within the religious territory of Fener; not Moscow. After that, it created a religious structure in Ukraine, called “the Orthodox Church of Ukraine”. This structure, although ostensibly an autocephalous (independent) church, in fact, is dependent on Fener. On the other hand, since Moscow Patriarchate attaches great importance to Ukraine and, since it considers Ukraine to be within the religious territory of Moscow Patriarchate, it decided to terminate all relations with Fener. Up to date, 4 of the 15 authocephalous Orthodox churches have recognized Fener’s decision on Ukraine. These are, in addition to Fener, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Moscow ceased all relations with those churches as well.
After Fener established a new church structure in Ukraine (the Orthodox Church of Ukraine), it was expected that very soon, most of the Orthodox believers in Ukraine would join the new structure. However, today, most of the Orthodox believers in Ukraine still belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate.
Fener Patriarch Bartholomew claims to be the leader of the whole Orthodox world and he has declared that he will visit Ukraine in August of this year. This also raised tensions in the Moscow Patriarchate.
On those questions, we did an interview with the Head of the Press Service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate Vasiliy Anisimov:
Fener Patriarch claims to be the head of the whole Orthodox world. Do you agree with that?
Anisimov: How can there be such a claim? We didn’t participate in the election of the Fener Patriarch. If we had participated in such an election, Bartholomew would not have been able to be elected patriarch. The patriarch was elected by the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul and he can be the head of only those people.
We Slavs adopted Christianity thanks to the Byzantine Empire and since the Fener Patriarchate is its inheritor, we used to consider the Fener Patriarch as a honorary head, as the first among equals, but that was all.
However, Bartholomew interfered to our internal affairs; both to the internal affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate and to the internal affairs of Ukraine. In 2018, the so-called “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” was a mere political project. It was a part of the election campaign of the former president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and in this election campaign, Patriarch Bartholomew actively participated in agitation for Poroshenko.
Bartholomew tried to split the Orthodox community in Ukraine by trying to create such a structure. However, today more than 12,000 Orthodox parishes in Ukraine belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, which is the canonical church, and only about 5,000 parishes belong to the so-called “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, which was established by Fener.
Despite the fact that the Orthodoxes in Ukraine do not want to see Bartholomew in Ukraine, he declared that he would come. But, he is an unwanted guest in Ukraine. Not only we, the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church do not wish to see him here, but also the leader of the schismatic so called Kyivan Patriarchate Filaret does not want to see him. So, Bartholomew will be completely an unwanted guest and being an unwanted guest has nothing to do with traditions.
But it is claimed that Fener has established here a Ukrainian church. Are you against a Ukrainian church here?
Anisimov: Well, look, our church (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate) is a real Ukrainian church and it has an uninterrupted history of more than 1000 years. In other words, our church exists here for more than 1000 years and this church has managed to survive the concentration camps of Stalin. Even among today’s clergy of our church there are people who have experienced this oppression. For example, Metropolit of Nicolaev Pitirim spent many years in such camps and he was released only during Gorbachev’s rule, ie, at the end of the Soviet rule. We have such a tradition. We have an uninterrupted chain from the beginning. On the other hand, this so-called new church can go back only to 1992, when the then President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk established the so called Kyivan Patriarchate.
Why, do you think, Fener came into conflict with the Moscow Patriarchate?
Anisimov: There are mainly two reasons. The first reason is his own arrogance. The second reason is that the US has provoked the Fener Patriarchate to take such actions. As Patriarch of Moscow Cyrill reiterated recently, today Fener is under intense influence of the United States. This provocation of the United States and Fener caused a split in the Orthodox world among the Greek Orthodoxes and Slavic Orthodoxes. The American interference to Orthodoxy via Fener caused great harm to Orthodoxy.