EXCLUSIVE: Епископ Ви́ктор – Patriarch Bartholomew personally closed all issues on Ukraine to himself


Regarding the “Faith and Word Festival” that took place held in Moscow, last October, the Ukranian Episcop Victor (Епископ Ви́ктор -в миру Влади́мир Дми́триевич Коца́ба, укр. Володимир Дмитрович Коцаба) speaks to our news site about the last events.

By Peggy Dokou, for News-Politics (exclusive Interview)

Your Grace, recently the “Faith and Word Festival” was held in Moscow, where the actions of Phanar in Ukraine were discussed by the panel of clerics, journalists etc. You made a statement about this and I would like your comment. Will the Patriarch of Constantinople ever want to discuss problems in Ukraine, in your opinion?

– Apparently, Patriarch Bartholomew personally closed all issues on Ukraine to himself. He does not see and does not want to see that we are facing problems in the religious sphere in our country. The head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople lives in some unreal or, more precisely, fictional world in relation to Ukraine. He is sure that by granting the Tomos to the OCU, he put the matter to rest with one stroke of the pen. In fact, the head of Phanar not only failed to solve even a minimal fraction of problems, but also caused new ones. Moreover, he caused them for almost all Local Churches, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Let me give a specific example. As is known, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) appeared after the merger of two schismatic organizations – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (we are not taking into account two bishops from the UOC, who joined the schismatics). The head of the UOC-KP, Filaret Denisenko, resigned as a “patriarch” but was confident that he would lead the “church” (as an “honorary patriarch”), created by Phanar. That is why during the so-called “Unification Council” he agreed to the abolition of the UOC-KP. However, he soon realized he would not receive any real power in the new structure. For this reason, Filaret Denisenko announced his withdrawal from the OCU and the re-establishment of the UOC-KP. Almost from the first days of his departure from the OCU, Denisenko began to “ordain” bishops for his new / old structure. Currently, there are more than ten “bishops” in his staff who are not related to the OCU.

However, the leadership of the OCU still considers Filaret to be its “honorary patriarch”, at the same time not recognizing his “ordinations” and believing that all the “bishops”, “ordained” by Filaret, are schismatics who do not have sacred dignity. Notably, the OCU refers to the canons, according to which Denisenko has no right to “ordain” new “bishops” without the decision and “blessing” of the OCU synod. And the most interesting thing is that the representatives of the OCU either do not understand or pretend that they do not understand that in the same way a few decades ago no Church recognized Filaret’s “ordinations”, which were performed in relation to those who are now “bishops” of the … OCU. Therefore, not recognizing the “hierarchical dignity” of those whom Denisenko has made a “hierarch” today, the leaders of the OCU clearly declare that their own yesterday’s “ordinations” are also invalid.

Let’s move on. Both the synod and the head of the OCU, Epifaniy Dumenko, consider Filaret their “bishop”. The OCU issues decrees, makes some decisions in relation to him and constantly emphasizes that Denisenko is a “bishop” who is in the structure of the OCU, albeit “in self-isolation”. At the same time, Filaret personally said several times that he had nothing to do with the OCU. Why is there no response from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to all of the above?

On top of that, Denisenko not only says that he is not with the OCU but does everything to make it clear to the most uninitiated person. Judge for yourself: Filaret recreates the UOC-KP, declares himself a “patriarch” who “does not depend on Moscow or Phanar”, “ordains” a dozen “bishops”, and creates his own synod. What else does he need to do for the OCU and Phanar to understand that he is a schismatic, as he has always been? What else does he need to do for the OCU and the Patriarchate of Constantinople to understand that Filaret is a man who has nothing to do with the new “church” created by virtue of the Tomos? After all, if we approach it from the canonical point of view, to which the Phanariots constantly appeal, Denisenko, if he is still the “bishop” of the OCU, must have long been banned from “ministry” and excommunicated from Eucharistic communion. However, it hasn’t occurred so far. Why?

Because in this case they will have to recognize that the Russian Church, which at one time excommunicated Filaret, was right, while the granting of the Tomos was not canonical. After all, if the Ukrainian schismatics had been received into communion with the Church as prescribed by the canons, viz. through repentance, then the current situation with Filaret in particular or with the Ukrainian schism in general would not exist. Instead, Phanar has created a problem for itself and doesn’t even try to resolve it.

Moreover, it caused a trouble for other Local Churches. Because a few weeks ago Denisenko accepted a schismatic group from the Greek Old Calendar Church into the UOC-KP. This is an entire diocese, the head of which is a well-known figure of the Greek schism – “Metropolitan” Auxentius, who for a long time headed this structure. In this connection the question arises – if Filaret is part of the OCU, so are the Greek schismatics, because they were received into communion with the Church by the completely “canonical bishop”, from the point of view of both the OCU and Phanar. They were admitted without regarding the canons of the Church, without consulting Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece, and thus charted a certain path for other schismatics. For example, for the schismatics from Macedonia or Montenegro. After all, these and other breakaway groups can “enter” the Church through Denisenko. This means that other Local Churches will be facing enormous challenges, as parallel “ecclesiastic” structures are being created in their canonical territories.

If Filaret is not a canonical bishop, as he is for most of the Orthodox world, then the admission of Greek schismatics to the UOC-KP means nothing to the Church. In other words, certain schismatics have united with others. Why then does Phanar turn a blind eye to Filaret’s actions, considering him a canonical bishop? It seems that the Patriarch of Constantinople lives in some unreal world. In addition, he does not see his “children’s” actions toward the believers of the UOC. After all, there are plenty of videos that testify to the beating of our believers by adherents of the OCU, a huge number of criminal cases, hundreds and thousands of other facts indicating the hostile and anti-Christian conduct of those whom Patriarch Bartholomew admitted to the Church through the Tomos. How can one not see this?

This question, as mentioned above, can be answered in two ways: either he does not want to see anything or he sees only what is shown, i.e. he lives with a distorted perception of reality. However, during his visit to Ukraine Patriarch Bartholomew had a good opportunity to really try to look into the situation: to meet not only with representatives of the OCU, but also with the believers of the UOC. Our believers were waiting for him every day during his stay in Kyiv. So if the patriarch were the person who cares about the well-being of the Church, he would have definitely met with the Orthodox Christians of our country, who represent the largest denomination in Ukraine. But he did not want to… I think he did not want to do it precisely because he had closed the issue and his eyes to what is going on in our country altogether.

Therefore, it seems that at the moment a dialogue with Patriarch Bartholomew on “Ukrainian problems” is simply impossible. Moreover, the further away, the more distant even the prospect of this dialogue is. In this sense, it will suffice to recall the words of the patriarch that he “does not care” about being expelled from the diptychs of the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet, if we talk about the Church, about Her unity, not to mention that every bishop is a role model for the flock, then the words of Patriarch Bartholomew are a shock, which is difficult to recover from. What can that mean? How can one make any claims about the supremacy and primacy of the Church? After all, if a person does not control what he says, it is an indication that he loses not patience, but authority, respect, etc. And, very importantly, such vocabulary can be used only by those who know and feel they have lost. Patriarch Bartholomew knows that he has lost, but he will never acknowledge it. We want a dialogue with him, but he wants no dialogue with us, unfortunately.

This year in August, the Patriarch of Constantinople visited Kyiv. What were the results of this visit?

As earlier stated, we are upset that Patriarch Bartholomew was unable or unwilling to get to know the real picture of the developments in Ukraine. He left our country with a firm belief that everything is fine here, and his decision to recognize the OCU was the right one. This means that in religious terms, nothing will change for us at best, or the UOC will face more difficult times at worst. All the more, there are numerous examples when the government, which at the beginning of its rule took a completely neutral position on the Church and ecclesiastic issues, is increasingly sympathizing with the OCU. So far, they occur mainly at the regional level, but it is still lopsided in favor of the OCU.

In addition, during the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew and afterwards, we were once again convinced that Phanar is reluctant to solve the “Ukrainian issue” canonically. The narrative of the patriarch and representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople that “we have given you Christianity and civilization” or that the bishops of the UOC should be silent despite the Phanar’s iniquity actually points only to one thing – the unwillingness of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to admit its mistake and try to solve it in the way conventional for the Church.

Therefore, Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit will have a negative impact on him personally, as well as on the UOC and the plentitude of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Describe the current situation with churches and believers in Ukraine to our readers. Are there ongoing attacks on the temples and acts of violence against the flock and priests of the UOC?

As I have already said, the situation on the ground and in some regions remains quite difficult. For example, members of the “Right Sector” participated in the seizure of nearly 50 temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as Vasily Labaychuk, one of the leaders of the radicals, said in a video posted on his youtube channel. He called the actions of the radical nationalists “assistance by the transition to the Ukrainian church”, i.e. to the OCU. He also stated (a month after the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine) that “it is time to launch more attacks on the Moscow Church.”

His words sounded in unison with the statement of the head of the OCU Epifaniy Dumenko, who announced a “large-scale wave of transitions” to the OCU. And here is the result of such statements: on October 14, on the feast of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, supporters of the OCU stormed the Holy Intercession church of the Tulchyn Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the village of Novozhyvotiv, Vinnytsia region.

On October 13, 2021, OCU activists cut the locks on the doors of the temple in Naviz to enter the premises. On October 15, 2021, in the village of Chudnytsia, Rivne region, the community of the OCU, whose representatives seized the UOC temple, blocked access to the temporary church of the community of the canonical Church. This means that our believers are not only deprived of the temple, but they are not allowed to pray even in a temporary temple they have built for themselves. It seems to me that even this case alone is enough to understand that the OCU followers are annoyed by the prayers of the UOC believers. Then in what way are those people, to whom Patriarch Bartholomew bestowed the Tomos, related to the Church of Christ?

Please note that all the above facts of attacks on Orthodox churches were committed over a very short period of time – 2-3 days. In other words, the animosity of the supporters of the OCU against the believers of the UOC is so enormous that we can record cases similar to the aforesaid almost every day. At the same time, we do not take into account “minor” episodes – when our believers are openly humiliated, insulted and even beaten just because they are affiliated to the Church of Christ.

Of course, I wish Patriarch Bartholomew could not only be environmentally conscious, but also aware of the problems of living people. Not less do I wish Patriarch Bartholomew could engage in dialogue not only with Catholics, but also with his Orthodox brothers first and foremost. Otherwise he may go down in history not as the “Green Patriarch” but as the man who tore the chiton of Christ.