12/21/2018, 09.28
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Epifanyj, Metropolitan of Kiev, gives first interview

by Vladimir Rozanskij

As soon as he receives the Tomos of autocephaly, the new Church will address various themes: the governing bodies, the date of Christmas (25 December and / or 7 January); the situation in the Crimea; relations with other Orthodox Churches. The patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, pushes for the isolation of the Ukrainian Church. Its showdown between Constantinople and Moscow.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The new Metropolitan Epifanyj of Kiev, head of the autocephalous Ukrainian Church, gave his first interview on December 18 to Radio Svoboda, three days after his election. To the interest of many observers, as well as of the faithful Ukrainians themselves, he spoke of  the structure of the new Church, which must still be defined. It will officially come into force only on 6 January, with the delivery of Tomos from Constantinople.

According to Epifanyj, after the official establishment of autocephaly, "the governing bodies of our Church will be formed. This is a completely new structure, which will require a great deal of work, but we will do it with great calm, wisdom and balance. We must work for unity, not for division ".

It will therefore not be just the extension of the "patriarchy" created in the 1990s by Filaret Denisenko, with the addition of the Church already called "autocephalous", which came out of hiding after Communism. In fact, the two Churches lived in a climate of great spontaneity and closeness, being outside of all canonical recognition, and they oriented themselves on the wavering directives of Ukrainian politics and social life.

Now, according to the new young primate, long pending and delicate decisions can finally be made. "Take for example the celebration of Christ's Birth, and in general the question of the calendar. Many would like to move the date from January 7 to December 25, but the people may not understand; we must explain that it is only a date, not a dogma".

In fact in Ukraine (and in most of Russia) both dates are celebrated, even if in December Christmas is more "commercial", simply called “Christmas", with the liturgical celebrations in January and the exchange of gifts on New Year's Eve. Moreover, in many Orthodox Churches in the world, the Julian calendar has been suppressed, to adapt to the social context.

The Metropolitan of Kiev stressed that "the Church must be the spiritual foundation and basis of our Ukrainian state, in this difficult time of trials we are going through. We have the Crimea occupied, and we must bring it back to us; part of it was the Donbass, and we believe that the Lord will listen to our prayers for a just peace in one Ukrainian state, with one Church ".

The primate’s support for the political positions of President Petro Poroshenko is clear. It is not by chance that the politician orchestrated the primate’s election and in turn declared he "appreciates the words of the new metropolitan very much".

When asked how he intends to re-establish relations with the patriarchate of Moscow and its structures in Ukraine, Epifanyj noted that "it will be a very long process. When we have obtained the Tomos, which guarantees our state of autocephalous Church, we will begin to work, to try to communicate, to invite and to show our love and respect for the other Churches. I think that, with time, they will understand that there is no other way, if we do not come together to form one Ukrainian Church and build our future together ". This clashes with the resolute opposition of Moscow. The Patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundjaev) sent letters to the heads of the other Orthodox Churches on December 20 to invite everyone to distance themselves from the Ukrainian Church.

The metropolitan also expressed some clarifications on the election process of the Unification Council, in which the names of all the 200 bishops participating were written on the ballot papers, denying the rumors of a "piloted" election, already decided in advance, above all by policy makers. In the first round three candidates were chosen, and his name reached the majority in the second round; the data, as promised by Epifanyj, will be published at the time.

Immediately before the Unification Council, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople wrote to Metropolitan Onufrij (Berezovsky), who occupies the chair of Kiev in the name of the Patriarchate of Moscow, to explain that he will have to renounce this title if he refuses to participate. Recalling the ancient historical circumstances, Bartholomew recalled that "the Russian Synod separated itself in 1448 from the Holy Universal Church, but in the city of Kiev the canonical metropolitans continued to serve the Church of the ecumenical patriarchate, as its faithful and bishops were not subjugated in Moscow ".

Moscow refused the Greek metropolitans after the signing of the Union of Florence in 1439, without anyone having officially granted the autocephaly to the Russians. Bartholomew recalls that in 1685 Moscow unilaterally took the right to appoint the metropolitans of Kiev, after the annexation of these regions to Russia. Constantinople "temporarily" accepted these abuses for the good of the people, but today we have come to the reckoning of the history of the Orthodox Churches, above all of the conflict between Moscow and Constantinople.

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