An Assault on the Soul
An open letter of Fr. Peter Vintsukevich to His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia, +KIRILL
I am writing in Russian so that you could understand me better. First of all, please let me introduce myself. I am an Orthodox Christian, and a former inmate of Stalin’s forced labor camps. In the mid-1990-s, I was the Provost of the Volyn’ Spiritual Seminary of the UOC-KP.
Yes! In a way you and I are classmates. I was honored to take classes in the same institution you took classes: in the Leningrad Spiritual Academy of the Russian Orthodox Church! Unfortunately, soon after I was admitted, I was expelled, because, as a former political prisoner, I had no right to obtain a residential permit in a big city of the USSR. Yet, I still managed to graduate from the Academy, with a degree of Div.D., in another place – in the Catacomb Church of Patriarch Tikhon. There are rumors that you, too, were somehow “persecuted,” although it did not prevent you from making a brilliant career very fast. I am sorry that I called you my classmate. Believe me, I reminded you that you and I used to go to the same school not because I wanted to share in your glory. It’s just so that you will know that I know the Church history, the Christian theology and the Canon Law just like you know them, not any less. So our conversation might become serious. Of course, you are free to not engage in polemics with some former jail bird like myself. Well, maybe you might pass this to one of your Metropolitans, +NIKON (he is from Ukraine, from the Volyn oblast!), and then maybe he will object to what I will be saying; that’s what I hope so much.
Your Holiness! In your sermons delivered in the Odesa, Dnipropetrovs’k, and Kyiv, you talked so much about the “fact” that our (Ukrainian and Russian) nations are the same one nation. You also talked so much about canonicity, and about repentance. So may I just split this really big topic into three. There is: (1) history, (2) Canon Law, and (3) ethics.
Let us begin with history. The whole point, made by you in your sermons, boils down to the following: because we, Ukrainians and Russians, are actually one people (or one nation), the claims of Ukrainians that they are entitled to their own Orthodox jurisdiction make no sense. Let me point it out straight away that the thesis that Ukrainians and Russians are the same people (or nation) has absolutely no scientific basis. From the point of view of ethnicity, our two peoples have always been exactly that – two different peoples, never the same one people. We, Ukrainians, happened to be occupied by a neighbor, who was, militarly, stronger than we were, and we have been lingering in this state of being occupied, which we hated, for about 300 years. The argument that we, Ukrainians and Russians, by our own good will, were “voluntarily” “re-united,” is a fairy tale, because the moment Ukraine agreed to come under the Moscow’s “protection” (in 1654), the Ukrainian home rule (Het’man’s rule) was destroyed, and so were the Cossack army, the printing of books in the Ukrainian language, the national culture and, finally, our most ancient among the Eastern Slavic peoples Church Metropoly. All that, including the latter, was done in a most brutal and cunning, trust-breaking, deceitful fashion. That’s what this so-called “being re-united” actually was.
Let’s see; in the first place, were we, Ukrainians and Russians, really related in terms of “blood” (ethnicity)? Well, look at the map of Eastern Europe of the 9th – 10th centuries. It tells you that Slavic tribes – Polyany, Drevlyany, Dregovychy, Radymychy, Kryvychy, Polochany, Volynyany, - inhabited what is now Ukraine and Belarus. To the east and to the north of them, there were Ugro-Finnish tribes with their entirely different language and culture; Chud’, Ves’, Merya, Cheremisy, Mordva, Perm’, Yam, and others. Nestor the Chronicle-Writer indicates exactly that (see “The Chronicle of Times,” chapter 25, paragraph 6). Those tribes had absolutely no relation to Slavs. They were not very highly developed socially and they had no government or administration of their own that would be in any way sustainable. So, they had to invite Scandinavians to rule over them (“come and rule us”). Yet, Kyiv Rus’ had no need in the “help” of this kind. By that time (9th – 10th centuries), it became so powerful as a state of Europe that it threatened even the Byzantine Empire. Sadly, in a few decades, Prince Oleg, a Scandinavian, treacherously murdered Kyiv princes Askol’d and Dir and conquered Kyiv. Yet, your Metropolitan +AGATHANGEL says, “”The Kyiv Rus’ has ALWAYS been ONE with the Great Russia (i.e. with what was to the northeast of it). Kyiv (or, as he writes “Kiev”) without the Great Russia, in the state of separation from her, can not be conceived in any case.” But… isn’t it just ridiculous? Just look – there was NO “Great Russia” in the 9th – 10th century; in fact, there was NO “RUSSIA” WHATSOEVER!!! What really existed, was Kyivan Rus’ and her people – Rusychy, Rusyny (i.e. the present-day Ukrainians and Belarussians). So, what exactly is it – stupidity? Complete ignorance? Or Ukrainophobia that simply cannot be stopped? I think it’s a mixture of all three. Stupidity always marches together with hatred and haughtiness.
OK, now let’s look at this situation from a different angle. If you Russians and we Ukrainians really are one people – why, then, did you keep annihilating us by millions? You were busy destroying our authentic culture. You imprisoned scores of our patriots and had them rot. You executed us with artificial starvation. You used all means possible to destroy us, and you continue to use the means that you consider possible still! Just ask people in the Russian heartland, how do they feel about Ukraine. Of course you will hear: “Urrgh, these Khokhly, these Banderites.” This is what your statistics says: 60% of Russian citizens consider Ukraine to be evil. Just like one hero of a Dostoyevsky novel said: “I have done this man so much evil, that’s why I hate him.” You hate us, because you have done quite a lot of evil to us.
But let us continue our historical overview. Later, in the 12th – 13th centuries, because of peculiar historical circumstances (fighting between feudal lords, Mongol-Tatar onslaught), Slavs began to oose into the lands to the east and north from Kyiv Rus’ – and so the Slavic blood began to penetrate into the veins of the above-mentioned Ugro-Finnish tribes. When Mongols destroyed Kyiv (in the 1240-s), the center of the social and political life of Eastern Slavs migrated to a more isolated and protected Northeast, and so the gradual growth of Moscow began. From us, from Kyiv Rus’, your people received the Slavic blood, the Christian faith and the education of the populace. Do you need me to tell you about who were the first Enlighteners of your lands? I don’t think so. I’ll just mention a few, in passing: +PETER, Metropolitan of Muscovy – a native of the Volyn Region of what is now Ukraine; +IOASAPH of “Begorod” (actually Bilhorod, Ukraine); +INNOCENT of Irkutsk – also a Ukrainian; +STEPHAN (Yavors’kyj) – also a Ukrainian, from Halychyna, Western Ukraine; +THEOPHAN (Prokopovych) – also a Ukrainian; even M.V. Lomonosov (a Russian, from Arkhangel’sk, the founder of the Moscow State University), not being an ethnic Ukrainian, got his education… again, in Ukraine!!!
Yes… as you say, Kyiv is the “mother of the cities of Rus’.” And how did you treat your Mother? You devastated and humiliated her from day one, once you came to have your military power.
Let me just give one exmple. In 1169, on the second week of the Great Lent, a son of Yuriy Dolgorukiy (the founder of Moscow) set the city of Kyiv on fire, which completely destroyed it. His troops massacred about one half of all Kyivites. According to Kostomarov, a historian, there was no mercy to anyone – neither to the old, nor to the little children, nor to churches, nor to monasteries; the city was looted, and everything was taken from it including Holy Icons, priestly garments, and church bells; and one famous icon, called the Most Holy Mother of God of Vysh’horod, was also stolen and never returned. Yes, for some weird reason, it is generally known as “yours,” and called the Most Holy Mother of God of Vladimir! But that’s how you always behaved. You took what you wanted. And that commander of the army of thieves, that murderer, prince Andrew “Bogolubskiy” (which means “who loves God!”), - you canonized him because, well, he… prayed! But look, in 1569 tzar Ivan the Terrible literally drowned the freedom-loving city of Novgorod in the blood of its citizens, and then took a long, long time to pray. Why not canonize him, too? And why not canonize emperor Peter I, and Stalin? After all, these, also, did a lot to “increase the might of Russia.” Also, you say that since the time of your invasion, you built a lot. Yes, you did build a lot, using our hands. St. Petersburg stands on the bones of many thousands of our Ukrainian Cossacks, whom you disarmed, enslaved and worked to death. Even to this day, those hands of Ukrainian folks, the hands that are accustomed to work, pump your Tyumen’ oil, and do many other things in your country. But enough history. History, as the saying goes, “is not about what we used to wear – rather, it is about how you stripped us naked.” That sums up the entire Ukrainian experience.
Let me now turn to another item, the Canon Law. Just what is the logic used by “spiritual fathers” from Moscow in this regard?
The Orthodox Church of Poland, which has less than 200,000 faithful, has received autocephaly. Why, then, none was granted to the nation that counts over 50 million people and has its own independent state, the nation that has a colossal authentic culture – the Ukrainian nation?
They say: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has no autocephaly, because to get one, this Church must receive the approval of the Mother Church.
But wait. The Metropoly of Kyiv – the most ancient of all on the teritory of the Kyivan Rus’ – has always been the spiritual Mother of all Eastern Slavs. So how could it happen that Her actual DAUGHTER, the Metropoly of Moscow, became Her Mother, while the real Mother became… a slave?
Well. Everyone knows, indeed, how it happened. And you, Your Holiness, most certainly know it. And the Eastern Prelates, whom you have bought, know it - and look away, being ashamed because they know precisely, how injust this whole thing was, and is. It was very simple. “You sell. I buy.”
After the so-called “re-unification” (1654), the mighty barons of Muscovy were not satisfied that they had captured the secular power all over Ukraine. They needed the soul of the Ukrainian people. Where is this soul? Of course, in the Church. So, the government of the Tzar, and the Patriarch of Moscow – by that time, the Metropoly of Moscow had already morphed into “Patriarchy,” by the way, also due to the means that had been, well, questionable… - raised the issue of subjugating the Kyiv Metropoly to Moscow. In 1686, a delegation led by Nikita Alekseev went to Constantinople, with the goal to extract the endorsement of Eastern Prelates for the liquidation of the Kyiv ecclesiastical authonomy. The Patriarch of Constantinople, +DIONISIUS, was showered with rich gifts, and he gave in. In less than one year after this shameful deal, the Patriarch was convicted of simony and defrocked. Yet, the decision to get rid of the ecclesiastically autonomous Orthodox jurisdiction with the center in Kyiv stayed. Now, we ask you: was this decision an act that was in line with the Canon Law? Was it in line with any law? You won’t answer, of course. But you know, with what ease has the Daughter bought the right to be “known” as “Mother,” and also just what she did with her actual Mother – robbed her, humiliated her, deprived her of everything and is still keeping the Mother in outrageous captivity, spiritual slavery.
OK, these are events of old. Yet, now, today – does Ukraine have the right to Orthodox ecclesiastical autonomy (or Autocephly), being an independent state as she is? The answer is, undoubtedly, YES. Moscow, on the other hand, has no canonical right to hold Ukrainian Orthodox faithful under her fold, save for purely political reasons of the Kremlin team. It means that you, Your Holiness, are a part of this team and the thing you do is not of God, but of the Tsar!
Let me remind our readers that the Canon Law is a sum total of judicial norms of life of the Church, which emerges from the Apostolic rules, as well as from documents of the Ecumenical Councils. The rule number 34 from the Apostolic Canons says that each nation must have its own Primate, its own first (or most senior) Hierarch; that, actually, means that a sovereign nation does have the ecclesiastical right to have her own independent ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The rule number 17 of the 4th Ecumenical Council and the rule number 38 of the 6th Ecumenical Council say that each nation, when it acquires its own independent state, is eligible for having its own independent Church (or jurisdiction). Let me quote the latter rule for you, in a Church Slavonic translation: «Аще царскою властию, вновь устроен, или впредь устроен будет град: то гражданским и земским распределениям да следует и распределение церковных дел» (in English: “If a city or country, with the power of this city’s or country’s ruler was newly established, or will be established in the future, let these civic innovations be followed by granting authority (to this newly independent civic formation) of its own ecclesiastical affairs.”)
One might ask: so, what else is needed? This Rule 38 is written in such a way that it’s as if it was written specifically for Ukraine. But it looks like there are no laws for Moscow. Those in Moscow know only one thing: the Khokhly (a demeaning name for Ukrainians. – GP) must always be under their thumb. Forever.
Generally speaking, are these Canon Laws perfect? You yourself know very well that many of them are antiquated, make no sense anymore, and that even those rules that could regulate the life of the Church aren’t really observed by anyone. Buu that’s an entirely separate conversation. The Canons are the thing made by human hands, they were written with a certain political situation in mind. For example, the 7th ruling of the First Ecumenical Council says that the primacy of honor belongs to the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Perhaps that’s how it should be, because our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and rose from the dead in Jerusalem, and it is from Jerusalem that the Gospel began to spread. However, the 3rd ruling of the Second Ecumenical Council states that the primacy of honor belongs to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Why? Very simple: the political situation in the world changed. Jerusalem became weak and Byzantium became strong.
Maybe it was the Lord Who appointed the Patriarch of Constantinople to be the Ecumenical Patriarch, and so this person is eligible to grant autocephaly to one jurisdiction and not to grant it into another. But we all know that in this issue, what decides is the “generous gift,” or, simply put, a bribe. Don’t you know how much does your Patriarchy pay him so that he would carry your politics? And note, he has been denying you canonicity for 141 years. Was it just? And why should we actually bow to all these Eastern prelates? Just our Kyiv Orthodox jurisdiction has more bishops than the Ecumenical Patriarch has parishes…
While Canoins are written by men, the Grace is shed by God. So in vain do your subordinates keep saying that we are “graceless.” If Grace only comes to those deemed “canonical,” then your Patriarchy, obviously, has been “graceless” for 141 years. But didn’t the great men of God from your Patriarchy prove otherwise? I think we should stop talking about Canons. I have perhaps tired you, Your Holiness. However, to conclude, I would like to talk about yet another thing.
Your Holiness! On the Volodymyrs’ka Hirka Hill in Kyiv, you urged us to repent. Yes, you are right: repentance is not weakness; it is a great spiritual strength. It is capable of renewing not only a person but the entire society as well. Yet, I think repentance should begin with oneself – that’s what our Savior taught us. So, will you please begin this good work on behalf of yourself and your nation?
Please repent that three hundred years ago you, in a lawless fashion, using bribery, blackmail, and treachery subjugated the most ancient Metropoly on the territory of Eastern Slavs. That for the entire three hundred years you have been humiliating us, destroying our culture, banning our language, made our children die in your imperialistic wars. Repent for the Solovki, for the dungeons for our patriots, for the GULAG, for the Holodomor, - for everything, everything! You, indeed, you, must ask forgiveness of the Ukrainian people, and other peoples, for your imperialistic takeovers. You must ask forgiveness of the Polish people because your fathers shot twenty thousand Polish prisoners near Smolensk. You must ask forgiveness of Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholics, because the NKVD people, in agreement with you, made their priests rot in prisons. Can you personally ask this forgiveness? Can you personally show an example of a Christian humbleness and repentance? Just listen to the voice of your wonderful poet:
“Pray, repent, raise your hands to the heaven!
For all the sins of the days of old,
For all the warmongering of Cain that you have been doing
Ever since you were in your infancy!”
But no, this will never happen. Moscow never apologizes for whatever awful thing it has done. As your saying goes, “Moscow has no trust in tears.” Should maybe we repent? But we never destroyed your culture – we enriched it; we never deported you to Siberia, we never executed you by starvation, we never trampled on your freedom. Ah, well, I know, you will say that all those things were done not by you, but by Bolsheviks. So, were the Bolsheviks some sort of nomadic tribes who invaded our land and drowned it in blood? Let me remind you the words – not of some Banderite, but of your Russian philosopher, Nicholas Berdyaev, who wrote that “Bolshevism is a Russian national phenomenon” (see his “Sources and Meaning of the Russian Communism”).
I ask myself often, what is it that binds your clergy together with Communists? Indeed, the facts are out there and they are so conspicuous. The collaboration between the Patriarchy of Moscow and the theomachian political party has been going on for 85 years, beginning from Bp. +SERGIUS (Stargorodsky) to this day. Just how telling is this speech of Patriarch +ALEXIUS I, said near the coffin of Stalin:
“Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, the Great Leader of our nation, is no longer with us. His enormous moral, society-oriented strength is gone, and our nation saw in that strength its own strength… It is due to his high authority that so much good, so much benefitial has been done to our Church by our Government… He remains unforgettable, and our Russian Orthodox Church sends Her farewell to him, for the last time, letting him go “the way of all flesh,” with a passionate prayer… To our beloved, unforgettable Iosif Vissarionovich we, sincerely, prayerfully, with passionate love, say: ‘Memory Eternal!’ “ (see “Journal of the Moscow Patriarchy,” 1953, #4).
Now, this was said by a man who himself spend quite a time in Stalin’s forced labor camps. It looks like there is some truth in the saying: “A dog who was beaten serves his owner better.” What a stinking piece of garbage! Look, - aren’t you ashamed of your Moscow Patriarchy?
Little has changed since that time. The collaboration between your hierarchs and Communists carries on. I can’t forget how one of your metropolitans, +AGATHANGEL, while being a member of the Parliament, defended the Communist empire and insisted that the monument of Lenin in the centre of Kyiv must be protected from our Ukrainian patriots who wanted to dismantle it? And just how many times did +AGATHANGEL vote together with the Red Atheists? One priest from your Patriarchy put an icon showing big image of Stalin in his church’s iconostasis. Don’t you remember that? A protopresbyter named Fr. Dmitriy Gaponov, from Donets’k, used to claim that no difference at all ever existed between Marxism and Christianity. Is that your opinion as well? And Metr. +VOLODYMYR (Sabodan), also from your Patriarchy, gave a high-ranking award to the First Communist of Ukraine, Petro Symonenko. For what good done by this man to the Church? And one of your most passionate sidekicks, Nataliya Vitrenko (the leader of the so-called “Party of Progressive Socialists” – GP), who says that she is “very Orthodox,” puts flowers to the monument of Lenin each time she arrives to Kyiv – to the monument of this harshest of all enemies of Christ. Is this the Orthodoxy you preside over? Why, why all this is happening? The answer is simple: because Communists dream about the restoration of their political empire, and you dream about restoration of your spiritual empire. Therefore, your interests match. And just what color will the empire be – Red, White – has a very secondary importance.
One more thing that I want to ask you. Why do you hold on to us, Ukrainians, so strongly? Why do you want to be our benefactor, above all? I have lived in Russia for 15 years. I traveled over many of Russia’s regions on foot, and I saw pretty much the same picture everywhere: church buildings that were demolished or “beheaded,” some of them turned into public toilets by your “God-chosen people.” You will never see anything like that in Central and Western Ukraine. In our land, every village has its own church building, whose interior is neatly decorated by embroidered clothes or towels. The city of Luts’k has about 200,000 people, but we have about thirty church buildings, and all of them are packed with faithful every single Sunday. On the other hand, in the heartland of Russia it may well be that there is one church building for the whole vast administrative district (“rayon”), and even that one church is empty always. That’s where you should apply your spiritual energy, your pastoral strength! Teach your people at least to have some respect for their holy places! And there is no need to teach us, Ukrainians, our faith – Ukraine has been, and is, praying.
As I am approaching the end of my letter, you are flying back to Moscow. Probably, you are recalling the events of your visit, and you flatter yourself that you have seen and understood Ukraine. No, you havent. All you saw was your own escort, the “paratroopers” that were closely following you from Moscow; a bunch of hysterical or psychotic old women who use to flock to the Lavra Monastery, and a bunch of politicians ready to sell themseves to the highest bidder. Those people you always have at hand. But not real Ukraine – you never saw her. You could have seen her if, for example, you visited our land during the Orange Revolution. Well, maybe you will still see her, God willing.
Your visit is a next assault on our soul.
Your Holiness, our strife is a long one, and it takes a lot of strength; but we will always be getting it. And you know, who will win? No, not those who will be in a more advantageous political or economical situation, and not those who will secure the support of all Eastern Prelates or even the entire world Orthodoxy. Those will be victorious who will deliver more of the passionate prayers to the Throne of the Almighty. Those who, by the way they live their lives, will show more truth, faith, hope, and love. At the final reckoning, the millions of those innocents whom you murdered will be victorious, because their blood cries out to the Lord. Remember, there will be the Judgment of God. Ukraine is praying.http://www.pravoslavja.lutsk.ua/dokumenty/dokument/?newsid=1668
Translation from the original Russian, Heorhij