So what did His Beatitude Vladimir really say?

06 July 2021 00:00
Metropolitan Vladimir is credited with what he did not believe in reality. Photo: UOJ Metropolitan Vladimir is credited with what he did not believe in reality. Photo: UOJ

Schismatics often refer to the name of His Beatitude Vladimir, manipulating his words about schism, patriotism and attitude towards autocephaly. What did he really say?

July 5 marks the 7th anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan). All the past years have seen incessant attempts to make him a supporter of unification with schismatics, to ascribe to him some "autocephalous" views, and so on. In one of his interviews, Metropolitan Vladimir's nephew, Bishop Victor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka, said that "there are some ecclesiastic and non-ecclesiastic leaders today who are trying to ascribe to His Beatitude Vladimir statements he never said." That is, Vladyka speaks in stark terms about the actions of people who are trying to slander the memory of the late Primate of the UOC. They quote some individual words, scraps of phrases, generously flavored with their own "necessary" comments. But what did His Beatitude really say? There is a document that reflects the views of Metropolitan Vladimir, as they say, in a concentrated form. Let's read and analyze it.

This document is called "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Present Day and Prospects". This is the so-called inaugural speech, read by Metropolitan Vladimir on February 18, 2008, during the solemn ceremony of conferring on His Beatitude the honorary doctorate "Honoris causa" from the Christian Theological Academy in Warsaw. It was published in full in the Church calendar for 2009 under the editorship of Bishop Alexander (Drabinko) of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky, who later backslid into schism.

So what did His Beatitude Vladimir really say? фото 1
Cover of the church calendar of the UOC for 2009

Before proceeding to the analysis of this document, let us recall at what time it was written.

Three years have passed since the victory of the "orange" Maidan. The financial crisis of 2008 has not yet arrived. The 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus has not yet been celebrated, for which the patriarchs of Moscow Alexy II and Constantinople Bartholomew arrived in Kyiv. But Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has been actively preparing for this event, negotiating with the Ukrainian confessions to unite with Phanar. Yes, exactly, the Kyiv Patriarchate and the UAOC were then offered to join the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and they agreed to this. But everything flopped mainly due to the reluctance of the head of the UOC-KP Filaret Denisenko to part with his "patriarchate".

In 2008, the Kyiv Patriarchate and the UAOC were offered to join the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and they agreed to this.

The then authorities really wanted to create an alternative "Moscow" church structure in Ukraine, but they did it by far not using such violent methods as a decade later under P. Poroshenko. At this very time, the document "Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Present Day and Prospects" appears. A little later, in June 2008, His Beatitude Vladimir presented another document at the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church: “Ukrainian Orthodoxy at the Turn of the Epochs,” but due to the specific nature of the conciliar document, it gives a slightly incomrehensive idea of Metropolitan Vladimir's views on church affairs.

So, we now analyze the inauguration speech of His Beatitude Vladimir in Warsaw. For convenience, we will group the issues raised in the speech into three blocks.

Attitude towards the state and politics

The first thing Metropolitan Vladimir pays attention to is that Ukraine, like the absolute majority of modern European states, has a secular character. Good or bad, but this is a fact that the Church must take for granted.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “We can approach the concept of a secular state in different ways, discuss its advantages and disadvantages, but we must admit that today this concept has no alternative to dominate in all European countries, as well as in most non-European countries. There is no alternative to such an approach in poly-confessional Ukraine.”

But at the same time, His Beatitude asserts that the state cannot interfere in church affairs, since it has neither the competence nor the authority to do so.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “It should be emphasized that the state cannot be competent in matters of faith. It does not have, let's say, the appropriate toolkit that makes it possible to distinguish the truth of Divine revelation from heresy. The conciliar mind of the Church, living in ontological unity with the Lord, reveals the dogmas of faith and keeps them sacred."

Let's pay attention to what kind of argumentation is used by Metropolitan Vladimir. He speaks of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, rather than as an organization of many people existing in society. In other words, the Church is in the world, but not of this world, and therefore one cannot approach Her with secular standards, one cannot look at Her as an influential social organization, and, moreover, one cannot try to use Her to solve whatever earthly problems. This contrasts sharply with the statements of the current representatives of the OCU, notably former Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko), who speaks of the Church as a kind of earthly institution that benefits the state and society, but completely forgets about Her extraterrestrial essence and goals.

It is easy to see that today the state grossly violates this statement of the late Primate. The state takes liberties not only to interfere in church affairs, but also to determine the canonicity or non-canonicity of certain confessions, as well as to resolve other purely religious issues.

According to Metropolitan Vladimir, relations between religious organizations and the state should be based on the principles of non-interference in each other's sphere of competence.

According to His Beatitude, relations between religious organizations and the state should be based on the principles of non-interference in each other's sphere of competence. The state must provide religious organizations with equal rights in accordance with the law, it shouldn’t try to use such organizations for their own purposes, while religious organizations must not resort to state assistance to resolve interreligious problems.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “The main function of the state is to provide conditions for the free existence of the Church and resist the temptation to regard the Church or the so-called traditional confessions as a kind of unofficial ‘ministry of spiritual affairs’. The Church, in turn, must resist the temptation to seek state support, using secular terminology, in competition with other confessions."

As you can see, this is exactly what the OCU is doing now, and besides, as its leader asserts, without this it simply cannot exist. As for the temptation for the state to resolve its issues with the help of the Church, this temptation not only always existed, but the state always succumbed to it.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “Analysis of the religious policy of the Ukrainian state in 1992-2007 years testifies that all three presidents of Ukraine (L. Kravchuk, L. Kuchma and V. Yushchenko) were and are supporters of the creation of a "single Local Church", viewing it as one of the mechanisms of the formation and consolidation of the Ukrainian nation."

At the same time, His Beatitude says that there was no answer to all questions addressed to the state – why it needs the Local Church, what place it will occupy in the state, and what its relations with the state will be. Anyway, the UOC was constantly put under pressure to agree to the creation of such a "single Local". This pressure ranged from "being pushed to the periphery of public life to being offered status as an essentially state Church in exchange for certain perks." However, the status of the Church should be determined primarily by the Church itself, proceeding from its religious tasks, not the state- and society-building tasks.

Metropolitan Vladimir also made a number of claims against the state:

  • failure to provide the UOC as a whole with the status of a legal entity;
  • failure to return church property;
  • an invitation of Pope John Paul II to Ukraine contrary to the opinion of the Church;
  • refusal to legislate the special role of Orthodoxy in the formation of the Ukrainian people and state;
  • arbitrariness of local authorities in relation to the UOC, mainly in the west of Ukraine.

Summing up the issue of the relationship between the Church and the state, His Beatitude Vladimir said:

“What is the main conclusion that our Church has been able to draw regarding church-state relations over the past period? What is the lesson that history has taught us?

First. Despite the historical storms and difficulties in relations with state power, the Church must follow the path of freedom, remaining internally and externally independent from the state.

Second. Any pressure on the Church from the state in a democracy is inappropriate and even irrational, since it cannot influence church life radically and for a long time. True though, such pressure is effective only under one condition, namely, if the church hierarchy does not pursue a policy of compromise, but publicly points out the facts of violation of the believers’ rights."

Despite the historical storms and difficulties in relations with state power, the Church must follow the path of freedom, remaining internally and externally independent from the state.

Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan)

In strict accordance with the above words of Metropolitan Vladimir, the episcopate of the UOC does not cave in under the state, but defends the rights of believers in all legal ways.

As for the attitude to politics in general, His Beatitude affirms one fundamental thing in this matter: the Church cannot inherently have certain political preferences: “Nothing can harm the unity of the Church more than the influence of political processes. Penetrating into church life, politics poisons it and divides believers into ‘right’ and ‘left’, ‘orange’ and ‘white-blue’, admirers of ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ models of civilization. <…> The Church creates the Eucharist, and everything that happens within the Church takes place in the context of the Eucharist. There is nothing more alien to the Eucharist than politics, all the more ethnocentric policy."

Attitude towards schismatics

Metropolitan Vladimir also touches upon the issue of relations with other confessions in Ukraine. He says that the UOC has the most benevolent relations with the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine, that relations with Greek Catholics leave much to be desired. Furthermore, he pays special attention to the schismatics: the UOC-KP and the UAOC, relations with which he calls the most troublesome.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople called the “passivity” of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church almost the main argument for its incursion in the church affairs of Ukraine. The Phanariots say that the UOC and ROC did not pay attention to the problem of schism, as a result of which millions of believers stayed outside the Church. This argument is false. Both His Beatitude Vladimir and the episcopate of the UOC were well aware of this problem and never rejected the possibility of dialogue with schismatics.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “There is no fullness of truth and grace outside the Church. However, truth and grace cannot be an object of possession and pride. Therefore, keeping the purity of its faith and the canonicity of its hierarchy intact, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not abide in ‘proud solitude’ – it is open for dialogue with the brethren who have broken away from us."

His Beatitude sees one of the main reasons for the schism in the circumstance that the Church, just liberated in the late 80s from the yoke of the Soviet state, was not able to “church” the consciousness of those millions of people who came to the fold of the Church and brought into it their secular worldview and, first of all, nationalist ideology.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “It is well known that during the Soviet period the Orthodox Church was extremely limited in its missionary and educational activities. She did not have the opportunity to conduct catechesis; parish life was often restricted to the performance of divine services. Thus, at the beginning of the 90s, when a powerful national-patriotic movement arose in Ukraine, many Orthodox Christians, who did not have the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the faith, became victims of the romantic ethnophyletic ideology.

First of all, the intelligentsia was affected by this ideology, which mistakenly saw in the Church an instrument of sacralization of the young Ukrainian state. Later, ethnophyletic ideology embraced part of the Orthodox clergy as well, which eventuated in a split."

Further, His Beatitude Vladimir describes the contacts of the UOC with representatives of the UOC-KP and the UAOC, and even some progress in negotiations with the latter. He says that, on the whole, a single dogmatic basis has been preserved, on which dialogue is possible, although he admits that the ecclesiological consciousness of the schismatics is faulty and "even borders on heresy." But the most important thing that the Primate of the UOC highlighted in the dialogue with the schismatics is the need for sincere, genuine repentance on their part.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “The position of our Church on the issue of overcoming schism and restoring church unity in Ukraine is not conditioned by any political reasons or a desire to publicly humiliate others. We expect a personal feat from the leaders of those who are in schism – an awareness of their tragic situation and the need for grace-filled repentance. Repentance cannot be "humiliating"; on the contrary, it elevates a person, since repentance leads to the renewal of the fullness of grace-filled communion with God. But it cannot be reduced to a signature under some diplomatic memorandum. The profanation of the Sacrament will not bring church unity and peace."

We expect a personal feat from the leaders of the schism – an awareness of their tragic situation and the need for grace-filled repentance. Repentance cannot be "humiliating"; on the contrary, it elevates a person, since repentance leads to the renewal of the fullness of grace-filled communion with God.

Metropolitan Vladimir

As for the issue of the canonical status of the UOC as an autonomous Church, His Beatitude Vladimir considered it optimal in the current socio-political conditions and subject to revision only in the context of overcoming the schism. He also drew attention to the fact that the UOC has more canonical rights and freedom in resolving church issues than, for example, the Greek Orthodox Church, which formally has the autocephalous status. 

Attitude to the challenges of our time

Speaking about the fact that the Church should not participate in politics, Metropolitan Vladimir extended this approach to the issue of supporting Ukraine's European integration aspirations, or vice versa – their rejection.

Metropolitan Vladimir: "Consciously avoiding political activity, the UOC does not actually take part in public discussion about the ‘civilizational choice’, believing that the Church must fulfill its salvific mission in any historical and political setting."

At the same time, His Beatitude also points out the threats that await our society in the event of successful European integration – not so much formal and legal as mental.

Metropolitan Vladimir: “European integration lurks the temptation of relativism. Its heroes, its idols do not believe in truth, but in compromise. The fundamental values of modern Europe are formal. It seems that the cradle of Christian civilization honors the right to be (or not to be) a Christian greater than Christ. Modern Europe cherishes the sanctity of freedom of choice. However, the possibility of choice cannot be a positive goal of human life – only its prerequisite, nothing more. If we ask the average European about positive values, i.e. in the end, what is worth living for and what is worth dying for, we will most likely not hear the answer."

13 years have passed since then, European integration has been fixed in Ukraine at the legislative level, and in Europe itself the ideology of LGBT people, gender equality, sexual "education", the leveling of the institution of the family, and so on are prevailing. It seems that under these conditions the Church can no longer stay away from public discussions about the "civilizational choice", because this choice itself is by no means neutral in relation to Christian morality and ethics. If European civilization develops along the path of ever greater departure from the Gospel commandments, then the Church is obliged to have its say on the issue of the “civilizational choice” of our society. At the same time, Metropolitan Vladimir says that our people and other Eastern European peoples (provided they maintain their faith and Christian identity) have something to offer Western Europe; there is something to testify to the secular and postmodern Western society.

His Beatitude Vladimir ends his speech with the following words: “European society yearns for God, although modern Europeans often forget His Name. The mission of the Church is to remind our contemporaries that real beauty and communication are possible only in Jesus Christ, Who renews our heart as soon as it opens to Him."


As you can see, the speech of Metropolitan Vladimir in Warsaw debunks many myths, created around his name, and answers many questions. He was not a supporter of a point-blank rejection of dialogue with schismatics, but he also did not admit the possibility of "reunification" without realizing the sin of schism and repentance in it. He perfectly saw the threats for the Church in various models of church-state relations and spoke honestly about them. He was aware of the challenges that European integration poses to the Church, but he was not afraid to answer them, proceeding from a firm faith in Christ.

It is also clear that the ecclesiastical consciousness of the current leadership of the UOC has not changed at all and has not deviated from the principles voiced by His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir. The current Primate of the UOC, His Beatitude Onuphry, also says that the Church serves God, not the state and society, and also recognizes repentance as a necessary condition for overcoming the schism. It cannot be otherwise, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13: 8).

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