In March this year, the 33-year-old rector of the Holy Resurrection New Athos Monastery in Lviv, Father Job (Olshansky) and his parish transferred from the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to the Lviv Eparchy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
By Tetyana Metyk
Fr. Job is a native Kyivite. He is quite an educated person. He graduated from the Poltava Missionary Seminary in Horishni Plavni, studied for three years at the Master program in Rome at the Institute of Eastern Canon Law at the Eastern Pontifical Institute, lived for four years and took vows in a Greek monastery on Mount Athos. He also studied International Relations at the University of Economics and Law “KROK” and Theatre at the Kyiv National I. K. Karpenko-Karyi Theatre, Cinema and Television University. He talked about being “in the bosom” of the Moscow Patriarchate and why, in his opinion, it is necessary to ban the Moscow Patriarchate at the state level in an exclusive interview for the “Vysokyi Zamok”.
– What prompted you to leave the Moscow Patriarchate?
– The first and fundamental turning point for me was the military actions in Ukraine, Russian aggression and its support by the Moscow Patriarchate. No logically thinking person can question whether it is a church if it supports the mass murder of people and violation of God’s commandments. Previously, I tried to avoid the issue of politics. I believe that people come to church not to hear about the state or social events but to meet with Christ.
– How did you get to Mount Athos? And what sentiments about Ukraine, particularly about the Tomos (the document granting the Ukrainian Church the autocephalous status), prevailed there?
– In Greece, I intended to participate in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s doctoral program and defend a scientific work on “Autocephaly in the Orthodox Churches”. In Rome, I defended my Master’s thesis on the same topic. I needed permission from the Moscow Patriarchate to continue my studies, and it was 2014. And I did not receive it.
While I lived there, in the Greek monastery of Vatopedi, there was no mention of the “Russian world”. Instead, there was an absolute vacuum of Greek Orthodoxy until 2018, when the Ukrainian Church was granted autocephalous status. My monastery supported the Tomos, and representatives of the OCU even served in it. It was a bit strange for me then because we were talking about people whom the Russian Church called schismatics. A small number of monasteries on Mount Athos supported the Ukrainian Church, and not openly. There were different opinions there, including that the initiators of the Tomos were schismatics and ungodly.
– But why, since Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew supported the recognition of the one local autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine?
– Do not forget about sponsors from Moscow who support Athos monasteries. Our monastery was also sponsored mainly by Russians. But the abbot was free to express his views. He did not openly support the Tomos but said that it was not a matter of faith and dogma but a matter of administrative subordination. He said grace does not depend on whether the church is subordinated to the Moscow Patriarch or the Metropolitan of Kyiv. He is a wise man. He is Greek and Cypriot by nationality. I had to return to Ukraine for health reasons and stayed here. I moved to Lviv and the church on Korolenko Street. (on September 29, at the session of the Lviv City Council, it was decided to rename Korolenko Street to Taras Bobanych “Hammer” Street – ed.) I was ordained a deacon there, then a priest. Later I was appointed here as the abbot of the monastery.
– What influence did the Moscow Patriarchate have on you?
– I was in the Russian church for two and a half years. But I always held free views. I never preached that the OCU are schismatics or ungodly. I said that they were our brothers who had different opinions. I said that we could not condemn people because they love their country and want to pray in a language they understand. The Moscow Patriarchate traditionally preserves the Church Slavonic language, and I had to work hard to explain the liturgical texts. It is absurd when a priest reads the Gospel text during the service, which no one understands, and then explains what it was about. I was a stranger among my own because I was always treated with distrust.
One priest said about me: “This is the Trojan horse of Patriarch Bartholomew. He wants to convert everyone to the union!” It was challenging. And yet there was a circle of pro-Ukrainian priests with whom we communicated closely. Almost all of them have moved to the OCU or the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The circle of our communication has remained the same.
– Can we say that all the clergy members who have a pro-Ukrainian position have left the Moscow Patriarchate? And those who have not transferred, respectively, have different views. Are there no obstacles to changing your affiliation?
– The obstacles are their own bias or dependence on the Russian church. Some of them are also dependent on Russian special services.
– How do you view the “separation” council of the UOC-MP, which adopted amendments to the statute (the principal regulations of the church institution), which allegedly levelled the dependence on Russia?
– This is a deception to calm society and relieve tensions. I am surprised by our state, which succumbed to this deception—the neutral position of our president and civil servants in general. The basis of their statute is the charter of Patriarch Alexy I, “On independence and autonomy within the Russian Orthodox Church”. Are people so stupid that they cannot understand: the first paragraph of the new charter says that this structure belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate. I am tired of explaining it. And they say: “This does not mean anything.” If it did not mean anything, half of the Kyivan churches of the Moscow Patriarchate would not commemorate Patriarch Kirill during the service.
– But now they seem to have decided not to commemorate him.
– They still commemorate him! On the second day after the council in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, they continued to commemorate Kirill. You see, this is absurd! No, it’s just that our people are considered subpar, second-class, and stupid.
– And what about the submitted draft laws to ban the Moscow Patriarchate?
– These draft laws are excellent. They contradict our Constitution, but we live in other realities in the conditions of war. Firstly, they need to be finalized regarding the proclamation of the Moscow Patriarchate as a terrorist organization and the fifth column because that’s the truth. I know this structure from the inside. Secondly, on these grounds, to ban the Patriarchate as one that harms state sovereignty.
– Do you have something to say to support your statement as someone who knows the Moscow Patriarchate from the inside…
– In the first days of the full-scale invasion of Russia, we gathered together with the clergy of the Lviv diocese under the leadership of the Metropolitan for a “beautiful” prayer service “for peace”. What kind of peace could there be? I was black with anger because my parents and grandparents were in a bomb shelter in Kyiv at that time. And my father joined the Armed Forces.
I heard with my ears the sermons of priests that we are a triune people, that we are “inseparable” from the Russians, and so on.
– Even in Lviv?
– Of course. You do not have to look long, go to the catacomb church of the Trinity on Antonovycha Street, and you will hear there the Russian language and about Banderites, Zhidobanderites, etc. They have among their saints: Nicholas II, Ivan the Terrible, Grigory Rasputin… People came to me bewildered and told me that the church’s rector claimed that Stalin was a blessing of God. And he said this during the war! They get so carried away. They cannot pray in Ukrainian because “God does not hear prayers said not in a holy language”.
– But who goes there?
– There is a lot of Russian-speaking population, and they are active. People from all over the Lviv region come to the Trinity Church. All the centres where there were churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, but the priests were patriotic and left the Patriarchy, for example, Mostyska and Truskavets.
They believe that they stand for the truth, for Christ, and that they are martyrs for the truth. And their truth is that the church cannot be divided and that the Moscow Patriarchate is the only thing that holds them together. The true canonical Orthodox, all others have lost their away…
– Do they curse you?
– Yes, of course. All unwanted ones are. As am I. I’m a dissident, a Uniate, a Banderite, a fascist.
– Did the position of your relatives also influence your decision?
– My family, though Russian-speaking, is patriotic. My relatives were at the Revolution of Dignity, and my father participated in the ATO. They did not share my admiration for the Moscow church. My father cried with joy when I left it. Recently I buried my grandmother in the Cherkasy region. I grew up there, and everyone knows me. But the local priest did not want to let me into the church, which belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, as an apostate. He did not want to allow me to perform the funeral service for my grandmother. Local people do not know how to react to this. They are lied to that it is a Ukrainian church. The problem is that many people fall for these lies. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine does little explanatory work. We need to be more active. Bishops and leaders on the ground should be more active. I know great examples of the excellent work of Metropolitan Mykhailo. In Volyn, 60 parishes have transferred, and this is a lot.
– How many more parishes of the Moscow Patriarchy are left in the Lviv region?
– There are twenty parishes in the Lviv region. In Lviv, there are three. Until now, the church in Sykhiv, which burns from time to time, will not burn out. On Antonovycha and Korolenko streets. They even had an increase in parishioners during the war because of displaced persons. In the Ivano-Frankivsk region, according to official data, there are none left. In one church, they officially registered the parish of the OCU, but the Moscow Patriarchate still serves there. They did it so that they would not be harassed.
– Did you have any troubles or conflicts because of the decision to leave the Moscow Patriarchate?
– I was intimidated, blackmailed…
– By whom?
– Representatives of the metropolis. I will not disclose the details, but it was very unsavoury. Metropolitan Filaret and representatives of the diocese spread slander about me among other priests and parishioners, saying that I am mentally ill, a psychopath and that they should avoid me. The rector of the church on Antonovycha Street, Father Volodymyr, when the Russian consulate was still here, spent a lot of his time there. What was he doing there? Metropolitan Filaret, in my particular situation, used secret police methods. They interfered with my personal affairs and my private life.
– But you didn’t give in.
– There had nothing on me.
– So, there may be others who didn’t transfer because of this situation.
– Yes, obviously, if they have something on them. They used other methods against me because they couldn’t influence my decision otherwise. They said I illegally stayed in the monastery, called me a church raider, and said I seized property. The Moscow Patriarchate still owns the buildings of the monastery.
– And what can be done about it?
– We need the help of the authorities. This building is on the balance sheet of the regional council. The city promised us, and I hope it will help – to take the land back. The large building of the monastery (dated XVIII century), which is now being repaired, used to be a military hospital, so it was on the balance sheet of the Ministry of Defense. They transferred it to the state’s balance sheet, which gave it to the private property of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is necessary to appeal the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer a military facility to the state. This has been a project for several years. I hope that someday Ukraine will have a law on the property of the Moscow Patriarchate, which will be transferred to the ownership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. I would not like to lose these buildings because I am looking for funds and invest in repairs. We need to develop to live. New people come to me, novices. The monastery is evolving.
Unfortunately, such unique monuments as the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra or Pochayiv Monastery are occupied. And it’s occupied by the fifth column, which now only pretends that it is not so.
– Why are these processes slowed down?
– There is ignorance of people and bias of the authorities. Metropolitan Filaret (Kucherov) complains that he is oppressed and that his freedom is contested. He plays to be poor and unhappy and knocks on all doors. He has a lot of connections in Kyiv. He may one day come here to kick me out.
You see, they show a picture that the churches of the OCU are empty, but did you see the Cross Procession to the Pochayiv Lavra? And how many people there were!
– And with Russian tricolours! And no one prosecutes them…
– Sometimes, the authorities are indifferent to church issues. I cannot imagine that Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia if Russia went to war there, would tolerate the Russian Moscow Patriarchate on their territory.
Only “adepts of the Russian world” are “the waiting ones” in the occupied territories because of their church and religious beliefs. I am serious right now. Those old ladies in scarves, coming out of the temple in Severodonetsk, who were handed these Ribbons of Saint George… “We have been waiting for you. We love you so much,” they told the occupiers. These are parishioners of a particular religious structure…
When I was at the front as a volunteer chaplain, I was asked what church I belonged to. Because after the priests from the Moscow Patriarchate came to visit our guys, their positions were shelled. And our military died. Here we need the cooperation of both the state and the church. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has many internal problems. There must be unity, cohesion, and mutual support. And a lot of explanatory work in cooperation with the state authorities. If the state wants to win this war, it must fight on all fronts, including the religious one. The spiritual front is one of the highest priorities at this time.