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Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko): Illusion of the past and negative stereotypes prevent rapprochement with the UGCC

9 April 2015
http://risu.org.ua/en/index/expert_thought/interview/59686/

In the first days of April, the council of Kharkiv-Poltava Eparchy of the UAOC led by Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko) adopted a resonant ruling:

“Turn to His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav and Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church asking for brotherly advice to achieve Eucharistic communion and administrative unity of Kharkiv-Poltava Eparchy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as an heir of Kyivan spiritual tradition."

This decision aroused great interest and response from different churches. Someone accused Archbishop Ihor in the transition to Catholicism and treason of Orthodoxy.

RISU decided to ask Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko) what was actually was discussed at the Council and what was the reason for turning to the head of the UGCC?

- This step was a natural reaction to the exhaustion of hope for regulation of the canonical status of the diocese by its submission under mantle of the Ecumenical Patriarch as part of the UAOC in the diaspora. Our numerous appeals to the UAOC leadership in the diaspora were ignored, but instead, we were suggested join a group of dioceses, which until recently were under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Mefodiy, and enter the one religious association with the UOC-KP whose establishment now is the authorities’ concern. This model unacceptable to us for multiple reasons.

- After the change of leadership of the UAOC the opportunity to restore unity of the Church and seek other ways of development emerged. Have you considered that option?

- This option has been undoubtedly considered. With the change of leadership we expected the UAOC to get rid of people admitted to the episcopate against the Church statute, a clear assessment of my removal from the episcopal ministry in 2003, the elimination of the alternative Kharkiv-Poltava Eparchy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. At least we expected steps to dialogue. But you will not believe: there was not a single letter or a call.

So, we made sure that the "Galician" UAOC will continue to ignore us or even impede the development of the Church in eastern Ukraine, as it happened, unfortunately, in the past.

- Why the referred model of association with the UOC-KP is “unacceptable” for you?

- This model is not consistent with our notions of Kyivan, Ukrainian church identity, the ministry free from political environment and not taking over the Moscow Synodal customs. While dreaming of equal partnership with the UOC-KP, neither I nor most of our priests and lay people cannot identify ourselves with this confession.

This is not a critical assessment of the UOC-KP: its experience of service shows that for thousands and thousands of post-Soviet Ukrainian such model is optimal in this time of transition.

- Have you previously consulted with eparchial priests on choosing the possibility of union with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church? What was their attitude to the decision?

- I was never able to and never liked to engage in intrigue, preferring to speak frankly. In addition, there was no time for meeting before the council - the futility of the chosen strategy of the eparchy’s development finally became clear in less than two weeks before the council. I found it out and prepared the speech on this occasion just a few days earlier.

In meetings with some priests I had consultations with them, asking for their opinion, as well as the opinion of some of our active laity. But most of them heard suggestions on the union with the UGCC only at the council. Currently the impact of past illusions and negative stereotypes prevent objective assessment of the situation. Priests, especially rural, are afraid of losing the older, the most conservative part of the congregation. So they accepted my proposal with suspicion.

In addition, our Galician autocephalous communities involved in the fight with unexpected aggressiveness. Now our priests and laity found themselves in a situation of psychological terror by calls, emails, and insulting posts in social networks.

- Are there any persons among the priests and laity who have clearly taken your side?

- Yes, of course! I was understood and supported by activists of St. Andrew Kharkiv regional fraternity, some active priests who are real spiritual community leaders and follow the dynamics of church life through media means also took my proposition with understanding. In fact, those community members supported my proposal to establish extensive contact with the UGCC who are not afraid to move forward, do not want to put up with the stagnation that threatens the community when saving the current state of affairs. An important role is played in response to a draft decision awareness of church life and maturity of the system of personal priorities.

- That is, what is the number of supporter communities we talking about?

- Well, this is not the issue of support or condemnation of the communities so far. The council was attended only by community representatives, mostly superiors. Now the priests are authorized explain to their parishes the ideas of conciliar decree, deepen their knowledge of the history of the Ukrainian Church - and even then one can make an idea about the trends of centripetal movement in the eparchy.

- Did you inform any of the UGCC leaders of your views before passing the ruling at the Council?

- Of course, I could not inform the leadership of the UGCC about the ruling that had not yet been passed. It was not clear how the council would receive it. For me it was a pleasant surprise that the obvious majority supported it. Although there was a debate and it will go on. This is a normal process in the community’s life. It is a pity that it is brutally interfered by external factors.

- What was the reaction of the UGCC to the Council’s decision?

- I hope the documents will be provided these days and we will learn about the reaction to them. But I have a presentiment that our initiative will be supported, as will be the concept of communion, developed in the UGCC.

- Do you mean communion, unity in the Eucharist, or the institutional unity or personal entry of the faithful of your eparchy to the UGCC?

- This is the perspective in which the most important is Eucharistic unity. As our eparchy lost hope for the real full and open entry, or rather the return to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the Diaspora as the successor of the UAOC of Metropolitan Polycarp (Sikorsky) to which the Kharkiv-Poltava Eparchy belonged from 1942, there is a problem of institutional subordination. The eparchies cannot exist outside the Church structures. We are anxious about it and asking for advice.

And the most pressing problems is the participation in national projects like organization of chaplain’s ministry from which an independent diocese was isolated. Here we need a mediator in the relationship with the state. For various reasons, which should not be mentioned on Holy Week, it can be neither the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Makariy) nor the UOC-KP.

- That is, the diocesan council set an objective to join the UGCC

- Do not seek in ruling what is not written there. The Eparchial council of the UAOC addressed the UGCC episcopate for brotherly advice: what to do? It will gratefully take this advice, but will decide whether to comply with it or not at the next council. We have time to think.

- This decision aroused great interest in social networks, for example, among the clergy of the UOC-KP. The parallels with Meletiy (Smotrych) were made. Were you expecting this turn of events?

- Of course. For almost 22 years of my episcopate I heard enough of these fantasies. So I was quite ready to distorted interpretation of the intention to start a dialogue with the Church. But still I cannot stop surprising: people who call themselves Christians can treat a neighbor with such hostility and a priori suspect him of all mortal sins? Why do people in the rank easily offend the dignity of brothers? I was lucky that I did not quit teaching at the University of after my consecration. And now I have the opportunity to regularly compare the relationship among the academic staff and the Orthodox clergy. Guess in whose favor is the comparison?

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His Beatitude Patriarch Svyatoslav of the UGCC has responded to the Archbishop above.

In a published interview in Ukrainian with the Patriarch (copies of which were distributed at my parish church today), His Beatitude states that he wants to inaugurate a conversation with the Archbishop about how best to achieve Communion between the UGCC and his eparchy.

He said that the UGCC does not wish to take over that eparchy, as if to want to create the situation where there are Eastern Catholics in the eastern regions of Ukraine (Slobozhanschyna, to be exact).

Instead, the Patriarch said he wants to discuss how the UGCC and the Archbishop's church can establish full communion with each other, while maintaining and respecting each other's ecclesial identity etc.

The Patriarch added that this request by the Archbishop shows that there are Orthodox Christians who see in the UGCC the same spiritual heritage etc.

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Update.

After seven years, it has finally been accomplished:

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Archbishop Isichenko came into full communion with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church earlier this year; parishes of the diocese he once led are now part of the Ukrainian Catholic Exarchate of Kharkiv and the Archeparchy of Kyiv. With the status of an emeritus archbishop, Isichenko will now lead a branch of the Ukrainian Catholic University.

In Ukraine, a bishop comes into the Church. [pillarcatholic.com]

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I've read certain publications that the reason Archbishop Ihor's transition took so long was because the Vatican refused to recognize his episcopal ordination from the UAOC. The UGCC accepting him as "Archbishop-emeritus" was some sort of compromise. Any corroboration or refutation of this?

He wasn't the first case. Another Orthodox bishop, this time from the UOC-KP, was also only accepted as a simple priest: Fr. Yuriy Yuriyovych Yurchyk [en.wikipedia.org].

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On October 24, 2002, Yurchyk joined a marginal association of traditional Catholic Catholics. He was received by the Sedevacant traditionalist bishop Mark Pivarunas, . . . Bishop Yurchik professed the Catholic faith, . . . The next day, October 25, Yurchyk celebrated his first Mass as a Catholic bishop of the Ukrainian Rite. At a public reception on October 26, Bishop Pivarunas explained why he decided to accept the Orthodox Bishop Yurchyk into the Catholic Church, and Bishop Yurchyk, speaking through an interpreter, "expressed his gratitude for being accepted into the true Church of Christ." At the same time, as reported from the United States, Yuriy Yurchyk asked for 40,000 US dollars for his church.[3] At the Synod of the UOC-KP held on November 19 of the same year, Yuriy Yurchyk stated that the announcement of his renunciation of the Orthodox faith and conversion to Catholicism was a "slander and provocation" of the Moscow Patriarchate. Donbass under my (i.e. Yurchik's) leadership ". Furthermore, Yurchyk's revelation is an attempt to "distract believers from the growing crisis in the UOC of the Moscow Patriarchate".[4]

Christ is in our midst!!

I suspect that the reason Father Yurchyk's reception was that of a priest is because of the timeline above. The back and forth of his journey in less than a month would have raised eyebrows in Rome and Rome's objection to his being received as a bishop.


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