Patriarch Filaret of Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate
Patriarch Filaret is an exceptional person. I first met him during the Orange Revolution, together with Deacon Basil Kobakhidze and Father Zaza Tevzadze. We three arrived in Kiev to express our Christian solidarity with Ukraine’s religious communities, which each supported the revolution to a greater or lesser extent. The three of us were thus walking about Kiev’s streets, each sporting orange shawls around our necks. Father Zaza Tevsadze was holding a Georgian flag fixed to the top of a rod. Father Basil Kobakhidze was wearing his cap and any time he wanted to smoke, he folded up his vestment to hide it under his coat. I was wearing a black cape and sandals on bare feet. I am sure it was quite a scene, these three eccentric Georgians on the streets of Kiev. At times, all three of us got very cold. Father Zaza Tevzadze even turned blue from the cold, but he did not let go of the Georgian flag atop of the rod in his hand.
If memory serves me well, we were on our way to a meeting with Filaret when a passer-by asked in surprise: “Why is this Armenian priest holding a Georgian flag?” This provoked heavy laugher among us.
This year, Patriarch Filaret turned 85 years old and I scheduled my visit to Kiev to coincide with this anniversary. Before the recent revolution in Kiev started, the Church of Ukraine drew up a plan for holding large-scale festivities to mark the birthday of the Patriarch, but because of the ongoing revolution, Filaret cancelled all festive events and also refused to receive an award dedicated to the date from the country’s president.
In the past, Filaret was one of the most influential hierarchs in the Patriarchate of Moscow, he was in charge of the Ukrainian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. After the death of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’ Pimen, Filaret became the patriarchal locum tenens until the election of the new Patriarch, Alexius II. After that, Filaret continued his work as the Exarch subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate.
The creation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate very much resembles the story of the Georgian Orthodox Church regaining its autocephaly in 1917. The Georgian Orthodox Church restored its autocephaly thanks to the fall of Tsarist Russia, whilst the Ukrainian Orthodox Church restored its autocephaly thanks to the demise of the Soviet Union.
From 1 to 3 November 1991, the Ukrainian Exarchate held an absolutely legitimate assembly which declared the autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine. The same assembly expressed its desire to have Filaret as the future patriarch of the Church. Participants in the meeting hoped that the Moscow Patriarchate would recognize the canonical decision of the Church, but they proved to be utterly wrong. The Moscow Patriarchate called a special meeting of the Synod to discuss the decision of the Ukrainian Church. The Synod demanded that Filaret step down in the “name of peace.” Whilst in Moscow Filaret gave his consent to step down, but when he returned to Kiev he refused to resign. He called a press conference in Kiev to declare that he had come under pressure in Moscow from both clerical circles and employees of the federal security service of Russia, who also attended the meeting of the Synod. The decision of the Ukrainian Church on maintaining its autocephaly was firm. In response, in May 1992, the Moscow Patriarchate called an assembly of bishops loyal to it in Kharkiv, thus creating a rift in the unity of Ukrainian Orthodox believers. Moscow appointed Metropolitan Volodymyr Slobodan as the head of a pro-Moscow team and announced the establishment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.
In response to that move, the bishops supporting Filaret and the bishops of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, which had already been established by that time, held an assembly on 25 June 1992 and established the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate. Mstyslav Skrypnyk (1898–1993) was elected as its first Patriarch, but he was already quite old at that time and died after a year. His successor, Patriarch Volodymyr Romaniuk (1925–1995), also died soon after his election. From 1995 to date, the head of the Kiev Patriarchate has been Filaret, who also played a serious role in the life of newly-organized Patriarchate during the rule of his two predecessors.