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Home / Major Religions / Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate / Patriarch of Kyiv and all Rus-Ukraine Filaret

Patriarch of Kyiv and all Rus-Ukraine Filaret

(given name Mykhaylo Denysenko)

He was born into a working-class family in the Donbas region of Ukraine in 1926. He graduated from the Odessa Seminary and the Moscow Spiritual Academy. He took monastic vows during his second year at the Academy and was a close associate of Patriarch Alexei I of Moscow. After graduating from the Academy he taught in seminaries and academies and was rector of the Kyiv Seminary.

In 1962 he received episcopal ordination. In 1966 he was named archbishop and later metropolitan of Kyiv and Halych; he was the first ethnic Ukrainian in the post of Metropolitan of Kyiv for 150 years. He has taken active part in international religious organizations. He has traveled to more than 80 countries, has a great number of Church awards and also received Soviet honors.

Consistently opposed to the idea of an Autocephalous Ukrainian Church and the Greek Catholic Church, he criticized Ukrainian nationalism. On the eve of a national referendum in March 1991, he called his faithful to vote in favor of the renewal of the USSR. At the same time, from the very beginning of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, Filaret made significant efforts to renew the Church’s infrastructure and Church life.

In 1990 after the death of Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, Filaret became the administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate. In October of that year the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate received the right to govern itself and Filaret received the title «Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine.»

After the dissolution of the USSR he led a movement for «full canonical independence, namely, autocephaly» for his Church. In November 1991 he headed a working council which requested the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate autocephalous status. Leonid Kravchuk, then President of Ukraine, supported the request but the Moscow Patriarchate strongly opposed it.

Soon afterwards a number of articles appeared in the press accusing Filaret of severe violation of his monastic vows and abuse of his ecclesiastical authority. The Hierarchical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which met from March to April 1992, demanded that he leave his position. He promised that he would but, upon his return from Moscow, he announced that the promise was given under pressure and he would not leave. In May 1992 at a Hierarchical Council held in Kharkhiv the majority of the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate voted to depose Metropolitan Filaret from his office and suspend his clerical functioning.

Relying on the support of political authorities in Ukraine, Filaret with three other bishops united with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. In June of 1992 they created a new Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Though only chosen as assistant to 94-year-old Patriarch Mstyslav, Filaret was actually in control of church affairs. Opposing this situation, some of the Autocephalous bishops and clergy refused to join the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate.

After the death of Patriarch Mstyslav, the Council of the UOC-KP chose Filaret to be the successor of newly-elected Patriarch Volodymyr Romaniuk, though full ecclesiastical power remained in Filaret’s hands. Upon the death of Patriarch Volodymyr in July of 1995 he was elected head of the UOC-KP. This led to yet another split: four hierarchs left the Church with their faithful.

After his election as Patriarch, Filaret began to take a very active part in church politics. He tried to gather around his Church all groups with a nationalist orientation and all church structures which did not have canonical recognition. He admitted the error of his previous opposition to the idea of autocephaly and Ukrainian Greek Catholics. He is of the opinion that Ukraine needs a national Church, to which all the Orthodox in the country should unite, and only the UOC-KP is capable of fulfilling this role. He made a few unsuccessful attempts at gaining canonical recognition for the UOC-KP.

The Hierarchical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1997 excommunicated him from the Church and put him under anathema. He has not acknowledged the validity of this act: he says he has simply left one national Church and chosen another.

Text adapted from the Ukrainian-language journal "Liudyna i Svit" ("The Human Being and the World"), February, 1998.

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