Whenever Patriarch Filaret comes to Florida, he makes a point of visiting a spot in Cooper City: St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Filaret, 82, who lives in Kiev, is chief shepherd of the 14.5 million-member worldwide body.
He's here for a special liturgy 10 a.m. today, marking the 60th anniversary of St. Nicholas, 5031 SW 100th Ave., his only parish in Florida. He also made time for an interview, with parishioner Walter Kand translating.
Q: What issues is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church dealing with?
A: One is to make sure the children get a good education, not only in the Ukraine but everywhere. And to make sure that people from the Ukraine learn the language and customs of the lands they immigrate to. We've taken a lesson from American churches by opening up Sunday schools.
A: Can Ukrainians participate in the larger society without being absorbed and losing their distinctiveness?
A: Yes. The Ukrainian diaspora is more than 100 years old. Those who came after World War II kept their traditions, their language, their customs, but they became American.
Q: How does the church deal with issues of cultural pluralism in a nation like the United States?
A: We live in a global society. Our church is embracing that. In the Ukraine, we even have a division of our patriarchate that deals with other nationalities and customs. We invite people from other countries to visit. And we send our people to there, to understand and learn from one another.
In pluralism, our goal is to act humanly toward each other. Whenever we find a common goal, that's a good point to start living together. Human values are pretty much the same in all religions, like honesty and humility.
Q: You've spent more than 50 years working with peace conferences. Why is that so important to you?
A: Peace is very important to every person. A person should have peace with God, peace with people around him, and peace within himself…
During the Cold War, this was very important. The churches and the Soviet Union and the United States were instrumental in holding peace conferences so that nothing serious would occur.
Q: What good did the conferences accomplish?
A: There was no nuclear war. … It was [because of] cooperation of all religions: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, Hindu. And their work for peace took on a life of its own after the Cuban missile crisis. Delegations were allowed to come from the Ukraine to the United States and work for peace. We would have conferences in universities and meet presidents and Congressmen. And delegations from the U.S. were allowed to come to the Soviet Union for the same.
The churches started working on this common goal: Lutherans, Reformed, Catholics, Baptists. But the byproduct was we started understanding each other, and working to get along.
Q: What would you mark as special contributions of Ukrainian Orthodoxy to Christianity?
A: The work of a church is not just to have peace on Earth, but to get people ready for eternal life. The mission of the Orthodox Church is to take a sinner and make a believer out of him. To take people who are living a lie and set them on a straight path. To take people who don't get along, and teach them to love their neighbors. But I feel that other churches, this is pretty much their mission also.
Q: What do you see in the future for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
A: In time, I believe the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches will unite in the Ukraine. Second, there is a revival of spiritual life in the Ukraine. We are not put on Earth to live 100 years, leave wealth behind and die. There is a bigger purpose. God created humans to live forever in heaven. The purpose of the church is to bring this knowledge to people, especially the young.