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Блог Ольги Недавньої

Christian Churches Facing the Challenge of the multi-denominational society in Contemporary Ukraine

30.12.2017, 10:17

Nedavnya Оlgа Volodymyrivna, PhD,

senior scientist of the Religious Studies Department

of  H. S. Scovoroda Philosophy Institute

of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine


Christian Churches Facing the Challenge of the multi-denominational society

in Contemporary Ukraine


            The real religious pluralism in today's Ukraine forces all (and, in particular, Christian) Churches to face the challenge of not only coexistence but also corresponding development, taking into account the freedom to choose faith and Church. The monopoly not only on possible "new" souls, but also on the “old” ones has remained in the past. In the epoch of new informational and communicative opportunities more and more people can freely assess, compare, choose and change faith and belonging to this or that religious organization despite of state, cultural and denominational borders. The Ukrainian specificity of certain "freethinking", as well as in the number of other post-socialist countries, is caused, in addition, by atheistic education of several generations, which should not be neither overestimated nor underestimated.

So, Churches in Ukraine, including historically present here Christian ones, have become, in fact, just one of the possible ways of junction to spirituality. And now Churches have to reconsider, voluntary or forcedly, traditional methods of pastoral work. Now Churches have faced a vital task of such advance (organizational, doctrinal, pastoral, missionary, etc.) that would respond to the modern spiritual demands of believers and potential believers. The unequal possibilities of the contemporary (adequate to the mentioned task) advance of the Churches are caused by their historical evolution. That is why appropriate efforts of the Churches differ essentially not only in their intensity but also in the very concept. Analysing them is rightful, in particular, not only according to the personal “call for them” but also from the point of their use for the whole society: how adequate are they to the spiritual challenges of building civil society in Ukraine. The research of the Churches’ activities in Ukraine in such context is in the very beginning, though this or that “key” aspects of the problem were covered in a number of fundamental scientific works and researches.

So let us try to analyse how do the Christian Churches of Ukraine react to the challenge of religious pluralism as freedom of their choice – for instance, how dynamically, forestalling and effectively they develop their admonitions and the practice of ministry work.

For the influent Orthodox Churches in Ukraine (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate), referring to the traditions is main common feature (though, those traditions are differently emphasised: by the first two Churches as historically-national, nation-constructing, and by the last one rather as historically-“territorial” and canonical in Ukraine). Just the renaissance and the development of traditions is considered to be the precondition of the productive activities of Churches, just traditionalism (in its different aspects) is considered to be the ground for legality and authority of those activities. Such approach looks rather “defensive” in the face of new circumstances and challenges. All Orthodox Churches in the persons of their recognized representatives try to define their positions and formulate their ministries dealing with a number of the topical nowadays problems, especially spiritual and social: the renaissance of spirituality, opposing to the temptations of consumerism and conformism, poverty, welfare and success, “the culture of life” and “the culture of death” (abortions, euthanasia, cloning), etc. Though their reaction looks like advices how to survive under the attack of something hostile that came from outside and that has no deal with Churches themselves. Much more activity is shown in the attempts to set their influence not by increasing its effectiveness but by limiting others’ influences.

Though, neither certain “canonical” arguments adduced by UOC MP nor “national” arguments UOC KP and UAOC succeed in convincing the Ukrainian society (except convinced believers and supporters of those Churches), as well as footsie with different representatives of power – for example, by delivering them honours or indirect promotion before elections. Even the influence on the army and prisoners is, in fact, relative and not constant because the person, facing the situation when the choice is possible, can make another choice (for example, in the favour of another Church). The matter of the fact is that the choice of confession for those believers who have finally defined it (their number is not so great in the whole Ukraine) suits them as a possibility to satisfy their spiritual needs. So they have not great need neither in Church’s arguments that prove its advantages nor in any changes in the Church activity. But if the believers would have some doubt in their choice and would wish to revise it they could hardly be held in place by any arguments of the Church or by its toleration with this or that state official. The same can be said about those who just seek their way to the Temple.

However, there is one potentially powerful way of educating people in this or that model of the spiritual perception of the world proposed by different Churches. It is the way of influencing the young generation. That is why one can understand the hot discussions about adding the religious component to the secular studies and, therefore, the Church’s presence in schools (that could hardly be avoided and that is highly desirable for Churches). Things learned a priori are revised much more seldom and they essentially affect forming of person’s outlook and behaviour. Though, while discussing and attempting to include the “Christian Ethics” or another similar disciplines into the school programs (even optionally), not only the whole spectrum of violating pluralism and legislative imperfectness became apparent but also all problems of the real possibility to prepare the appropriate lecturers.

UOC KP and UAOC have been caught, among other matters, in the quagmire of the institutional and status discussions. They emphasise that the “real” work can be started only after Orthodox world will recognise them and they will put in order they structures. One can have an impression that in the just demands of their organizations “how should it be” the real assess of “what for should it be” is somehow lost. That “how” was formerly itself “what for”, but it was too long ago and was, in fact, worked out not in our land… Meanwhile UOC MP sometimes also makes statements that the work could be carried out better after penance and return of “dissenters”. At present, it is impossible to find out how real or illusive are these convictions because such positions are obviously uncompromising. It seems that the obvious condition for more productive spiritual-educative activity is the appropriate training of the church workers but its effectiveness should be based on the effectiveness of the doctrinal and pastoral development. Because the question is not only “by whom to propose” and “how to propose” but also “what to propose”. But it seems that Orthodox Churches, although pretending to be the teachers of the nation (or of people), mostly cannot yet prepare competent teachers for pupils, i.e. such teachers that could become for them authorities. So recently the majority of children as well as their parents are only potentially “seeking” contingent.

Of course, “seekers” of the “former” believers who began to hesitate and of the possible neophytes under the conditions of religious pluralism should be called and kept by the satisfying responses on the personal spiritual problems, on the challenges of the present complicated spiritual collisions.

Religious pluralism and religious freedom are considered, particularly, as a component and a consequence of globalisation that is “produced” in the West. In the certain sense, such point of view has a right to exist. Therefore, in its measures the West Christian Churches are in more favourable position. Indeed, Protestant Churches that a priori have no serious problems with accepting religious pluralism as freedom of choice, are seeking their “niches” in this or that community without special claims or demands to state (or another secular) officials. Assessing the success of their spiritual-educative work is easier in the terms of concrete persons’ approaching to sanctity and happiness than in the quantitative and qualitative indexes in mainly non-protestant society. However, spiritual “propositions” of this or that Protestant Church are evidently attractive for the contingent that already exists as well as for one that is recently joining protestant communities. This attractiveness is caused, particularly, by integration of Christian sources (firstly, Bible), spirit and (partly) organizing principles of the first Christian communities with the modern forms and methods of spiritual-educative activity. Especially strong is the educative section of this activity – in particular, among Adventists and Baptists. The last ones are making noticeable attempts to base theoretically and introduce practically the Ukrainian origin in their dogma. Thus, Hryhoriy Skovoroda is interpreted as the precursor of Ukrainian Baptists. The modern-interpreted elements of national symbolic and folk spiritual songs are introduced in the public actions (for example, spiritual festivals). However, the problem of using Ukrainian language in printed issues and everyday intercourse is not so much emphasised (that is typical for the most of Protestant Churches). Therefore, its solution in the wider context of forming the Protestant respond to the spiritual needs of the contemporary world in Ukraine as to the repercussion of the national, is delayed to the future.

The Catholic respond to the challenge of the religious pluralism as freedom of choice is based on the fact that the universal Church, while developing its social doctrine, actively seeks the ways to solve this and others problems of the present and makes attempts not only to locate the tendencies of the further advance but also, to the certain measure, to define them. It is put into practice together with studying and taking into account the national cultural surrounding in the country of presence. Modernization and enculturation in the Catholic Church are not the separate processes but the parts of the integral strategy. This Church proposes the modern views on the world that has common problems and hopes and on the spirituality through the prism of corresponding national needs. Therefore, in the “market of religions” Catholic Church is still holding its positions, and in a number of fields even widening them. In independent Ukraine, it was realized in the dynamical renaissance and development of Ukrainian Greece Catholic Church that accumulates the essential build-ups in educational and social activity and modernises its pastoral work; and in the valuable increase of the number of Rome Catholic Church believers together with its ukrainisation (through coming of a lot of Ukrainians and enculturation). UGCC and RCC together involve such contingents that either exist in the national spirituality, seeking its ability to respond to the spiritual demands of the wide contemporary world (UGCC), or want to seek the answers on those global questions in the context of own national-cultural traditions (RCC).

So, the Christian Churches in contemporary Ukraine react to the challenge of religious pluralism as freedom of choice by emphasising (more or less dynamically) these or those functions. Particularly, Orthodox Churches are factors or mobilization centres of self-identification and self-preservation of their believers and their descendants (emphasising national or cultural). However, Orthodox Churches in the present situation limit their “competitive” possibilities themselves by their interpretation of, so to say, “original” (or national) way (which is not so much effective because of the number of reasons). Indeed, their propositions satisfy only narrow constant contingent; the influence of the church directives on those who enter Temple only in exceptional situations is not essential and not decisive.

Protestant Churches, in the whole, welcome religious pluralism as freedom of choice; “the national interpretation of Christianity” usually is not emphasised. While developing the main functions of religious organisations according to their possibilities, Protestant Churches mostly use another accent. Particularly: under the condition of learning Bible and living according to its directives all other problems (therefore, the national development in the globalisation circumstances) have to be gradually solved positively. Practically it is obvious that it can be so for somebody but not for everybody and even not for the majority.

Catholic Church as religious institution with the real ecumenical experience and stirring the enculturation up is in comparatively better situation in the face of challenges of contemporary world where both globalisation processes and partly stirring up the religious traditions (as markers of national and cultural originality and guardian of its development) expand. In the situation of religious pluralism as freedom of choice, UGCC proposes specifically Ukrainian experience and RCC in Ukraine – the adapted European one and the perspective of the development of own spiritual traditions with the integration into the corresponding world tendencies (the function of mobilizing original spiritual development and the integrative function). But at the present time the influence of UGCC and RCC in Ukraine is limited –territorially and with the difficulties of accepting them by a large number of Ukrainian citizens (partly because of the existing bias, too).

Though, the further expanding of the chain of globalisation processes in Ukraine and increasing of the corresponding spiritual challenges in future could probably result in the fact that Ukrainians will more and more take into account replies to them while assessing the Churches’ activity.