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His Beatitude Sviatoslav: Should we say today, in our society, “For our freedom, but not yours,” we will choose a wrong path

17.01.2013, 12:03
We have announced a catholic pilgrimage of the UGCC believers from all over the world to our Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv. The cathedral is built on the bank of the Dnipro.

Meetings with His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk), hosted by The Day early in year, could already be seen as a tradition of sorts. In March 2012, we discussed opportunities for the church to take more active part in the life of the Ukrainian people. His Beatitude said then that his church aimed to be present in the Ukrainian civil society and to be part of it. In 2013, our discussion was partly shaped by Pope Benedict XVI announcing this year a Year of Faith. Our talk with Sviatoslav started with the initiative’s meaning for lay Catholics, changes it would bring to the church, and details of the Year of Faith’s celebration by the UGCC.

“The Year of Faith is related to the idea of a new evangelization. Put very simply, it is the Church’s attempt to understand what is the importance of Christian life and, in particular, faith for a human being nowadays, as well as how we, as Christians, are to live in this new age and under current circumstances in which many people are becoming disoriented and see any religion-shaped lifestyle, including the Christian one, as meaningless,” the UGCC’s head said. “We want to be sensitive to the cultural, social and political processes taking place in the world, while remaining deeply rooted in our Christian heritage, to bring it into the new context.”

At the same time, we could not ignore the Ukrainian context when talking with His Beatitude. He answered journalists’ questions about the current breakdown of the church-state dialogue and new amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience” which had been passed by Verkhovna Rada and signed into law by the president despite opposition from the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, and gave his assessment of the ongoing major political and social developments in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, our interview with His Beatitude turned to be extremely warm, relaxed but not shallow, and full of humanism. Symbolically, the meeting at The Day’s office took place on the second anniversary of Klara Gudzyk’s death. She was an extremely perceptive and wise observer of the Ukrainian religious life. This paper’s editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna presented His Beatitude with the book Klara Gudzyk’s Apocrypha (collection of the late journalist’s articles) and the electronic version of The Day’s Library series (another copy of it had been presented by Gudzyk to John Paul II during a private audience). Interestingly, Sviatoslav told us he had also dreamed of a personal audience with Pope John Paul II, and had had it happen in Krakow. The UGCC’s head is now considering himself a follower of the great Pope:

“... I strive to follow his methodology. John Paul II tried to establish normal human relationships and destroyed barriers. He is said to be the key factor in the Berlin Wall’s fall. I want to continue his work somehow, because personal contacts and dialogue change people.”

John Paul II ended the audience with Shevchuk with the following command: “Come back to Ukraine, you will have a lot of work there, as you are a moralist, and that country is in desperate need of moralists.” His Beatitude is now seeing the Pope’s words as a prophecy.

“We have a lot of plans, but I would dwell on three major ones.

“Firstly, this year will pass under the slogan of the new evangelization, as the Pope said. In simpler terms, in the present-day circumstances, when many people lose the sense of Christianity, Church will try to help understand or reinterpret the importance of living a Christian life and of faith in particular. In fact it is about how Ukrainian Greek Catholics (and not only they) must live in this new time. On the one hand, we want to remain sensitive to the political, social, and cultural developments of the world. But on the other, we aspire to remain deeply rooted in our Christian heritage in order to transfer it to society. Pope John Paul II said that person is the path of Church. This is why we have to be sensitive to the way s/he is living today.

“Secondly, this year we are going to mark the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine. This is a very important date which will also help us emphasize the meaning of the heritage of Saint Volodymyr’s baptism. We can say that in its time the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine triggered a social and cultural revolution. Is such a revolution possible today? Yes, but we must experience it together with other Churches, heirs to Volodymyr’s baptism.

“Thirdly, we have announced a catholic pilgrimage of the UGCC believers from all over the world to our Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv. The cathedral is built on the bank of the Dnipro. There we want to convene in a large community in order to renew the promises we once gave the Lord. For most Ukrainians from many countries this is a unique event. They have so often heard about the center of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Kyiv, they have donated so much… At last there we will together renew our covenant with God. We will confirm to ourselves and declare before all that we are God’s people, and thus we want the Lord to be our God, not only now, but in the future as well.”

Are you going to celebrate the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine together with other denominations? What about the state? Or is the state going to celebrate it only with the UOC MP?

“This is a holiday of all Ukraine’s Christians, therefore it cannot ‘belong’ to one separate denomination.

“At the close of the past year at the meeting of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations we were actually seeking answers to the questions you just now asked. We realized that we must not depend on the actions organized by the government. On the contrary, we want to be protagonists, i.e., be the first to come forward with proposals. Therefore we plan to hold an interdenominational celebration of the anniversary a week before the official festivities. We plan to hold a joint prayer somewhere in the center of Kyiv or in St. Sophia. Of course, we would like the state to take part in many events, not only this one. However, we do not cherish any particular hopes. The celebration of the 1,020th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine on the official level was limited to only one denomination.”

They say that the true Church is one that is persecuted. Maybe then Church should not aspire to join the high and mighty but, on the contrary, demonstrate its otherness?

“We want the high and mighty to join us, rather than wanting to join them – because in such a way we could envelope broader circles of our society and indeed realize the presence of many heirs to Volodymyr’s baptism in Ukraine, that is, all the various churches, and comprehend the fruit of this baptism for our country today.”

Was the president of Ukraine expected to attend this Christmas mass, which you led?

“In all sincerity, I did not expect him. The president sends clear messages that he considers himself to be the believer of only one Church, so he celebrates all feasts with them.

“Besides, we have a principle not to issue any special invitations to anyone. Instead, we are always happy to welcome anyone who wishes to come to a liturgy.”

Yanukovych is always talking of European integration and at the same time hints at Ukraine’s probable membership in the Customs Union: complete, partial, or more than partial. Supposing our country ends up in the Customs Union, how do you see the role of the UGCC and its believers?

“This question embraces several important constituents which I would like to dwell on. In all discussions about the very idea of the Customs Union all emphasis is for some reason confined to purely economic aspects. It all boils down to Ukraine moving towards some or other international agreements, which would be economically remunerative for it. I would be very cautious with such statements, and there are several reasons for it. Firstly, it is common knowledge that the only free cheese is in the mousetrap. It would be delusional to hope that in the present-day world someone will help us just for free. This applies to any cooperation with any neighbor. We, Ukrainians, must rely on ourselves and on God’s help rather than on free sustenance at someone else’s expense.

“Secondly, when it comes to the Customs Union, the question is much broader. It is not only a matter of economic integration, but also of Ukraine’s joining the Eurasian political, interethnic, and cultural space. Therefore, a Ukrainian must ask himself, ‘Do I consider myself to be Ukrainian or Asian?’ Proceeding from the answer, we should build the historical prospects.

“Thirdly, it is all based on an authoritarian social model. If we strive to stand for democratic values in Ukraine, we must look for different company.”

But how can we stand for those democratic values if the regime virtually ignores the opinion of Ukrainians?

“First of all, we must not be indifferent, and we must not be silent. I believe that the matters of civilizational choice should be widely debated in society. At the moment, there is regretfully little dialog between government and society. At a certain point in time, the question of Ukraine’s ascension to NATO was discussed so widely that there was even talk of a nationwide referendum. The question about the Customs Union must be given as much attention.

“On the other hand, the representatives of the government never said that the European integration is out of the picture. If it really is, they must honestly tell the society about it. If not, they should be consistent.”


What do you think of Yanukovych endorsing Law No. 10221 “On Freedom of Conscience” (which effectively allows the incumbent regime to control religious denominations and organizations), despite requests from the heads of all confessions to veto it?

“I would like to share something from the events leading up to the endorsement, because it is a consequence of the paradigm of communication between the president and the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, as well as the paradigm of development of state-church relations as such over the past 15 years, since the start of the AUCCRO.

“The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations is trying to build the state-church relations on the basis of parity. In other words, we consider ourselves to be partners of the government, but never its subordinates.

“Viktor Yanukovych’s first meeting with the AUCCRO was in the spring of 2011. Even then he brought up the issue of amending the Law ‘On Freedom of Conscience.’ All the members of AUCCRO asked him to leave the law intact, or at least refrain from amending it without a discussion with other partners. However, throughout the year that followed the Verkhovna Rada kept trying to amend it. In particular, Yurii Miroshnychenko, the president’s representative in the parliament, was in charge of this legislative initiative. By the way, the AUCCRO Secretariat met with Mr. Miroshnychenko multiple times, explaining why it was not worth amending the legislation in question. In his turn, he explained that the country was going through an administrative reform, and legislation had to be harmonized with it. On October 16, notwithstanding all our communication and collaboration, the Verkhovna Rada passed the Law ‘On Freedom of Conscience,’ thus ignoring the opinion of churches. On the next day we met with the president, and Yanukovych agreed to veto the law after hearing our arguments. However, he never did. This event caused the heads of churches to talk about the crisis in the state-church relations. In other words, there is a conversation, but no dialog. Things are going their way, no matter what the AUCCRO’s standpoint is or what promises the president makes. Besides, the very paradigm of the state-church relations is under question. As I have already mentioned, previously these relations were built on the basis of parity. Now it looks as if this paradigm is ruined. We are no longer partners. We cannot fully understand our place and the role of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.

“However, after the meeting with the president, the AUCCRO secretariat met with Hanna Herman. It was said that it was urgent to elaborate the next legislative act, which would be agreed with the standpoint of the churches. The tactic was just the same as in case with the law on languages. The language law was hastily passed, after which Mr. Yanukovych demanded the passing of another law, which would somehow balance the damage done. By the way, half a year has passed since, and yet there is no sign of the draft law promised by the president.

“The experts who helped us figure out the legislative tangles gave us their verdict: there is no point in making yet another law to neutralize the previous legislation. It is better simply to void the previous law.

“I would like to explain why the relations with state are important to us. The progress of the church-state relations is essential to the progress of the entire Ukrainian society and the development of democracy as such. All churches, Christian in particular, consider themselves to be active members of civic society. In other words, we are present in social life (we work with the poor, physically and mentally impaired, orphans, or homeless children). And this is where we must cooperate with government. For instance, one of the UGCC’s projects is about the rescue of the Ukrainian village. But Church cannot do everything, therefore we need civilized state-church relations.

“Education is yet another area. Church has always been the mother and teacher of its children. So today we are speaking of Church’s desire to be present in the educational space. We have the Ukrainian Catholic University, Catholic schools, and so on. But again, to continue our progress in the same direction, we need to look for the paradigm of some sort of cooperation with government officials.

“So there are certain areas of our life, where churches need civilized state-church relations and are interested in developing them further. But this must be done on the basis of parity.”

What do you think has caused this crisis in the state-church relations? Do you see an opportunity to make this dialog between Church and state more efficient today?

“In all sincerity, we have got no exhaustive answer to the first question yet, and we do not want to simplify the matter. It is obvious that in many churches there is a widespread opinion that the regime is doing everything to impose a greater degree of control over church life, thus transforming the parity relations into the paradigm of boss and subordinate. Time will show if this opinion is well-founded. However, certain conclusions of this kind can be made, in particular, given the situation with the now enacted Law No. 10221. There could be other reasons as well. Yet there is a general consensus that churches have been, and will be, open to a constructive dialog with government, but we will look for a mechanism which will enable us to be heard. Maybe, it is necessary to create a certain mechanism for an on-going dialog not only on the level of the president and heads of churches, but also on the level of executive structures. This is what I proposed during our first meeting with the president back in 2011. This would enable us to work with the executive without disturbing the highest instance when it was necessary to solve a certain problem. We see that on their level there is this duplicity, which we do not understand. However, we will keep generating various ideas and proposals to make this dialog a constructive and fruitful one, because I believe that we all need it.”

I would like to talk more about the problem of civil society. Political prisoner Yulia Tymoshenko announced the start of civil disobedience action and urged all Ukrainians to join it. Since this is a very serious step, do you think common Ukrainians should participate in civil disobedience actions too?

“I would like to not answer this question alone. The matter of civil disobedience is a rather revolutionary one. To some extent, it is a cry of despair, and it is used when all other methods to build a dialog have turned out to be ineffective. I am not completely sure if this is the case with Ukrainian society at the moment. I think that we need to explore all the ways and opportunities to create such dialog. And from the side of churches in particular, this is the kind of dialog we have just been talking about. It is a way to develop relations between the church and the state. Though undoubtedly, since we are a part of civil society, we are concerned with the processes that are happening in our country. I would say that the latest parliamentary election makes us ponder a lot. What has it shown us? In what way did the society portray itself? What did the government reveal about itself? I would like to point out one positive thing here, because we are often paying attention to negative aspects only. I think that during this parliamentary election, the middle class has been extremely active. This social layer is typical for large cities, like Lviv or Kyiv. What kind of activity have they displayed? It looks like the democratic society values are more precious than money to these people. And these values become a certain foundation for a choice, both personal and common, of a very important group of Ukrainians. This is a positive thing. I think that this social layer is not yet appreciated to the full extent.

“And what is bothering us and is an example of negative phenomena? I would say, it is the radicalization of society. Some might say that success of radical forces and groups is just a way for Ukrainians to influence the government. Some say that to some extent it is a sign of Ukrainian society’s despair. Both options are distressing. But what I am distressed by as a Christian is that the brutal force and pressure become a normal way to settle governmental, social, and political problems. We will never be able to accept this. One cannot settle some problems of a democratic society by humiliating or ignoring rights and freedoms of some group in the society.

“I remember the motto of the Polish rebellion of 1830 in the Russian Empire, ‘For our freedom and yours.’ This very motto was placed on the flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. But if today in our society we say ‘For our freedom, but not yours,’ we are choosing a wrong path. And that is why every church has always been trying to show the importance of respect to people even when their political convictions or religious beliefs differ from yours, or they are of a different nationality. To some extent, every totalitarian ideology creates a phenomenon of an ‘unnecessary person’: people who do not fit into somebody’s corporative interests are unnecessary. And this is an absolutely wrong way to develop a civil society.”


During your Christmas sermon you also talked about the matter of unnecessary people. Ukrainians are not far from feeling unnecessary in their own country today. What should they do in this situation?

“I am pleased that someone listens to my sermons (laughs). The idea of an unnecessary person appeared in Russian literature in the middle of the 19th century. It was a protest of a free individual against totalitarianism. But this feeling of needlessness was reinterpreted in Europe and the USA after the World War II. I would like to mention the female philosopher and historian of Jewish descent Hannah Arendt. She was the one who revived this idea in the new context. She tried to understand what caused the phenomenon of mass murders in the 20th century. By the way, Timothy Snyder also mentions this idea in his book Bloodlands. So, a person will always feel unnecessary in a totalitarian society, because someone will try to limit their freedom, take away their right to be themselves and be free, thus pushing them out of the picture. That is the reason why, let us say, for example, Stalin’s ideology made the whole nations, countries, social layers, and some European states unnecessary. Why did I mention all this in my Christmas sermon? Because the ghosts of totalitarianism are coming back, totalitarian ideologies are a part of thinking processes in the Eurasian space, as well as in Ukrainian, unfortunately.

“Therefore, I think we should do our best to keep everyone from feeling unnecessary, in Ukraine in particular. While at the moment, people do feel that way because they are deprived of means of existence, ability to receive education, build a career in their native country, or even enter the politics. It was important for me to say that God became a human, but an unnecessary human, who was called unnecessary to show his worth. First of all, we find the answers to such questions in the spiritual world. God does not have unnecessary people; I have said this during the sermon. If one wants to be guided by Christian principles while looking at this world, this must be their main paradigm of answer to this question.”

You talk about the return of totalitarianism ghosts, and one can see that Christian churches in the post-Soviet countries cultivate fear of God instead of love for Him in their sermons and communication with believers. And correspondingly, this does not result in development of free personality or people putting trust in God. Why did this situation emerge? Do the priests understand that they need to communicate with people in a different way, cultivate love for God, for neighbors, for people themselves, after all?

“I do not want to either assess or judge the actions of others. In our church, we are trying to show the true face of God. That is, the God we get to know based on the Holy Scripture, traditions of the church and Kyiv Christianity. Starting from the very first examples of life of Kyivan Rus’ Christians (those were the Christians that loved God and their neighbors), Ukrainians intuitively feel that God is love. When we talk about a real sermon, a proclamation of good news, the core idea is that God is love. Moreover, we find a lot of different interpretations of this truth in the Holy Scripture. Paul the Apostle says: ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ Helping others with their burdens is one of the ways to love. Or Christ says: ‘For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?’ Christ says: ‘Love your enemies.’ This is not easy to achieve today, especially in Ukrainian society. But I think this might become the crucial point in salvation of Ukrainians.”

According to the previous data, Vatican is going to proclaim Metropolitan Sheptytsky a saint in 2013. This has been going on for a few decades. What stage is it at now? And will Metropolitan Sheptytsky be finally announced a saint? Because we are getting close to the anniversary: we will celebrate 150 years since his birthday in 2015.

“Andrei Sheptytsky is a person who was far ahead of his time and was full of holy spirit. At the moment, we are studying the signs of his sanctity. This process is called beatification. There is a separate part of Vatican curia that is engaged in beatification process, and there are rules that correspond to ecclesiastical law regulations and that have to be followed. As you have already said, this has been going on for quite a long time, because the Metropolitan’s figure is not yet studied enough, it was instrumentalized by different ideologies to the extent that we often have to disprove untruthful data. And on the other hand, we need to gain access to certain archival documents. The research has been started so we can objectively show the holiness of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky to the whole world. And we would sincerely like for this process to end soon, so we could celebrate Metropolitan’s anniversary in these new circumstances.”

We have touched upon many issues today. Past year was complicated indeed, it was full of various events and processes. What challenges does the Church face today? What tasks does it set, considering the current situation in Ukraine and in the world in general?

“I can only talk about Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, because every Church sees itself from its own perspective. Today, our Church is characterized by deep traditionalism in the positive sense of this word. On the other hand, we are the Church that lives in diverse cultural and even language contexts. That is why there is a wide range of approaches, thoughts, ideas of how to modernize and bring into various contexts what we have called today the treasure of Saint Volodymyr’s baptism. Considering all this, the first challenge that we are facing today is to remain ourselves. This task was set by Josyf Slipyj. We must remain ourselves: Christians, children of Ukrainian Church, who continue living their heritage and at the same time, make it interesting for the next generations and pass it onto them.

“Another challenge is to maintain the inner unity of the Church, which has already been called global. So, we are a Ukrainian Church with Kyiv as our center city, but at the same time, we are present in many countries. That is why we have a task to create strings that connect us all together into God’s people. This specific task is assigned to the head of Church, that is why it is somewhat of a challenge for me too. And in order to fulfill this task, I have been traveling a lot past year, but I have not yet visited all the places our Church is present at. I will continue this work in 2013 as well. Why is this so important? I remember visiting the westernmost part of Canada, British Columbia, where I had an opportunity to meet the believers, communicate with them, and answer the questions asked by the youth. And during one of the meetings an elderly lady came up to me and said: ‘Now you are more than some virtual person whose name we hear during the service and who we pray for. Now we know who you are.’ This is a really important task, to transfer virtual moments of church life into real ones, into people’s personal experience. This builds up the internal unity of the Church. And at the same time, it is a great challenge for every clergyman, to use modern tools in order to be close to people.

“The next challenge is the matter of development of our structures. You know well that during the Soviet times all church structures were destroyed. And now we are at the stage of their restoration, since they ensure operation of mechanisms that let us really be united, not only in thoughts, but in methods of activity, which our believers need. But in fact, there are many more challenges that the Church faces.”

What book are you reading right now and what were you the most impressed by from the recent books you have read?

“At the end of the fast I finished reading Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder. First, a Jewish community presented an English version of the book to me at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. And in November, I was given a Ukrainian edition of this book, so I could appreciate the quality of translation. This book impressed me a lot: the author builds a new paradigm of historical notions assessment, and in Ukrainian context it is one more way to break free from ideological stereotypes of the past that are coming back to life today. That is why I advise everyone to read this book.

“There are two books I read for entertainment. One of them is the complete works of Mikhail Zhvanetsky. This edition consists of five volumes, and I am reading the third one, which is about the perestroika epoch. I will progress further (laughs), look at the society from the author’s perspective, since every time totalitarianism attempts to come back, the role of humor becomes more important. Humor is one of the ways to tell the truth while laughing at our misfortunes. Another book I am re-reading (it is one of the ten books the famous Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi advised me to read once) is Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. It must be read many times, it contains a lot of complex images, and I am trying to keep track of Dante’s ideas in it.”

Even though being the head of the Church keeps you busy, you must have a vacation too. How do you spend your leisure time?

“This is a very complicated question. I am far from being perfect in arrangement of my leisure time, and for this I am reproached by His Beatitude Liubomyr. But one of the ways to spend my free time is sports. I try to go in for sports as much as my travels allow me to. If I cannot jog, I try to at least take walks. I love being outdoors. And I also love music, it helps me relax. Recently I received a violin as a present. It was made for me by a luthier from Morshyn village near Stryi. I brought a whole pack of sheets of music home, so I could learn some new pieces. But I do not want to bother the inhabitants of our house with my play (laughs).”



15 January 2013, The Day