“I am not sure that the work of a narrow circle of scholars can change or even replace inter-denominational dialogue as such.”
An interview with Volodymyr BUREHA, holder of a candidate’s degree in theology, a church historian, one of the editors of the popular scholarly Internet portal Bohoslov.ru, and a teacher at the Kyivan Spiritual Academy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.
Bureha officially represents the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a work group set up to develop ecumenically a text on the history of the Union of Brest at the initiative of the Austrian Foundation Pro Oriente.
As previously reported by RISU, on 14-18 September 2008 in Kyiv the fourth meeting of the group was held, during which the participants elaborated the draft of the 1st and 2nd chapters of the collective monograph about the Union of 1596. (See bottom of article for links to the RISU news stories.) Ivan Rybalko, editor of the Kyiv newspaper “Oranta,” asked Bureha to talk about the publication.
RISU note: Through the Union of Brest of 1596, part of the historical church of Kyiv, today on the territory of present-day Ukraine and Belarus, went into full ecclesiastical communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This event is still the subject of much controversy between Catholics and Orthodox.
— [Rybalko] Who is the most interested reader of the future book?
— [Bureha] The edition is targeted at a wide public. The president of the Pro Oriente Foundation, which is financing the project, repeatedly stressed at the meeting of the work team that our goal actually is to publish a text book on the history of the Union of Brest. Therefore, the president called the authors not to go deep into details. Thus, the main reader is an average person who is not good at the fine points of history. It is this reader who can find in this book an agreed idea which satisfies all the participants of the process.
—So, you tried to avoid details to avoid arguments?
—No, not exactly. The book will contain all significant details. But the details, like the discussions of scholars about a given date, personality, or the origin of some document, will not be given much attention.
—To what extend did the cooperation of church historians supplement interdenominational conflicts, or replace them, if absent?
—The work of this work team introduced constructive contacts between scholars belonging to several denominations. Today, unfortunately, the all-church dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics is in a very complicated phase. A work team is quite a promising phenomenon. When scholars of different denominations gather in such a narrow circle to address important questions, problems existing in interchurch relations remain outside this laboratory. This process cannot replace an official inter-denominational dialogue, of course, but it sets certain principles to allow a more or less constructive dialogue in the future.
—Mr. Bureha, did you participate in previous meetings of the work team?
—No, this is the first time I was invited.
—So, you cannot confirm or deny the statement of Oleh Turii [of the Ukrainian Catholic University] during his interview for our publication, “Oranta,” namely, that the atmosphere of cooperation which dominated the plenary meeting of the work team in the Kyivan Monastery of the Caves was very constructive and more favorable than during the previous meetings in Lviv, Cieplice [Poland], and Vienna?
—I cannot say that, but I can testify that the atmosphere during the Kyiv meeting was really constructive, even though no one turned a blind eye to existing problems. Various points of view were expressed but each participant had to confirm his theses by giving sources. Others could agree or argue with him. That is, everything was in the limits of a scholarly, academic discussion.
—How much, in your opinion, did the recent celebration of the 1020th anniversary of Volodymyr’s baptism facilitate the constructive atmosphere of constructive cooperation at the meeting of the work team?
— In my opinion, the celebration did not have any special effect on the activity of the work team. For that activity started in 2002 and the personal relations between the scholars in the work team developed a few years ago. This is not the first time these people gathered in such a circle, and the foundations of the joint work were laid before 2008. Therefore, I did not see a direct connection between the celebration of the 1020th anniversary and the work team’s activity.
—Can this practice and atmosphere spread also to other negotiations as part of inter-denominational dialogue?
—At least there is a desire for that. But one should remember that it was a meeting of scholars and not of official representatives of different denominations. It was about cooperation of people of more or less the same occupation, interests, and knowledge of documents. Such people can reach understanding very quickly.
But when it comes to the official dialogue between denominations, other factors come into the picture. Therefore, I am not sure that the work of a narrow circle of scholars can change or even replace inter-denominational dialogue as such.
However, when the book appears and is read and comprehended, some effect will be made on official relations between the churches, as well.
—Mr. Bureha, according to Mr. Turii, the sides enjoy the right to invite appropriate specialists at their discretion. There are denominations in Ukraine which consider themselves interested parties in the question of the history of the Brest Union. I mean the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate [UOC-KP] and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church [UAOC]. Which party should, in your opinion, invite appropriate historians cooperating with the mentioned churches to participate in the meeting of the work team?
—I can give only a hypothetical answer. Let me recall that the edition was initiated by the Pro Oriente Foundation. It is an Austrian foundation with headquarters in Vienna. It is not officially a church structure, but it is connected with the Catholic Church. I guess that from the very beginning the management of the foundation had to define the format of activity of the work team. And one should note here that both the Roman Catholic Church and ecumenical organizations existing in Europe (the Conference of European Churches and World Council of Churches) cooperate in Ukraine only with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [-Moscow Patriarchate]. They never officially invite the Kyivan Patriarchate or the UAOC to events organized by the Roman Catholic Church or international ecumenical structures. Ecumenical organizations keep a clear agreement that unrecognized denominations or denominations with a disputed status are not invited to such events, in order to avoid conflict situations.
Therefore, I assume that, in order to avoid problems in interaction with the Orthodox members of the work team, it was decided not to invite representatives of unrecognized Ukrainian denominations (UOC-KP and UAOC). But this is only my personal assumption based on ordinary modern practice.
As for the strictly scholarly environment, I have no knowledge of any discussions regarding the circumstances of signing the Brest Union between historians associated with the UOC-KP, on one hand, and the UOC[-MP], on the other.
—I understand that not all questions are, as they say, yours to answer, but perhaps you might know if the work team discussed whether Constantinople is an interested party in the preparation of such an agreed history of the Brest Union and if the format of its possible representation was discussed?
—I do not know about that. I cannot say. Theoretically, one can assume that Constantinople would be interested in that, as hierarchs of Eastern churches were closely connected with ecclesiastical circumstances in Ukraine at the end of the 16th and in the 17th centuries. There are many questions in this regard, but I have no knowledge of any attempts to engage the Ecumenical Patriarchate [of Constantinople] in the activity of the work team.
—Mr. Bureha, I have a clear impression that historians who have good knowledge of the history of the Brest Union are not in conflict with each other. I assume that this applies not only to persons directly participating in the work team. Can you confirm this and do you expect a corresponding response to the publication of the book?
—I would give a broader answer. All scholars who are true scholars are not personally in conflict with each other. Even if they disagree with each other, they still observe the rules of academic discussion, which envisage hearing opponents, understanding their viewpoint, and giving a well-reasoned response. This is exactly why there were actually no problems in the communication between members of different churches during the dialogue within the work team. Can this format of communication spread outside the work team as a result of the publication of the book? Time will show.
—Is there a possibility to publish the first two chapters before the completion of work on all three chapters?
—Yes, there will be. In 2009 the German original is to be published. And work on the third chapter is just beginning. If the draft of the Russian translation is agreed on, it may also appear in the near future. Subsequent appearance of a Ukrainian edition is also not excluded.
—Will new textbooks on the history of Ukraine be based exactly on this development [materials]?
—This is a question for the Ministry of Education.
—As of today, are there differences between what is taught about the Brest Union at schools and what has been agreed by the work team members?
—I will be frank. I do not know what is now taught about the Brest Union at schools. I left school 20 years ago in Sumy, Ukraine. At that time, teachers of history did not even mention the Brest Union.
—Thank you for the interview.
Kyiv, 22 September 2008