“Interdenominational relations in Ukraine can serve as an examplar for the whole post-soviet domain”
Guest: Anatolii KOZACHOK, a bishop’s assistant to an Evangelical Christians in Ukraine (Pentecostal) bishop in Kyiv, a pastor of the “Philadelphia” church, a teacher of the Kyiv Biblical Institute, a member of a board of directors of the Ukrainian Bible society, a participant of the Week of Prayers for Christian Unity.
RISU’s Ukrainian-language website held this web conference on 21 January 2009.
The most prominant theme of the web-conference: Are Ukrainian Christians capable of mutual understanding?
Questions from the editors of RISU:
Pastor Anatolii, the Week of Prayers for Christian Unity is taking place in Ukraine for the third time. Do you see changes in Ukrainian society and interdenominational relations? What needs to be done in order to make these changes more tangible?
According to my observations, interdenominational relations in Ukraine can serve as an examplar for the whole post-soviet domain. Any common activities, especially prayer, promote positive social change because they encourage the presence of God in our hearts and serve as beautiful examples for people. Before changes in society become visible, it is necessary first for change to take place in each of us and prayer actively facilitates such change.
There was already a question about the relations between Protestants. Lately they are in the spotlight of the religious mass media. What are the biggest problems in this sphere? In particular, what is the situation between the younger and older Churches?
In my opinion, the most painstaking problems are non-evangelical teachings and differences in liturgical practices. Nowadays, there is a visible trend towards doctrinal and liturgical rapprochement.
In our opinion, it is not necessary to perceive the unity of Christians only in terms of a singular Church institution. More importantly, Ukrainian Christians should try to understand each other better, see brothers and sisters in each other. In your opinion, what elements of the religious situation in Ukraine and of interdenominational relations in general should be addressed during this Week of Prayers?
As aforementioned, it is not realistic to attempt to unite all Christians in one juridical structure. Taking into consideration that Ukrainian society is multi-denominational, it is time for all of us to learn to respect one another instead of nurturing interdenominational hostility. This point deserves emphasis is worth praying for.
In your opinion, what should be done to develop the Week of Prayers for Christian Unity on the national scale?
Let’s pray for it individually and popularize it among the denominations and in society in general. We understand that prayer is something very personal and therefore we will not compel anybody to pray.
Thank you for meeting with our readers. May God bless you and your work and may the prayers that will sound today in your church be heard not only by the Lord, but will resound in the hearts of many Ukrainian Christians!
Thank you for the invitation and for your proficient organization of this web-conference. I hope my answers didn’t offend anybody. May God bless you all!
You answer questions in this web-conference in Ukrainian. Could you tell me in what language you and other pastors of the CEF preach? What steps do you undertake for the Pentecostal Church in Ukraine to be Ukrainian, and is this important for you? Protestants often treat questions of nationality indifferently, or, on the other hand, they strive for political power, seeing involvement in the government as "a mission of the Church". What do you think?
Thank you, Andrii. Most of the sermons in our “Philadelphia” church are preached in Ukrainian. We promote the use of Ukrainian among pastors but I want to point out that the Church does not regulate language use.
The Church is not a part of the government of the State and attempts of some clergy to gain political power are erroneous. The Church has the higher aim: a revival of spirituality.
Pastor Anatolii, could you please delineate the doctrines on which it may be possible to build a community among the Christians of Ukraine?
Thank you, Serhii. This is a very interesting and difficult question. In my opinion, these doctrines are:
1. A doctrine on the Holy Trinity
2. A doctrine on the Divinity of Jesus Christ
3. A doctrine on the Bible – Holy Scripture
4. A doctrine on Salvation
Christ is born!
Pastor Anatolii, how important is the Tradition and culture in your Christian community?
Glory to Him! Thank you for your question, Anatolii.
Tradition and culture is really very important for us, but we perceive the canonical Bible as the only Word of God. Our traditions have to do more with liturgical practices than with the doctrines of the faith in order to avoid the danger against which Christ warned: “So you void the Word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6).
Do you believe that Christians must search for unity as defined by the Church of the first millennium?
I think that we must search for unity as defined by the Word of God, as the Divine Revelation of the God’s will. Surely you agree that experience is subjective. The experience of the first millennium can scarcely serve as an example today because a division occurred in the mean time.
What realistic steps towards unity among the Christians can your community offer? Thank you.
Interdenominational actions including participation with the Heads of the Churches of Ukraine often take place in a prayer hall in the “Philadelphia” church. By the way, a prayer in conjunction with representatives of the various Christian denominations will start today at 18:30. All are welcome!
I am a member of the traditional Church and know more or less the situation regarding the dispute between Catholics and Orthodox believers. What about neo-Protestants? There are many of them in Ukraine. They differentiate themselves [from other Protestants] in several unique ways. It stands to reason that they also do not always agree with each other. How can we hope to promote understanding among Ukrainian PROTESTANTS?
Thank you, Svitlana. Your question is very difficult but very important. I must acknowledge that it is realistically impossible to achieve a ubiquitous unity, even among the Protestant Churches, while we are living in this world. We should take into consideration that every Church has its own traditions and liturgical peculiarities they are not ready to change. There are Churches that stand apart from other denominations. However, time is the best corrective; understanding the importance of community and mutual accountability is increasing among the clergy.
Modern divisions, disagreements, and hostility among Ukrainian Christians are connected to well-known historical events to a great extent. In particular, after the Union of Brest (in 1596), totally unreasonable, cruel, bloody, fratricidal interdenominational and interethnic conflicts repeatedly broke out in Ukraine (and not without "friendly" interference from the outside). On 26 June 2001 during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Lviv, the Head of the UGCC Cardinal Lyubomyr (Huzar) apologized on behalf of the faithful of his Church for all injustices and he forgave offenders as well. However, for some reason none of the traditional Churches and denominations (neither the Orthodox Church nor the Roman Catholic or Protestant) joined this noble initiative of national REPENTANCE and MUTUAL FORGIVENESS. What is your opinion on this issue?
Repentance, forgiveness and mutual respect are all-Christian, evangelic virtues. Everyone must learn to live according to these principles regardless of denomination. During its history, our Church has tried to coexist peacefully with all religious denominations in Ukraine. I think that no one can or should force another to such undertake such an initiative. Repentance is a result of one’s own experience and perception of God and His will.
What is meaning of the Week of Prayers for Christian Unity? What do you, as one of the participants, expect? Will it really help Christians of different traditions to come closer or is such an action necessary only for reports concerning mutual respect and tolerant relations? With kind regards, Dmytrii
Thank you for your question, Dmytrii. The point of this prayer action is to promote Christian Churches across the city and country to come to a rapprochement, to destroy prejudices, and to promote mutual respect and collaboration. I expect that many faithful of different Christian communities in Kyiv will unite in prayer to achieve such a goal. My experience being involved in similar events of interdenominational relations tells me that this action will have positive ramifications in terms of interdenominational dialogue. We do not plan on reporting this action to anybody except God.
Christ is born! Could you tell me who else from the Protestant denominations will officially take part in the Week of Prayers for Christian Unity? How do representatives of the Orthodox Church view it? With which traditional (Orthodox and Catholic) denominations does the CEF in Ukraine co-operate the most? Thank you in advance for your answer!
Glory to Him! The Church of Evangelical Christians in Ukraine, being a member of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, is open to joint activity (in particular to prayer) with other Churches on the basis of the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have good work relationships with other members of the Council (Orthodox, Greek-Catholic, Roman-Catholic, Baptists, Adventist, Lutheran, and Pentecostal) through special work-groups and commissions that address modern challenges and through collaboration with other institutions. The Ukrainian Orthodox Communities participate in the Week of Prayers for Christian Unity. Thank you for your question.
How did you become a pastor? What tests have you passed?
As I wrote before, I grew up in the Church of the CEF and from childhood had a desire to serve God in His Church. After military service in the Soviet Army, I was a missionary in Karelia (RF). I studied in the Kyiv Biblical Institute and the Evangelical Theological Seminary.
How wold you respond to the following, given that you are an assistant to the bishop of Kyiv of the Church of the Evangelical Christians in Ukraine (Pentacostals) and a pastor of the “Philadelphia” church:
Why did you and your organization (because it is not a "Church" in either the theological or Ukrainian understanding of the word) choose to expand in Ukraine? Ukraine is a Christian country with 1000 plus years of ORTHODOX history!!!! This is not "Papua New Guinea" with half-wild, uneducated aboriginals who have never heard about Jesus Christ!
In short: What are you doing here?
I regret that I compelled you be so nervous. However, let me believe in God according to my own persuasions while living on the land of my parents (who passed me their faith). I am certain that the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea have not harmed you in any way. As you know, the Good News is actively preached in this country and there are many churches, bible schools, charitable organizations and Christian media. In this country over 66% of the population are Christians of various traditions.
What are we doing here? The local communities of Evangelical Christians (over 1500) serve their members, offering a real help. Special attention is paid to the socially undefended: 17 orphanages and 3 centers serve street children and orphans; 132 churches offer free lunches for needy people; 47 rehabilitative centers help alcohol and drug addicted people return to healthy life; in 58 institutions we preach Christ, who offers freedom; there are 30 missions and charitable foundations that conduct charitable activity. All our social work is conducted in collaboration with local government.
Dear pastor Anatolii,
It is written in the editorial introduction that you are a member of a board of directors of the Ukrainian Biblical Society (UBS). How contemporary is the Association of Biblical Societies (ABS)? What new projects do you work on? What is interdenominational work do you undertake within the framework of the Biblical Society? Thank you!
Greetings, Olena. UBS consists of 17 collective members – the Christian denominations of Ukraine and other institutions. It was founded on 22 June 1991 and has been an associated member of the ABS since 1996. UBS’s main goal was always and continues to be translation, printing, and distribution of the Holy Scripture (without commentaries) for Christians of all churches and denominations.
A special project of the past few years has been a project called “Possibilities-21”. This program foresees distribution of special biblical literature in prisons, kindergartens, boarding schools, hospitals, and for people unable to purchase the Bible or the New Testament. For people with weak eyesight, the Bible is printed in large font; for blind people in Braille and in audiocassette format (“Faith from listening”). It is an extensive program; in 2008 over 115 thousand copies of the biblical editions were distributed.
The work of UBS has a supra-denominational character. Believers of different Churches work together to spread the Word of God. The main principles are equality and harmony. UBS is an initiator; Also, UBS’s initiatives include Bible Day, conducted in various cities across Ukraine to unite Christians around the Holy Scripture.