Konstantin Sigov: The Church in Kyiv, local charity and global Christianity
The new Kyiv autocephalous Church must mature in an "essential" and "elementary" charity towards people who have suffered under the Russian-Ukrainian war that has lasted for 5 years; and breathe the air of "global Christianity" to "solve the deep social problems" that lie before them. Konstantin Sigov explains his approval of the step taken by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with the election of Metropolitan Epifaniy last December 15th. He sees the birth of the new Church - independent of the patriarchate of Moscow - as a sort of flight "from post-Soviet Egypt, from the sphere of ideological slavery". Concrete charity, and not just words, is needed to overcome ethnocentrism and to build the unity of the Orthodox and Christian world. But so far, divisions seem to dominate. The major archbishop of the Greek-Catholic Ukrainians Sviatoslav Shevchuk sent a message of congratulations, prayers and support for the new Metropolitan's mission. Meanwhile, the patriarchate of Moscow has branded all the local Orthodox Churches of the council of Kyiv as "illegitimate" and speaks of "legalization of the schism" by the patriarchate of Constantinople.
Sigov, 56, is among the leading intellectuals of Ukraine and an exceptional ecumenical personality. Philosopher, university professor, director of the Center for European Humanistic Research at the National University Academy of Kyiv Mohyla.
Professor, what happened on December 15th for the Church in Ukraine?
The council of the local Orthodox Church in Kyiv is an important stage for the emergence from inertia, from the historical influence of the Soviet empire, to put it in the biblical lexicon: "from post-Soviet Egypt", from the area of ideological slavery.
The secret ballot of the council was the litmus test. The old guard of the episcopate has tried to pass the blatant vote by a show of hands, under the gaze of the authority and with the consequential blackmail that could have targeted those who voted "wrong". This temptation was overcome, this real freedom and the overcoming of fear are an important precedent for the future life of the Church.
The Metropolitan Epifaniy, as the new head of the Church will go to Constantinople on 6 January, where Patriarch Bartholomew will give him the Tomos (the official Act) of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Last Sunday, December 16, the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew added another name to the list of the 14 primates of the local Orthodox Churches, he began to pray also for the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The local Orthodox Churches family is now composed of 15 sister churches.
Does this step not deepen the division?
It is well known that relations between the Orthodox Churches are anything but idyllic. But it is important to stress that the nature of the differences between these Churches has nothing to do with the sovereignty of States. From a theological point of view all the Orthodox Churches make up the indivisible Body of Christ. Unity is more profound than any ethnic, political and linguistic difference. The gap between dogmatic truth and historical vicissitudes continues to be a challenge for the conscience of every Christian, an appeal for overcoming divisions.
The change has a profound and irreversible character due to many historical factors. Millions of people have been waiting for this event for decades, some with fear, others with hope. And despite everything, the council even took many experts all over the world by surprise . Until the last moment, doubts abounded among the Church's politicians. The Rubicon has been passed. Now this accomplished step has become a factor that will affect the lives of millions of people.
What are the prospects for the new Ukrainian Church?
Great work now awaits every single ecclesial community to separate what is fundamental from what is secondary; to actualize the words of the Gospel and renew life in this light.
The Babylonian confusion of languages in our Churches will sharpen the question of unity, and the crisis of the forms of our communion.
The problem lies not only in the compromise of current theological rhetoric. So many declarations on unity have revealed that they are vacuous. An emptiness that cannot be filled with other discourses. The chasm between good speeches and unworthy actions is all too evident.
The megalomania of geopolitics has lost all connection with the human expression of "I-you".
I do not want to talk about the neo-imperialist propaganda that has taken root in the religious lexicon. I do not want to analyze the false magnitude of the opposing "us / them" schemes. We know how difficult it is to relate to our societies the words of St. Paul that "there is neither Greek nor Jew", continuing the list with "neither Russian, nor Western, nor Post-Soviet, nor Autochthonous, nor Migrant" etc...
The emptying of the old language leads us to the most essential things; the Gospel words come back to us today: "I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me ... Sick and in prison and you do not visit me"(Mt 25, 42-43).
We must return to the most elementary gestures of humanity, and from these the new koinè will be born, as an air for koinonia. Let's not forget that these events happen in a country that has been under an external military attack for 5 years and in which there are more than two million internally displaced people. The practice of welcoming and caring for others remains an imperative for our countrymen.
To conclude, I would like to quote the words of a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate (Ukrainian Church), Bogdan Ogulčanskij: "Thanks to its new status, the Church can learn to conceive itself as an integral part of world orthodoxy, of world Christianity. For the episcopal hierarchy, for priests, for theologians, the possibility of conceiving the life of the Church not according to the local dimension opens up, not separately but in collaboration, in contact with the rich experience of European and global Christianity. This would give Ukrainian Orthodoxy the opportunity to realize Christian values in the complex and multi-faceted Ukrainian society, using dialogue, collaboration to solve the serious social problems by practicing Christian mercy. "
The head of the Conference of Ukrainian Catholic Bishops Bronisław Biernacki sent a message to Metropolitan Epifaniy. The words of this symbolic letter are addressed not only to the Metropolitan, but to all of us: "May this task of great responsibility entrusted to you be tirelessly illuminated by the action and power of the Holy Spirit ... and your work in the vineyard of Lord bring new fruits of faith, hope and charity and God-fearing life for Ukrainian Christians ". Communion and the bond between what is ours and what is universal are the leitmotiv for the Christians of our country and for all men of goodwill".