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"The church can find ways of affecting both political life and the state itself without replacing the state or society"

13.03.2008, 16:57
"The church can find ways of affecting both political life and the state itself without replacing the state or society" - фото 1
Interview with Yurii PIDLISNYI, head of the UGCC’s Committee on Matters of the Laity

pidlisnyi.jpgInterview with Yurii PIDLISNYI, head of the UGCC’s Committee on Matters of the Laity

The lay movement and the development of the church are inseparable phenomena. The position of a layman often determines the opinion that people around him will have about the church he belongs to. Each church builds its own concept of work with the laity, and its own point of view regarding the participation of laymen in church life. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) has the Committee on Matters of the Laity to deal with these issues.

An interview with the committee’s head, Dr. Yurii Pidlisnyi, who is also director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Life at the Ukrainian Catholic University, follows.

—Let us start with the history of the establishment and activity of the UGCC Committee on Matters of the Laity. What was its purpose?

—The committee was set up in October 2006, mainly to coordinate the church-wide activities of lay organizations and eparchial committees on matters of the laity.

Now, why was the committee set up? Starting in 1998, when the UGCC Council on Lay Matters was held, the necessity arose to better coordinate the activity and focus of lay organizations and activists. In view thereof, in 2003, the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC approved a regulation of the Eparchial Committee on Matters of the Laity, and the so-called “inter-eparchial” committees on lay matters. The head of the UGCC, Patriarch Lubomyr (Husar), based the set-up of the UGCC Committee on Matters of the Laity specifically on the experience of the eparchial lay committees.

The committees’ first steps were to gather a database of lay organizations on a church-wide scale, or of lay organizations active in more than just one eparchy. The second step was to gather the eparchial committees and jointly develop the action plan. Starting from the first steps in our work, we could see the existing need for methodological assistance to be given to both the lay organizations and the eparchial committees and many parish priests. Therefore, our committee’s secretary, Ihor Lenio, compiled a methodological handbook to help organize lay life in the parish.

The committee also planned a series of seminars and round tables for lay organizations’ mentors. Some of them have already been held. Others are planned.

One of the most fundamental activities of the committee so far has been the presentations of lay organizations in the following eparchies: Buchach, Sambir-Drohobych, Ternopil-Zboriv, and Kolomyia-Chernivtsi. It was organized in the following way: we visited eparchies with representatives of certain lay organizations and presented the work and specific activity of these organizations. We tried to choose the most successful lay organizations. One of the most vivid, latest results of such presentations is the fact that an organization called Children of Light, active in the Kolomyia-Chernivtsi Eparchy, decided to join the activity of the pro-life movement after it had become acquainted with the specifics of the movement’s activity. Another example is the presentation of lay organizations in the Sambir-Drohobych Eparchy, resulting in the establishment of a student Obnova (Renewal) Society.

—What difficulties does the committee face in the work with lay people and organization of lay life in the UGCC?

—There are no outstanding difficulties. It is just that each eparchy has a different number of lay structures. Therefore, it may be difficult to find more structures in the eparchies or to establish them. Difficulties are sometimes associated with people’s inertia or lethargy, on the one hand, and restricted access to information, on the other. However, experience shows that if we provide more information and help to organize the structure, the process develops. In particular, we have experience regarding the Buchach Eparchy, which presented much difficulty. However, thanks to the initiatives of the apostolic administrator and the head of the Committee on Matters of the Laity in the Buchach Eparchy, the process is now developing quite rapidly.

In general, when lay organizations are set up, they already have a clear goal and concrete tasks set for them. Meeting with them, I know they are motivated people and, therefore, there are no insurmountable problems.

Difficulties may arise when there are certain problems in establishing contacts, when a specific parish is situated far from scholarly and administrative centers. It may also be due to the fact that several parishes are looked after by one priest, who cannot (or is not willing) to pay sufficient attention to each of them.

—The lay movement and politics. How can these two “activities” be combined, or interact?

—As for the lay movement, certain things should be distinguished here. The lay movement is a representative of the church, a personification of the church. This makes its participation in political life, -- in the direct meaning of this word, -- like participation in the activity of the local authorities or political parties, somewhat problematic, because successes or failures of authorities at various levels and of political parties immediately compromise the church. Therefore, this should be avoided.

However, the very participation of lay people in political life, in my opinion, is necessary to enable changes to occur in society and state. Lay organizations are to use their active participation, expressed in statements or actions, to intervene in political issues or to point out ways of solving them.

In my opinion, participation in politics has to be present in lay life, provided that it does not harm the church. As for the clergy, we know that the church approved certain decisions as to non-participation of clergy in political life, namely, in the activities of parties and authorities.

—In what way can the lay movement contribute to the ecumenical movement? What are the prospects for the ecumenical movement of lay people?

—The question of ecumenical cooperation of lay people is very relevant. Such cooperation is already conducted by two organizations. A round table entitled, “The experience of the churches in establishing civil society” recently held in Kyiv at the initiative of the Committee on Matters of Laity of the UGCC, is another illustration thereof.

However, in this regard, one sometimes faces certain difficulties associated with stereotypes —views of representatives of other churches on a specific Church can sometimes become a hampering factor.. I experienced this myself in the course of my involvement in the lay movement since 1990: the stereotypes I had, and stereotypes people had about me.

However, I think there are prospects for such work, as well as a field for it. In particular, it is in line with Patriarch Lubomyr’s thesis that in Ukraine we can still witness the results of division in the once unified church of Christ, tracing back to Volodymyr’s baptism. This is not good.

We should make efforts to remedy the situation both at the clergy and lay levels. There have been an increasing number of opportunities for holding various events, to which our committee and other denominations have responded. For instance, the activity of the Christian Ukraine Organization (which is public rather than lay, in a certain sense of the word), which organizes monthly inter-denominational prayers in Kyiv and some other regions. What has been done in this regard may not be enough, but in my opinion, the process is going in the right direction.

—In his article (Patriarchate, #1 (404), January-February 2008), Myroslav Marynovych argues that “Church life in eastern and southern parishes is sometimes more lively than church life in established parishes in Halychyna… An important phenomenon has manifested itself in the last few years in the life of the UGCC. It is the fact that the whole church benefits from the fresh spirituality of eastern and southern parishes.” How would you describe the activity of the “eastern and western” laymen of the UGCC?

—I agree fully with Myroslav Marynovych. One of the reasons for this situation is the fact that in the eastern regions of Ukraine, we actually have neophytes, either people, who converted to Christianity very recently, or people who did not have opportunities to be active laymen and who were deported to the East during the difficult Soviet times. But the situation has changed now as they become a driving force for us as well.

I could see this clearly as I supervised one of our lay movements, namely, the pro-life vovement, which organized seminars in the Kharkiv, Odessa, Donetsk, Mykolaiiv and Kherson regions. The movement’s representatives reported that people in those regions need a certain stimulus from us, the Christians of the West. However, even though it may sound harsh, their Christianity is somehow deeper and more genuine.

I concede that in the course of time, eastern, central and southern Ukraine may become territories which inspire us, may become driving forces of Christianity’s spread.

—Can you tell us more details about the round table, “The experience of churches in the work of building up civil society?” What are your impressions of it?

—The idea of the round table was conceived within the Committee on Matters of the Laity of the UGCC, but we decided to make this discussion ecumenical in order to prevent it from becoming a strictly Ukrainian Greek Catholic event. Because the experience of each denomination, or Church in this regard is really extensive, maybe even tremendous.

One of the reasons for organizing the round table was the fact that representatives of virtually all authorities vie with each other in stating that they aim at building a civil society in our country. However, all the initiatives in this regard show that the majority of statesmen proclaiming such mottoes simply are not even sure what civil society is. Even so, the state’s attention to these problems is a positive thing.

During the event, we decided to talk both about the foundations of civil society itself in terms of what it is and on what it is based, and to present the experience of churches in this issue. Talking about the UGCC alone in this respect, we see its colossal experience, especially from the end of the 19th century. and in the inter-war period in the 20th century, when Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, with his sacrificial and charismatic activity, created what we call civil society. Both public and lay organizations, as well as financial institutions and industrial firms, were established at that time, forming something that later became a prototype of the Ukrainian state.

When the Polish state in the period between the wars tried to “pacify” the Ukrainian population, who began to talk increasingly about the renewal of their independence and in particular, about ZUNR [The Western Ukrainian People’s Republic], it had to face several lines of resistance. Among them was not only the resistance of OUN [The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists], but also social resistance in general, the resistance of the masses. It all became possible, thanks in particular to the UGCC.

Speaking about his active position in this regard, Metropolitan Andrey (Sheptytsky) noted: “I will be called a politician on the metropolitan’s throne, or a nationalist in vestments; however, I will never be indifferent to any aspects of the social life of my people.” This shows that the church can find ways of affecting both political life and the state itself without replacing the state or society. This experience is important not only for the UGCC, but also for other denominations, as well as in the context of the whole state.

In my opinion, it is exactly thanks to the renewal of that experience in the UGCC that we can see a certain impulse in other denominations as well. In particular, after the first UGCC lay convention (entitled “Laymen’s responsibility for the fate of the church and state”) was held in February 2006, similar events were held within a few months in other denominations.

It is noteworthy that representatives of the state authorities, and public and lay organizations participated in the work of the round table. As far as I am concerned, the round table was a success. Materials from the discussion are being prepared for publication.

—It is known that the Committee on Matters of the Laity plans to hold another lay convention of the UGCC. What questions are to be considered there? What should we expect of it?

—The second lay convention will be entitled “My participation in the life of the parish, church, and society.” The main stress of the discussion will be laid specifically on the parish, because the revival of the faithful’s sense of responsibility for their parish is an extremely important need today. Therefore, at the convention, we are going to talk about personal growth in holiness, --how I, as an individual layman, respond to the continuous call of God: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Also, talking about everyone’s responsibility for their own spiritual growth, let us stress the obvious fact that we cannot save our souls on our own, that’s utopian. It is even more important to remember that it is Christ Who redeems and saves. What is required of us is cooperation. Therefore, we can and should do it jointly with our neighbors, people around us, and the parish priest.

In view of the above, a logical question arises: How do I assist the parish in the work of leading me to holiness, what is my personal role and what is the parish priest’s role in this? In this regard, we talked about the capacities of laymen and the parish priest. We switch from these subjects to the whole church and society, since for many people, the parish often represents the whole church and even society. It is, so to say, the personification of both the church and state dimension for these people. Therefore, by developing a parish, we are forming the face of the whole church.

The participants of the convention are to deliver a few addresses: “The lay convention’s address to lay people” (urging them to lead a more active Christian life), “The lay convention’s address to priests,” and “The lay convention’s address to the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC” (setting out laymen’s proposals as to strategies for implementation of issues discussed at the convention). The event is to be held in Kyiv. The exact date will be announced after a consultation with the head of the UGCC. We know only that the convention is to be held between October 14 and November 21, 2008.

—The subject of the UGCC patriarchate has been raised increasingly often. Do you think laymen can contribute to the implementation of the project? What is your vision of their role in that question?

—Most importantly, we should realize who we are. The patriarchate is not a goal, it is a reality of the church’s existence, a means of sanctification. It will have no significance if there is no active lay life and self-sanctification, if we do not walk the path showed to us by Christ: “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

Lay activity can only indirectly facilitate or promote the proclamation of the patriarchate. If, by our activity, we show the face of the church, the fact that it has not only scholarly institutions, a developed administrative component, academic structures and media, but that it also has a structured, mature lay movement then it is mature enough to be a patriarchate. The patriarchate cannot be a goal of the church’s or laity’s activities.

—Thanks for the interview.

Tetiana LUTSYK conducted the interview in Lviv on 11 March 2008.