Religion and the Church in Ukraine: beginning of the year 2010
In a month and half into the year 2010 many events occurred in the religious life of Ukraine that deserve thorough, unhurried analyses. And the conditional method is used here because all these events if they aren’t growing dim, then for some time will civilly yield to the place of the epic presidential elections. Presidential elections in Ukraine are something immeasurably greater than elections. They are always “fate-altering,” they acquire a heavenly tension and a little non-eschatological dimension: the choice is perceived as final and timeless, as a choice between “the Kingdom of God” and “the grind of one’s teeth.” Let us at least call to mind in what majestic epic forms during the elections of 1999 the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods “summoned to the kingdom” the leader of the Communists – “a bylina hero” Petro Symonenko and cursed his competitor: “Free us, Lord, from the plague, Kuchma, and other fierce calamities! Strengthen, Lord, Your slave Petro...” And on the eve of the presidential elections of 2004, when tension exceeded all possible significant, the respectable Dzerkalo Tyzhnia published a powerful page, where on a white background resounded two lines from “To the Comrades from Prison” by Ivan Franko: “It’s the last of all wars! It’s the struggle/Of mankind to throw over the brute…” (If the newspaper would have been sure of the results of the elections, then it, I am convinced, would have included the next two lines as well: “It is freedom suppressing all thralldom/It’s the “Kingdom of God” coming true.”)
And finally, already after the presidential elections of 2010, the Metropolitan of Odesa and Izmail of the UOC-Moscow Patriarch Agafangel (Savvin) – deputy of the Odesa Oblast Council from the Party of Regions – not only congratulated his party member, but called the victory of V. Yanukovych “blessed by God.” “Our prayers addressed to God are heard and accepted by Him,” the hierarch is convinced.
Religion in the elections appears in two main dimensions – as a totality of the institution with more or less organized structures, headed by “religious professionals” and as a symbolic space, where departure from the boundaries of triviality occur and incorporation into a world of higher meanings, as a system of values and privileges, a collection of behavioral norms and “folk” customs and conceptions. The first dimension “worked” in the 2010 elections maybe not entirely, but was easily foreseen nonetheless. Though the hierarchs of the UOC-MP were this time a lot more careful than in 2004, and its head Metropolitan Volodymyr avoided direct support of the leader of the Party of Regions, Viktor Yanukovych had all the reasons to expect for close support of a very important part of the hierarchy and clergy of this church. Some of the members of the Party of Regions and/or their sponsors not only simply have diverse and firm ties in the higher spheres of the church environment, but also really influence the regular decisions of the clergy.
During his pre-election tour Viktor Yanukovych visited many churches and monasteries, went on a “company” pilgrimage to Mount Athos, received numerous blessings from the ruling hierarchs, and actively used the image of the “Orthodox candidate” – the image of the leader of the Regions in a church interior was even circulated in church calendars. (A misfire occurred with the Metropolitan of Cherkasy and Kaniv Sofronii – the bishop stated that the advertisement video with his participation for the support of V. Yanukovych was fabricated.)
Significantly more diverse ended up being the “religious component” of the election campaign of Yulia Tymoshenko. The prime minister attempted to capture the hearts of everyone: she lowered gas tariffs for religious organizations, met with the hierarchs of all the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, with the Roman and Greek Catholic bishops, with the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, touched the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and held an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
Evidently, the staff of both of the main claimants for the highest state post now and then lacked tactic and taste in their treatment of religious sanctuaries, in relations with religious institutions and their leaders. However, we recognize that also spiritual figures in their apologetics of the presidential candidates crossed the credible boundaries and praised them in categories, more natural for the Byzantine emperors, than elected “servants of the people.”
In the period between the first and second rounds of voting the heated civilian discussion summoned appeals of the heads of the UOC-KP and the UAOC, which called the faithful to not vote against all, but to make a choice between the two candidates. Later, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations also published an official appeal to the Ukrainian people on the occasion of the second round of the presidential elections of Ukraine, where it stressed: “If we are going to be indifferent to the election of the president or vote against all, then we lose our chance, and the choice will be made nonetheless, but no longer with our participation.”
But the most resonance was heard from the commentary of the head of the UGCC Patriarch Lubomyr on the appeal of the Synod of Bishops of the Kyiv-Halych Archeparchy on the occasion of the second round of the elections. The commentary literally disrupted the blogosphere, provoked deep-rooted disputes, embroiled Galician (and not only) families. Properly, the “Appeal” itself entirely corresponded to the social teachings of the Catholic Church and reminded the faithful about their responsibility before God and His Creation. But commenting on the “Appeal,” Patriarch Lubomyr stressed that “…to not vote or vote against all is not a choice, but to a certain extent an escape, thus we do not commend this.” The call of the head of the UGCC, whose large majority of faithful are is concentrated in Galicia, to choose between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko meant the support of the prime minister. In all truth, “Instructions for the Elections” of the UGCC (from 1994) eliminates the very possibility for the church “to lean in favor of a specific party or candidate,” leaving it the right “to present ethical principles and requests, necessary in politics.” To support in such a method one of the two candidates would have been difficult – ethical principles, as they serve in politics, few would recognize as faultless. But a choice needs to made for certain, then for the faithful of the UGCC decisive becomes the fact that Yanukovych never manifested the testimonial dream to stand in the ranks of the Sich Riflemen and never swore to unconditionally protect the Ukrainian language, and Tymoshenko, at least in Lviv, did not promise to expand the rights of the Russian language or place under doubt the withdrawal of the Russian Black Sea Float from Crimea after 2017.
The call of the head of the UGCC was motivated by the fact that even with a very high number of votes against all one of the two finalists of the election campaign will nonetheless be announced as a victor; evidently, to a certain extent, such a call should have also neutralized the intensive campaign for not supporting either candidate, which was lead in Galicia by V. Yushchenko and figures with a more or less fate of frankness linked with the Party of Regions.
But many of those who always listen to the thoughts of His Beatitude Lubomyr were angered that their choice was limited: “not supporting either candidate” is also a choice, which they were prepared to make, “reasonably, not emotionally or opportunely,” but “having familiarized themselves with the candidates.., their behavior and activity.” In a word, that is also what the appeal of the Synod of Bishops called.
Some of these people felt perplexed because this call to not vote against all was made from the Patriarch Lubomyr (Huzar) – from a hierarch whose moral authority went beyond the boundaries of the church headed by him. Evidently, the Church, in whose churches millions of people come to the Holy Communion, cannot entirely step away from politics. Though because politics touch truly deep questions: of conscience, justice, responsibility, and human dignity. The 2010 Elections only with a new force put forth the question about the meaning and boundaries of participation of the church in politics – among them, after the Prayer for Ukraine, when on the final day of permitted agitation the heads and representatives of the churches prayed together with one of the presidential candidates on St. Sophia Square.
During this last election, values were openly replaced by technologies, including, villainous technologies of the divide of the country. One of the political writers persistently and publicly advised Viktor Yanukovych to “stir up” his electorate with the issues of the Russian language, NATO, and the “ancient friendship” with Russia. A passionate Moscow para-church “anti-orange” activist, K. Frolov, who got into a habit of commenting Patriarch Kirill and speak out for him what was not voiced, recommended Yanukovych “to pick up and mobilize all the Russian activists able for active work. All of those on the left, including Symonenko, Vitrenko, Volga, Kaurov… These people will really help.”
Anyway, Patriarch Kirill was present at the Ukrainian election even without a self-appointed spokesman. He prayed for the right choice of the Ukrainian people at the presidential election, for “the political earthquake” to stop in Ukraine, called the Ukrainian people “his own,” warmly congratulated the winner and even forwarded a special address to his Ukrainian flock on the occasion of the completion of the presidential election.
The patriarch’s doctrine of “the Russian world” was also present at the election. Despite the angry invectives of the most diligent apologist of the doctrine in Ukraine against its critics, who foresaw the spiritual-missionary core of the doctrine and undeservedly politicized it, the election campaign showed that these critics had grounds for concern. The doctrine and its author have become the flag of Russian nationalism and anti-West sentiments, its components began to really contribute to the eastern-Slavonic Moscow-centered identity, the ritualistic charms about the respect for the sovereignty of the countries of “the Russian world” are not taken seriously by anyone and the adherents of the “Russian world” themselves wish primarily for the Russian and not Christ’s Church. The most open of them wrote in his blog: “for us…it has been and continues to be very important that this church is not simply CANONICAL but also that it is RUSSIAN! Because we are RUSSIAN! Therefore, we believe that our God is the RUSSIAN God, our faith is the RUSSIAN Faith, the native tongue of our Savior is the RUSSIAN tongue.” (http://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/chalenko/4b2bf798d8be0/)
According to these conditions, what will be the church politics of the elected president? Its contours are still rather blurry – like, properly, strategies in other spheres; thus the observers concentrated on the criticism of the politics of the president while everything was still valid. Archbishop of Uman of the UAOC Ioan Modzalevskii sees in it three main mistakes: а) too close of a self-identification with the idea of a single national church; b) the absence of a clear understanding of the canonical aspect of life of the church; c) attempts to create a national church on the basis of the Kyivan Patriarchate while ignoring the autonomy and significance of the UAOC and interests of the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate.
Each mistake could be argued, but the matter for now is not in that. The main point is that if the president lacked a “clear understanding” of something, then this is above all his responsibility before the country. A country which immediately after inauguration imperatively needs to begin to be put back together in a pressing manner. And while putting it together it is also necessary to modernize. The problem of a single national Orthodox church in Ukraine is not in the complications of church diplomacy, but in the division of the Ukrainian society, which deepens with each election. The church division is not a reason, but a result of this division. The Orthodox believers of Ukraine share not the insurmountable dogmatic divergences, but the disagreements in the question of the order of the visible church on the territory of their country. And these disagreements in their turn include the absence of agreement in their vision of the future of this country. And thus those who assert that the head of the secular state should not and is not capable of doing something for church understanding are not right. Precisely his efforts in the Ukrainian situation can turn out to be bigger than influential: efforts in merging local identities into a general Ukrainian identity, in improving the economy of the country, its culture, in creating an effective political system of fair legal proceedings, in strengthening its position on the international arena. In a word, the efforts are necessary for the greatest responsibility and honest realization of the 31 presidential powers determined by the Constitution of Ukraine. After all, the president, whose Basic Law first of all imparts him with legislative initiative, could substantially improve the legal space where the religious organizations function, do away with the corruption of the state and political parties concerning the church, and stop the practice of exchange of property, tax and tariff preferences for electoral support from the side of the religious organizations. And to stand at the royal place in a church or distribute the Holy Fire to the president is not necessary.