The Voice of Silence: a monastic voice on the Ukrainian question
The decades-long schism in Ukrainian church life has created polarization not only between ecclesiastical jurisdictions, but also in the hearts of the people.
Saint Maximus described erroneous judgment concerning the conceptual images of things as evil. Similarly, a mistaken assessment of the complicated situation that has prevailed for many years in Ukraine has led to an accumulation of many evils, producing deep social division and a rift in the ecclesiastical body with countless tragic consequences.
In the Orthodox Church we pray “for the welfare of the holy churches of God and the union of all [people],” and we invoke the unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit is to be found in unity and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit activate unity. How indeed can there be unity when we do not live in accordance with those gifts which Saint Paul names as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5.22)?
The Gospel and the Church Fathers teach that a Christian loves and prays for all people, and much more so for brothers and sisters in faith who are distanced on account of erroneous judgment concerning the conceptual image of things and other passions of egotism and vanity born of ethnic tribalism together with a desire to further political interests under the pretext of a strict interpretation of ecclesiastical canons.
Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, the well-known saint of our own times, identified unity with reconciliation, with a deep understanding for our brother or sister, with sensitivity to our language, a refusal to make any accusation or slander, and above all with a desire to walk together in the Church—in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church: “When we set ourselves apart from others, we are not Christians. We are true Christians when we have a profound sense that we are members of the mystical body of Christ, of the Church, in an unbroken relationship of love—when we live united in Christ, that is, when we experience unity in His Church with a sense of oneness.” (Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios, p. 89).
It is not fortuitous that Saint Gregory Palamas, when he was a captive at the Ottoman court in Bursa, engaged with Ishmael—the grandson of the Emir—in a dialogue on matters of faith with the utmost sobriety and composure and without the slightest trace of fanaticism or animosity.
At the present time we are experiencing on a global scale an ever-intensifying upsurge in mindless fundamentalism: attacks on Christian churches and Muslim mosques which turn the most sacred hours of worship into tragedy. Fanatical and callous individuals wish, in the name of “God,” to impose their views and ideas with hatred, destruction and death. At such a critical time in the world, it defies reason to break off ecclesiastical communion without seeking a mode of spiritual reconciliation. Who can offer an explanation of this to the young people who come to our monasteries in search of God with their existential anxieties and questions?
In recent times many voices have been heard about the matter of the autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine: articles, pronouncements, interpretations, interviews and programs on radio and television. Some of these have a sound foundation in history and canon law, while others have been attempts to disorient public opinion.
There is, however, also the voice, or rather the urgent cry, of silence. Insistent, devout silence. Prayer in silence, which accomplishes the miracle of unity in the Church. This voice of silence, which is prayer, pain, and weeping at the lack of love, at the erroneous judgment of the conceptual images of the matter, is expressed in a reticence about speaking. We have sensed this quietness in the words of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, which have not been disrespectful or scathing about anyone, but rather have been words of encouragement for everyone and a call for unity, mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
This voice is also heard in the silence of the monastics who have not spoken, who have not written and who have not judged, but who rather have prayed “for the welfare of the holy churches of God and the union of all,” the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
This intervention on their part is at once of no consequence and of every consequence. It is of every consequence because Christ looks down upon the secret voice and silent pain of those who have left everything and followed Him on the path which is a “profession of the Cross and death” (Service of the Great Schema).
At the same time, however, it is of no consequence because the silence of prayer is not publicized and does not have followers and likes on social media postings. This thing of no consequence, however, has the power to overcome worldly turmoils and ambitions. It has the power to bring peace and unity to the Church because it is founded on all-night vigil and selfless intercession which performs its work with asceticism, prostrations and God-pleasing tears before the icons.
In the ever-remembered homelands of Asia Minor, the Orthodox Romioi, the faithful Greek flock of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, when they gave alms would make no distinction between Greeks and Turks. They would offer help indiscriminately. This is the spirit of Romiosyni, a spirit of selfless generosity, embodied in the stance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of its venerable Primate: it is a disposition that seeks to bestow gifts of loving kindness on all, and to care for every soul that finds itself, for reasons for which it bears no responsibility, outside the bounds of the canonical Church, just as it happened with our brothers and sisters in Christ of Ukraine.
There are some unapproachable horizons which are touched by prayer, by the tears and sorrows of the humble, of those who feel pain for the Church, for the people of God, who reach out to children and young people and know their anxieties and questions. These humble and nameless monks and nuns raise up their hands to God every day and night in prayer for the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, resting on the sure foundations of the Orthodox faith and on the axiom that truth sets free, whereas extremism and separation isolate and distance people from salvation, since they cut them off from the Church.
The unity of the Church is a path of communion with God, true life, union with the saints, and a path to eternal blessedness. A monastic community can move from this life to eternity if it acquires full identification with the consciousness of the Church and senses and experiences the fact that in the Church we are all one, as Saint Porphyrios used to say. In this way the sanctification of the monastic community can contribute to the common transfiguring path in Christ of the entire body of the Church.