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Ukrainian Orthodoxy in Toronto: A Model for Dialogue, A Symbol of Courage

17.05.2014, 17:00
Following the academic tradition, this symposium featured several panels consisting of lectures and responses on core issues in the Ukrainian Orthodox milieu.

On May 8-10, a symposium titled “Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the Global Family of Orthodox Churches: Past, Present and Future” was held at St. Michael’s College of the University of Toronto in Canada. Laity belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada organized the symposium and collected an unprecedented assembly of pastors and scholars hailing from a variety of traditions, including: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow-Patriarchate (UOC-MP); Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyivan-Patriarchate (UOC-KP); the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC); the Orthodox Church in America (OCA); the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada (UOCC); the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP); and the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. Yars Balan, Yaroslaw Lozowchuk, Peter Kondra and many others comprised the symposium’s organizing committee, which was supported by Patriarch Bartholomew (EP) and Metropolitan Yurij (UOCC).

Recently, Archpriest Andriy Dudchenko (UOC-MP) and Deacon Paul Gavrilyuk (OCA) published comprehensive review essays in Russian of the symposium’s themes, lectures, and events. In an attempt to avoid repeating their superlative contributions, I will briefly summarize the symposium and conclude with a reflection on its potential for contributing to Church unity in Ukraine.

Following the academic tradition, this symposium featured several panels consisting of lectures and responses on core issues in the Ukrainian Orthodox milieu. The schedule symbolized the organizers’ strong sense of urgency in attempting to address multiple issues of concern, including, but not limited to: identifying and establishing the unique Kyivan theological tradition; exploring problems in the historiography of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; assessing pastoral care and academic contributions through post-Soviet and post-colonial lenses; renewing ministry and cultivating holy life in the postmodern environment; and examining questions of identity and tradition in the process of proclaiming autocephaly. A number of contemporary issues emerged prominently from the overarching symposium topics, including the relationship between ideology and faith and interpreting religion on the Maidan (Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun), interpreting colliding ideologies and national identities in historical figures such as Georges Florovsky and Vladimir Lossky (Deacons Paul Gavrilyuk and Roman Zaviyskyy), and imparting ministry to multinational constituencies in the Church (Archpriests Mykola Danylevich and Andriy Dudchenko). 

The academic panels and round tables elicited animated dialogue among the panelists and audience members, a positive outcome demonstrating the strong interest in deepening understanding of the contemporary situation which stretched the limits of keeping up with the symposium’s tight schedule. Notable here is the multivalent characteristic of the gathering: an atmosphere of cordial dialogue prevailed among all participants, despite the obvious dividing lines symbolizing each participant’s native ecclesial tradition. Not only did participants engage in respectful exchanges in the academic sessions, but the symposium included common prayer with an opening molieben, morning prayers, akathists, evening prayers, and a Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. All of the bishops present, namely Metropolitan Yurij (UOCC), Bishop Hilarion (UOCC), Bishop Andrij (UOCC), Archbishop Yevstratiy (UOC-KP), and Archbishop Ihor (UAOC) were present for all sessions, prayers, and meals. Typically, reports following symposia feature the academic panels and their theses; equally important are the informal conversations occurring in between sessions, at meals, and in the early mornings and late evenings. Such meetings create networks, produce alliances, promote research collaboration, smooth over difficult issues, and result in the publication of essays, articles, and books which inform the academy and have the capacity to impact the Church positively. These informal moments in Toronto were marked by a spirit of collegiality and a genuine desire for reconciliation and understanding, despite the obvious dividing lines between ecclesial jurisdictions.

It is impossible to review each and every contribution at a symposium featuring twenty panelists, so any omissions from this section do not represent deficient quality. Instead, omissions reflect my limited capacity for retaining a micro-level outline of the symposium’s output. I was particularly struck by three thematic threads of the panels: problems in the historiography of Orthodoxy in Ukraine; reconciling constituencies impacted by fissures caused by competing ideologies which permeate the Church; and deliberating a course of action for adopting innovative pastoral ministries that address contemporary Church issues.

Dr. Heather Coleman’s presentation on life in the Kyiv Diocese of the nineteenth century manifested diverse traditions within the Synodal Church of the imperial era and the resilience of Kyivan clergy in defending and sustaining their practices when challenged. Coleman’s ethnographic study illustrated the historical tensions experienced by Kyivan clergy and her results were complemented by Professor Volodymyr Buhera’s examination of the Kyivan Metropolia before and after its annexation to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686. Dr. Irina Predlovska’s scrupulous presentation on Ukrainian Orthodox identity in the documents of the first Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (established in 1921 and liquidated around 1936) magnified a pattern of conflict with the Russian and Soviet states, and the Synodal and Patriarchal churches. This pattern continues to shape the contemporary Church scene, and one of the crucial steps towards ending the pattern of deepening division and establishing unity is committing to deepening one’s understanding of history. But it is possible to fully comprehend one’s own history only if one takes the initiative in writing that history, a refrain echoed in Gavrilyuk’s recommendations for articulating an authentic Kyivan theological tradition.

The historical element is crucial for taking the next steps in restoring order and unity among Ukrainian Orthodox communities, especially since the centennial anniversary of the proclamation of autocephaly in 1921 approaches. The descendants of Orthodox Ukrainians who found the autocephalous church led by Metropolitan Vasily Lypkivsky to be a breath of fresh air were frequently marginalized, maligned, and dismissed as “uncanonical” by fellow Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and the diaspora. For reconciliation among Orthodox Ukrainians to become a reality, Ukrainians must be willing to come to terms with the entirety of their history. The presentations and challenges offered by the panelists specializing in history illustrate the contribution the academy can make to promote understanding one’s of own history.

Much discussion was devoted to the question of ideology and identity in the Churches, particularly in the post-Maidan environment.  Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun underscored the Maidan as a phenomenon where the public square becomes the Church. His reports on the interdenominational Christian unity which became reality on the Maidan—with Orthodox, Catholics, Baptists, and other Reformed Christians casting aside ecclesial borders to share fervent prayer—illuminated the capacity of the Church to serve society and promote unity in Christ as the preferred alternative to fusing ethnic identity with denominational affiliation. The papers by Archpriest Andriy Dudchenko and Archpriest Mykola Danylevich attended to macro- and micro-level challenges identity poses to pastors, especially as parishioners with opposing views on the political situation in Ukraine assemble to worship God at the same altar. Furthermore, establishing identity through language can be misleading, since numerous Russian-speaking Orthodox identify themselves as Ukrainian. The sophisticated lectures were complemented by an impassioned plea by Archbishop Yevstratiy of the UOC-KP. His remarks focused on global Orthodoxy’s perceptions of the UOC-KP’s canonical legitimacy and illegitimacy. Archbishop Yevstratiy also discussed the role of the Church in the Maidan, referring to the UOC-KP’s active participation in providing shelter and converting a church of St. Michael’s Monastery into a temporary medical clinic for the wounded. Towards the conclusion of his lecture, he offered a simple yet profoundly meaningful question: when the Church responds to a societal crisis by doing everything she can to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, and still encourage its constituencies to love their enemies, how is it possible to dialogue with other Orthodox who remain faithful to the refrain that the UOC-KP is uncanonical and illegitimate? How does a pastor explain such opposite descriptions of identity to one’s own people? Archbishop Yevstratiy’s remarks directed the attention of the audience to the real and destructive impact the competing Orthodox ideologies are having on Orthodox faithful and the general public. My own perception was that the audience received his impassioned question offered in light of the complicated demographic realities in Ukraine, with a spirit of gravitas, which increased a sense of urgency in charting a course of action.

Deacon Nicholas Denysenko is assistant professor of Theological Studies and Director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is deacon at St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Tarzana, California (OCA). Denysenko presented two papers at the 2014 symposium in Toronto.


By Deacon Nicholas Denysenko