VOX POPULI 2013: Last Year’s Personalities and Events

03.02.2014, 16:31
The past year brought such significant and even historic events as the election of a new pope, the celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the consecration of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and more. RISU asked its readers, experts in religion, theology, journalism, politics, and public figures about who and what stood out to them from the previous year.

The year 2013 was controversial not only in religious life, but also in the sociopolitical sphere. The past year brought such significant and even historic events as the election of a new pope, the celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the consecration of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and more. RISU asked its readers, experts in religion, theology, journalism, politics, and public figures about who and what stood out to them from the previous year.

Our poll cannot be considered a complete sociological survey, as it did not meet all the necessary standards. But we tried to interview people of different religious beliefs, from different social groups. After all, our readers are diverse, and it is evident in the results of the vote.

Our survey consisted of four categories:

  1. A pastor (cleric, priest, Ukrainian or foreign, who distinguished himself)
  2. A lay person (a secular person who distinguished himself)
  3. The most positive religious event
  4. The most negative religious event

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The undisputed leader of the first category, “Pastor of the Year,” according to experts and readers is Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, former head of the UGCC. Most people chose him because he managed to unite representatives of different faiths and expressed very relevant and wise proposals, and led the clergy down a difficult road.

Experts believe:

  • “For me, the pastor of 2013 is Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, because he is the only one who commented on the events on Maidan, wisely using his own trustworthiness. This is a good example of religious rhetoric, which does not embody hostility”;
  • He is an example of spiritual values ​​and a true leader of the whole church. Respondents also believe that His Beatitude Lubomyr has deep insight into all the latest events and interprets them so they are understandable to all;
  • “He has a very clear unifying rhetoric that is accepted in church circles of different faiths. This is the person whose view and breadth of understanding of a problem unites the denominations and the Ukrainian society as a whole – the main person in the nation’s conscience.”

He is followed by Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate.

“He is really a spiritual person, he loves the Ukrainian people,” “He does not submit to Yanukovych,”  “He showed his European integration, political, and peacemaking position” – these are some examples of how Patriarch Filaret was described by our readers and experts.

Not far behind them were Metropolitan Volodymyr, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, and Patriarch Sviatoslav, head of the UGCC.

The head of the Greek Catholics was noted for the fact that he became more actively engaged in ecumenism and, according to respondents, did much for the development of the church. “Compared to the Orthodox and Protestant leaders, he wisely and carefully approaches church-state relations, builds good relations with other denominations, while continuing democratic theology,” respondents said about Bishop Sviatoslav.

Experts were impressed by Metropolitan Volodymyr because he managed to keep the church from dividing and because he had a balanced approach to the sociopolitical situation in the country. According to them, he remains influential, despite his deteriorating health. “Although he is seriously ill, he still has great influence over Ukraine and the church community, a lot depends on him and he managed to mitigate the situation last year, maybe better than anyone else.”

Some experts believe that these two figures are on par: “His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk now unites his church throughout the world, he successfully and actively protects the interests of both the hierarchy and ordinary laymen. And Metropolitan Volodymyr has managed to support the church in difficult times, and to act as a peacemaker in the light of recent events.”

In addition, other clergymen who had a big impact in 2013 were Pope Francis (“the only top Christian who interprets the Gospel seriously, i.e., not as symbols and metaphors, but as a guide to action”), Roman Catholic Bishop Markiyan Trofymiak, UGCC bishops Venedykt Aleksiychuk and Borys Gudziak, and an Orthodox priest from Kharkiv Fr. Viktor Marynchak.

A special category includes priests who distinguished themselves on Maidan. Among those who were mentioned individually were Protestant bishop and pastor of the "New Life" Church Anatoly Kalyuzhnyi (as a citizen and as a pastor, he may be the only pastor in his age range who was very active on Maidan and initiated the installation of a prayer tent); Pastor Ralph Huska (who attempted to stop the confrontation between protesters and Berkut); the cleric who began to ring the bells of St. Michael's Cathedral during the crackdown on Maidan; active Maidan pastor Fr. Vasyl Rudeyko; and AutoMaidan supporter Fr. Mykhailo Dymyd.

The category “Lay Person of 2013” was the most controversial. Many of the respondents could not even think of а person who should deserve such a title. We can say that the winners are EuroMaidan participants, for the individuals who were most mentioned were noted for inspiring and supporting EuroMaidan. Interestingly, among the most commonly mentioned were cultural figures: Ruslana (the one mentioned the most), leader of the band Okean Elzy Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, and writer and journalist Yuriy Vynnychuk.

Ruslana is remembered for her extraordinary and dedicated activity on Maidan, when many a night her songs and dances warmed activists, and her calls to prayer calmed mothers during the nights of assaults. “An important role in shaping the moral and spiritual image of Maidan was played by singer Ruslana. She has taught thousands of people to sing the anthem of Ukraine, after which people were ready to pray, become more responsible, reverent,” say the experts.

Another active lay person, inspirer of social activity of the church, is vice rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University Myroslav Marynovych. Survey participants also mentioned theologian Yuriy Chornomorets (“extremely candid in addressing the problems of the church, is not afraid to point out problems that have consequences”); leader of the movement Prayer for Orphans and civic activist Ruslan Maliuta; religious studies expert Lyudmyla Fylypovych; activist from the Democratic Alliance Vasyl Hatsko; MP Lilia Hrynevych; executive director of the Union of Christian Students Denys Horenkov; and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy.

Concerning the question of the most positive event in Ukraine’s religious life, the most significant development was by far Maidan. It should be stressed that it was referred to with both positive and negative connotations. Among other significant events that were mentioned were the election of Pope Francis, the celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, and the consecration of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the UGCC in Kyiv.

Here's what the experts say about Maidan:

  • “The most positive development was the churches’ support of the protesters on Maidan, in particular the responses of the UOC-KP, the UGCC, and the Lutherans. This is essentially a proclamation of public Christianity, which is what the coming year can be called – the social Gospel or catechesis. This is the litmus paper that shows the results of important public events. In the words of Kyrylo Hovorun: ‘We are the witnesses of the emergence of social Christianity in Ukraine, which was the main achievement of the past year’”;
  • “For the first time, hundreds of thousands of people every day pray to God with clergy of various denominations. It was a unique chance for spiritual renewal, and it was introduced into the lives of many people”;
  • “In the critical and dramatic days of November-December 2013, leaders of churches and religious organizations, standing on EuroMaidan together with their parishioners, called for prayers, non-violence, love, and tolerance. The first time in independent Ukraine the church united the citizens of Ukraine, and on EuroMaidan no one asked who belonged to what denomination…”

Thus the main good feature of the general public movement was the fact that on Maidan people began to pray, serve, help people, and rethink the tenets of faith, and thus the Maidan managed to bring together not only representatives of different denominations but also of different religions. The issue of joint support of the European integration course for the country by the AUCCRO was an offshoot of the Maidan, which was also noted.

The second most mentioned positive event was the election of Pope Francis, which was called a historic event. According to experts, his speeches and actions have changed a lot in the religious world.

The third event was the consecration of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the UGCC in Kyiv, followed by the celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus, which also had a considerable impact on the past year. Among other events that had particularly positive effects were Yanukovych’s recognition of Muslim tolerance, the first Baptist Ukrainian Missionary Forum in the capital, and the launch of the channel Nadiya.

Negative events were more difficult to assess, but the main focus was on various conflicts. Here again most attention was drawn to the fate of Maidan, to which the clergy of various denominations responded differently. Some of the problems of Maidan mentioned by the respondents were the inhibited reaction of some churches (or refusal to respond in any way), conflicts concerning Maidan in the religious communities, attempts and methods of its dispersal, and so forth.

  • “The most negative event was the activation of the anti-European, anti-democratic church lobby, which split the people and the church, the isolation of Ukrainian Christianity and its subsequent subjugation to Russian influence”;
  • “Tensions between evangelical churches as a result of political discussions provoked by Maidan";
  • “The division of churches due to different political preferences, the influence of Maidan. The start of enmity between believers, which sank to the level of either you're with us or you’re against us”;
  • “The fact that the churches distance themselves from the developments in society, waiting when EuroMaidan was just picking up, although it is an important event that requires a response from the society and the churches, which should proclaim a clear position. Some are putting off giving a reply, not wanting to confuse spiritual with social or political issues, but the church has to remain spiritual for the simple reason to be able to call a spade a spade”;
  • “The fact that priests and the laity are not actively involved or are not taking a strong stance either way,” “statements of Met. Ahafangel and Archpriest Novikov concerning the Maidan,” “one-sided participation of the clergy in the Maidan” – our readers and experts consider these to be some of the most negative developments in 2013.

No less of a problem, according to the respondents, was the insensitivity of the government and state leaders, especially toward the appeals of the religious leaders. “The negative aspects were the deterioration of the dialogue between church and state, the lack of a response to the AUCCRO appeals, the rejection of bills that would allow religious organizations to open schools, the rejection of chaplaincy in the military. A lot of promises were made for the celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of the Baptism but they weren’t kept. Not all the initiatives received support, the state has not moved from declarations to action,” experts say.

Our readers are concerned about emphasis on material values among the clergy of various denominations and the financial scandal surrounding Kyiv Orthodox nuns.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s policy toward Ukraine and Patriarch Kirill’s frequent visits to Ukraine were seen as negative, in particular, the continuing conflict between the UOC-MP and UOC-KP in the field of state-neighbor policy, and uncertainty in assessing the merits of the Russian World concept. The closure of a hospital for HIV-infected patients near the Lavra and passing the facilities to the UOC-MP, to whom they did not belong, was also condemned.

The activity of Dognal’s Group was considered a negative development by many respondents. Dognal’s Group, as it turned out, even though it is not legally recognized, has influence over the higher authorities of Ukraine and openly calls on Russia to bring in their troops to Ukraine.

Another aspect that has caused concern was the burning of mosques and churches in Crimea, the lack of reaction of the churches to the events in Vradiyivka, Mykolayiv region, the anti-European lobby in some religious communities, and more.

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So, the year 2013 was very controversial and eventful. But the trend continues in 2014, and no doubt it will be equally important for the religious life of the country, adding new changes and prospects for development.