Public expressions of piety at civic events may tell us something about a culture, but they rarely disclose geopolitical ambitions or strategic designs. One exception to that general rule of religion and public life took place this past February, in Kiev, capital of Ukraine—an exercise in hardball politics under the veil of public piety that was, in fact, a harbinger of danger for religious freedom, for Ukrainian democracy, and for the future of Europe (sounds ominous).The original essay may be found here.
Prior to Ukraine’s two previous presidential inaugurations, an ecumenical and interreligious prayer service had been held at the Church of Holy Wisdom in the Ukrainian capital, with all confessional leaders invited to participate and pray for the country and its about-to-be-inaugurated leader (does "all" include schismatic Orthodox sects?). In a country as fractious as Ukraine, with an underdeveloped political culture and little experience of the tolerance essential to democratic civil society, these two prayer services were important indicators of a national intention to build a political community in which Ukrainians of all ethnic and religious persuasions would have a place in the public square. Indeed, Ukrainians of all parties seemed sufficiently impressed with what the pre-inaugural prayer service symbolized for their future that provisions for such an ecumenical and interreligious service were legally codified , in a presidential decree, as an integral part of presidential inaugurations. (How does one legally codify something like this? Does this make ecumenism a sort of state religion in Ukraine? Does it take into consideration the problems many Orthodox have with the modern concept and practice of ecumenism, especially as it is understood in the West?)
That protocol was ignored in February at the inauguration of President Viktor Yanukovych. There was no ecumenical and interreligious service at the Church of Holy Wisdom (OH! The horror!). Rather, at Yanukovych’s invitation, pre-inaugural prayers were offered at Kiev’s Monastery of the Caves by Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. No other religious leader was invited to participate. (I am not seeing a major problem so far. Yanukovych is Orthodox. Patriarch Kyril is the head of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine. Contrary to the modern and near universal custom in the Christian West having "ecumenical " prayer services in Orthodox temples and monasteries is generally frowned upon. I suspect that a great deal of this is a consequence of Mr. Weigel's confusion about Orthodox ecclesiology. Of which more shortly...)
For that matter, no religious leaders other than those affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate—one of three contending Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine (As I suspected... Mr. Weigel needs to brush up on his ecclesiology and reacquaint himself with the definition of the term "schismatic." There are not "three" contending Orthodox jurisdictions. There is one, and two schismatic sects that are not recognized by ANY canonical Orthodox churches.)—have been invited to meet with President Yanukovych since he assumed power. The UOC–MP is, for all intents and purposes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, which means, in effect, that the principal interlocutor of the Ukrainian government on religious affairs is not a Ukrainian, but a Russian: Patriarch Kirill. (And your point is? The principal interlocutor on matters religious in Italy is a German.)
Those who detect in these maneuvers echoes of the geopolitical aspirations of Vladimir Putin, prime minister of Russia and the true center of power in that country, cannot be accused of paranoid speculation . (Cue the Imperial March theme heard whenever Darth Vader made his appearances in Star Wars.) Putin has long made it clear that he is determined to restore Russian influence—and possibly Russian control—over the old “near abroad,” including Belarus, Moldova, the post-Soviet states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and, of course, Ukraine. (There is a fair sized grain of truth here. Russia has long asserted that Ukraine among other former parts of the Russian Empire and later the USSR fall within Moscow's sphere of influence.)
That this intention, fulfilled, would have serious consequences for the nascent democracies of the former Soviet Union should be obvious, as should the geopolitical and strategic consequences for the West—although what seems obvious to others is often not-so-obvious to the present American administration. (We are now veering into the purely political, which for the sake of staying on track I am going to avoid commenting on.) Be that as it may, the Russian Orthodox Church is making a tacit claim to spiritual jurisdiction in Ukraine; that claim threatens both religious freedom and the ecumenical future. (The Russian Church's claims are not tacit. They are explicit. Further they are fully backed by the canon law of the Orthodox Church and are further supported by all of the autocephalous Orthodox churches. I see no relavence to the subject of ecumenism since the Russian Church's claims in no way impact non-Orthodox entities.)
This tangled web of history, ethnicity, and theology is one of the world’s most striking examples of an intersection of religion and public life with real, on-the-ground consequences. (Can we say hyperbole?)
The Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, Byzantine in liturgy and polity but in full communion with Rome since the 1596 Union of Brest, was the repository of Ukrainian national identity and aspiration throughout the Soviet period. (This is just plain outright rubbish.) Knowing this, Stalin used his control over the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow to attempt a canonical liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine. (Actually Stalin's move against the UGCC had nothing whatever to do with Ukrainian nationalism. It had to do with suppressing a church controlled by an outside entity, in this case the Vatican, that he could not manipulate.) In the so-called L’viv Sobor of 1946, “representatives” of the Greek Catholic Church (under the watchful eye of the secret police) dissolved the Union of Brest and placed themselves under the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
Those who accepted the L’viv Sobor became Russian Orthodox. Those who did not became members of the largest illegal religious body in the world. From 1946 until 1991, the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine lived underground: clandestinely worshipping in the woods, clandestinely training and ordaining clergy, with most of its hierarchy dying martyrs’ death in the camps of the Gulag or by outright execution.
(OK. This is a fair point and one that deserves some discussion. The suppression of the UGCC was certainly a violent and evil act that was undoubtedly done against the will of the vast majority of its faithful. I think however that care needs to be exercised in imputing willing collaboration on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The UGCC's history is undoubtedly a painful one and they have their share of heroic martyrs. But the history of the Russian Church during the reign of Stalin is the history of the bloodiest persecution in the history of Christendom, period. Every singly bishop in 1918 died a martyr, either in the camps or by outright murder. By 1940 more than 90% of the clergy and monastics were martyred. In short, the Russian Orthodox Church was crucified and nearly obliterated by the Communists. When Mr. Weigel speaks of the Russian Orthodox at L’viv, he is referring to agents of the NKVD dressed in byzantine vestments. For the most part, the real Orthodox Church in Russia in 1947 was deep underground, either in the thousands of mass graves which even today are still being discovered throughout Russia, or in the modern catacombs praying and waiting for their turn to wear the martyr's crown.)
One of the crucial figures in the modern life of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Cardinal Iosyf Slipyi, spent almost two decades in the Gulag before being released to Pope John XXIII in 1963 (and becoming the model for the Ukrainian pope in Morris West’s novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman). In his Roman exile, Slipyi worked to sustain the life of the Greek Catholic Church within the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, not least by recreating in Rome the L’viv Theological Academy. The academy had been banned in Soviet Ukraine, but Slipyi imagined it as the seed from which might eventually grow the Ukrainian Catholic University that was one of the great dreams of his noble predecessor, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptyts’kyi. (The university would indeed be born in L’viv in the aftermath of the Soviet crack-up of 1991, and is now the only Catholic institution of higher education in the former Soviet Union.)
Pope John Paul II admired and protected Slipyi, despite frequent and sometimes volatile tensions caused, on the one hand, by the Ukrainian prelate’s tenacity and determination, and on the other by the conviction of the Vatican’s diplomats and ecumenists that Rome principal interests ad orientem lay in a rapprochement with Russian Orthodoxy, largest of the Orthodox communions. The latter did not, of course, acknowledge that Slipyi’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church existed; the Greek Catholics, for their part, not infrequently denounced what they regarded as a naive and potentially dangerous Vatican dialogue with Russian Orthodox leaders who were tools of the KGB.
The choice of Lubomyr Husar as major archbishop of L’viv and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in January 2001, and his elevation to the cardinalate a month later, meant that two men of high intelligence and considerable political sophistication—Husar and Karol Wojtyla—were now the senior figures in the dialogue between Rome and Ukraine, and positive results were not long in coming. John Paul II’s June 2001 pilgrimage to Kiev and L’viv was a triumph for both the Pope and for Ukraine (a matter of opinion): a visit respectfully and, in some cases, enthusiastically received by those parts of Ukrainian Orthodoxy not allied with the Moscow patriarchate. (Again Mr. Weigel seems determined to grant recognition to schismatic sects not recognized by the Orthodox Church. I wonder how he would feel if Orthodox Christians started recognizing as legitimate various so called "Old Catholic" or "Traditionalist Catholic" sects not in communion with Rome?)
Throughout the pilgrimage, John Paul, speaking fluent Ukrainian, lifted up a compelling vision of the Ukraine of the future: an independent country living out its distinctive cultural and linguistic reality while integrating itself into Europe, its various Christian communities working together to rebuild a shattered civil society and to carry out the Christian missions of education and charity. The only churlish comments on the pope’s Ukrainian visit came, predictably, from the Patriarchate of Moscow and its Ukrainian adherents. (The implication being that Moscow is the interloper in a country that is historically Orthodox and falls within the canonical territory of the Russian Church?)
Under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, those golden days now seem rather distant. The flourishing Ukrainian Catholic University, led by Father Borys Gudziak (a Ukrainian–American priest with a Harvard doctorate in history), continues to be one of the most impressive educational institutions in the lands of the former Soviet Union, drawing support from all responsible sectors of Ukrainian society. Its students played a not-insignificant role in the 2005 Orange Revolution that reversed Viktor Yanokovych’s fraudulent victory in Ukraine’s previous presidential election. But Fr. Gudziak now believes himself to be under regular surveillance by the SBU, the successor to the Ukrainian KGB, and was recently visited by an SBU officer for a lengthy conversation redolent of old KGB recruitment and intimidation tactics (see this document for Gudziak’s memorandum on the encounter.) As Edward Lucas of the Economist suggested while posting lengthy excerpts of the Gudziak memorandum, “it is a good thought experiment to ask oneself in which European countries this sort of thing would be inconceivable, in which it would be possible but outrageous, and it which it would be all too likely.” (Although this once again is veering into the realm of secular politics, I will concede it's a fair point. Secret Police forces and other forms of internal coercion are not conducive to a democratic form of government.)
The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has been working hard to create a new image of itself in the West. (Maybe I am being overly sensitive after reading as much as I have. But this sounds frankly rather condescending.) Patriarch Kirill’s successor as the Church’s chief of “external affairs” (the patriarchate’s curious name for ecumenism), Metropolitan Hilarion, has spoken publicly of the Russian Orthodox Church’s need for deep internal reform, and Hilarion was recently in Rome for several days, participating in Vatican events highlighting the glories (and they are many) of Russian Orthodox culture. Russian Orthodox leaders have spoken of the possibility of a papal visit to Russia—a courtesy they cruelly and obstinately refused to extend to John Paul II.
Under other circumstances, these might be regarded as welcome signs of a new realism in Russian Orthodoxy about its need for both internal renewal and for a genuine ecumenical engagement with the Catholic Church. (I find it curious that Catholics of late have been so concerned with "internal renewal" on the part of the Orthodox Church. Would this be the sort of renewal Rome embarked upon in the 1960's? As for the "genuine ecumenical engagement," what does he think has been going on for the last forty plus years? If it wasn't a "genuine ecumenical engagement" I would be curious how Rome defines such. I have my suspicions of course. File this under things that make you go HMMMM. )
But then one comes back to the image of Patriarch Kirill, alone, come from Moscow to Kiev to bless President Yanukovych’s inauguration.
Kirill is far too intelligent and sophisticated to think that such an act could be passed off as simply a pastoral response to an innocuous invitation.
Given contemporary recent Ukrainian history, the internal tensions between Ukrainian citizens who remember fondly the old Russophone Soviet order and those determined to forge a new, democratic, path, as well as Putin’s Great Russian revanchism, Kirill’s presence at Yanukovych’s inauguration, and the Yanukovych administration’s freezing-out of religious communities other than the Orthodox allied with Moscow, could indicate that the Patriarchate of Moscow is prepared to work in tandem with, or at least parallel to, the Russian state in order to diminish, eviscerate, or even end Ukrainian independence. (Maybe and maybe not. I suspect it has much less to do with kowtowing to Putin than sending a message to the schismatics that there is only ONE Orthodox church in Ukraine.)
If that is not the case, it would be helpful if the Patriarchate of Moscow would publicly affirm the legitimacy of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and foreswear any intention to involve itself in internal Ukrainian political affairs. (I do concur that the MP should repudiate the false union of 1947. That they have not done so is frankly a bit embarrassing. That said I also think it would be helpful if Roman Catholics refrained from sticking their noses into the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church by implying the canonical legitimacy of schismatic bodies. It would also be helpful if they stopped trying to act like the Catholic Church was the spiritual guardian of a country that has been overwhelmingly Orthodox since the tenth century. If you are going to make snide comments about the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church it would perhaps be best to first get a handle on our, admittedly often messy, canon law and ecclesiology.)
A quiet nudge toward that statement and that posture from the diplomatic and ecumenical leadership of the Holy See might be helpful. Meanwhile, those who admire what has been built out of the rubble of Soviet totalitarianism in Ukraine will want to do whatever they can publicly to support Fr. Gudziak, the Ukrainian Catholic University, the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, and others in the Ukrainian Christian community who have been laboring to build an ecumenical and religious civil society capable of sustaining Ukrainian democracy. (I wonder why the word "ecumenical" seems to garner more reverent usage in this article than either the terms "Catholic" or "Orthodox?")
Those men and women, and the Ukrainian democratic project, are in danger.
A passing thought... If somehow communion were to be magically restored, into whose canonical territory does Rome think the Ukraine would fall?
NOTE: This post has been slightly edited to correct my initial and mistaken belief that Mr. Weigel was a Roman Catholic priest and also fix a few typos and such. No substantive changes have been made.
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