2016: Our Ukrainian Churches at a time of war in Ukraine

Wednesday, 25 January 2017, 12:36
The year 2016 for Ukrainian Churches was a busy one, and complicated by the ongoing war being waged by Russia. But there were notable accomplishments and attempts at healing spiritual disunity – not only between the Catholics and the Orthodox – but also between the meddling of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) via the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and the divisions that have fractured the other Orthodox Churches in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC).

The ROC and its affiliated UOC-MP announced in January the establishment of a new staff in the synod department of external church affairs to blacken the reputation of the UOC-KP, to block the Ecumenical Patriarchate from recognizing the Kyiv Church as canonical and to destabilize religious conditions across Ukraine. This move was seen by many experts as part of the hybrid war that Russia is waging against Ukraine and the West. This was the latest attempt using religious groups in Ukraine in filing complaints with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe of religious intolerance in Ukraine and giving Moscow a degree of deniability.  Many of these “religious groups” are fronts for Russian Security Services (FSB) operations.

Pope Francis, in his annual New Year’s meeting with heads of diplomatic missions of foreign states and international organizations accredited to the Holy See, met with Ambassador Tetiana Izhevska of Ukraine. In his address on that day, January 11, the pope commented on the situation in Ukraine, urging an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and encouraged increased support from the international community, individual countries and humanitarian organizations. Pope Francis assured the ambassador that he would “never forsake Ukraine.”

Prior to the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church on February 12 in Havana, Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church on February 5 issued a statement urging the pope to use caution and not be used for propaganda purposes by Moscow. The Ukrainian Catholic archbishop-major expressed hope that the meeting would change the rhetoric on the part of the radicals within the ROC and that Pope Francis would serve as a voice for the Ukrainian people.

The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies also issued a statement on February 5, regarding the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and the Russian patriarch. The institute saw the meeting as a chance for the pope to advocate for Ukraine’s concerns amid the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Kremlin’s actions against Ukraine.

Following the meeting between the pope and the Russian patriarch, Patriarch Sviatoslav gave an interview that was published by the Communications Office of the Philadelphia Archeparchy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Patriarch Sviatoslav observed that Pope Francis and the Russian Patriarch had “existed in two parallel worlds” and that parallel lines, according to rules of mathematics, do not intersect. The ROC saw the meeting as a political showpiece, while the pope demonstrated humility in a genuine dialogue. The Joint Declaration – a socio-political document rather than theological – that was signed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill was prepared by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of the ROC and Cardinal Kurt Koch from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Department of External Affairs of the ROC had drafted certain aspects of the signed statement, and Patriarch Sviatoslav, as a member of the Pontifical Council, was not invited to provide input. The Ukrainian Patriarch was hopeful of the document as it did promote the rights of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) as a subject of inter-Church relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. However, the document cited “ecclesial communities” rather than the UGCC. Commentary on the Russian-led invasion of Ukraine and Crimea had soft language in the document and failed to recognize the ROC’s role in support of the ongoing invasion. The actions of Pope Francis, the patriarch noted, was disappointing, but he reminded the faithful that we must not lose faith in the hope of God’s promise.

The Weekly’s editorial of February 21 commented on the meeting by pointing out that the ROC used it to enhance Patriarch Kirill’s image and supposed global influence prior to the Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church to be held in Crete in June. Paragraph 27 of the declaration was also insulting to Ukrainians, as it gave the “canonical” Moscow Patriarchate churches precedence over other Orthodox Churches in Ukraine.

Commentaries on the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill were also provided by the Rev. Dr. Andriy Chirovsky and Bishop Borys Gudziak.

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, led by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, who was joined by members of the Church’s Permanent Synod, met with Pope Francis in Rome on March 5. The delegation met with the pope and high representatives of the Holy See to inform them about the ongoing invasion and hybrid war in Ukraine. A statement was released by Patriarch Sviatoslav, noting, “the holy father has heard us… Pope Francis made it clear that he would act.” The meeting was also a re-affirmation of relations between Kyiv and the Vatican on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The Catholic Bishops of Ukraine during their synod issued an appeal on March 6 to the government of Ukraine to fulfill its duty before the people of Ukraine. The sacrifices of blood on the Maidan and on the battlefront should be enough of a motivator to oust corruption from the halls of power. The bishops also called on the people of Ukraine to hold their elected officials accountable and to not lose hope in the face of a desperate situation.

In Canada, month-long field work during June in eastern and southeastern Saskatchewan documenting Ukrainian churches and their contents was a treasure trove for Prof. Natalie Kononenko’s “Sanctuary: the Spiritual Heritage Documentation Project.” Since then, she has documented nearly 600 Ukrainian Canadian churches in digital format. The materials include audio and visual records and are housed at the University of Alberta in Edmonton library as part of the Peel’s Prairie Province collection. Founded in 2009, the Sanctuary Project is affiliated with the Research Program on Religion and Culture at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta.

Thousands of faithful gathered at the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. in South Bound Brook, N.J., on May 7-8 to commemorate those buried at St. Andrew Cemetery. Bishop Daniel (now archbishop-elect), president of the Consistory of the UOC-U.S.A., celebrated divine liturgy on Saturday morning, and Metropolitan Antony led divine liturgy on Sunday morning. During the weekend, pilgrims toured the grounds, prayed at gravesites, as well as at the monument honoring Ukrainian American veterans, and celebrated fellowship at the St. Sophia Theological Seminary, which hosted a picnic and an ice cream social. The Ukrainian Cultural Center hosted various vendors who showcased Ukrainian books, religious items, music, and other goods and services.

A religious procession to mark the 1,028th anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus’ into Christianity was organized by the UOC-MP. The nearly 9,000 people had marched – from Pochaiv Monastery, near Ternopil, in the west, and from Svitohirsk Monastery in the east, near Sloviansk – into Kyiv on July 27 under tight security and gathered at St. Volodymyr Hill. The event was promoted by Patriarch Kirill of the ROC, while Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP said the procession aimed “to use a church guise to incite unrest, to destabilize Ukrainian society and to set one Church against another.”

The participants who came from the east of Ukraine were greeted on the outskirts of Broyspil near Kyiv on July 25 by 150 Ukrainian veterans of the war in the east and some nationalists who called the marchers, some of whom wore the St. George ribbon of Russia, “agents of Moscow.” Archbishop Yevstratiy of the UOC-KP explained to Espresso TV that he saw the procession as a propaganda display to show broad support for the Russian World (Russkiy Mir) view, using the Russian Orthodox Church as an agent of Kremlin policy.

The Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) announced its plans for the construction of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Center and the Metropoltian Andrey Library, located on the campus grounds in Lviv. The library is based on the learning commons principle that has been implemented in the West, whereby the library functions as more than simply a book repository, but is a place of free learning and exchange of ideas. It was designed by German architect Stefan Behnisch, whose designs can be seen at the Alston Campus at Harvard University. Mr. Behnisch was assisted by Yulian Chaplynskyi, the city architect of Lviv, who adapted the design to conform to building codes in Ukraine. American architect of Ukrainian descent Ivan Bereznicki, who is UCU’s main architectural advisor, was also enlisted in the building project. The library received major funding from the Temerty Family Foundation. The library is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.

Adjacent to the library is the University Church of the Holy Wisdom of God, which was consecrated by Patriarch Sviatoslav in concelebration with bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Synod on September 11 in Lviv. The church contains two other churches on a lower tier – the Church of St. Clement, Pope of Rome, and the Church of the Lord’s Grave – both representing various stages of Christianity from its early formation. The Church of the Lord’s Grave is a place for private prayer. The bells of the church – named in honor of St. Pope John Paul II, Patriarch Josyf Slipyj and Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky – were blessed prior to the consecration of the new church. The church also will have designated areas for its pastoral center for discussions, meetings and interactions – with hopes of attracting visitors from the city of Lviv. Patriarch Sviatoslav called the church the university’s most important “classroom” from which great wisdom can be attained. As part of the celebrations, an evening featured art discussions, as well as a theatrical performances by national artists of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. (UOC-U.S.A.) launched its Strategic Plan during its 21st regular Sobor on October 19-22 in South Bound Brook, N.J., at the Metropolia Center of the Church. Metropolitan Antony outlined the Strategic Plan and underscored its importance for the Church. An attention-grabbing presentation by Bill Marianes outlined goals and areas that the UOC-U.S.A. intends to focus on its work, including administration, clergy, communications, education, family and youth, healthy parishes, outreach and evangelism, stewardship and technology. Among the delegates and clergy were Metropolitan Yurij of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada, Archbishop Jeremiah of South America, and Archbishop-elect Daniel, president of the Consistory of the UOC-U.S.A. and ruling eparch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC-U.S.A. Sobor participants were greeted via a letter from Patriarch Bartholomew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Metropolitan Antony compared the new Strategic Plan to a “renovation” that will renew the UOC-U.S.A.

The election of new officers to the Metropolitan Council, the Audit Commission and the Ecclesiastical Court were announced. The “Great Benefactor” award was presented to Stephen Sivulich, Helen Greenleaf, Michael Heretz, Gayle Woloschak, the Rev. Taras Chubenko and Olga Coffey.  The award is presented only at the Sobor meetings. Following divine liturgy, led by Archbishop Jeremiah, break-out sessions were held for the various goals set forth in the Strategic Plan to enable each participant to get directly involved in the Church’s renewal for the future.

Metropolitan Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Catholic Church led a moleben prayer and memorial service in memory of Bishop Soter Ortynsky, the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop in the United States. The services were held on October 30 at Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, where the bishop’s remains are interred within a crypt. The year 2016 marked the 150th anniversary of Ortynsky’s birth in 1866, and the 125th anniversary of his priestly ordination, as well as the centennial of his death in 1916. The Rev. Dr. Ivan Kacsczak, who recently authored a book about the life of Ortynsky, gave the homily during the service.

Prior to the events in Philadelphia, the Rev. Kaszczak spoke at the Ukrainian-American Citizens Club in Watervliet, N.Y., on October 28. His presentation had focused on brotherhoods and the early formation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States. The event was sponsored by the UACC, the St. Nicholas Brotherhood (commonly called the “bratsvo”) and St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Watervliet. The Rev. Kaszczak is author of several books about the establishment and development of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S., and had edited a new edition of Bohdan P. Procko’s book “Ukrainian Catholics in America: A History,” with new material about the how brotherhoods were instrumental in the growth of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The Ukrainian Catholic University concluded its fund-raising events for 2016 in the U.S.A. that were held under the theme “A New Generation for a New Ukraine.” The Ukrainian Catholic Educational Foundation hosted events in New York (November 6), Chicago (October 30), Philadelphia (October 29), Los Angeles (October 23) and Boston (October 28). In the spring, fund-raiser events were held in West Orange, N.J., on May 15 and in Paris on May 20. Since 2010, UCU’s Comprehensive Campaign – through U.S., Ukrainian, Canadian and European benfectors – has raised $65.5 million. It was noted that through the work of UCU, a new generation through education, research and social work, and the nurturing of a spiritual life, the new leaders of Ukraine will come from places like UCU, where they can cultivate a moral compass. Major speakers during the fund-raisers included Dr. Boris Lushniak, former Finance Minister of Ukraine Natalie Jaresko and Bishop Gudziak, president of UCU.

Patriarch Filaret of the UOC-KP visited the Home Office of the Ukrainian National Association on November 7. During the visit to the UNA’s two publications – Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly – the patriarch was interviewed by Roma Hadzewycz, editor-in-chief of both newspapers, and Lev Khmelkovsky of Svoboda about the role of the UOC-KP in Ukraine. The UOC-MP, he noted, is not on the side of the Ukrainian state and would settle for enslavement instead of a just peace where a person has complete freedom. In Patriarch Filaret’s opinion, had there been one united Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin would not have dared to attack Ukraine. Mr. Putin, he added, has the support from the UOC-MP and other Russian-infiltrated forces in Ukraine. The UOC-MP’s popularity in Ukraine can be attributed to the propaganda campaign by Moscow that paints the Kyiv Patriarchate as schismatic, uncanonical and unworthy. The UOC-KP appealed to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to recognize the autocephaly of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Patriarch Filaret told the editors. The patriarch also noted that he does seek open relations with the clergy of the UOC-MP, as many of them have become priests of the UOC-KP, adding that it is easier to unite with friends than with former enemies. Relations between the UOC-KP and the UOC-U.S.A. have also improved, with the hierarchs of the UOC-U.S.A. appealing to Patriarch Bartholomew to work with the UOC-KP. The UOC-U.S.A. continues to do good work in Ukraine, and the patriarch said that his meeting that day with the Consistory of the UOC-U.S.A. was further proof of those good relations.


TAGS: Ukraine, war, Church

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