His Beatitude Sviatoslav: “How to find yourself”

Thursday, 05 September 2013, 12:25
About God’s wisdom of our predecessors, the Kyiv Christianity worldview and various perceptions of it, the necessity of a spiritual change in Ukrainian society, the role of the blessing of the Patriarchal Cathedral in Kyiv and the path of the further development of UGCC, the directions of the unity of Ukrainian Churches of the Kyiv tradition, challenges of globalization, a search for new approaches in the personal life of a person and an own course of one’s life -- about all this today will speak the UGCC Head His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk).

- The sophistry of Ukrainian Christianity of the princely 9th-13th centuries as a spiritual, religious-philosophical and ethno national phenomenon of our forefathers cannot but help to evoke enthusiasm.  One would like to hear from His Beatitude thoughts on this occasion especially when we look at ancient Ukraine in a worldview and geo-political contexts, considering its position between East and West.

We need to explain in what lays the sophistication of Kyivan Christianity as an understanding of the universe, society, and a person in it.  We do know: everything that God created He created through His Infinite Wisdom and through His, to us incomprehensible, Craft, endowing each    people their specific gifts, vocations, mission and assignment.  Therefore, when we talk about the sophistication of Ukraine’s Christianity of the Princely period, then we are talking about the particular assignment which God placed on this Christian center – Kyiv, which was born as a result of the Baptism of the Equal to the Apostles Prince Volodymyr.

An assignment, in which was laid the potential of the most valuable for humanity in general, when we look at Kyivan Christianity in comparison with that of Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople.  In my opinion the sophistication of the Kyivan era of Christianity of the Princely epoch lay in the fact that it established new civilization foundations as one of the mightiest nations – Kyivan Rus, for the whole territory of Eastern Europe of those times and pointed out the valid orientations of the development of Ukrainian nation for the future.  We see that the Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv became the center wherein our kings and bishops attempted to complete separate assignments and to fulfill their own calling, which they received in Volodymyr’s Baptism when the general Christianization at a state level began.  Undoubtedly, this wisdom laid on the vector of European communities, remaining in itself a bridge between East and West.

I will cite only one telling fact:  it is not by chance that the Christian West considered Volodymyr’s Baptism equally authentic and the royal homes of Catholic Europe and Scandinavia accepted 15 princesses already during the pre-Mongolian period and no one even thought of re-baptizing them.   During our meeting in Halych, I noted that Europe developed itself around its cathedrals that were theological, scholarly, cultural centers which formed the foundation of European civilization.  This was the road also taken by Ukraine.  In this regard, St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv and Uspenska Cathedral in Halych are those earmarked oases of sophistication, around which the identity of the Ukrainian people was formed.

- Tell us about the worldview of Kyivan Christianity. In particular, about the work and actions of the first metropolitans as successors of the Cyril – Methodius tradition on native soil, on which the sophistry aspect has a character of a trusted dialogue between man and God.

- This is not a question which can be thoroughly answered within the realm of a newspaper column.  However, when we are talking about the particular paths or the face of Kyivan Christianity then in front of us there emerge the figures of the Saint Teachers Cyril and Methodius.  Because it is they who served as mobile signposts from Byzantine to Slavic Christianity and finally to the Kyivan one.   The path of cultivating a new culture, planting Christ’s wisdom and the Word of His Gospel into the culture of the Slavs, created a giant civilization breakthrough for our forefathers.

In this regard Ruska Pravda [Rusian Truth], that is, the laws of the ancient Ukrainian state of the times of 

Yaroslav the Wise are perhaps the best example of this plan when the mere list of laws factually presents an authentic affirmation of Christian faith.  As is known, in Russka Pravda there is no death sentence and no castration.  Obviously, it with this key that one should search for the contexts of the trusted dialogue or the relationship between God and man.  When we mention the first Rus Metropolitan Illarion on the Metropolitan’s throne and Prince Yaroslav Mudryi, then we see how from the very start of the Ukrainian state there was concern about one’s own particular road of Kyivan Christianity, thanks to which the Slavic soul and the first understanding of Christ in the light of God’s Mercy bloomed.

This caused a colossal civilized breakthrough in the worldview principles of the Ukrainian people and set the beginning of a new culture,  But there is also one other important factor which I w0uld like to mention.  We know that God is the Creator of history, the sophisticated walk of which emerges not in a chaotic process but as an expression of the Divine Wisdom of His Providence as far as the fate and mission of each country and this or that Church.  And our Church today in particular is the clear expression of the unification of the eastern and western traditions of Christianity and shows us our own mission as followers of Kyivan Christianity and from the other side opens to us the road to our vocation and development in the future.

- “We need a spiritual transformation of society” – in such a manner you voiced the necessity and need of changes and new approaches in the personal life of a contemporary person.

 The Baptism of Ukraine means for each one primarily the following of a certain inner spiritual tradition, taking it on in a personal manner. We know that as a result of the Baptism there occurred a profound change in the society of that time, which began to live according to spiritual laws.  Today, if we approach the celebration of Baptism as merely an external event, then this celebration will bring nothing useful for our souls.  And therefore today we, as never before, really need a deep spiritual transformation of our society.  As during the times of Equal to the Apostles Volodymyr the Great, we need a mighty unifying element which would provide new impulse for the building of unity of our people in current civilization spheres and cultural circumstances. This is especially so, when we see that large amount of negative tendencies which work towards the separation of our people and the fragmentation of the consciousness of current man.  But man alone cannot change this situation; only through an act of God’s grace which comes from above, from the Giver of every life and all heavenly graces.

- Recently Pope Francis noted:  “Dear Friends, of course it is necessary to give bread to the one who is hungry—this is an act of justice.  However, there is also a deeper hunger – the hunger for happiness which can only be satisfied by God,” and he added, that by ignoring the fundamental foundations on which the whole country is built, namely the spiritual principles, no society is able to achieve real development of human and common good.  Furthermore, the Pope enumerated the principal elements of non-material goods of a person: life, given to us by God; family which is the basis of living together and a medicine against social degeneration; education which is not limited to simply passing on information; health, which should aim for the wellness of the whole person, including its spiritual angle; safety which can only be achieved through a transformation of the heart of man.  Therefore about the heart of man and happiness…

- In his speeches the Holy Father makes an assiduous analysis of current globalized culture which now floods various continents and all countries and, on the one side, nullifies the old cultures, and on the other side, deeply influences man and his/her relationship with God and neighbor.  Now the current man feels very alone, I would say as a total orphan.  While at the end of the 19th century Nietzsche talked about “the death of God” then today as a summary of the 20th century, we can speak of the “death of the neighbor.”  That is, a person remains alone in his/her aloneness from which one is constantly searching for help. Obviously this is why the Pope is talking about the heart of a person, simple interpersonal relationships.  Due to its aggressive development, the center of the human being, who daily needs God as well as a neighbor.  Unfortunately, in today’s culture which bears the stamp of the renunciation of God and the stamp of the death of the neighbor, we witness the breakdown of simple interpersonal relationships.  Due to its aggressive development, the current person does not know how to relate with those close to her/him and that close person becomes all the more distant.  Therefore, in talking about value orientations, the Pope again reminds us how not to be fatherless, but to discover God the Father, how a person can learn      to love a neighbor, without whom there is no society or civilization.  Finally, how to find oneself.

Today, in our society we notice two diametrically opposite views both on the Christianity of ancient Ukraine as well as on its further development.  One is – “separate” from the “Russian world” behind whose back there fly the flags of Byzantine Caesarean - Papacy “Moscow – of the third Rome” and the Mongolian traditions in the realm of relationships between the state and Church. The second is based on the principles of Christian democracy and the teachings of the Gospel “God’s to God -- Caesar’s to Caesar” by which the internal church life is separate from the state.  This opposition should have purely a theological-theoretical character and would not be frightening if the new “brotherly” empire of neighbors would not attempt political and religious domination in the contemporary Ukrainian state that lacks a clear and understandable to all citizens, state national ideology and has a civil society which only “leans on its legs…”  

In other words, we have two understanding of the relationship between Church and state.  One is projected today by Russia – that is the so-called idea of a national Church.  That is, the Church serves the interest of the authorities and the state fulfills the needs of the Church.  The other is the European Catholic view of this issue, when there is no subservience between the state and the Church. The Church in the West never wanted to be an instrument of this or that state structure, but -  vice versa -  tried to be the source of inner freedom in circumstances of this or that culture or country.  As for UGCC, we never in history were a national Church and now our Church also does not desire it.  Why?  Because, I am convinced, today Ukraine does not need a national church, but needs a Christian community which could evangelize, that is, reincarnate and transform our society on Christian principles.  A community which could truly bring Christian values to contemporary culture and, to what degree the Church will be free in contemporary society, will depend the future of Ukrainian Christianity as such and society itself.  We know well that in the post-soviet realm state structures always take a hostile stand – such a fate awaits a national church—as something foreign, forced from the outside.   And Christianity – an inner religion of the heart, as taught by Apostle Paul, “in Christians the Rule of God is written on their hearts,” and not on the external rules which someone forces us to fulfill. 

How do you see the directions of the future development of UGCC within the plan of the union of Ukrainian Christianity?  In fact, at one point, I became aware that the liturgical text of Our Father in all Orthodox nationalities, including Greek-Catholic, sounds different.  Is it not time to at least make the texts of the Liturgy one and the same, which through the lips of the hierarch in the universal prayer of the faithful asks Almighty God every day: “and let us through one lips and one heart glorify and sing your pure and mighty Name – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit today, and forever, and through eternity.”

- I would differentiate here the concept of union on several levels.  If we consider the future unity of Christian Churches in Ukraine, then this is a much deeper question than the question of a certain spiritual text or even the prayer Our Father. Today the Christians in Ukraine are faced with many common challenges but all of them can be reduced to one issue – how can we remain alive and real Christians who live in union with God, and therefore are open and have the ability and desire to build unity with our neighbors?  On this depends our future as Christians.  This we saw earlier: the more the Church was persecuted, it was more able to build unity; as soon as it begins to fulfill a role not native to it, in state or geopolitical interests, and there emerge serious obstacles that can even be present inside this same Church. In the context of the work of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches, we already have today the unique experience of spiritual ecumenism as a joint answer to social challenges. This is so, especially when we consider the joint testimony of moral values in our society.  Because truly, the closer we remain in this sphere to the Lord God, the closer we will become to one another.  This is one level.

Second level: attempts to create unity there where today we can be united.  I think that the idea of preparing joint unified spiritual texts is a very good one which we can do together.  Unfortunately, we do not yet have such a team of scholars who could do such translations.  This is due to the fact that, as we all know, the issue of translation of liturgical texts into contemporary Ukrainian is relatively young.  Although this approach absolutely follows the tradition of Cyril-Methodius Christianity.  I hope that in the near future we will have a joint text of the Divine Liturgy.  There are certain steps in this direction, for example, the new translation of the Holy Scripture on the basis of the work of the Ukrainian Bible Association, which could be used by Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants.

- On August 18th of this year the blessing of the Patriarchal Cathedral in Kyiv took place.  In view of this, one is reminded of the words of the testament of Patriarch Josyf Slipyi: “I will carry your candlelight…”  What does the future patriarch Sviatoslav think of this?

- I would like to state that the blessing of the Patriarchal Cathedral is truly an unprecedented historic event for UGCC, as a symbol of its rebirth on Ukrainian lands since next year we will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the exit of UGCC from the underground.  The blessing of the Cathedral demonstrates our roots as a Church of Kyivan Christianity, which returns to its Kyivan Christianity.  In other words, the Patriarchal Cathedral will remind us of the sophistication of Kyivan Christianity and will open the path to the future, in which we see the unity of all Churches of the Kyivan tradition. 

- What plans are being made to mark the 25th anniversary of the exit of UGCC from the underground?

We would like the memory of the Underground Church in Ukraine to be a special spiritual heritage and to be carried not only to the wide public of our society but also abroad.  On the one hand, we would like each of our eparchies  to form its own committee to mark this date and then also our Postulate Center is gathering necessary material in order that this shining memory of our heroes, martyrs and people of the Underground UGCC be preserved for future generations while finding its continuum in the current life of the Church. 

- In Halych I noticed how Your Beatitude spoke with youth in their language.  Next, a few words about the goal and methods of UGCC in the everyday work with youth.

Today we observe how quickly the culture of interaction is changing, how different social groups and communities form their format, their own language and categories of thinking, especially among youth.  Therefore, it is very important for the Church to be able to properly communicate with youth, that is, to pass on the Word of Christ’s Gospel in the youth’s words.  Youth needs to find for itself answers to important life questions, especially at a time when the basics of the whole life of a person are being formed. I am very pleased that according to your observations, youth understands the manner in which I turn to them, but I also understand that all of us, pastors, need to constantly find the key to the heart of youth.  And this is possible only under conditions of sincere interaction and genuine interest in their problems and concrete efforts to resolve them.  Youth is the future of our church which has to take on the tradition of faith from their predecessors and only then when this youth in Jesus Christ receives the answers to their questions, will they  become a mighty Christian foundation both for the Church today, and for society in the future.   

How do you spend your free time: spiritual aspect, literature, violin, sports, hiking?  In other words, what do you like to do for recreation?

- Unfortunately we do not know how to rest in the contemporary world. We do not know how to do that – but I am learning.  I attempt to keep a pretty organized daily schedule.  Rule of faith: prayer – that is the foundation which holds me and provides me necessary spiritual nourishment. The daily rations of a Christian also need intellectual nourishment.  Therefore, every day I contemplate the Holy Scripture, while the writings of the holy fathers are a certain instrument to the right understanding of the Word of God.  Also I try to stay in touch with current publications and literary works  in order to develop a sense, an understanding and an acceptance of current intellectual directions, so that I can hold a conversation with these circles.  

As much as possible, especially when I am at my residence in Kyiv, I attempt to occupy myself with sports at least an hour a day and run in the morning.  Regarding the violin, in today’s circumstances I rarely take it out because I can disturb the people who live in the same building.  I only play the violin when I am absolutely alone.  I attempt to keep my connection with nature.  I like to walk in the forest with friends and to interact with them outside of those formalities which surround the head of a Church.  Somewhere, as all others, I have to find exits from a certain kind of isolation into which the current culture pushes the current man.  And a scheduled day and self-discipline permit one to harmoniously unite these various aspects of our existence.


Roman Ivasiv




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