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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, Aug 13, 2004, 9:00 am ET

    Op-Ed

    Foreign churches should not dictate a unilateral non-Ukrainian spirituality in Ukraine
    By Bishop Paul Peter Jesep

    Bishop Paul Peter Jesep

    Ukrainian consciousness will be determined by more than a democratic commitment to liberty. Art, music, literature, and spirituality will play an equally important role in shaping its national soul. Not unlike Ukraine's political process, spirituality especially struggles to move away from unwanted foreign influence.

    His Holiness Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) is among those tirelessly working to nurture religious awareness that is uniquely Ukrainian. Other notable leaders include Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of the Ukrainian Byzantine (Eastern Rite) Catholic Church and Metropolitan Mefodiy Kydriakov of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

    Foreign churches, like the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (ROC-MP), may still have a role in Ukraine, but no outside institution should have the hubris to dictate a unilateral non-Ukrainian spirituality to the people. MP's interests in Ukraine, birthplace of Eastern Slav Christianity, cannot consist of treating the country as an obedient subordinate. Ukrainians, not Moscow, will choose how they walk with God.

    In November 2004, His Holiness Patriarch Filaret is tentatively scheduled to again visit the United States. I will have the honor of meeting with him as prelate of an autocephalous, sobornopravna branch of Orthodoxy. His vision for the future is important to everyone regardless of one's denomination or specific branch of faith.

    His Holiness, appointed by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in October 1995, was born in 1929 in the Donetsk Oblast and received monastic tonsure twenty one years later. Patriarch Filaret became an ordained priest in 1951. His numerous theological achievements include professor at the Moscow Theological Seminary, Inspector of the Spiritual Seminary in Saratov and later Kyiv, and Bishop of Leningrad. In addition, His Holiness has authored books and articles on Orthodox spirituality.

    UOC-KP, with a worldwide membership of approximately 30 million, has encountered some of the fiercest resistance to its efforts to nurture a non-Russified Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is not to suggest that other Ukrainian Churches haven't also incurred hardships and indignities, but the Kyiv Patriarchate has been identified as one of the most serious threats to Moscow's religious and political hegemony. Ukrainian Orthodoxy long an appendix of greater Russia is no longer willing to accept a servile role. Instead it seeks to stand as an equal in the Orthodox world.

    The existence of UOC-KP and other uniquely Ukrainian Churches also encourages Western scholars to a review a long, complicated history that has often been shaded by the tsars and later Soviets. Efforts by Patriarch Filaret, Cardinal Husar and Metropolitan Kydriakov forces a reassessment of commonly accepted Russified historical interpretations that minimalizes the distinct artistic, cultural, and political identity of Ukraine. The existence and growth of their respective churches highlights the inappropriateness of Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent call for Ukraine's "reintegration."

    "Moan from the monk comes...
    He is weeping,
    He rises, sits, he walks the cell...
    'O God,' he cries, 'why was I fate to
    Love my native land so well?'

    To Matins calls the great bell...
    Himself he crosses,
    Takes his plain black beads and heavy staff, then,
    Still wrapped in thought...
    Limps off to pray for Ukraine."

    — Taras Shevchenko

    President Putin has worked closely with ROC-MP often communicating its concerns to Ukrainian government officials. Putin's efforts can be traced to pragmatic, geopolitical goals that would benefit the secular Russian state and the ROC-MP. The end result of this Faustian collusion should be apparent. It's in this context that Patriarch Filaret's efforts should be applauded and supported by Ukrainians of every faith in the diaspora.

    Although the UOC-KP is not recognized by Moscow, the real question is: Does it matter? No Ukrainian Church needs someone's permission to worship in a manner it believes will best lead the people closer to God. To suggest otherwise wrongly implies that a faith unique to a specific people is subject to the ecclesiastical control of foreign agents.

    In addition, as His Holiness has often pointed out, where the Eucharist is celebrated a Church exists. Christ is present during such a celebration. Hence this makes the UOC-KP, with a worldwide membership three times larger than the entire population of Greece, canonical. Sadly, other Orthodox Churches inclined to give Moscow too much deference regarding canonical status, especially when it exploits it as a political tool, should be more mindful of the sinister motivation.

    Patriarch Filaret has taken a strong interest in highlighting such tragedies as the Soviet engineered famine-genocide in the 1930s. Few leaders appointed from outside the country would have equaled the outspokenness of His Holiness.

    ROC-MP discourages its subordinate churches from engaging in a high profile memorialization of the 7 million Ukrainians that were starved to death by an artificial famine in an effort to break their national spirit. This is just one of many examples that underscores the need for vibrant Ukrainian religions that answer to no one but the citizens within the country.

    Not surprisingly the number of UOC-KP parishes both in Ukraine and the diaspora have only increased. New seminaries, monasteries and other higher educational institutions have added to its growing spiritual outreach. Much of the growth reflects a refusal by parishes to serve under a foreign patriarchate.

    Denominational vanity or personal disagreements among the faithful and church leaders is in no one's best interest. An opportunity exists to forge partnerships that encourages a religious revival to fully blossom in Ukraine. This is a common objective that everyone can support. Patriarch Filaret's upcoming American visit is important not only to diaspora Orthodox Christians, but to anyone concerned about the spiritual reawakening of Ukraine.

    Bishop Paul Peter Jesep is Chancellor of the Archeparchy and Vicar General of Public Affairs and Government Relations for the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church-Sobornopravna (UAOC-S) based in Cleveland, Ohio. His Grace is also a lawyer, book author and political scientist who was an aide to U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). Bishop Jesep may be reached at VladykaPaulPeter@aol.com. The views expressed here are strictly personal and do not reflect the official position of the UAOC-S.

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