BRAMA, Dec 14, 2004, 11:00 am ET
God, Faith and the Orange Revolution
By Bishop Paul Peter Jesep
Bishop Paul Peter Jesep
It seems poetic justice that real Ukrainian independence from Russia will be finally achieved when Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated. December is an inspirational time of hope, faith and endless possibilities for Ukrainians of the Jewish and Christian faiths.
In the midst of the Orange Revolution this month, presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko addressed Ukraine's Jewish community observing that Hanukkah is "the feast of heroism and victory over slavery, the feast of cleansing and consecration, light and fires. It witnesses to the fact that nothing is capable of defeating a people's desire for freedom. The feast of Hanukkah reminds us not only about the reality of the miraculous in earthly life, but [it also reminds us] that we should be worthy of the Lord's miracle."
Slavery comes in many forms. It can be physical, political or economic. Even spiritual slavery can manifest itself when a church tries to control rather than guide a person's soul. It came in all four when nations were subjugated by the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union. Russian troops aren't marching down the streets of Lviv or Kyiv any more. Yet efforts to continue political and economic exploitation remain. And sadly some denominations give the impression that enhancing a person's relationship with God is of secondary importance.
In the case of the Orange Revolution, many denominations, though not all, have leaders acting in a Godly manner. They are reminding the world of a long, heroic, yet tragic history that has too often been relegated to a minor status by the conqueror or starry eyed Protestant Russophiles.
His Holiness Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv-Patriarchate has taken a bold step in reminding other countries of Ukraine's ancient history. He recently told those assembled in Kyiv, where journalists from around the world listened, "We today are witnesses to the process of the rebirth of the Ukrainian nation. This does not mean the nation had not existed before now. But today we can talk of a new rebirth."
"This does not mean the nation had not existed before" is a very important comment to impress on a world audience. Ukraine's life didn't begin with the recent collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor did Ukraine drop out from the belly of its northern neighbor as a historical aberration as some have misled the world into believing. The Orange Patriots along with the moral authority of religious leaders in Ukraine and the Diaspora are now positioned to tell the world a great deal about their history, culture and language.
"With stark injustice all around
The shackled people silent wait,
While on the apostolic throne
There sits a fatted monk in state."
When spiritual leaders do not call on their better angels religion can become an exploitive propaganda tool that furthers political or corporate interests of organizational self-preservation under the guise of piety and holiness. According to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (RISU), for example, a meeting this month "in far eastern Ukraine's Luhansk region . . . organizations connected with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) [called on] local residents to vote for [Moscow backed] candidate Viktor Yanukovych in the 26 December election and to approve the transfer of Ukraine's government to a federative system."
This behavior is troubling for several reasons. Moving the country to a "federative system" is a loss of Ukrainian sovereignty that benefits Moscow. And why support a candidate who, as the evidence clearly shows, attempted to rig his own presidential election the last time?
In addition, there is an ongoing hubris that suggests only the Moscow Patriarchate is best able to provide for the spiritual guidance of Ukraine. Independent of the interference of a foreign church, it is theologically misguided. The role of a priest or religion is not to serve as a conduit between God and believer. The church should be a guide to enhance an individual's walk with the Creator. There need not be a middle-man. Ultimately, an individual answers to three things: God, conscious, and the family with whom he or she started, not a self-sustaining corporate entity with the trappings of holiness.
The Moscow Patriarchate has a presence in Ukraine which is not about to change any time soon. In light of the large Russian minority it is likely to always be in Ukraine. This should be respected.
There is no reason why the Moscow Patriarchate cannot co-exist peacefully with other churches in Ukraine. For it to do otherwise gives further credence to my earlier point that the Moscow Patriarchate's mission is no longer pastoral, but rather secular and temporal. Trying to confiscate someone's church property in another country using a corrupt government is not acting in a Godly manner. The role of a church is to serve those who seek a stronger relationship with God. It should not become an empire-builder contributing to enslaving a people politically, physically, economically or spiritually.
Let us remember the wisdom and recent blessing offered to the Orange Patriots demonstrating in Kyiv by Chief Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny of the Ukrainian Union of Progressive Jewish Congregations, "May the Lord give strength to those who have gathered to build a society of mercy, justice and peace." Amen.
Bishop Paul Peter Jesep is the Vicar General and Chancellor of the Archeparchy for the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of North and South America Sobornopravna. His Grace, a lawyer and political scientist by training, is a former legislative analyst to U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). He has studied at Bangor Theological Seminary (bts.org), the third oldest such school in the United States. His Grace may be reached at VladykaPaulPeter(at)aol.com. The views expressed here are strictly personal.
* * * * *
Apr 22 12 - Op-ed: Aiding and Abetting the Moscow Patriarchate
Mar 23 12 - Friends of Ukraine Take Action
Feb 24 12 - Will Ukraine have Its First Modern Political Martyr?
Jan 23 12 - Holocaust Remembrance Day
Dec 30 11 - Ukrainian World Praise for Major Archbishop Shevchuk
Dec 21 11 - Lessons from Muscovy
Aug 10 11 - Russian Truth
Apr 14 11 - President Yanukovych's Chance to Show Leadership
Mar 14 11 - An Open Letter to Viktor Yanukovych
Aug 27 10 - Independent Ukraine 2010
Jan 31 10 - Remembering Ukraine's Jews
Jan 15 10 - Orange Forever!
Aug 27 09 - UAOC Mourns the Passing of Senator Edward Kennedy
Jan 14 08 - UAOC Bishop Condemns United Fatherland and Union of Orthodox Citizens
Oct 25 07 - Bishop calls for Annual Holocaust Memorial Day
May 28 07 - Priests try to end anti-Semitism
Feb 12 07 - Statement on Anti-Semitism
Feb 5 07 - Kyiv Patriarchate Appoints U.S. Director of Public Affairs
Nov 23 05 - Archbishop Husar's Orange Revolution of Faith
Sep 12 05 - Yushchenko showed leadership
Sep 7 05 - Metropolitan Mefodiy of Kyiv to visit America
Sep 2 05 - UAOC issues strong condemnation of anti-semitism
Apr 28 05 - Yushchenko at the Kennedy Library
Apr 1 05 - Diaspora rebirth begins in dialogue
Mar 11 05 - The Politics of Orthodoxy
Feb 11 05 - The Diaspora's Future
Jan 21 05 - Ukraine, Orthodoxy, and the Greek Prelate
Dec 22 04 - Has the Diaspora failed? Can more be done?
Dec 22 04 - Russia will not leave Ukraine alone
Dec 14 04 - God, Faith and the Orange Revolution
Dec 8 04 - Ukraine must run the extra mile
Dec 1 04 - Cage the Russian Circus Bear
Nov 24 04 - Support liberty - Practical things you can do
Nov 22 04 - Ukraine's Election - NOW WHAT?
Oct 11 04 - Catholic Patriarchate in Kyiv
Sep 29 04 - Kuchma and the American presidential election
Aug 13 04 - Op-ed: Foreign churches cannot dictate a unilateral non-Ukrainian spirituality in Ukraine (Patriarch Filaret and Ukrainian Spirituality)
Jul 26 04 - Op-ed: Viktor Yushchenko and Ukraine's future (Ukraine needs a patriot as its next leader)
Mar 18 04 - Ukrainian influence in the 2004 American presidential election
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