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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Recent Developments In Church Life

13 September, 2005 - 00:00

The faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) are celebrating the transfer of part of the holy remains of St. Serafim Sarovsky (secular name: Prokhor Moshnin) from Russia to Kyiv. He was canonized in 1903, largely due to Nicholas II’s assistance. For the church hierarchy, paying homage to holy remains is a reliable means of uniting the flock, increasing congregational activities, and reinforcing the creed. Hence, believers are arriving at the Kyivan Cave Monastery from nearby and remote eparchies just to take part in a rite that takes place in a second: kissing the casket with the remains of St. Serafim. Paying homage to holy remains is an ancient church tradition originating from early Christian martyrdom, when zealots sought refuge in catacombs. This time, however, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to an altogether different matter.

Saint Serafim Sarovsky’s life and religious deeds had little to do with Ukraine. Moreover, the First World War, revolutions, the Civil War, and the Soviet regime did not facilitate the spread of this saint’s cult outside Tambov gubernia. Today, hundreds of Ukrainians are standing in line to pay homage to this saint’s remains. More often than not, these are “collective measures” consisting of people arriving on foot or buses and trains led by parish priests.

Another thing is noteworthy. Shortly before the remains of St. Serafim Sarovsky were delivered to the Pecherska Lavra, those of Saint Volodymyr, the baptizer of Kyiv Rus’, were transferred there. Largely due to his dedicated effort, Christianity spread from Rus’ to the north and south. So when I went to the Lavra, I was expecting to see all of Ukraine there, for people always respect saints whose activities are linked to the Christianization of their country. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Tepla Tserkva Church, where St. Volodymyr’s remains are displayed, was quiet and empty; there were no lines of believers waiting to enter and pay homage; the house of God was totally empty, even though until recently there were no holy remains of St. Volodymyr in Kyiv.

This situation has arisen mainly because of the political priorities determined by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). All those bishops and parish priests are telling their flock which saints are the most important and influential. The hierarchs of this church must regard Saint Volodymyr, Prince of Kyivan Rus’, as being too closely associated with Ukraine, even with the Maidan. To confirm my point, let me quote from the UOC MP journal Spasite nashi dushi (Save Our Souls), which describes how the icon of Sergei Radonezhsky “shed tears” during a television program: “During a Belarusian news program there was a sudden close up of the face, and there were tears rolling down from the saint’s eyes. And this program was broadcast on the eve of the Ukrainian elections!”

In fact, reading the UOC MP press is an entertaining activity that offers the reader an eye-opening look on modern church life, or rather on how this life is being interpreted and regulated by the church hierarchy. In the first place, one is amazed at their utterly negative and uncomprehending attitude to everything happening outside their church. It is as though our fellow Moscow-minded Orthodox believers are living surrounded by enemies rather than fellow countrymen who adhere to different confessions. Another surprising thing is that church publications almost completely lack the concept of Christian charity and the desire to lend a helping hand to your neighbor and forgive people their sins — contrary to His Commandments and lofty examples. Thus, the booklet Pravoslavnaia ispoved’. Perechen’ grekhov. V pomoshch kaiushchemusia (Orthodox Confession. A List of Sins. An Aid to a Repentant Sinner) enumerates the “heresy of communicating with heretics, offering up prayers and sharing food with them” among such grave sins as “reading secular books and newspapers, listening to secular music and songs.” There is no doubt whatsoever that such “heretics” are people everywhere in the world, particularly in Ukraine, who are not members of UOC MP parishes.

The media of the UOC MP also offer an interesting approach to certain social problems, although a considerable part of the materials appears to have been borrowed from Russian Orthodox Church Web sites. Let me quote from one publication entitled “Why Autocracy Is Better than Democracy”:

“Democracy is one of the manifestations of the original disease affecting human nature... Only an Orthodox state can actually help man on his life journey... Today conscience, which is condemned as orthodox-imperialist, imperialist, and great-power, is exposed to special attacks and defamation... Meanwhile, great-power thinking is the advantage and pride of [every] Russian individual; and the individual should acknowledge this without feeling ashamed. Russia must be a great power.” Another very original thesis reads that “the struggle against Orthodoxy is the secret mainspring of the world’s political and social processes.” (In regard to this, let me remind you that most optimistic estimates indicate that no more than 5% of Russian Orthodox believers number among the international Christian community).

There is also a nicely formulated postulate about the importance of language in the article “Church Slavonic: A Picture of the World” by Aleksandr Motorin. The author states, not without justification (proceeding from the postulates of hesychasm, the spirituality characteristic of the early Church Fathers in the 4th and 5th centuries) that “a decline in the use of a language always indicates a decline of the people. Spreading a language among other peoples testifies to the proliferation of the power of the people who are the carriers of this language!”

Identification codes are still prominent in the media; fantastic letters full of hysteria are published, believers are threatened with hellfire, addresses are given to special law firms that provide “assistance” to believers facing court proceedings stemming from the refusal to use ID numbers (such church-affiliated firms are not at all interested in quelling this “code storm”). On the whole, this is a purely technical problem and everything relating to it is a large monkey wrench thrown into the works of the current Ukrainian government (perhaps this was the original purpose?). We might as well remind ourselves that none of the Ecumenical Orthodox churches, except those of the Russian one and its affiliates in the former Soviet republics, has ever complained or wanted to check the way the administration of a given country is functioning.

We hope that our readers will help expand this topic.

By Klara GUDZYK, The Day