News / USA

For Ukrainian Christians, a Test of Faith

FILE - Golden cupolas of the 11th century Monastery of the Caves, holiest site of Orthodox Christians, beside the Soviet-era 62-meter tall Motherland statue, Kyiv.
FILE - Golden cupolas of the 11th century Monastery of the Caves, holiest site of Orthodox Christians, beside the Soviet-era 62-meter tall Motherland statue, Kyiv.
As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, it has become a test of faith for Ukrainian Christians.

Many follow events in their ancestral homeland from the United States, where dozens of communities of both Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox believers have sprung up over decades.

As pastor at Washington's Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family, Father Robert Hitchens has spent many Lenten seasons listening to the prayers and struggles of his flock as they seek forgiveness and repentance.

The predominant concern he's now hearing regards the country's ongoing strife and conflict, the events that make it hard for many of his parishioners to think about forgiveness.

"During this time of Lent, we’re on a journey of conversion," Hitchens said. "The human side of us would like to hate people. But we’re called to rise above that. So we’re praying. But it's hard."

It's happening in many churches that serve predominantly Ukrainian or Russian Christians worldwide.

At the National Shrine, many Ukrainian-American Christians — both Catholic and Orthodox — came to the United States after the First and Second World Wars, and the current standoff between Ukraine and Russia only intensifies the memories.

"The sad part is that everybody thought that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and an independent Ukraine, life would eventually get better there," Hitchens said.

"The human reaction is that we would like to turn and blame Russia and the Russian people," he said. "What I tell my parishioners is that it’s not a people, it’s a government."

Custodians of the Orthodox faith

While recent polls suggest a majority of those living in Ukraine don't identify as overtly religious, among those who do, the vast majority — nearly 90 percent — consider themselves Christian.

Orthodox churches are nationally predominant, especially in eastern Ukraine, while a sizable minority of the population, notably in the country's western parts, are Catholic.

But from there it gets much more complicated.

In the Eastern, or Orthodox tradition, nations are considered "custodians of the faith." Separate, autonomous churches operate solely under the confines of state rule.

Additionally, national Orthodox Churches can operate in states other than their home nation.

In Ukraine, there are three distinct Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, one of which recognizes the Moscow patriarch — the head of the Russian Orthodox Church — as its leader. The two others are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Church.

To add to the complexity, some of these churches are in "communion," or mutual recognition, with each other, while others are not.

Among Catholics, nearly all are members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. It's one of several Christian denominations that follow Eastern [Byzantine] rites, but also recognize the authority of the Roman Catholic pope.

So while the Eastern [Orthodox] and Western [Roman Catholic] Churches split centuries ago, a Ukrainian Catholic mass is nearly indistinguishable from its Ukrainian Orthodox counterpart.

In both Ukraine and among the Ukrainian diaspora, then, it is not one's Christian tradition that dictates hostilities toward another community of faith, but the center of power — Moscow, Kyiv or Rome — with which that community's church is aligned.

Blessing of the weapons

When it comes to conflict, "Orthodox Christianity has a very interesting and complex attitude toward violence," said Marian Gh. Simion, an Orthodox theologian and assistant director of the Boston Theological Institute.

"Orthodox Christianity does not have a 'Just War' theory," he said. "Because it operates under the state, it's never had to make decisions on national invasions, so its theology runs much more pacifistic."

Simion focuses much of his work on the history of the Orthodox Church and violence within and between nations.

While he said that there is no theological support for violence in church teaching, in practice the different national Churches become parochial at times of war.

And that, he said, leads to strange and dangerous distortions of faith.

"In the Orthodox Church, mainly in the Slavic tradition, we have a very bizarre tradition, which is a service for the blessing of weapons, so that these weapons will 'protect the truth of Christ,'" he said. "This is a very bizarre service and is usually shelved and deemed as symbolic, except when we have war, in which it’s employed very quickly."

This, Simion said, leads to considerable conflict within the larger Orthodox community.

In the recent Russian-Georgian war, for example, patriarchs of two national Orthodox churches at first tried to ease the conflict.

Within a few days, however, the war had grown increasingly bloody, and both retreated, issuing statements of support for their side in battle.

'One cataclysm after another'

Repercussions of these complex relations are felt worldwide.

Metropolitan Antony, who in his 67 years has gone from a career in journalism to the position of Prime Hierarch and leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S., his ancestral homeland go from Soviet domination to independence, only to fall into uncertainty once more.

"The world was being lured into believing that the Great Bear had been domesticated as they built up to Sochi and that everything had changed," he said with a sigh, referring Russia and its recent Olympic Winter Games.

"But we can see, immediately after those Games were over, that the fangs and claws were no longer hidden away, and they came out with a bravado that hasn’t been seen for a long time," he said. "Yes there’s a great deal of frustration in me."

Metropolitan Antony's frustration is mirrored in many Ukrainian Orthodox believers who wish to see a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but are angered by Russia's incursion into Crimea.

While Ukrainian Orthodox Churches have been outspoken against the action, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has issued statements generally supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The brotherhood of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian nations is a reality hard-won by the history and many generations of our ancestors," Patriarch Kirill said.

It's no surprise to Marian Simion that the Russian Church would generally support the Russian government's actions.

"The Church had to be submissive," he said. "The Church had to take loyalty tests toward the state. And with the rise of nationalism, we see a tendency that local churches go along with the state and sanctify military enterprises."

VOA contacted several Russian Orthodox institutions, including the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, but all declined to comment.

Metropolitan Antony said he and his parishioners continue to pray for peace while working to organize assistance for friends and relatives back in Ukraine.

"Relations over the years at times have been difficult because of the politics of our two nations," he said, referring to escalating tensions in the Orthodox community. "For much of Ukrainian history, it’s been one cataclysm after another."

In Washington, preparations for the coming Easter festival continue, despite a growing unease felt by many parishioners at the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family.

"Here, we’re praying for peace, and that all people would be allowed to determine their own future without any outside influence," Father Hitchens said.

Doug Bernard

dbjohnson+voanews.com

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

You May Like

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Leta from: Kiev
March 13, 2014 10:34 AM
Russia is going to attack the whole territory of Ukraine. Troops of Russia have been deployed right next to Ukrainian borders. I beg world to stop Russia... Ukrainians made their choice - EU and USA.

In Response

by: Stefan from: Switzerland
March 16, 2014 8:36 PM
I hope and pray that NATO help Ukraine protect her borders.

In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
March 13, 2014 1:59 PM
Ukrainians made a choice? Was it by what means that the choice was made: a referendum, a national conference? When did the mob action we witnessed in Kiev become an expression of people's choice? But even if it were, the Crimeans refuse to go by that choice. So are they entitled to their refusal, choice, or not?


by: Rana Tabassum from: 77000 Melun - France
March 13, 2014 5:18 AM
For Christian everywhere is test of Faith. The raison for a confrontation is always ideology; so the American are consider mainly follower or defendant of that (Christian) Ideology. So next to Christian ideology, the second biggest target is always America and Europe; by playing different cards and tactics like simply propaganda; force (terrorism) or hate.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid