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.
Doug Bernard
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.

You May Like

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim 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.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid