Address of the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to Ukrainian society
Glory to Jesus Christ, dear brothers and sisters! Good evening! And, this evening is truly “good”! I am touched that so many people responded and came here to our meeting to speak together about our Church, its future and Ukraine. About the things that the Christian love and service to our neighbors inspire us to do.
We are all different in this room. That’s because each human being is created by God as a unique personality. For this very reason we can differ in our views and beliefs, our tastes, our interests, our attitude to politics and many other things. God has endowed us with different talents that we apply in different areas. But at the same time, we are all one, as the children of God; we are brothers and sisters to each other; we are one human family. Also, all of us, regardless of our place of birth or whether we live here or thousands of kilometers away, are united by our love for Ukraine, our regard for its present and future.
In our shared history, everything happened as it did. There are pages of sufferings and triumphs, terrible hardships and martyrdom, separations and confrontations, but also pages of unity and progress, glorious accomplishments and heroism. There were sad and joyful moments. Even if we wanted to, we wouldn’t be able to change what had already happened, we can influence the way we go forward. And I want to say that we are building a Church that accepts people as they are, to give everyone an opportunity and resources to be better. A Church that creates no obstacles on the road to God but invites everyone to step over the threshold of the house of God. The Church that is being built upon love.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is open to all. And this is our main point of difference.
The Church must be and wants to be where it is needed. In the center of a prosperous city such as Kyiv and in a poor neighborhood of a small town. On a bustling street of a metropolis and in a small rural community. In the Donbass and Galicia, over the Dnipro river and in Crimea, in Zakarpattia and in Odesa, where I was born, as well as in Bukovina, where I grew up. Among the rich and the poor. Among those who dial a phone number by pressing buttons, those who swipe a glass screen, or even those who rotate a dial. Wherever there is faith and wherever there are people who identify themselves with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Today, we are in a situation where sociological surveys show that there are more people, belonging to the Local Church of Ukraine, than there are our parishes, which they may join. Most barriers are artificial ones. They are designed to provoke conflicts and divide people. We see how skillfully these traps are placed. In our service we cannot respond to force by force, to hatred with hatred. Our path is not the path of injuria; it is a way of forgiveness and building trust. It is a long journey that for the Local Church of Ukraine may take longer than the lifetime of each of us, but it is the way that our Lord Jesus Christ has showed to us and with which He has blessed us.
A year ago, we regained our unity and continued our progress. This is the course, which was started exactly on those Dnipro hills, where we are now with you, by Saint Volodymyr the Great over a thousand years ago. The course that was interrupted but was never terminated.
Although I was elected in council as the first Primate of the universally proclaimed, recognized autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, but there were more than one hundred hierarchs of Kyiv sat on this throne before me. A year ago, our Orthodox Church took its place in the Diptychs, as an autocephalous one, and we are therefore now responsible for our works and our decisions. These decisions go far beyond the temples in terms of their influence and consequences. The Church is a part of the society backbone of Ukraine. An autocephalous Ukrainian Church has never been a threat to Ukrainian society, but the Church, which was losing both its Kyiv centralism and Ukrainian identity, was being transformed into an instrument of the imperial state.
Ukraine is compelled to protect itself from aggression. Hundreds of chaplains from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine serve among the Ukrainian military, defending Ukraine. Our priests are where there is pain, where there is challenge, where there is a need for charity or mercy. They share anxious and joyful moments with society. They should be integrated into peoples’ lives and understand them in all their diversity.
How to start a happy and strong family, find your vocation and build a career, deal with an apartment building co-owners association, what to do with the land market, to keep a family budget, pay taxes, serve in the army, prepare for an independent external evaluation (ZNO), travel for work as migrant laborer and return home? These are all issues that concern Ukrainians. The Church cannot and should not substitute their decisions and cannot be an expert in every question. But the Church can and should always be close by, as a counselor, as a friend, as a mentor, and as a shepherd.
Our mission is to spiritually educate a person, to purify a human soul through the Sacraments, to assist in embodying the Law of God in a person’s own life. Not through fear, by order, or by force, but by the enhanced spiritual experience and knowledge persons and society can find right answers to the questions of concern.
In the history of Ukraine, it is difficult to find an institution more attuned to the Ukrainian people than the autocephalous Ukrainian Church. And as a loving mother, it opens its arms to all its children.
However, the Church is relevant not only in the context of tradition. The Church has been and can be the meeting point for geographies, times and worlds. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine provides an opportunity to interact with brothers from other Orthodox Churches, because we are a local part of the One Church of Christ. The word “Eucharist” is translated from the Greek “thanksgiving,” defining the principles of common worship, of communion among the Churches in unity of faith and sacraments.
Today, we express our gratitude first to our Mother Church of Constantinople, to the second in honor Alexandrian Patriarchate, to the Church of Greece, to the Mount Athos monasteries for this unity and support. Within the past year, the OCU believers have made many pilgrimage trips.
This is the renewal of the connections which, in the times of the Holy Princes Volodymyr the Great and Yaroslav the Wise, revealed to our ancestors the treasures of the spiritual and material culture of the Greco-Roman world. The connections that continued through fraternal schools, through the Academies, founded by the saint Prince Kostiantyn of Ostroh and Metropolitan Petro Mohyla.
The church was the backbone of international relations long before the word “globalization” was coined. The recognition of OCU is today an ongoing process, which was fruitful last year – both before and after the political elections, – and is in progress now. It is a spiritual process and not a political one, although it also has a political dimension for Ukraine, asserting its identity.
It is just the beginning. Last autumn I visited the United States of America to receive the Patriarch Athenagoras Human Rights Award. The media, professional and political interest which the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was welcomed with in the United States of America, show an understanding of the importance of our Church’s role in the lives of Ukrainians, and therefore for the future of Ukraine and of Europe.
In Washington, and then again a few days ago in Kyiv, we met with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and spoke about the rights of those who are under the oppression of occupation in Crimea and the Donbas, about the rights of all people, not just those who would worship in our churches. We can call it other open doors of the Church, including for the complex processes of peace-making, for the release of and prisoners of war from captivity, for an end to occupation and for reintegration.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is a Church, which goes through all the challenges together with its nation, the Church, which at the moment when our country is in trouble, should be and IS with its people. And a high level of confidence in the Church also means a high level of responsibility. The Church shares the dream of every Ukrainian and of previous generations – to see Ukraine be a place where all may enjoy a decent and happy life.
The path to this dream lies through our daily work, through, as Winston Churchill put it, our “blood, labor, tears and sweat.” For although he said this about the war with an external enemy 80 years ago, such a vision is always relevant to the Church, since our struggle against evil in ourselves and in the world around us is our daily work.
The Church should ask questions: how does the content of our souls affect the way we work with our hands or heads? How honest and conscientious are we? How productive are we? Can we do better? Are we capable of more? Can we reach the heights not by heroic effort but by planned daily work? The Church has an influence on how behavior culture is shaped in all spheres of life and must be more active in this area.
After many decades and even centuries of despair, looting, and rights unprotected, we should start to learn to investing the long term, be more strategic, to do better work, and to plan for eventual results. Our doors are open also for difficult discussions about ourselves, about how to overcome the inertia of suffering, acceptance of pain, long-standing trauma, and the expectation of betrayal.
One of the most difficult discourses that we have now and that is ahead of us is the discourse about family values. I hear many appeals for the protection of family values and they resonate in my heart. At the same time, we have to understand that values are not created as a directive and are not protected only by regulation. They should be cultivated and lived through as an experience. If a person was abused in the family, it will be difficult to talk to him/her only about making strengthening of the family a priority value.
We need to understand how to protect love and dignity inside a family. How not to neglect the sacrament of marriage, how to help families strengthen the foundation of their safety. Demographic scientists alert us that the crisis of low birth rates and high mortality in Ukraine has become a challenge for the Ukrainian state itself. There are no longer 52 million of us. Exact number cannot be known, but we must end the imperial Russian and Soviet heritage of treating human life as an expendable material.
Every life is a gift of God and its appearance and growth in peace and grace is possible when there is love. A strong family also means a respect for one another, continuous concern about the well-being of each another, for emotional health, physical state, and freedom from addictions and abuse. We should and must talk about the family in the context of a modern society. Then, it will become clear where migration is truly for wotk, and where it is an attempt to escape from oneself. What can we do so that children didn’t grow up without parental care? What can we do so that parents were not afraid to have children? So that they were not afraid to lose themselves in household worries, not afraid they will lose the quality of life or afraid of responsibility and not only in family matters?
Having its own voice and opinion, the Church is open for a dialogue and exchange of views.
The dreams of many Ukrainians for rapid prosperity are often a reaction to the fear of poverty. Within recent decades millions of Ukrainians have, certainly, improved their living conditions, although by many indicators we are still far behind the most developed nations of the world. Communal apartments, the lack of and inaccessibility of basic household goods, the coequality in poverty, in which millions of Ukrainians lived only two or three generations ago, has now pass into history, just as has hand laundering or unavailability of radios, televisions or telephones. Today most Ukrainians wear shoes and clothes which the previous generations could only dream of, eat foods, which their ancestors never tasted.
Ukrainians tell sociologists that they are becoming wealthier, but also they believe their condition is socially vulnerable. We must start speaking about how to accept changes that are taking place inside and around us; how to stop mindlessly accumulating; how not to become dependent on status attributes; how to be more self-sufficient and be able to feel joy from simple things; how not to despise love by choosing bright packaging over substance.
Our Church is open for dialogue with wounded souls, so that with the help of God, every person could find themselves, nurture the good, and fight with the bad.
The flipside of vulnerability is striving to protect oneself through status and the aspiration to gain power through any means necessary is often a reaction to vulnerability. Then power is not perceived as taught by the Lord, but meaning that it becomes a tool of domination rather than service. And, this is not confined to some individual cases, but it’s a generalized challenge which affects the whole complexity of relations between a state and its citizens. Power as domination, despotism, instead of leadership, have no hope of a different reaction from the people than the revolutionary resistance, the Maidan. Our society today is in a state in which it, when it cannot afford new shocks, new victims, and new forceful confrontations without fatal consequences, even if they result from good intentions.
It is the high time to that we recast leadership as service, as a means for contributing to a common goal. What can we do to make serving easier for those who seek to serve? What can we do to protect leadership without disrespecting those who cannot or do not wish to lead? How do we remain alert to outrage and prevent it from becoming a threat? Here, too, Church is open for dialogue and for seeking the best answers.
These are some of the challenges we face, but others will follow. What will happen with the climate and environment? How can we conserve energy? How can we learn not to hurt the environment, how to preserve resources? That is, how can we fulfill our obligation given to us by the Creator to be stewards of nature, taking advantage of its riches, while not devastating or destroying it? How should we think about sustainability, look ahead into the years ahead, and consider our next steps? These are common concerns of young people who are in fear that they will have to deal with the consequences of decisions made by previous generations.
Ukraine with its picturesque four seasons, plentiful land, clean water, forests and steppes is a little paradise compared to many countries in the world. What should we do not to ruin it all, not to lose fertility, beauty and diversity? What should we do not to lose your land but let the land deliver? How smaller communities will survive in a more urbanized environment?
The Church is not an expert in ecology or economics, and does not wish to become one. But, the Church sees the importance of those issues, their moral dimension, which is within its area of responsibility, and therefore it is open to being a meeting place for experts, entrepreneurs, farmers, and local citizens, who seek answers.
These and other problems concern anyone who reflects about how they affect our lives.
What is the role of the Church in solving these problems?
Attempts to politicize or use the Church to accomplish some ephemeral tasks, trying only to take advantage of the Church’s authority and capabilities, while not heading the Church or its teachings, narrow religious life to something private, and leave society isolated and in peril.
We need a different Church, a Church, which plays an important and unique role in the life of society, while remaining a spiritual rather than a political power, beyond ideological constraints, free from political fights or business interests. It is a Church with an active parish life, these being both the basic element and the public face of the life of the Church.
This is the Church, which is a place of sincere prayer. It is a Church with monasteries, with modern Orthodox educational institutions and foundations, which strengthen the Church and help it be a part of a public dialogue. This is the Church, where honest and frank conversations take place. It is the Church, which elevates itself and the world around it. It is the Local Church that loves and teaches to love its homeland. It is the Church that both preaches love in words and exemplifies love in its real life.
It is the Church, which has a voice and calls out, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36), “be then complete in righteousness, even as your Father in heaven is complete” (Matt. 5:48). It is not by our own effort that we can accomplish this, but, as the Holy Scripture says, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
To Him be glory for ever and ever!