The Churches are playing a decisive role in the Ukrainian revolution. This is apparent from the prominence in Independence Square of dozens of priests and pastors from different religious confessions who have been there every day for three months, offering to gather ecumenically with the faithful in prayer. From the outset, an ecumenical chapel was erected. After it was destroyed by the assault on 18 February, the demonstrators immediately raised a tent that served primarily as a funerary chapel for the dozens killed by sniper-fire.
Today, more than ever, they assume this pastoral role in Independence Square. As Father Michael Dymyd, a Greek Catholic priest from Lviv, who has been present from the beginning, confided, "the people have been deeply shocked by the clashes. They need to open up their hearts, even to go to confession. The energy of resistance that has accumulated during these three months and which has suddenly begun to unwind, sometimes gives way to feelings of hate. The people feel that they need to be liberated from this negative energy."
But the Churches have equally played a civic role of first importance. From the initial massive protest on 1 December 2013, they have explained through the mediation of Cardinal Lubomyr Husar that, while it is necessary to distinguish between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Caesar, these two entities can no longer simply be separated. The Church believes that what confers rights and responsibilities on each person is the fact that he is created in the image and likeness of God. The Church also believes that all power in heaven and on earth has been given by God the Father to Jesus Christ, as stated in the Gospel of Matthew (28:18). Consequently, the Church must relativize the role of the State while orienting it towards the responsibility they hold in common: to make the Kingdom of God come on earth.
Cardinal Husar is the former head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, which numbers around five million faithful. He was one of the first hierarchs of this Church to offer reconciliation with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which falls under the jurisdiction of Moscow. Despite the fact that his Church was completely destroyed in 1946 through the pseudo-synod of Lviv by the will of Stalin and with the complicity of the Russian Church, his position has always been that the Churches must mutually recognize the mistakes of the past and be reunited within a single Church of Kiev. In fact, such a Catholic and Orthodox Church existed in Ukraine until the seventeenth century. Only with the division of Ukraine between Poland in the West and Russia in the East in the 1660s did Ukraine lose its ecumenical identity.
This mixed identity of Ukraine has horrified the Russian Empire for a long time, which prohibited the Uniate Church in Belarus during the era of Tsar Nicholas I, and then in the Soviet Union. President Vladimir Putin's diatribe in Brussels on 28 January against the "racist and anti-Semitic Uniate priests" bears witness to the fact that the Russian secret service has not forgotten that the Greek Catholic Church was the principal force of opposition against the regime within the borders of the USSR. A few days earlier, the present head of this Church, Monsignor Sviatoslav Shevchuk, received a letter from the Minister of Culture ordering him to stop encouraging the protestors and threatening him with a total ban of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. The bishop was not intimidated and has published this letter, explaining that it contradicts the right to protest guaranteed by the Ukrainian constitution.
The Orthodox Churches in Ukraine
The Orthodox Churches in Ukraine have historically been subject to significant pressures. Since 1991 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has had to be divided into two numerically equal groups (totalling twenty five million faithful) because of the refusal of the Patriarch of Moscow Alexis II to recognize the autocephalous status (the capacity to elect its own primate) of the Ukrainian Church. But since 22 February, numerous voices from both Churches have manifested their desire to proceed toward reunification. Apart from Assemblies of God of pastor Sunday Adelaja, who has taken sides with the government in power, the majority of Protestant communities (around 500,000 faithful) are engaged in the resistance. Today it is a Baptist, Olexandre Tourtchinov, who has been elected president of the National Assembly and president ad interim of the Republic.
When all is said and done, it is the Churches above all that are enabling Ukrainians to rediscover themselves as members of the same nation. Alexis Sigov, a twenty-eight year old Orthodox Ukrainian, published the following post on his Facebook page (dated 24 February):
Until now I would have defined myself as coming from Kiev. But since the revolution I feel otherwise. I now have trouble imagining the streets of Kiev without the people from Ternopil always rushing about their business, without the people from Odessa and their night patrols, or the people from Lviv and their courtesy, without the supporters from Dnipropetrovsk being photographed with the fans of the Dynamo, and without the people from Kharkiv who helped me pull my car out of the snow.
In fact, this Ukrainian revolution recalls in some respects the French Revolution. It has had its storming of the Bastille with its prolonged occupation of the principal space of the country. It has had its moments of national unity around the dead at Independence Square. For three months, there has been heard a thousand times an entire people bursting into its national hymn, "Ukraine has not yet died," becoming a true Ukrainian "Marseillaise." It has also had its Flight to Varennes with Viktor Yanukovych's disappearance into the night of 21-22 February. The question is whether Patriarch Kirill is going to refuse, like Pope Pius V in his day, the advent of a national Church.
The Orthodox Churches are, in fact, drawing closer together through this revolution. From mid-December, the leaders of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches have signed a text recognizing the legitimacy of the pro-European revolt, asking the government to take into account the demands of the protestors and to agree with them about the indispensable respect for the integrity of Ukrainian territory. This text, signed by Metropolitan Anthony of Borispil and Brovary, in charge of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (patriarchate of Moscow), was a snub to the Patriarch of Moscow, who on the contrary supported the politics of President Putin aiming to enfold Ukraine into the Eurasian Union in January 2015.
Patriarch Kirill responded swiftly by signing an anti-independence declaration at his Holy Synod. This text rebuked the protestors for not considering his theories about Ukraine's belonging to the "Russian world." In fact, the Patriarch has pro-actively developed a theory for several years according to which "Russia" received its baptism in 988 at Kiev. This theory has no historical foundation, since Russia has only existed as a state since the seventeenth century. Until that time, Ukraine was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Conversely, the synod of the Orthodox Church of the patriarchate of Kiev, wishing to take advantage of this moment of national unity, published the following declaration on 22 February:
We should forsake our reciprocal reproaches which belong to the past. It is absolutely necessary for us to begin a dialogue leading to reunification in a single local Church of Kiev. We are convinced that the Ecumenical Patriarch (of Constantinople) and the majority of other local Churches rejoice at our common decision to overcome the religious division in Ukraine and to recognize the autocephaly of our unique Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We must pass from words about the necessity of being reunited to actions.
The Patriarch of Moscow, who prefers a scheme of integration rather than reunification, has replied that it is necessary, above all, to act in a manner "respecting the canonical organization of the Church." He was most eager to see elected, on 24 February by the synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, an interim metropolitan, Monsignor Onufri de Tchernivtsy, in the place of Monsignor Vladimir who is afflicted by a malady. A few hours later, Patriarch Filaret (Orthodox Church of Kiev) responded by recognizing this election, but explained to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow that his declaration was not addressed to him but to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: "Rather than teach us about the canons, Patriarch Kirill would do well to repent before the Ukrainian people of his decisions, decrees, decorations, benedictions and encouragements as patriarch of a Church to which Viktor Yanukovych belongs."
The Role of the Churches after the Revolution
Taking into account the evolution of the Ukrainian counter-revolution, it may well be that the Churches have yet another major role to play in coming years. This would consist in proposing an original solution to the growing fears about, on the one hand, the ordinary people facing the corruption of the elites and, on the other hand, the Russian Federation facing the propagation of democratic ideas within the Eurasian domain.
This solution is called the Church of Kiev. It is supported by a group of intellectuals from different confessions (Sigov, Marynovuytch, Gudzyak and others) brought together within the Christian Academic Society in Ukraine. It is a matter of an original ecclesiological construction proper to the Ukrainian space, as there existed until the end of the sixteenth century. It is well known how the formation of international law varies in terms of ecclesiological constructions. Against the model of a "hypnotized state," which prevents any assertion of genuine sovereignty, it proposes a "Finnish" model of the sovereign State in double-coordination with its Russian and European neighbours. This model consists in the affirmation of a local Church that was historically in double-communion both with the Greek world (of which the key figure until the seventeenth century was the Patriarch of Constantinople) and with the Latin world (that is, principally with the Pope of Rome). Even in the 1640s, the Orthodox bishop and the Uniate bishop of Kiev envisaged the possibility of continuing such a model despite the confessional divisions of Europe.
Such a reconciliation of Churches - Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant - in Ukraine would have a double advantage. It would reassure the Orthodox population that Ukraine's membership in Europe does not mean pure and simple entry into a secularized and agnostic world. But it would equally comfort the Ukrainian Greek Catholic population, which hopes that recognition of the primacy of the seat of Rome does not do injury to the life of the local Church. Finally, it would guarantee to Protestants that freedom of conscience would always come first, before what Giorgio Agamben calls the "dictatorial impulses of modern States."
In the short term, the Russian Federation has chosen the reverse scenario - that of confrontation in Crimea with the democratic Ukrainian government. But the example of the French Revolution is illuminating. The constituents have also had to manage the dual pressures of the man on the street (the sans-culottes, resident revolutionaries hostile to politics) and neighbouring empires (whether Prussia or Austria). History has shown that the formation of a Nation-State is a stronger political reality than a coalition of empires.
The question from here is whether Ukraine will be able to overcome two centuries of confrontation with its neighbours until its identity as a postmodern Nation-State is finally recognized. The support of the European Union and the United States for a new generation of political men and women who have peacefully re-established the 2004 Ukrainian constitution will surely be decisive.
Translated by W. Chris Hackett, Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Australian Catholic University.
Antoine Arjakovsky is Director of Research at the College des Bernardins, Paris, and Founder of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, Lviv, Ukraine.