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The Ukrainian Exodus

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Religion, State, Society, and Identity in Transition Ukraine. Rob Van Der Laarse, Mykhailo N. Cherenkov, Tetiana Mykhalchuk and Vitaliy V. Proshak, eds. 2015


On the background of the Eurasian crisis of ‘historical’ and ‘political’, Maidan could be considered in light of religious-theological dimension, i.e as a socio-theological phenomenon and as a subject of political theology. Considering the social/ public inquiries to Church and to ‘revolution of dignity’, the Ukrainian perspective of ‘liberation theology’ becomes of an importance. Ukrainian identity after the Maidan opens itself for (self-) reevaluation and rejuvenation of its combining elements. The Christian tradition, rethinking itself within the frames of political theology, could be an influential factor and symbolic resource for formation of Ukrainian nation and development of civil society in the epoch after the Maidan.
First references to theologico-political understanding of Maidan as an actual event of ‘liberation’ could be found in the texts of representatives of various Christian confessions in Ukraine. At this, it could refer not just to national liberation, but to ecclesiastic liberation as well – it could imply the beginning of the new relations for Church and society and state, and the more active and freedom-giving role of Church in the formation of the nation. The anterior thought is taken as an initial for following considerations: theology, that sets to focus on Maidan as the subject of its consideration, inevitably reconsiders itself in light of its subject. The aim of this article is to demonstrate how theology of Maidan becomes a political theology and Maidan becomes a theological event, how Church and civil society are meeting each other on Maidan (this meeting has actually happened in the winter events of 2013-2014, but should also happen in the theological aspect) and rethinking their alliance.
For theologians, the Maidan events have already become a part of the history – but not as a something from the past, but as something which gives the beginning of the future. At the same time, Maidan becomes a symbol of liberation from the history, from quarrels with history, from its ‘imperial’ version, and a symbol of the determined choice in favor of the other version of the history which is not successive from objective cause-effect reasons, but which takes its liberty with boldness by will, by heroic acts, by faith, by prayer.
This symbol of political and cultural liberation ascends to religious symbolism. First of all, it reminds the Exodus – as a prototype of awakening, liberation, (re-)birth.
Exodus is an unexpected breach in history, which is a miracle in itself, a miracle of a birth of a new inside of itself, and reveals in itself even a bigger miracle – the saving action of God in history, His plan concerning the empire and the nation enslaved. In spite of the fact that Exodus remains to be a part of history, it opens new dimensions, gives new ways to understand the history not from the perspective of enslaved, but from the perspective of free, of liberated. Exodus offers historical perspective, destructive to imperial statics, offers to see a historical movement, a way from slavery to the Promised Land.
With this, it is interesting to point out that Ukraine, being a partaker of Christian cultural areal, during the years of Russian imperialistic and then Soviet and neo-Soviet colonization politics, have lost the connection and the legacy of the Judeo-Christian narrative of Exodus. In other words, the story of Exodus was not considered as actual for Ukrainian history and was not regarded as real, applicable, and/ or possible. Till recent time, the Biblical narrative and political history seemed to be incompatible. Not just the society, but also Ukrainian Churches thought of themselves as part of political order, taking reference in “how it always used to be” and not in alternative version of history, focusing on what God has done with pharaoh and what He can to today and always.
Contemporary Ukraine trans-passes through such a dramatic period that there are only two options left – either the downfall of the independent state and life in the shadow of the empire or the new life. However, life, and even more, the new life, is not produced politically. The birth and the rebirth are always a mystery, a mercy, and a miracle of God. Empires are built by people while alternative history is written by God.
In this case, it is impossible to do without theology and is necessary to listen to this alternative version of political history which is offered by theologians – Walter Bruegemann and Wolfhart Pannenberg.
“What if Exodus - is a primarily cry which gave beginning to all history? (Translation from Russian)”, - asks Old Testament theologian Bruegemann. And he replies: “The history of Israel starts at the day when this nation stops to call out to Egyptian gods who do not hear him and cannot answer him. For them, it is the beginning of the life in freedom and independence when they decide to call out for liberty to the God of freedom and step forward against the governing regime”.
The processes of decolonization, of liberation from imperial heritage, of birth and formation of a nation could be understood and described in theological language – with application of its images and cognitive optics.
In this perspective, revolution on Maidan appears to be not a social revolution, but, par excellence, a spiritual revolution. Not by accident it is called a ‘revolution of dignity’ – it touches the spiritual foundation of society and personality and not only the questions of civilized choice or disapproval of antinational government. As it is known, socio-cultural Euromaidan came to its end on November 30, 2014 – with dispersal of students demonstration. The Spiritual ‘Maidan’ commenced on the same day under the bell-ringing of the Mikhailovsky Sobor. From that day the initiative came to the hands of the Church.
From analytics we have now only a canvas of events and their socio-political interpretations, and almost all of them consider the role of the religious factor as influential. Even the ideologists of Eurasianness see in the Maidan the revolution of dignity– the revolution of Uniats, sectants, and religious dissidents against the Russian Orthodox World, i.e. even in the anti-Maidan analytics, the Church factors gets high considerations. The credit, given to Church by Ukrainian sociologists, is even higher (and positive):
In the events of Maidan, the Church has actually taken the side of the Ukrainian society which dared to mass organize for the civil protest actions. In its entire, the Church has strongly condemned the application of force against the peaceful Maidan. Monasteries and Cathedrals in Kyiv have given shelter, protection and help to the participants of protests. In time of open confrontations priests have stood up as live shield between sides of conflict calling the security service officers not to follow the criminal orders and not to apply weapons against civil persons. (Translation from Russian)
For the Church itself this revolution happened to be unexpected and not-looked for. However, after the period of the seventy-years of secularization, the Church was eagerly searching the way back to the society and was demonstrating its importance to the society through its relations with the state. Only in time of Maidan the Church has met with society and rediscovered itself, its place in serving its own people.
Many years sociologists and theologians were speaking about significant spiritual potential of Ukraine – and for its own rejuvenation and for revival of Europe. But this potential was actualized only in the events of Maidan. Maidan became the place of the reawakening of Kyivan Christianity as original national form of inter-confessional Christian solidarity. On the background of Maidan events and the following after aggression of the Russian Federation, the questions of canonical ecclesiastic origin became not important for Church and for society; ecumenism became factual and the further development of ecumenism will not be founded on the canonical origin, but on the precedent of who was where at the time of Maidan and who have done what. It could also be mentioned that in the atmosphere of the social extreme, the question of canonical origin became irritating; a new, eager social inquiry has appeared for a Church that is alive, and trustworthy, and in solidarity with the people and not for a Church that is canonical only.
In time of Maidan, national and spiritual identity has become free once again. Ukrainian identity of traditional interpretation composed of Kyivan Russ, Cossakdom and orthodoxy is not relevant anymore. There is a demand for Christianity, but for new type of Christianity, for Christianity of the national character, of pro-European in its direction, and for Christianity which embraces diverse Ukrainian society. Church still has a chance to become a part of a new appearing identity; it could not be achieved through its place in the history, but only through an active role in the formation of the new image of the state and nation.
Maidan became a point of no return, a decisive break through with imperial past – Soviet former ideology of ‘brotherhood nations’ and orthodox ‘Russian world’. Twenty-three years after the downfall of the USSR the metaphor of Exodus has become relevant once more. Discussions about national theology of liberation, earlier carried out in the narrow circle of Latin American experts, have become public themes and even a common language of the wide circle of participants of ‘revolution of dignity’.
Did the participants of Maidan understand the spiritual character of the events happening? Don’t think so. The work of understanding and explaining the theological analysis of ‘Ukrainian Exodus’ is the responsibility of the Church. Liberty and dignity – are foundational Biblical themes and fundamental Christian values. The name of “revolution of dignity” has significant spiritual symbolism in itself. To recognize these religious implications in the Maidan events is the task of theology, both social and political.
In its turn, social political theology could lean on Biblical theology, on the example of Old Testament history-writers in particular. As it is mentioned by Wolfhart Pannenberg: “Self-revelation of God, according to Biblical testimony, was fulfilled not directly, not via theophany, but indirectly, via history events… Not only separate events, but all constellation of Exodus events and conquer of land could be considered as self-revelation of JHW (translation from Russian)”. With this historicity of revelation, the ‘eschatological quality of the present’ must not be lost since it combines the times and reveals their common plan.
Thus, for theologian, Maidan is measured and understood as revelation of God in public events and, at the same time, as eschatological symbol of realized end, as a judgment of the world and of the Church.
In accordance to this, Maidan opened many negative peculiarities of Ukrainian Christianity and pronounced its public verdict to it. Ukrainian Christianity never justified the Exodus; conversely, it was a part of the Imperial system of enslavement. Its natural place of dwelling was Egypt and not the Promised Land. In understanding of Ukrainians, Christianity is fulfilled in Church hierarchy, and hierarchy is a priesthood that uses the people instead of serving the people. The attributes of spiritual relations in the Empire were priests and Tsars, but not the prophets and nation. Meanwhile, if to appeal to the story of Biblical Exodus, it should be acknowledged: not tsars and not priests, but prophets were the avant-garde of liberation.
Remembering the story of Exodus and applying it to the history of Ukraine, several explanations of the events happening now could be offered and some lessons could be learned. Here are some of them mentioned below.
The way to freedom is long and arduous, and Ukraine is only on the middle of this way. Israel was on the way to freedom for forty years, Ukraine is only twenty-three years now.
On the way to the Promised Land, the nation has had many moments of recedes of slaves’ conscience, of grumbles and riots, of attempts to comeback when the memory of Egypt has plays a trick and revived the image of the past. For the itinerant in the desert, the life in slavery seemed to be appealing and the way back to Egypt shorter than the way to Kannan. The Soviet people, remembering the cheap sausage, produce the archetypes of the slaves’ conscience: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:5-6).
For yesterday’s slaves, the low conscience, the absence of initiative, inclination to paternalism, and desire of ‘a strong hand’ is typical. To this passivity of nation corresponds the special role of the leader, Moses. For this reason, the people on the Maidan often interrupted the speakers demanding: “We need leader!”
At the same time, the most significant achievement during the forty years of wandering in the desert was not the acquirement of the strong leader, but the acquirement of the Ten Commandments. On the place of the human authority, idealized as much as criticized, comes the law. The obligatoriness, inviolability, objectivity, and sanctity of law are interconnected with its divine origin. The God himself transposes the law to Moses, thus the Moses becomes just a mediator, the servant for God and for the people.
The law becomes a form of a covenant between God and people, the condition of their survival in the wilderness and subsequent wellbeing. This law would have no power if not the faith in God. In the desert the nation finds God and the faith in him.
Certainly, the people had faith also in Egypt, but it was propitiatory faith, faith giving hope for future in time of desperation. In the desert the faith was active, leading, and victorious. This faith was not looking back, but was anticipating and foreseeing the future, including the future in the Promised Land.
The Israeli writer David Grossman was born and raised in Israel and, reading Exodus, he could not stop wondering why till this moment it is being spoken about the ‘Promised Land’:
Thus, for some reason it is not the ‘land promised before’, or ‘the land of promise’, but land which is still promised, as this promise, even after the return of the nation to Sinai, is not fulfilled yet and the nation has not yet realized its full potential. As if in Israel, till this time, even after fifty-years of the founding of the state, still exists the bewitch “generation of wilderness” deprived of rights and privileges. This “eternal promise” carries in itself a hope for development, for a potentially unlimited freedom-thinking, for consolidation of flexible prospects in relation to what is still continues to be numbed, hardened. However, the shadow of “eternal curse” is inevitably rests on this promise, it is a hidden, deeply rooted feeling of inability to someday realize personal potential and direct personal strength for fundamental decisions of self-identification, of belonging to a particular territory. (Translated from Russian)
Thus, alike the Jewish people, the Ukrainian people commence the Exudes towards public independence, even while still forming their identity. The interpretation of Maidan in light of the Exodus forms the fundamentals of Ukrainian political theology that offers the perspective of Church on the events, but also the perspective on Church in lights of the events. In other words, the Church is being liberated for more responsible and unifying ministry to its own people, for spiritual leadership on the journey through wilderness. Precisely in this way the future history is seen by leading theologians of Ukrainian denominations. According to archiepiscopate of UGCC Sviatoslav Shevtchuk:
On the duration of the nine months Ukrainians are on the complicated journey from post-Soviet fear to freedom and to God-given dignity. Being traumatized by World Wars of the twentieth century, by brown and red totalitarianisms and genocides, they want to build a fair society and democratic European future. All Churches and religious organizations of Ukraine spoke in unity against the violence of Yanukovych regime, of annexation of Crimea and division of the country. On the Maidan, months by months, hour by hour and even at nights in unifying prayer people stood up for respect of the citizen’s rights, for non-violence, unity of the state, and dialogue. This civil ecumenical and interreligious harmony and cooperation became the source of moral inspiration and public consolidation in Ukraine. (Translation form Russian)
These ecumenism and solidarity with people were perceived in orthodox Russia as a threat to its imperial influences.
In the recent documentation, prepared in Moscow in the highest circles, and especially in the letters sent to the leaders of the Orthodox churches, the slander is included in reference to Greek Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox of Kievan Patriarchate who are pejoratively called uniates and schismatics. They are reckoned as being responsible for the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine and are being accused in unleashing the war and, especially, in violence against the orthodox clerics and parishioners who suffer in the results of the course of the war operations. Russian orthodox leaders disseminate the slander against the Greek Catholics and other confessions, thus, creating a threat from the side of the militant separatists who identify themselves as warriors of Russian Orthodoxy. (Translation form Russian)
For national Churches, the Exodus is interpreted as a breach from the Pharaoh and his empire, but also as reconsideration of all relationships with authority that is inherited from Egypt and has penetrated the various aspects of life, including religion.
In the light of theological critics, governments are deprived of their sacredness and obedience to governments becomes of a conditional character. At the high point of the events, pondering on the theme “Would God bless the solution-by-power character of Maidan?”, fr. Petro Baloh has concluded “…not yet, but might be…” inviting by his abstract answer to rethink the bilateral character of relations between society and government, especially in light of the following points of the Catholic catechesis: “Catechism affirms that citizens should look at authorities as representatives of God, who keep order and punish the evil and urges citizens to be loyal to the government and cooperate with it. However, "their loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community” (CCC, 2238).
Already in the first days of the Maidan, theologians saw it as a symbol of defiance of political power over religious, of state power over civil power. In line with desacralization of power, an Orthodox theologian Cyril Hovorun proposes to develop the Ukrainian version of ‘political theology’ designed to reconsider the relationship of the Church, state and society after the Soviet experiment - repression, famine, atheism, and Russification. The turning point in the history of these relations was Maidan:
After the state had driven the Church away from itself, the latter withdrew into her ghetto and patiently waited for recognition. When she was recognized after the fall of the communist regime, first of all the Church has started to develop a relationship with the state, rather than to engage in building links with the society. In fact, the post- Soviet society was also not very aware of its separation from the state subjectivity. And now, on the Maidan, we are seeing a striking example of public becoming aware of their own own subjectivity... This society identifies itself on the foundation of common values, i.e. dignity, honesty, non-violence, solidarity, mutual readiness for self-sacrifice. In such a pure form, civil society does not even exist in Europe, where people are united mainly by their common interests. (Translation form Russian)
Becoming liberated for independent life, civil society has become an example for the Church, and perhaps a rival claim to moral leadership. According to observations of Hovorun, society, which appears in the results of the Maidan events, overgrows the Europe and Church – the exact reference group to which it tried to align itself:
Ukrainian Maidan, meeting ‘for Europe’, has significantly outgrown Europe itself and its politicians. Ever more, Maidan, in its valuable components, has considerably overgrown and Ukrainian Church as well ... Only in the last days of Maidan, Ukrainian church began to catch up to the level of moral consciousness and responsibility which were expressed by Maidan. (Translation form Russian)
The thought of Orthodox theologian is quite radical: Ukrainian Maidan has showed more of Christianity than the politicized Ukrainian churches; it has showed bigger potential of civil solidarity based on Christian values than the old postmodern Europe.
Maidan has helped the Church to rise up and change. Socio- political events have forced to rethink the social and political theology. A similar process has happened in the history of Protestant churches in Germany as well.
Yes, Maidan gave impetus to the churches to rise above the status quo that prevailed in their relations with the state in all years of independence of Ukraine and to take the side of society. For Ukrainian churches, now is the opportunity to get out of the gray zone of collaboration with criminal authorities and to take the path of ‘confessional Church’, which spoke against Nazism in the Nazi Germany. (Translation form Russian)
In particular, Hovorun proposes to revise the political and metaphysical dualism and to confess the full lordship of Christ, also including in politics: "These ideas of theologians, such as Barth and Bonhoeffer, are fully applicable to what is happening in Ukraine now”.
Certainly, in line with the political theology of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and especially John Howard Yoder), the revision of dualism does not mean the politicization of religion, on the contrary – it is an interpretation and implementation of its own exclusive vocation, which relates primarily to the public, and not to the state.
While sociologists speak of the return of religion into politics (Yelensky, The Great Return, 2013), the Ukrainian theologians prefer to talk about the return of the church into society:
Now, the Ukrainian churches have the opportunity to rise to the level of society, which quickly grows on the basis of the values that would have to be demonstrated by the church. It is the time to change the relationship with the government. It is the time to build relationships with people and to learn from them how to appreciate and defend dignity, decency, humanity. (Translation form Russian)
Going back to society, the Church should not enter it with its own statutes, but, on the contrary, the church should learn from the society. In the era after the Maidan, the modest compliance with the general rules of civil society is expected from the Church.
Noteworthy, in this matter theologians are self-critical, but optimistic. The Church is not yet a civil society institution; she didn’t take her place and does not play its role. Rather, in the events of the Maidan the Church has got a chance to do it, the Church has got a credit of trust from the society. With the use of the theological language, the present state of the Church in society can be described as ‘already and not yet’.
The thoughts of pastor Mykola Romaniuk are applicable in this case:
The Church is now becoming an institution of civil society, and, last but not least – it happens under the influence of Maidan. Unfortunately, in the Ukrainian society the influence of the Church is mainly determined by its religious activity. Maidan was the first event in the time of Ukrainian independence when the church broke out of this vicious circle. And this is a problem and the Church as well. During the thousand-year history, the Church has not become a vital part of the organic society, especially in comparison with the role that the church plays in our neighboring states - Poland or Germany. A possible future influence of the churches is being born today; it begins with the spiritual-educational service and continues in the socio-charitable sector. Church becomes a mediator and, eventually, when its role will shift from culto-ritual to a more significant factor of charity and education, a prophetic voice that will indicate the direction and denounce the negative side of all spheres of Ukrainian society - from local communities to political communities. (Translation form Russian)
And this ‘alteration’, transposition from internal activities of the Church to the activities of the civic engagement, is expected from the Church by the segment of society that is associated with Maidan.
Ukrainian sociologists suggest that the active position of the Church on Maidan was stimulated by the presence of the corresponding public demand: "According to the results of sociological research, the vast majority (74%) of Ukrainian citizens are convinced that" the Church must always stand on the side of the people and protect them from the arbitrary power" and only 7 % believe that " in the political processes Church should above all protect the government, because there is no authority that is not from God".
It is remarkable that the "public demand for Church interference in the internal socio-political conflict is not as obvious as it was during the events on the Maidan, where citizens openly opposed to the despotism of authorities. Thus, almost half (48%) of Ukrainians believe that ‘the Church should do pastoral-mentoring activities and should not interfere in civil-political problems and processes’. A different opinion - that ‘the Church is an institution of civil society and should play an active role in the socio-political processes’ - is hold by 39% of the respondents. In this case, this proportion is even lower in the east of the country - 30 %, while the limitation of the activities of the Church to pastoral-mentoring aspect is supported by 54% of the respondents." And on the background of these overall figures and their regional spread, the cautious estimations of theologians become clearer and look fairly balanced.
So, not only Ukraine as a state has escaped from the power of the empire, not only civil society has realized its disconnectedness from the state, but also the Church has experienced its own liberation – liberation from limitations in the cult-religious sphere, from marginalization in society, from depending on the state.
In general, Ukraine after the Maidan has found itself being in the desert. As noted by Pastor Sergey Golovin, "The exultation of Exodus has passed. It is the time for a long and arduous march through the desert". And here the Church must remind people about faith, which does not see the Promised Land yet, but already decides to break away from the usual slavery, listening to the prophet and relying on God's promise. And that exactly about this faith, and not about the unsteadiness and unbelief, is the legendary poem Moses by Ivan Franko, it's about this faith are the keywords of Ukrainian poet-Moses: "I believe in the power of your spirit and in the day of resurrection, [a day] of your uprising.” (Translation form Ukrainian)
Perception of Maidan as the subject of political theology makes it possible to re-interpret the known political events into the unknown to a wider audience (and to the majority of civil society, as well as to the majority of the church community) process of liberation from Soviet imperial heritage and versions of post- neo-Soviet forms of colonialism. Theological view comprehends the hidden dimensions of this process, notes that the events of Maidan were much more than just an obvious victory for civil society over the criminal regime of president Yanukovych. These tragic events have become the birth place of the Ukrainian nation as a subject of both political and spiritual life, being able to make free and responsible choices. These events were the birth of a new form of religion, which can be conditionally called civil or national church - not due to the titles or the historical merits, but on the basis of the role, importance, and influence on the shaping the nation and its spiritual development. All of these provide a wealth of material for the emerging Ukrainian political theology. In its turn, political theology can become a new orienting and explanatory paradigm for relations between state, Church and society in the era of ‘after the Maidan’.
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