Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Glimpse Behind the Veil?

RISU has done us the service of publishing, first in Ukrainian and then in English translation, an article by Oleksandr Sahan, Doctor of Philosophy: "NEW CHALLENGES IN ORTHODOXY IN UKRAINE – WILL THERE BE NEW RESPONSES?" In RISU's own estimation we are dealing with a scholarly analysis of the present state of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in all its various expressions (he counts three big and many more small ones), and this on the eve of another intense period of church activity, in the midst of a new crisis, which the author contends will determine the next 10-15 years of the Church's development here in Ukraine. Different from most popular discussions, Prof. Sahan speaks only of Orthodoxy, wisely avoiding the inevitable complications which derive when one tries to factor in other Christian groupings. Although this approach lends itself to the sterility of the white coat and laboratory approach, it does cast a glaring light on some issues which are properly Orthodox. In my judgment, Prof. Sahan's sympathies lie with the Kyivan Patriarchate, but apart from this article I have no way of judging whether this is in fact the case.

I put the title "A Glimpse behind the Veil?" on my post as a reflection of my personal dilemma (as the Holy See's man in Kyiv, one without the linguistic skills to be able adequately to follow internal debate in the Ukrainian language on topics of utmost importance) who is most grateful that RISU sees fit to produce English language translations permitting us outsiders further appreciation of what is going on, in my case, around us.

Leaving aside judgments on the overall merit of Prof. Sahan's analysis of the Orthodox situation, I am seeing now for the second time here in recent days terminology describing currents within Orthodoxy in Ukraine, which I find surprising and somewhat disconcerting. He speaks (as seemingly do others) of the Church as having had a "political period" and as being in the midst of or just emerging from an "economic period".

Prof. Sahan, unlike others, seems to think that the struggles of the "political period" are still very much with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which is to say that the statutory independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow is not forever set in stone. The political struggle could once again come to the fore and be decided in favor of a suffragan status of the type which existed under the Soviet Union. In his conclusions the author judges such a development as a negative for the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and a potential gain for other Orthodox groups here not in communion with Moscow.

What he terms as “economic Orthodoxy” or the “theology of business” has very little to do with what has come to be known in the English speaking world as "the prosperity Gospel". Here the material benefits for the high clergy are just that, no pretense being made of promising anything to the simple faithful. While our experience of the Protestant variation on this theme has not been free of moral compromise for the sake of material gain on the part of preachers, as a supposed way of corroborating the "truth" of this Gospel, here it would seem that the higher clergy are simply creating their own gilded cage.

From what little I am able to grasp of such, from the often less than veiled critique of Patriarch Kyrill and those closely allied with him here in Ukraine, I am thoroughly puzzled by Sahan's seemingly sober presentation of self-aggrandizement as something serious, as “economic Orthodoxy” or the “theology of business” (maybe the irony of the original text is not rendered by the English translation).

The popular press, especially in Ukraine, seems more inclined to seek leaders whose behavior corresponds to that of Pope Francis. Canonicity and tradition have a ponderance or weight they do not have in fluid American culture. People here do identify with their Orthodox roots and long for direction and good example from their leaders; they are not inclined to shop in the "market of beliefs". This offers Orthodoxy a truly extraordinary opportunity even yet today to offer a holy and sane alternative to secularism. May the Lord come to the aid of our sister Church and assist her in drawing all to Christ.

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