With the imminent granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, a new potential religious, political, and societal narrative will be given an opportunity to be established
It will be a modern iteration of “autonomy” of a centuries’ old story, which will now be based on an independent and self-autonomous church, where Ukrainians who profess fealty to Ukraine, its people, and the fulfillment of the nation’s promise will determine its destiny.
FOR AND AGAINST
Although some criticise the pursuit of this action as an act of political cynicism by Kyiv’s political authorities at this particular time, such a view should be discounted. This recent development must be interpreted as a historic and revolutionary moment in Ukraine’s national and religious narrative. In addition, it must be seen as both a recognition and affirmation of Ukraine’s spiritual inheritance. It also must be perceived as a historic correction, and a rebuke of aggressive and chauvinistic attempts to destroy the Ukrainian soul, through the murder and persecution of the ‘religious’ and the destruction of thousands of churches.
Regardless of the effects on contemporary electoral politics, Ukraine should be seen as being on the verge of experiencing a renaissance that has the potential for effecting not only religious organisation and governance, but also something that can have a fundamental influence on political thought and practice, as well as having the potential of philosophically transforming the values by which Ukraine’s society defines, governs, and interprets daily life.
But perhaps the most relevant ramification of autocephaly, will be the discrediting and ultimate rejection of the long-accepted state of religious, political, and societal schizophrenia promulgated by a religious authority whose interests and values lie elsewhere. In this regard, the protestations of Moscow related to this move are notable.
Apart from the questions of governance, the movement of clergy, and the transference of churches, the most fundamental question confronting the church should be: how will it use and define its institutional independence in Ukraine’s modern social order?
In a vastly corrupt the society such as Ukraine, the church’s greatest strength lies in its moral relevance. Its institutional efficacy and ultimate integrity will only be affirmed within greater Ukrainian society if it establishes its unique separateness and “prophetic voice”. Though the church’s historic and traditional role as a primary definer of Ukraine’s national and state identity cannot be discounted, as we look to the future its institutional effectiveness as a transforming power must not be solely defined by political prowess. An independent church cannot, and should not, be a servant of the state, just as the state cannot be a slave to the church.
The newly independent church must seize the opportunity and use its unique voice of moral authority to further introduce and inculcate transforming values into Ukraine’s societal order. Values such as the transcendent dignity of human individuals, the presence of objective truth, the promise contained within following the rule of law, the pursuit of the ideals of justice, and of helping the poor and suffering.
In concert with its theologians and laity, the church must develop a relevant language and philosophical structures that will act as a foundation for modern institution building. At the same time, it must not compromise its efforts in helping civil society deconstruct the discredited philosophical assumptions of the status quo that continue to oppress the majority of society. The newly independent church must take on a leadership role in the transformation of Ukrainian society. It must do so because reform efforts have been proven to be morally vacuous.
There can be no doubt that an independent church must aggressively fulfill its responsibility as the curate of Ukraine’s unique soul, playing an intricate and involved role in defining Ukraine’s modern quest, or even pilgrimage, towards becoming a free society. Though the primary role of the church is the proclamation of the gospel and the salvation of human souls, it also has an essential role to play in the formation of a just order.
The most profound understanding of autocephaly, or “independent autonomy”, will be when the church will contribute to the transforming of the modern fabric of Ukrainian society by condemning the pervasive corruption within the country’s institutions; when it will continually affirm individual human dignity in the public square; and when it fulfills its teaching mandate by explaining and providing moral guidance towards the understanding of the promise of human fulfillment that is found through living daily life by the rule of law.
By introducing a concept and language of hope, and contributing to enshrining the same within Ukraine’s order of society, the church will be using its independence and authority to help establish a positive life culture.
Yuri Polakiwsky is a Kyiv-based writer,
commentator, lecturer, and author of Ukraine – A Lament of a Promise