Why UOC is persecuted: a fair look at our problems
The Church has always been persecuted and will be persecuted, but aren’t we also to blame for the current oppression of Orthodoxy in Ukraine?
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has entered the era of persecution. Its temples are taken away, priests and parishioners are beaten, its name is defamed in the media. The state does not protect the Church – on the contrary, the seizures of temples take place in presence of the police. Raiders are often organized by local officials who do not disdain to take a personal part in lawlessness.
Sometimes everything that happens seems incredible. A "European democratic" state, the XXI century. Only recently, the Church seems to have freed from the oppression by the Soviet authorities – and now, the same thing is repeated again.
What is the reason for that? Perhaps, there are two possible answers.
The Church will always be persecuted
On the one hand, the Church will always be persecuted only because it is the Church. According to the Apostle Paul, the Church is the “body of Christ” (Eph. 1, 23). In a sense, the Church is Christ Himself. It continues to fulfill the mission of Christ on earth – to preach the Gospel, to heal people spiritually and physically, to save their souls from the devil and sin. From here, it is easy to derive the following.
Everything that happened to Christ in His earthly life, not only directly concerns our being, but even, in a sense, must necessarily happen to us, church people. Christ preached – and the Church is called to preach the Gospel. They listened to Christ, and many will listen to the Church. Christ was crucified – and the Church, in its innermost essence, is crucified for the world and sin. Christ is risen – and church people will be resurrected in eternal life. Christ was persecuted – and the Church will always be persecuted by the devil and the world.
The world feels that we are strangers to it and is trying to break free from us. Both Christ and His apostles warned believers that it will be like this forever.
“If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you from the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: a servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too” (John 15: 18-20). “In the world, you will have tribulation” (John 16, 33). “By your patience, save your souls” (Luke 21:19), said the Lord.
“With many sorrows, we must enter into the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14, 22). “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12), testified the apostles.
Christianity is a foreign body in the world. The world pushes Christianity out of itself, like a water rubber ball. The better the Christians, the more they resemble Christ, the more unacceptable they are for the world. Just as a speck in the eye causes tears and pain until it is removed from the eye, so a real Christian will always be somewhat alien to the hectic life of society. As the Holy Spirit is not of this world, so we, receiving the Spirit in the Sacraments of the Church, accept His otherworldliness. Hence, the world’s rejection of us and the inevitability of persecution.
But why do we need it? Why should our salvation be due to pain, suffering, misunderstanding from others, and persecution from the world?
Faith-related suffering of a Christian is participation in the sufferings of Christ – without this, we cannot be completely Christ’s. St. Theophan the Recluse explains it this way: “Suffering for Christ is the essence of Christ, because He appropriates them to Himself, considers them as His own. He once suffered a comprehensive suffering; those who suffer for Him enter into compassion for Him, in which, as the Apostle often says, is the mystery of our salvation. Taking communion of the sufferings of Christ enters into the communion of His life, and that is all” (interpreted on 2 Cor. 1, 5).
Therefore, the Apostle Paul says in his epistles that we all need to know our participation in the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3: 10), and directly calls his sufferings “Christ’s” (2 Cor. 1, 5). In the Epistle to the Romans, he even writes that we can be considered fellow heirs of Christ, “provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8, 17). And the Apostle Peter tells us: “But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory” (1 Pet. 4, 12).
In these words, we touch upon the greatest mystery of the Church. When we bear sorrows in a Christian way, we enter into communion with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. All sorrow, perceived and experienced in this way, connects us with Him, with His Cross and His sufferings. What happened in the world to the Savior should happen to us in a spiritual sense. We are called to live holy, to testify about the truth, to suffer from the world and even, if the Lord wills, die for Him.
Only when the sufferings of Christ become ours, His victory will also be ours. “In the world, ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16, 33), said the Lord.
That is why the Church will always be persecuted from the world - and for us, it is better that it be in such a state. Practice shows that the state of peace and contentment most often affects us adversely. We relax and corrupt. The same thing happens to us as with the ancient Israelites who entered the promised land and forgot the Lord: “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, they became heavy and sleek. They abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Savior” (Deut. 32, 15).
But there is a second reason for the persecution of the UOC.
The reasons are in us
The Church is a divine-human organism. The divine side of the Church always remains the same. The human side can be damaged. The main problem of Christianity is the Christians themselves. In any persecution of the Church, it is appropriate to ask ourselves: don’t we have any flaws?
And if we ask this question to ourselves today, we won't have to look far.
The thirty-year epoch of religious freedom has been not only a time of church revival but also posed a number of problems for us, which played a role in strengthening the persecutions against the UOC. There are things for which we can be truly disliked.
Ritualism and unwillingness to learn
For example, the problem of ritualism in its broad aspect. In our country, Christianity is generally understood not as a fundamental change in the worldview of a person, but only as constant participation in church sacraments and rites. There is a strong emphasis on the external, with neglect of the internal. Speaking of inattention to the "internal", we mean above all the moral and ideological aspects.
The moral aspect is expressed in the fact that faith hardly ferments our lives. Sometimes, an Orthodox Christian can differ from a non-believer only in that the believer goes to church on Sunday. As for the rest, we, as a rule, live a life of people indifferent to faith. Our life does not differ from atheists’. But after all, Christians once won people with their spiritual and moral qualities ...
When an ordinary person encounters a “believer”, who in a moral sense is no better than the others, and sometimes worse, he/she forms a relevant attitude towards the Church. And biblical words come true to us: “For the sake of you, as it is written, the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles” (Rom. 2, 24).
A worldview aspect. Who do we call a church person? The one who goes to services, confesses and takes communion. At the same time, his/her consciousness may remain truly pagan. And Christianity should carry out, first of all, a revolution in the views of man. And this is achieved by church education.
Most of the church people, alas, do not want to study in the Church – go on some courses, spend time and money on self-education. Orthodox dogma for the believers themselves is uninteresting. As a result, we often cannot explain our own faith to ourselves and others and are left defenseless in the face of primitive manipulations, including "tomos" ones.
So, it turns out that the modern Orthodox person may be not at all Orthodox in terms of their lifestyle and views.
By the way, it is surprising that, at least in Kiev (we don’t even talk about the regions), a powerful spiritual and educational center for lay people, like the Orthodox St. Tikhon Humanities University in Moscow, has not yet been created. After all, the spiritual education of people baptized in Orthodoxy is the number one task for today. How tragic it is that we do not realize this and do nothing in this direction.
Parish or community?
Another topic is the parish and the community. Our problem is that we, as a rule, are only “parishioners” – members of the “parish” rather than the community.
The parish means: parishioners come, pray, they leave. People go to church on Sunday, confess, take communion, and part. The rector also comes, leads the service, meets the necessary needs and leaves. It goes on year in and year out. It has become a system. The priest does not teach people, people do not learn from the priest. Christians are not interested in each other, they have no common affairs outside the walls of the temple. One member of the parish does not help the other; they are unaware of the needs of each other. Parishioners are nobody but strangers.
A community is a single organism in which people are like cells. They are not strangers to one another, serve one another "each with the gift that he received" (1 Peter 4, 10) and learn to love not only Christ but also one another.
Christianity is originally born as a communal phenomenon. As there is no Christianity without the Church, so there is no Church without a community. Christ gathers people not only to have personal communion with God but also to open the miracle of church unity to Christians, to give people to one another. The Church of Christ is the unity of love, it is a spiritual family, gathered not only for the heavenly meal – the Lord's Cup, but also not to be alone in this world, to go to salvation together, holding hands.
The conversion of the parish into the community is a lot of work of both the rector and the congregation. And often the community does not emerge, because no one wants to strain, to put more effort, and this situation turns out to be beneficial for all the formalists in the Church, who are, unfortunately, found both among the clergy and the laity.
Today, in Ukraine, the quality of our church communalism is being tested. Temples that remained parishes and did not grow into communities are an easy target. But where people are taught faith, love their rector, love each other and serve each other, the enemy will find it harder to break into.
Ignorance of the Holy Scripture
Also, a painful problem of the present is ignorance of the Holy Scripture. The average church person is very poorly versed in biblical texts, especially the Old Testament (and the apostolic epistles are not much better known). In addition, we do not relate the biblical story with our lives – and this is very bad.
There is a “world of the Bible there” (little known to us), and there is our life, which flows “separately” from the Scripture. But a Christian should be a man looking at the world through biblical eyes. If the Bible is about one thing, and our life is about the other, do we really have the right to call ourselves Christians? And it is all right if our life were holy and we really didn’t need books. But everything is not so, to put it mildly.
When we separate private life from Scripture (“yes, there are many interesting things in the Bible, but this cannot happen to me, because now everything is different”), we move away from true Christianity into some quicksand of our ideas about Christianity. Alas, we often live in them.
Missionary and Catechesis
It is hardly possible to pass by the theme of missionary work and catechesis. In Ukraine, there is almost no mission – neither internal nor external. This suggests that the Church is sick. More precisely, we are sick in the Church.
A healthy church is a church that actively preaches about its Lord. From the very beginning, the Church was born as a speaking, Evangelistic Church. Having received the Holy Spirit, the first Christian community immediately began to preach. On the very first day of the Church’s existence, at least 3,000 people were baptized under the influence of Peter’s sermon. The apostles' hearts were filled with the Spirit, and they began to talk about Christ. The Spirit, having descended into the heart of every disciple, made all of them the preachers of the word of God. ”Of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12, 34), the Scripture says.
The problem of the activity of Orthodox Christians in society is part of the topic of missionary work. Protopriest Nikolai Danilevich has recently spoken of this: “Our believers need to be socially and politically more active. Because what has happened in the past four years in the life of our Church is the result of our being politically passive.”
Yes, it is clear that a normal person today is sick of politics – but this is only because the world of politics has become a haven of rogues of various stripes. We have separated ourselves from politics – and dishonest people came into it. But how good it would be if honest, pious, Orthodox citizens would be in all spheres of our life: in the army, medicine, culture, business, agriculture, science - and politics too!
According to Aristotle, politics is not only the administration of the state but the whole human life in general. And if the Church does not affect politics in any way, politics begins to affect it.
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In conclusion, persecution does not arise by itself, not just because we are the church. We are also to blame. A combination of the above and many other problems leads to serious illnesses of our ecclesiastical consciousness.
Yes, persecutions are useful for the Church, but only when believers draw some conclusions from them and correct what needs to be corrected. If this does not happen, things could get worse. Change is repentance. And if we do not have repentance as a change, persecution can indeed eventually destroy the Church, as it has been not once in different countries. Nobody promised that the Church would always be in the lands of Ukraine.
All that God desires from us is that we are who we should be. Then the persecution will only harden and strengthen us. And in order to be those who we should be, it is necessary to solve the pressing problems of church life. And the solution to these issues directly depends on all of us, because the Church is we. It is necessary to move both “from below” and “from above” – as far as it is possible for everyone.
Time does not wait. Persecutions have already begun. And we must respond to them, first and foremost, with prayer and repentance. And repentance is a change. It is never too late to change. Christian life is a permanent change.