Church and elections: who unites and who divides Ukraine
Following the first round of the presidential election, some religious denominations began to divide Ukrainians into friends and foes. Can the Сhurch do this?
The wave of tension in the society subsides gradually after the first round of the presidential election in Ukraine. Probably, right now is the time to calmly talk about some significant points that caught my eye both on the election day and after it.
The voting results generated a lively discussion on social media. Certainly, representatives and supporters of the OCU, who openly support the candidacy of the current President, were very upset about the victory of Vladimir Zelensky. A great deal was written and said about this in the first days after the elections.
Representatives of the UGCC also reacted painfully to the voting results. This is not surprising either. However, the way they expressed their indignation was striking. On Facebook, not only the laity but also the clergy of the UGCC massively distributed statements such as: “Are you for Zelensky? Get out of friends!” For example, a similar message by hieromonk Justin (Yuri) Boyko gathered more than 500 reposts on the first day after the elections. A similar post was published by the Uniate bishop Peter Krik.
It is not entirely clear how priests or bishops can divide people into friends and foes on political grounds and antagonize people in favour of politics. After all, the Holy Scripture tells us that in Christianity “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and is in all” (Col. 3, 11). Alas, the realities of the UGCC are different. It turns out that their policy is more important than faith in Christ.
However, if you recall the events of 2013-14, surprise passes. After all, then the Uniate clergy literally did not leave the stage of the Maidan. The priests of the UGCC called on people to participate in the “revolution of dignity”, blessed and approved everything that happened there. And this, too, was a division into friends and foes — after all, those who disagreed with the Maidan ideology were declared non-patriotic, the Kremlin’s agents, Putin’s accomplices. The Greek Catholics supported one of the sides of the civil conflict – was it really in a Christian way?
The behaviour of the UGCC clergy suggests a reflection on the key issue of the life of modern Ukrainian society: what can truly unite Ukraine? The question is not simple, it is difficult to answer it somehow positively. But at least today we can confidently say what CANNOT unite us. The experience of recent years has perfectly shown what can’t unite people of Ukraine either now or ever.
Even during the Maidan, the Uniates declared all those who disagreed non-patriots, the Kremlin’s agents, and Putin’s accomplices.
The idea of Ukrainian nationalism will never unite the country. Ukraine will not unite under the portrait of Bandera – on the contrary, it will divide.
The church-political project of the OCU also cannot reconcile the Ukrainian people – this was shown in the first months after the Tomos.
The 400-year history of the UGCC leaves no doubt that Uniatism cannot be a unifying platform for the Ukrainian society.
The current hostilities in the east of Ukraine do not consolidate the inhabitants of the country, although many have tried to make the theme of war a foothold for unification against the “common enemy”.
But what or who is able to reconcile us and unite? In fact, we are talking about a national idea. The question is not easy. It is difficult to say something definite about what the national idea of modern Ukrainian society should be and whether it can be at all. However, the following can be noticed here.
If we go to churches in the so-called “uncontrolled territories” (Donbass, Crimea), we will see that these are mostly the temples of the UOC. During the service, we will hear the commemoration of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry. Everything there will be exactly the same as in the churches of Kiev and Odessa regions, Transcarpathia and Bukovina ... So, the only thing that still links the former parts of Ukraine with the current ones is the canonical Church. When all ties — economic, political, social — were broken, spiritual communication between politically and ideologically divided people remained in the Church, the one that does not divide people into political categories.
Indeed, the UOC remains almost the only institution in Ukraine that does not seek to divide people but, on the contrary, wants to unite them. There has never been such a thing that a priest or bishop of the UOC should write on his page: "Who is for Poroshenko, delete from friends" or "Who is against the opposition is out of our way". There has been no such thing that our Church would take one or the other side of any civil conflict.
On the contrary, we can recall how during the Maidan, it was our monks who stood between the security forces and the protesters with a prayer for peace. It was our hierarchy who called to cease the military confrontation and join in negotiations. It was His Beatitude Onufry who has repeatedly asked all in authority to stop the war in the Donbass. The Church does not divide our people but calls everyone to repent of their sins and lead a spiritual life.
The canonical Church could unite the Ukrainian people if they wanted to. And this would be unification on the only right and lasting motives — based on faith in Christ and the spiritual life in the Church. But does our secular society want this? For the most part – no.
Moreover, Ukraine today is split from the inside. It is primarily separated spiritually. How many Christian denominations, sects, and religious communities of various kinds are there in it? The country is divided in the ethnic, political, ideological, and language fields.
The UOC remains almost the only institution in Ukraine that does not seek to divide people but, on the contrary, wants to unite them.
Ukraine is a patchwork quilt, it is very heterogeneous. We still had some kind of shaky unity before Maidan. Maidan destroyed this unity and did not create a new one. The quilt is now torn. Past relationships are destroyed for very long, if not forever.
However, Christians should still work for unity and reconciliation but not for the division and antagonism of society. If a person considers himself/herself a Christian (now we conditionally call Christians all who believe in Christ as God, without taking into account the confessional divisions), he/she must be a peacemaker rather than an instigator of new fires. We all can call for unity on at least the platform of common Christian values: kindness, forgiveness, peace, love, friendship, and mercy.
The unification of society on a political or ideological basis fails today. For the Church, to take one side of civil confrontation and humiliate dissidents will mean to divide the citizens into friends and foes, "good" and "bad." This position is hardly worthy of a Christian.
Yes, any political believer necessarily has personal political and ideological preferences, for he/she, besides his/her Christianity, is also a citizen of a particular country, a member of society. Certainly, all of us can have and should have their own views and opinions. But when this position becomes a church one, it divides and confuses people. And to continue dividing people today on political grounds into the “right” and the “wrong”, inciting the already strong hostility, is a great sin, for which some people will inevitably have to answer.