From Tomos to electronic rule: what the Orthodox should be ready for

06 August 2019 18:06
With the advancements in technology, the power has more and more ways to “turn off” a person from life. Photo: UOJ With the advancements in technology, the power has more and more ways to “turn off” a person from life. Photo: UOJ

Phanar-Poroshenko’s blitzkrieg to destroy UOC has failed. But would each of us stand the Tomos test if Poroshenko had more opportunities to put pressure on believers?

In July 2019, Ukraine the process of power shift came to an end. We have yet to experience its effects, but one thing can be said now: with the departure of the old government, an active phase of the Tomos implanting and the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is coming to an end. Phanar-Poroshenko’s blitzkrieg on the destruction of the UOC has gone awry and the Church has survived.

Now, recalling the actions of Poroshenko and Co. before and after granting of the Tomos, it seems that the pressure on the hierarchs, priests and believers of the canonical Church was enormous and unprecedented. But was it really so?

Indeed, the faithful of dozens and hundreds of communities in Western Ukraine, whose temples were taken away by the breakaway groups, without any exaggeration, can be called confessors of faith. But can the same be attributed to ALL members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? Did the enemies of the UOC possess the tools to place each member of the Church in front of a real dilemma – choosing the amenities of this world or remaining faithful to Christ?

We all live in a river of time, amid which the Church of Christ stands firmly. Eras and rulers passed by Her. But always, at all times, the main task for the Church was to build a person’s relations with God, to build them so that in any situation a believer could sacrifice absolutely everything in earthly life for these relations.

Now, there are a lot of signs which allow saying that we are approaching the time of the end of the world. From the Scriptures we know that these days will be especially difficult to those who will remain faithful to Christ:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24: 9-13)

Of course, the words of the Savior will come true in due time. But are we ready for this? Can we be among those “who will stand firm to the end”?

Now it seems unbelievable to us that in a world where the majority of the world's population call themselves Christians, torture and murder for practicing the Christian faith are not imaginary but real. We absolutely do not understand how this is basically possible, because it is commonly believed that:

  • No one is persecuting Christians and cannot persecute a priori;
  • In a democratic society there can be no mechanisms for persecuting one of its members by others at all;
  • By definition, this cannot be the case in Ukraine – the country being officially considered an Orthodox state.

However, en masse persecution of Christians, including the experience with the issuance of the Ukrainian Tomos, shows that in modern society, persecution is quite possible just for professing your Christian faith.

In our country, it has not yet reached the point of conscious torment and murder but this, no matter how cynical it may sound, is a matter of time, because many cases of physical violence against members of the UOC have been recorded and on top that – threats of murder and mutilation.

At this point you need to remember one extremely important point.

Most cases when believers of the UOC are persecuted occur in small villages. People live there in a closed world, from which there is nowhere to go, a world that can be called a kind of "state in the state". It means that a person living in such a society is very dependent on those around him, and especially on the local government, which, as they say, is “one’s own sovereign”. It gives (or does not give) employment, buys (or does not buy) your crop and generally observes (or does not comply) other conditions for the normal existence of villagers.

Believers of dozens and hundreds of communities in Western Ukraine, whose temples were taken away by the breakaway groups, without any exaggeration, can be called confessors of faith. But can the same be attributed to ALL members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?

In fact, a member of an Orthodox community in such a village is often faced up with a choice – either the transition to the OCU offering a comfortable life or the status of a "non-patriot", an outcast, a person outside society.

The above situation can be viewed as a small trial model of the life of Christians in the time of the end, described by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian in his "Revelation", a book better known under the title "Apocalypse":

“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Rev. 13: 16-17).

It would seem – there is nothing in common but this is only at first glance. Although the believers in the villages of Western Ukraine have not yet received a mark on their hands or foreheads, the gist is the same – they either have to accept the religious choice proposed to them by the authorities (in this case, the OCU), or be prepared for the reality in which their rights and opportunities will be substantially cut down.

As for the prophecy of the Apostle John, the words about the mark on a right hand or a forehead as a sign of submission to the Beast became known far beyond the Christian world. However, interest in them is superficial and attracts, rather, the general apocalyptic surroundings of the end of the world. Writers produce fantastic stories and novels on this subject, directors make thriller films. And all of them, as well as viewers with readers, perceive this topic simply as a terrible tale tickling your nerves but having nothing to do with reality.

Anyway, these are unbelievers. But what about us, Orthodox?

We do not consider the Apocalypse a fairy tale, but how deeply do we understand it?

Nowadays, entire Orthodox communities have been actively operating for many years, the purpose of which is to avoid receiving any personal documents that could at least somehow be interpreted as “marking a hand or a forehead”: an identification code, a passport with a chip, and others.

We will not evaluate either their struggle or the chances of victory in it but instead think about whether the believer’s having no identification code indicates that he is faithful to his Savior, and vice versa – having a code about the betrayal of Christ?

Perhaps, the point is not in the documents but in the readiness for a Christian facing difficult circumstances to leave his comfort zone and make some sacrifices for the sake of his faith? Believers of a number of communities in the villages of Western Ukraine turned out to be ready for such victims, but how about the rest of us?

* * *

Let’s reflect on what would happen if the Tomos epic of Petro Poroshenko happened 20-30 years later?

Despite declarative slogans about belonging to Europe and civilization in general, Ukraine is not at the forefront in the world of technological progress so far.

Of course, with a great desire, the special services of Ukraine are able to track and find almost any person, but still these opportunities look slim in comparison, for example, with China. The "Vigilant Eyes" system is already operating there, which by 2020 will have been able to cover absolutely the entire population of the country – almost 1.4 billion people. Millions of cameras record all movements of the population; a huge database for each inhabitant has been created. If a citizen tries to hide his face, the tracking system is able to identify a person even by gait. In addition, China has already introduced a security clearance rating, and those whose rating is below a certain level are subject to many restrictions. There is no doubt that this system is capable of working not only for observation, but also for isolation of physical entities considered by the state to be dangerous or unreliable.

Of course, it is difficult for Ukrainians to imagine that this can be the case in our country in the near future, but there is no halting progress which is not limited to the borders of any one state.

There is no doubt that in the coming years the world (and, therefore, Ukraine as well) will supplant the circulation of cash and only electronic means will be used which are easy to control and, if necessary, to block. Public transport and fuel (electricity) for personal transport will also be paid via electronic media. The supply of water, light, gas – all this will be turned on and off remotely.

In other words, we are confronted with the reality when by pressing a single button, a person can be completely “turned off” from life.

How does this relate to us – Orthodox Christians?

No-brainer. Imagine for a moment that former President Petro Poroshenko could have at the end of 2018 technologies which allowed him to block any citizen’s bank accounts, access to administrative services, medical care, transportation, etc. with one click. Just with one purpose – to push one to make the “right” religious choice.

Is each of us ready for such an action? Just one button is pressed – and a line is drawn in life: you are either employed but with the OCU, or you are unemployed and with the Church. Are we ready to sacrifice our comfort, let alone the essentials, for the sake of our faith?

We are confronted with the reality when by pressing a single button, a person can be completely “turned off” from life.

Of course, all this can be illegal, but any of such actions can easily be justified by the victim’s affiliation with the “Russian World”, the community of “Kremlin agents” and other fancy ideas.

Many will say that Poroshenko left and this will not happen again. But they will be wrong.

We often have a false feeling that humanity is moving towards civilization, and barbaric, wild deeds of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers can never come back.

I bet they can. Let us recall how the “enemies of the people” from the 1930s of the totalitarian USSR smoothly turned into “agents of Moscow” at the end of the 2010s; how denunciations to the NKVD quietly transformed into “signals” to the SBU. A sinful nature of man with the course of history and the advancements of technology has not disappeared – it only received more outlets.

But there is another very important point about all this. Those who seek to control us do not impose these means of control on us, but we seek them ourselves.

* * *

Probably, many of us know the feeling of confusion and even despair when leaving your home in the morning you suddenly find that you forgot to take your smartphone. You suddenly realize that it’s not just that you didn’t take an ordinary electronic device – you were left without a means of communication with the virtual outside world, which is often difficult to distinguish from the real one.

In transport, most people are busy reading the newsfeed on social networks and watching movies. Being on a subway or in a minibus without looking at the screen becomes almost an unbearable torture. Via our phone, we already pay for purchases in stores and transportation, order subscriptions to the gym, theater or train tickets. And there seems to be nothing wrong with that. After all, this is just a thing that makes our life more convenient, isn't it? But the thing that keeps us pinned to the virtual circuit being stronger than the real one.

Recall that smartphones have existed for ten years at most. There is no doubt that in another ten years they will transform into something even more convenient, more functional, more indispensable and more hypnotizing.

In Sweden, they are already using in full the system, where part of the functions of modern smartphones in terms of interacting with the outside world is performed by a miniature chip, implanted in the hand. Surely, they will soon find the possibility of full interaction with the human brain. A cute smartphone will become even closer to us, although it will be called differently. This is a matter of the near future, since today, for example, bionic prostheses which can control the electrical potential of the human body, or auditory cochlear implants which transform external electrical signals into signals that are natural to our nervous system, are widespread.

We often have a false feeling that humanity is moving towards civilization, and barbaric, wild deeds of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers can never come back. I bet they can.

What will a person with such a built-in smartphone do, when his conventional Internet and all the life and comfort supporting functions he’s so much used to, are suddenly turned off? The authorities will first turn it off but then they will offer to turn it on but "with a small condition".

Obviously, this is a situation of the same ilk as that of a believer in a small village in Western Ukraine, whose temple, job and livelihood are robbed by the local authorities. He/she is offered the same “small condition” – to join the OCU.

* * *

No matter what historical and civilization conditions you live in, it is important that you are ready to sacrifice your livelihood and amenities for the sake of your faith, for the sake of Christ.

If the arrival of Antichrist is described in the Holy Scriptures, then we cannot discard it. However, it is safe to say that even at that terrible time there will be Christians who will be saved and there will be those who choose the comfort of earthly life.

In the “Revelation” of John the Evangelist there are the following words: “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb” (Rev. 14: 9-10).

It hardly speaks of those who have not refused an identification code or even those who have implanted an electronic chip into their hands.

Rather, it speaks about the choice – whether you will not denounce your faith, the Church and Christ in a critical situation.

Believers of Ukraine have already withstood the “Tomos test”. We are having respite now and can take a breath. But there is no doubt that a battle is ahead.

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