Recently the heads of two Ukrainian Churches – His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) and Patriarch Filaret – took part in the 62nd National Prayer Breakfast with members of Congress and the US President. Besides, the religious leaders had a series of official meetings and roundtables, where they spoke about the current events in Ukraine. This event became for many an object of debate, particularly in the margins of social networking sites, because the Church had been accused of some objectionable deeds.
The tradition of holding prayer breakfasts dates back to 1953. Since then, the US political elite has been inviting business, political, and public leaders from 140 countries to arrive on the first Thursday of February. “This gathering is a time when we forget about our differences and attempt to build and solidify our relations with the assistance of our love for God and we can care for each other,” the official invitation says.” This event is, above all, an opportunity to strike up close acquaintanceships and establish contacts. The value of this event was stressed by Mark J. ROZELL, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and co-editor of a book on the role of religion in the lives of American presidents, in a comment to the Voice of America’s Ukrainian service: “The National Prayer Breakfast reflects the culture of USA, where the number of believers is growing rather than declining. And people want to have a President with a strong faith; they like the fact that he participates in public events which are expressions of religiosity and faith.” As is known, the United States has a very multifaceted religious segment, so holding the National Prayer Breakfast shows the elite’s openness to a dialog with different representatives of the religious world.
This year the prayer breakfast was in fact a debate on the situation in Ukraine. Addressing this forum, Patriarch Filaret called on the US to help Ukraine settle the economic and political crisis. “The question of integration into Europe is today the question of preserving the integrity of Ukraine. The question of a European choice is in choosing between democracy and dictatorship,” he emphasized at the meetings. Besides, US Representative Marcy Kaptur and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rubin also expressed support for Ukraine in their commentaries to the US media. “We think that other countries have no right to pressure their neighbors. Ukraine is an independent and sovereign state, and this must be defended,” Mr. Rubin said.
As the prayer breakfast was going on, the Ukrainian community in the US also had an opportunity to participate in the campaigns that reminded the American continent of an extremely critical situation in Ukraine. It is important that His Beatitude Sviatoslav and Patriarch Filaret offered a prayer for a peaceful settlement of the situation in this country. Tellingly, the prayer of unity was conducted near the Taras Shevchenko monument in Washington.
ALLIANCE WITH THE MAIDAN
In the course of official meetings with the US political elite, His Beatitude Sviatoslav and Patriarch Filaret found a possibility to express the position of the Churches and religious organizations in the media. In our view, it is worthwhile to reflect on the religious leaders’ interview with the Voice of America’s Ukrainian bureau.
Speaking to VOA journalists, Patriarch Filaret first told the US community about the history of Euromaidan and about students as catalyst of peaceful protests. In the view of his Holiness, if we recall the prehistory of the events, we can conclude that ordinary people were in fact the key catalyst of protests because the students’ actions were quite apolitical in the beginning. “The people are invincible. What we can see on the Maidan means that the people cannot be broken, for they are a force,” Patriarch Filaret emphasized. Besides, it was recalled at the meeting that the patriarch had renounced a presidential award and a ceremony on the occasion of his 85th birthday. The patriarch said to this that the Church should always be with the people. His Beatitude Sviatoslav also stressed the importance of the visit of religious leaders to Washington. In his opinion, what is going on in Ukraine must worry every American because there is a danger of losing democracy in Eastern Europe. His Beatitude pointed out that Churches and religious organizations in Ukraine had emerged as peace mediators between the authorities and society, particularly by taking part in roundtables. “The idea of a roundtable has been discredited in Ukraine. I would not like to hurt anybody, but it is a well-orchestrated show. I walked out of the latest roundtable, when one of those present began to insult my faithful and the people who are standing on the Maidan,” His Beatitude Sviatoslav emphasized. It will be recalled that, in an interview with Moscow’s Echo Radio after one of the first roundtables, His Beatitude Sviatoslav also said that this pattern of conversation was ineffective and called this process “a set of monologs.”
“THE CHURCH IS BECOMING A ‘VERIFIED SOURCE’ OF INFORMATION”
Analolii BABYNSKY, editor-in-chief, newspaper Patriarkhat; research associate, Institute of Religion and Society, Ukrainian Catholic University:
“The history of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) in the 20th century shows that the Church can be a good integrator of Ukrainians in the world. When we did not have a state and there was the Soviet Union, the Church was often our voice – especially after His Beatitude Josyf Slipyj had come to Rome. From the 1960s until the demise of the Soviet Union, the UGCC remained perhaps the only powerful mouthpiece and spokesperson of the Ukrainians, which the world leaders heard and heeded. Today, we are in somewhat similar situation: when an information war is on and the voice of Ukrainian politicians is not unanimous, the voice of a more stable institution, such as Church, may have a great deal of clout on the international arena. The Church did not go to this forum together with the authorities. There were two separate delegations. The very fact that His Beatitude Sviatoslav and Patriarch Filaret were present there means that the Church is being treated decently and listened to. And if you read the news that came after the Prayer Breakfast, you will see that their presence was regarded as more important than that of the politicians who had arrived from Ukraine. The hierarchs represented no political forces, but they told the whole world (there were representatives of more than a hundred countries there) about the values for which the Ukrainians have been standing in the cold and dying for almost three months now: justice, honesty, and solidarity. This is very important now, when the Ukrainian authorities remain shaky, as does the opposition which is unable to resort to more concrete actions. Yet the world must know what is going on here, and, in these conditions, the Church is becoming a ‘verified source’ that will put the voice of people across to the worldwide community.”
“BY THEIR STATEMENTS, THE UOC KP REPRESENTATIVES PROMOTED THE POLARIZATION OF OUR SOCIETY”
Rev. Andrii TOLSTOI, priest, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate; editor, website Pravoslavny ohliadach:
“In my personal opinion, since the beginning of active integration into Europe, the Kyiv Patriarchy has been increasingly doing things that are extrinsic to the Church. Out of the two extremes – to be completely isolated from social processes or to vanish in them – it chose the latter. In my view, this reduced the Church to the level of a political party or a non-governmental organization which defends the temporary mundane interests of certain financial-political circles. It is obvious in this case that these circles are foreign. The phrase ‘Church is with the people’ is used to justify anything – it is being abused in fact. I think that, by their statements, UOC KP representatives very often promoted the polarization of our society and the aggravation of a civil conflict, which is unnatural and outrageous in the case of the Church. We will have, sooner or later, to reap the bitter fruits of this behavior. (The same will continue to happen unless there is repentance. Nine years ago the UOC KP was actively blessing Yushchenko, drawing the hearts of people to him and his team. Has the Church apologized for misleading people? For people showed contempt for him in the last elections. If God had sided with this politician, as we were told to believe, would we have come to a new Ruin in 2010?)”