On Maidan

ucraine_Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun_Slider

January 14, 2014

It is too early to sum up or to reflect theologically upon what is going on at the Maidan in Kyiv. First, everything is changing rapidly and the next day the Maidan can be completely different or can perish altogether. Second, to properly reflect on such an event as the Maidan, some time should pass. Nevertheless, it is already clear that the Maidan, regardless of its future, has changed the country, the society, as well as the relations between the Ukrainian churches and the Ukrainian society.

In Western Europe, the crimes of Nazism, including the Holocaust, forced the Christian churches to radically reconsider their relationship with state and society. A distinct discipline of political theology was born as a reaction to Nazi totalitarianism and atrocities of WWII. In Ukraine, however, neither the persecutions of the Church by the Bolsheviks, nor the Holodomor, nor Stalin’s purges, nor the war, nor persecutions under Khrushchev, nor the liberation of the Church from atheist pressure and its immediate splitting into warring religious groups have led to similar consequences. The Maidan, however, has a chance to initiate a process of re-evaluation of the relationships between the Church, the state, and society. Then the Ukrainian churches will also begin to consider themselves differently. This is the subject of my brief reflection.

Historically, the Christian church both in the east and the west had primarily a bilateral relationship with what we call the public and political sphere and which is also known under the Greek word politeia. Namely, this relationship existed almost exclusively between the church and the state. Relatively recently the churches have begun to realize that these two dimensions: church and state – are insufficient. There exists a third self-sufficient dimension – the society – which is also important for the church.

This realization forces the churches to proceed from the bilateral relationship ‘church-state’ to a trilateral relationship that includes church, state, and society. Or to put it in a better order: church, society, and state, where the state takes the third place. It should be mentioned that in the history of the Christian church there were instances when the church dealt with society as a category distinct from the state. St Augustine is believed to have laid the foundation of the relationship between church and society in his seminal work De civitate Dei. No such discourse existed in the east. However, in the east there have been many examples of pointed interactions between church and society as a third dimension, such as, for instance, in the case of St. John Chrysostom.

The Eastern church moved even closer to the society after the fall of Constantinople, when it lost support of the Christian state and could only rely on the Christian community. This community, called ‘millet,’ became a proto-nation and a proto-civil society. The Eastern church thus discovered for itself the third dimension distinct from the state, the society.

The Orthodox church in the Russian empire developed its relations with society in a different way, which rather resembled the church in Byzantium. This means that the relationship between church and society was overshadowed by the relationship between the church and the state. In the Soviet Union, the church failed to develop distinct relations with the society. This happened, on the one hand, because militant atheist propaganda acted as a watchdog between the church and society. On the other hand, the church itself did not care much about developing relations with anything else but the state. After the state had marginalized the church, the latter did nothing but wait in a ghetto until it would regain recognition. When this eventually had come to pass after the collapse of the communist regime, the church promptly started to rebuild its relations with the state instead of connecting with the society. Partially this can be explained by the fact that the post-Soviet society for a long time did not realize its distinctiveness from the state.

The Maidan presents an example of a society that is beginning to understand its distinctiveness. The Maidan is giving or has given birth to a community which represents a classic instance of the civil society, almost in its pure substance. This community identifies itself on the basis of shared values, including dignity, honesty, non-violence, solidarity, and readiness for self-sacrifice. Civil society in the form currently present at the Maidan can hardly be found even in Europe, where for the most part people nowadays are united on the basis of common interests, but not common values. I cannot personally imagine any contemporary European country where people would be freezing and risk being beaten or even killed 24 hours a day for weeks, for the sake of values that seem quite abstract. The Ukrainian Maidan, which gathered ‘for the sake of Europe’, has become more European than Europe and its politicians. While the Ukrainians see how the European politicians betray the European Maidan they do not betray the European values they stand for. The Ukrainian Maidan actually restores confidence in Europe for many Europeans; it cures what can be called ‘the European fatigue.’

Moreover, the Maidan has dramatically challenged all the Ukrainian churches in regard to values. These churches before the Maidan and partially at its first stage remained engaged in bilateral relations with the state, some to a greater and some to a lesser extent. Only recently have the churches started to realize and reach out for the moral heights of the Maidan. They moved beyond the general admonitions to avoid violence and have begun to embrace, in words and deeds, the values of the Maidan. They realized how close these values were to the values of Christianity, including altruism, readiness for self-sacrifice, solidarity, and so on. The Maidan in a very Christian way chose to be weak, even though it is strong in numbers and in the determination of its participants. The Maidan has adopted almost eschatological expectations that the dignity of human nature, created in the image and likeness of God, can one day be restored.

The Maidan pushed the churches to rise above the status quo that dominated their relationship with the state for years, and to take the side of the society in its struggle with a violent regime. Now the churches need to make a step further and to judge the regime honestly. It is irresponsible for them to hide behind the reduced interpretation of the Scriptural statement that ‘all authority comes from God’ (Rom 1, 13). This interpretation is reduced because it cannot explain the position of such great saints as Athanasius of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, and others. These and others saints openly accused the authorities of their time of abuses. They did not limit themselves to the self-evident and secure appeals to be good and not bad. They called things by their proper names and were direct in accusing the authorities to their face. Now the churches that want to follow the example of the saints have an opportunity to articulate what the majority of the Ukrainian people has clearly understood, even though these people did not study moral theology in theological seminaries and academies. They nevertheless clearly see that the present Ukrainian regime is not Christian even though it demonstrates an inclination to religious cult. Its Christianity is a simulacrum. It has a form, but no content. It has no Christian morality in it. This regime does not treat the others as their brothers and sisters. In their relations with God, the authorities seek that God does not impede them from obtaining new trophies from the unfortunate people rather than consider using their power to serve their neighbour.

The churches now have the opportunity to realize that they often serve as mediators between God and criminals, who want to protect themselves from God. The churches receive a ‘commission’ for their mediation. Where does this mediation lead? It leads to the legitimization of corruption and to its sacralization. Indeed, corruption in our society has become sacred. The Maidan gives the churches an opportunity to change this status quo and to refuse to fulfil this mediating role, which only serves to legitimize corruption, social injustice, abuse of power, etc.

The Ukrainian churches now have the opportunity to step out of the dark circle of collaborationism with a criminal regime and to follow the ‘Confessing Church,’ which withstood Nazism. It is a good time to step out of the metaphysical refuge and to follow Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in proclaiming that Christ is the Lord of everything, including politics. It is time to overturn this shameful dualism of the political and metaphysical, which has led most German churches to collaborate with the Nazis. It is time to apply the idea of the ‘Confessing Church’ in Ukraine.

It is time for the Ukrainian churches to reach out for the moral achievements of a society that is rapidly evolving on the basis of values that the church should have upheld. It is time to revise the relationship with the state. It is time to build the relationship with the people. And to learn from them to value and to struggle for dignity, honesty, and humanity.

Cyril Hovorun is a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and currently a researcher at Yale University. He is the author of Will, Action, and Freedom: Christological Controversies in the Seventh Century, Brill 2008.

Source: http://byzypriest.com/. Translation into English by the author

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  • Marci Shore

    Associate Professor of History, Yale University
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  • Sławomir Sierakowski

    Director, Institute for Advanced Study, Warsaw; Founder, "Krytyka Polityczna" movement
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  • Sara Silverstein

    Ph.D. Candidate in Modern European and International History, Yale University
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  • Aleksander Smolar

    Political Science, Paris
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  • Timothy Snyder

    IWM Permanent Fellow
    Bird White Housum Professor of History, Yale University
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  • George Soros

    George Soros is a pioneer of the hedge-fund industry, investor and philanthropist, he is the author of many books, including Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States: Essays (2012), The Soros Lectures: At the Central European University (2010), The Crash of 2008 and What it Means: The New Paradigm for Finance Markets (2009).   …
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  • Robert Spaemann

    Robert Spaemann ist Professor em. für Philosophie an der Universität München.   Print

  • Pawel Spiewak

    Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Philosophy, Warsaw University
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  • Wilfried Stadler

    Wilfried Stadler ist Unternehmensberater, Wirtschaftspublizist und Honorarprofessor an der Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien. Bis 2009 war er Vorstandsvorsitzender einer österreichischen Spezialbank für Unternehmensfinanzierung.   Print

  • Rudolf Stamm

    Rudolf Stamm war von 1975 bis 1988 Korrespondent der Neuen Zürcher Zeitung für Osteuropa und Österreich, anschließend bis 1999 für Italien, dann bis zu seiner Pensionierung 2002 für die USA mit Sitz in Washington D.C. Er starb 2010 in der Schweiz. 1985 erscheinen seine NZZ-Reportagen aus Osteuropa in dem Band Alltag und Tradition in Osteuropa. …
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  • Paul Starr

    Paul Starr ist Professor für Soziologie an der Princeton University und Mitherausgeber von The American Prospect. Er ist Pulitzer-Preisträger.   Print

  • Martina Steer

    ÖAW APART Fellow (History)
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  • Kristina Stoeckl

    Research Director
    APART Fellow, Austrian Academy of Sciences; Department of Political Sciences, University of Vienna
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  • Roman Szporluk

    Roman Szporluk is Professor em. of Ukrainian History at Harvard and Professor em. of History at the University of Michigan. He is a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine. His research focuses on modern Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish history, and on Marxism and nationalism in Eastern Europe.   Print

  • Charles Taylor

    IWM Permanent Fellow
    Professor em. of Philosophy, McGill University, Montréal
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  • Maria Teteriuk

    PhD candidate in Mass Communications and senior lecturer in Media Studies, National University of 'Kyiv-Mohyla Academy', Ukraine
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  • Philipp Ther

    Junior Professor of Polish and Ukrainian Studies, Europa-Universität Frankfurt / Oder
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  • Maria Todorova

    Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
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  • Balázs Trencsényi

    Balázs Trencsényi, Ph.D., is Associate Professor at the Department of History, CEU. His research focuses on the comparative history of political thought in East Central Europe and the history of historiography. He is co-director of Pasts, Inc., Center for Historical Studies at CEU and Associate Editor of the periodical East Central Europe (Brill). He was …
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  • Stefan Troebst

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  • Marius Turda

    Lecturer in the Education Abroad Program, Eötvös Lorand University, Faculty of Humanities, Budapest
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  • Andreas Umland

    Andreas Umland ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Euro-Atlantische Kooperation Kiew sowie Herausgeber der Buchreihe Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, ibidem-Verlag Stuttgart. Print

  • Victoria Vasilenko

    Assistant Professor of Contemporary History and International Relations, Belgorod National Research University
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  • David G. Victor

    David G. Victor is a Professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation.   Print

  • Harald Welzer

    Harald Welzer ist Forschungsprofessor für Sozialpsychologie an der Universität Witten/Herdecke und Direktor des Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research am Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts Essen.   Print

  • Karolina Wigura

    Adjunct of the History of Ideas, University of Warsaw; Co-Editor of Kultura Liberalna
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  • Volodymyr Yermolenko

    Volodymyr Yermolenko is a Ukrainian philosopher and essayist. He has a degree in Political Science from the EHESS, Paris, and teaches at Kyiv Mohyla Academy in Kyiv. He is the author of the book Narrator and Philosopher: Walter Benjamin and his time (2011, in Ukrainian). Print

  • Oksana Zabuzhko

    Free-lance writer, Kiev
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  • Tatiana Zhurzhenko

    Research Director, Russia in Global Dialogue / Ukraine in European Dialogue
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