Recently, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted a law that will open the KGB archives from 1918-1990 to the public. Long overdue, this far-reaching legislation will finally grant surviving family members an opportunity to find out what happened to their missing relatives and confirm the mysterious circumstances of their disappearance and death. A similar bill forbidding Nazi and Soviet symbolism was introduced and passed. Many analysts have suggested that this particular piece of legislation needs to be edited so that it reflects the experience of other Soviet-aligned countries that have already initiated this process and that such procedures need to be reconciled with the existing jurisprudence of the European Union. A third law that passed granted members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) official recognition and status as freedom fighters for Ukraine.
In another attempt to distance Ukraine from the hegemony of Soviet totalitarianism, the crimson poppy was adopted as the national symbol for commemorating the end of World War II and the countless sacrifice of human lives. A few years ago Vladimir Putin downplayed the contribution of the armed forces of Ukraine by stating that: “Russia would have won the Great Patriotic War (WWII) even without Ukrainian soldiers.” The crimson poppy was quickly adopted and worn on the lapels of many. In Kyiv, the intrepid roofer Mustang Wanted climbed up the statue of Rodina Mat’ and placed a wreath of crimson poppies on her head in memory of all Ukrainians who died in war. President Poro-shenko thanked him personally as he visited the site with Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations.
the crimson poppy was adopted as the national symbol for commemorating the end of World War II and the countless sacrifice of human lives.
It was also truly moving to see veterans of the Red Army and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army stand together at a special session of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) on May the 8th, 2015. President Petro Poroshenko attended and spoke at this session and also read the names of those who died in defense of Ukraine during the Revolution of Dignity, the Annexation of Crimea and the Russian invasion of Donbass. As he read the list of these courageous heroes everyone present at this session of parliament stood in honor of the deceased except a delegation of three bishops of the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The primate of this church in Ukraine, Metropolitan Onufry (Berezovsky), responded to mounting criticism of the delegation’s decision to sit during the reading of the heroically deceased by stating that his intention was to “protest the reality of war in Ukraine,” and “not to dishonor the dead.”
Metropolitan Onufry’s res-ponse did not resonate positively with the Ukrainian people.
Many questions still abound regarding the role of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin initiated the takeover and annexation of Crimea and orchestrated the hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine. As a signatory of the Budapest Memorandum, Russia violated its promise to protect Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Has Metro-politan Onufry addressed these concerns in Moscow when he attends meetings of the Synod? Would he remain sitting if the names of dead Russian soldiers were read aloud at a meeting of Russia’s Duma? But of course, Russian soldiers are not present in Ukraine and when their corpses are returned for burial, the surviving family members are paid off so that they remain silent. This leads one to conclude that, as always, it is the Ukrainians that are to be blamed for all of the world’s ills and that Metropolitan Onufry will not “stand” by the brave soldiers who have given their lives in defense of Ukraine’s independence.
The Russian Orthodox Church has historically served the interests of the Tsar and the politics of imperial expansionism. The Moscow Patriarchate was always generously rewarded for its cooperation. The Tsar, like his cousin the King of England, was an “anointed of God” and effectively the supreme leader of the Orthodox Church. This changed dramatically after the Bolshevik Revolution – churches were closed, bishops and clergy arrested and killed, property confiscated. Patriarch Tikhon anathematized the new Soviet government, ushering in an era of greater suppression until Stalin revived the Church in 1941 as a means of bolstering Russian patriotism.
The late dissident Father Gleb Yakunin had access to KGB archives after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. He concluded that the Moscow Patriarchate is a subsidiary of the KGB, and that no bishop could ever be appointed without direct collaboration with the Russian authorities. Priests who criticized the government were demoted, exiled to distant areas, and even defrocked.
Would he remain sitting if the names of dead Russian soldiers were read aloud at a meeting of Russia’s Duma?
The image of Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv and his fellow hierarchs sitting during last week’s May 8th session of the Verkhovna Rada reminded me of a dream related to me by a prominent Ukrainian Catholic priest during last year’s Revolution of Dignity. In this dream Father X finds himself traveling to President Yanukovych’s palatial residence in Mezhyhirya. Father’s motivation is noble. He wishes to confront Yanukovych and remind him that it is his duty to uphold and defend the constitution of Ukraine and to respect the wishes of his people.
As Father X comes closer to the residence he sees a frightening symbol: a Church positioned upside-down. The dream ends here.
The image of a church standing upside-down symbolizes an anti-church. When you take a few moments to reflect upon the meaning of a church structure, the anti-church embodies everything that is opposed to and against the church. For example, a church unites, the anti-church separates. The body of the church gathers humanity under the protection of God and the heavenly. The anti-church inverts that order and places God in a subservient position to man, while the heavenly is trampled upon by our feet.
The church invites us to sacrifice and do acts of charity and kindness. The anti-church sedu-ces us to selfishness, greed and animosity. Symbols are richly layered with meaning, the image of the anti-church notwithstanding.
The ousted Viktor Yanukovych embodied selfishness, greed and animosity. He was personally blessed by Patriarch Kirill at the Pechersk Lavra on the day of his inauguration as President of Ukraine. Yanukovych’s association with the Moscow Patriarchate, his pro-Kremlin, anti-democratic and anti-European stance reinforced the russky mir (Russian world) delusions proposed by the Russian Orthodox Church. The connection of Yanukovych and the image of the inverted church in the dream is are reflections of what exists in realm time and in the realm world. The unconscious autonomously presented both images in their proper relationship: in collusion with one another.
The Church is called to serve her people, to comfort in times of distress – to feed, clothe and grant sanctuary and protect from evil and aggression. When a church loses its prophetic ability to confront evil it colludes with ungodly forces. By sitting during the reading of the names of soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Ukraine, Metropolitan Onufry and his fellow hierarchs made a bold statement: “I will not stand up for you, I will not honor your dead.” All of the other church and religious leaders stood during this solemn moment. They understood –and they will “stand up” for the rights of Ukrainian citizens.
There was only one bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine who honored the memory of the deceased sol-diers, the former secretary of His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) of blessed memory, Metropolitan Oleksander Drabinko. In his sermon during a memorial Divine Liturgy Vladyka Oleksander commemorated the deceased soldiers, and thanked their mothers for raising sons who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the good of their fellow countrymen. Crimson poppies and blue and yellow ribbons were attached to Metropolitan Oleksander’s staff – trikirion and dikirions, symbolic confirmation of his personal commit-ment to “stand up” for his people.
As Ukrainians worldwide continue to deepen their under-standing of the new psychological and political realities of reform and renewal, to reassess our relationships with one another, with the past, and with our traumatic history, our religious affiliations will be fruitful only when we align our hearts and minds with the truth.
Rev. Myron Panchuk, M.A.
Photos by Trebukhov Maksym
& Mykola Lazarenko/ Press Office of the President of Ukraine