Freedom to worship

After seven decades of religious oppression, the faithful in the Soviet Union were legally granted the right to worship in October, when the Soviet Parliament passed a new "Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations."

The law, which was under discussion in the USSR Supreme Soviet for two years, guarantees millions of believers the right to confess, practice and teach the faith of their choice. It also declares that all religions are equal under the law and bars the state from interfering in religious affairs.

Two other laws passed by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR earlier in the year granted religious communities substantial new rights. The first, dealing with land rights, allows religious organizations the right to permanent or temporary tenure of land which they can use for "the purpose of agriculture or forestry"; the second states that religious organizations may own buildings or other facilities "essential to their activities."

The passage of these laws continues the religious liberalization processes that began with the celebrations of the Millennium of Christianity of Kievan Rus', observed in 1988.

In Ukraine, the rise of religion, particularly the rebirth of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the resurrection of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, has allowed many an occasion for believers to express their religious fervor, to manifest their newly revived freedom to worship.

Perhaps the most recent of these historic events was the October 20 arrival of Patriarch Mstyslav I of Kiev and all Ukraine at St. Sophia Cathedral, ending a 46-year banishment from his native homeland. Elected patriarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church during that Church's first Holy Synod held in Kiev, Ukraine's capital city, on June 5 and 6, Metropolitan Mstyslav had tried to obtain a Soviet visa for more than four months. Finally with the assistance of USSR People's Deputy Yuriy Sorochyk and other Ukrainian parliamentarians, he arrived in Ukraine, where he was jubilantly welcomed by thousands of faithful.

The UAOC took its first steps in gaining official status in October 1989, when one Orthodox parish in Lviv switched to autocephaly. Within less than one year, it claimed eight hierarchs in Ukraine - Ioann, Andriy, Danylo, Vasyl, Volodymyr, Antoniy, Roman and Mykolay, as well as 2,500 declared autocephalous congregations.

In March of 1990, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church responded to the challenge of the growing popularity of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church by granting autonomy to its Ukrainian Exarchate, headed by Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev, as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It reorganized the Moscow Patriarchate into three Churches - the Byelorussian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in June officially proclaimed the full independence of the Church from the Moscow Patriarchate, declaring "We are the independent Church of the independent nation."

The delegates of the synod sent telegrams to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, informing him of the actions of the synod and asking him to rehabilitate the repressed and murdered priests of the UAOC of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the return of the church buildings, monasteries and other assets that had belonged to the UAOC. Another telegram was sent to the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church in Zagorsk, informing that Church of the newly established UAOC and reminding it of the forcible annexation of the Kievan Metropolitanate to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686.

The following day, on June 7, Metropolitan Aleksey of Leningrad and Novgorod was elected the 15th patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. For many Soviet analysts the synod of the UAOC and the naming of Mstyslav as patriarch of Kiev and all Ukraine just prior to the opening of the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church is more than just coincidence.

The confusion of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church - the UAOC - and the reorganization of the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Exarchate into the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church - also the UAOC - has generated problems not only among the hierarchs and clergy but also among the faithful, who, often confused, do not know what Church to pledge allegiance to.

Through the centuries, St. Sophia Cathedral, the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, the majestic sobor built by Prince Yaroslav the Wise in 1036 to commemorate the victory over the Pechenihs, was the center of religious, cultural, educational, national and political life in Ukraine. In 1934, it was transformed into an architectural historical monument by the Soviet state, and only in June, during the holy sobor of the reborn Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was it opened. This marked the first time since the second world war that a divine liturgy was celebrated in that house of worship.

On October 28, the St. Sophia complex was the site of a clash between adherents of the officially sanctioned Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the UAOC. The trouble began when it was learned that Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksey planned to conduct a liturgy there a week after the arrival of Patriarch Mstyslav of the UAOC.

Patriarch Aleksey and Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev did manage to serve liturgy at St. Sophia that Sunday, but it was amid much chaos, as crowds of UAOC faithful chanted "Shame" outside the complex. UAOC faithful were aided by democratic bloc deputies, among them Mykhailo Horyn and Oles Shevchenko, who lay down in the path of the Russian patriarch's limousine. They were dragged away by militiamen. The UAOC faithful, with the support of Ukrainian Catholics, attempted to "defend" St. Sophia Cathedral throughout the weekend of October 26-28, at the time of the second all-Ukrainian congress of the Popular Movement of Ukraine.

Although the Ukrainian Catholics were supportive of the UAOC actions in Kiev, in western Ukraine, long referred to as the bastion of Ukrainian Catholicism, anxiety continues to be high and the drama mounts as believers struggle to establish their UAOC, UOC or UCC bases.

On April 6, the Lviv City Council voted to return St. George Cathedral to the Ukrainian Catholics, in hopes that the Resurrection of the Lord be celebrated in that 18th century house of worship. However, the Russian Orthodox Church, to whom the church was surrendered during the Lviv pseudo-synod of 1946 (which liquidated the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine), refused to yield to the demands of the city council.

The struggle to obtain St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church continued for four months, until Sunday, August 19, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Catholics celebrated the first Ukrainian Catholic service to be held there in 44 years.

But before reclaiming this property as rightfully that of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Lviv Oblast Council stepped in to urge inter-confessional harmony among the citizens of that city, responding to the mounting tension surrounding the return of the cathedral.

The action of the oblast council deputies followed a tense demonstration, when crowds, estimated at 30,000 Ukrainian Catholics, marched down the streets of that western Ukrainian city, demanding the return of the cathedral.

The last phase of the return of St. George was completed when the metropolitan's residence of the Cathedral of St. George was returned to the Ukrainian Catholic Church on November 21.

In an attempt to find mutual understanding, the leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Volodymyr Sterniuk and Patriarch Mstyslav I, met publicly during November 1 celebrations of the 1918 proclamation of the Western Ukrainian National Republic.

However, their embrace remained only a public display, and did not culminate in any kind of meeting; the future of the relationship between these two Churches, their hierarchs and their faithful continues to unfold in these turbulent times of religious confrontation, and cooperation, leading one UOC bishop to label the situation a potential "spiritual Chornobyl."

The Ukrainian Catholic Church, now officially registered and even recognized by Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev, flourished throughout 1990, as more churches were opened, as parishes continued to go through the process of registration.

Early in the year, the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Ivano-Frankivske and the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Hoshiv were returned to the UCC. Another landmark event in 1990 was the registration of the Lviv Church of the Transfiguration, the largest church in Lviv and the first to declare itself Ukrainian Catholic, on October 29, 1989.

Toward the end of the year, the Ukrainian Catholic community in Kiev, which numbers 25,000 believers, was officially registered but did not yet have a building in which to conduct services.

Hope for future leaders for the Ukrainian Catholic Church remains strong as seminaries are renewed for young theology students, with more than 400 applying to train for the priesthood during the first half of 1990.

The hierarchs in Ukraine also began working together during their first synod since the liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1946, on January 23. The council declared the 1946 synod invalid and uncanonical and stated that the Church will now function as a fully legal entity within the Soviet Union.

But the relationship between the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine, the Vatican, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in western Ukraine remains ambiguous.

The four parties, called together to form a "Quadripartite Commission for the Normalization of Relations Between the Orthodox and the Catholics of the Eastern Rite in Western Ukraine in View of the Legalization of the Ukrainian Catholic Church," began meeting in Ukraine in March but broke off talks when the ROC refused to recognize the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as a Church.

Metropolitan Sterniuk, who represented the Ukrainian Catholic Church in these negotiations, called the commission a body that has perpetuated the repression of the Church. The Vatican, which was represented by Archbishop Miroslav Marusyn and Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Stephen Sulyk of the United States, seemed willing to "give away our churches," he said.

Although representatives of the quadripartite commission continued meeting throughout the year, in mid-September the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate broke off talks, stating that it was impossible to hold discussions with the Catholics.

The Catholic Church in Ukraine however, continues to hold its sacred place in western Ukraine, establishing a strong base as the faithful prepare to welcome Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky. Currently residing in Rome, he will take his rightful place at the seat of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lviv on Palm Sunday of 1991.

Although very little is known about religious life in Ukraine outside the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox communities, according to Pastor Olexa Harbuziuk, president of the All-Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Fellowship, based in Berwyn, Ill., there is a Ukrainian revival in Baptist Churches in Ukraine, and in order to help these people in their spiritual life, his fellowship has shipped more than 35,000 Bibles to the faithful in Ukraine.

Another religious leader, who has aided Ukrainians, bringing more than 140,000 Bibles into the country, among these 75,000 children's Bibles, distributed through the Ukrainian Language Society, is Pastor John Shep (Yaroslav Shepelavec) of the "Thoughts of Faith" ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. He attended the historic sobor of the reborn Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in June. It was also through his efforts that more than 40,000 Bibles were distributed to the young people in Lviv who attended the Youth for Christ rally in early September.

The rally, titled "Seeking Christ," included a program of evangelization and a week of Christian Culture bringing to life an idea first presented by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky in 1933. The rally brought together 40,000, who gathered at Lviv's Ukraina Stadium to renew their baptismal vows.

Meanwhile, back in the West, the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, headed by Metropolitan Wasyly Fedak joined the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which encompasses over 140 parishes in three dioceses located in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Toronto, was established in 1918.

Together with the Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese in the United States, under the guidance of Bishop Vsevolod of New York, this group comprises the largest Ukrainian Orthodox body directly under the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the diaspora.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA under the guidance of Patriarch Mstyslav of Kiev and all Ukraine, held its own extraordinary sobor to discuss the current status of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine and to examine ways the diaspora can assist it. The daylong sobor, held on February 2, passed 19 resolutions and two appeals.

The resolutions expressed support for the renewal of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, condemned the imperialistic policies of the Russian Orthodox Church and deplored the inter-confessional conflict which broke out between the Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox Ukrainians in Galicia last year.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA also elevated Bishop Antony of New York to the rank of Archbishop of New York and Washington during Patriarch Mstyslav's enthronement ceremonies in Kiev.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine found both financial and spiritual support in the U.S. Catholic bishops conference held in Washington in late November. It unanimously approved a national fund-raising campaign to aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe. The bishops also established the Office to Aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe and the USSR, which sponsored three fact-finding missions to that part of the world. Among the delegates on one of these missions was Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Basil Losten of Stamford. He traveled to Ukraine and issued a report in which he stressed the need to begin an extensive reconstruction program. On his visit, Bishop Losten, who was also appointed emissary for Church development in Ukraine by Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, inspected seminaries, convents, monasteries and printing plants, currently owned by the Soviet state and city councils, but once Ukrainian Catholic Church property. Bishop Losten estimated that there is an immediate need for a $10 million reconstruction program.

It was also Bishop Losten's eparchy of Stamford that this year signed an agreement between the Stamford Diocese and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., to facilitate immigration procedures for Ukrainians seeking to enter to the United States.

In Washington, the issue of freedom of religion was also discussed on at least two occasions with U.S. government officials and leading Sovietologists. The first of these meetings took place on January 26, when individuals from several Congressional offices, the Helsinki Commission and Ukrainian Church specialists exchanged views on the status of religion in the USSR. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate not only contacts but also a sharing of updated information on Ukrainian Church matters within the U.S. government and those representing non-governmental institutions.

Another such meeting took place at the end of June, when Mykola Kolesnyk, the head of the Council for Religious Affairs in Ukraine, visited Washington.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 30, 1990, No. 52, Vol. LVIII

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