Supporters of Ukrainian sovereignty hold a protest on the Peace Bridge in Calgary Jan. 22. CNS photo/Todd Korol, Reuters

Protect ‘messy spirit’ of Ukraine’s democracy

  • February 5, 2022

What might be called the messy, Ukrainian spirituality of democracy is threatened by more than 100,000 Russian troops on the border and a propaganda war that pretends Ukrainians and Russians are all part of one Orthodox and Slavic nation, according to the founder of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Toronto.

“Ukrainians have had this messy, democratic bent for hundreds of years,” said Right Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, Mitred Archpriest of the Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. “Democracy is messy. Authoritarianism is neat. The Russians — I feel sorry for them — they have never lived under a democratic government.”

Ukraine’s independent and democratic spirit has driven both Catholic and Orthodox Ukrainians to declare their independence from the Moscow Patriarchate, with Catholics aligned with Rome and more than half the Orthodox of Ukraine now part of the independent Orthodox Ukrainian Church, granted self-government by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2019.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s dependence on Putin and his oligarchs has driven the Russian propaganda war against Ukraine, said Chirovsky. Moscow Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin have both decried the independence of the churches in Ukraine as a Western plot to separate the greater Slav nation spiritually, culturally and politically.

Chirovsky has his doubts.

“He (Putin) says we are one people. We’re not one people,” he said. “When the Rus people received Christianity in 988, Moscow did not exist. Moscow was founded 200 years later.”

Chirovsky believes that if Ukraine is to maintain its independence and nurture its young democracy, the United States and United Kingdom will have to live up to their signatures on the 1994 “Memorandum on Security Assurances” — the Budapest Memorandum. In a deal signed by Russia’s current Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the U.S., U.K. and Russia guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal at the end of the Cold War.

The short memorandum, which has been filed with the United Nations Security Council to give it the status of a treaty, commits the signatories “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

“Well one of those three (signatories) has invaded it already and stolen territory,” Chirovsky said. “What’s going on in the east of Ukraine, it’s not Russian-backed. It’s Russian-led.”

Despite the first constitution in Europe, the Bendery Constitution of 1710, Ukrainians haven’t had a long history of successful democratic rule. Over the last 300 years, Ukraine has been occupied by Tsarist forces, the Poles, the Soviets and Nazi Germany. But the ideals of democracy, independence and self-determination, as restated in the Euromaidan protests of 2014, have lived on in Ukrainian Christianity, both Orthodox and Catholic, said Chirovsky.

“That is precisely the difference between Ukraine and Russia. That’s why Putin would like to destabalize and, if he could, eliminate the democracy in Ukraine. His own people look at Ukraine next door,” the historian and theologian said. ”Ukrainians have never forgotten that they are an independent and freedom-loving people. They are used to democratic rule.”

While Russian propaganda warns that Ukraine’s drift westward into democracy is actually Ukraine giving in to the embrace of a secularized, materialist, post-Christian world that mocks and marginalizes faith and traditional values, Chirovsky has confidence that Ukrainian Christianity can give as good as it gets.

“We believe that our churches are strong enough to not only withstand those temptations, but also to have a positive influence on Europe, and remind Europe of its Christian roots. Whereas Russians, for some reason, want to hide behind these borders,” he said. “This island of holy Russia, it’s not that holy. They built a lot of churches with the help of the oligarchs who have a lot of money. But those churches are not well attended. In Ukraine, churches are well attended.”

Ukrainian independence has been costly for Russian Orthodoxy, Chirovsky said.

“There is money involved. The Moscow Patriarchate has lost — well they lost western Ukraine where they got most of their vocations and most of their donations before our (Catholic) Church came out of the underground…. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, they also want to give it (donations) to their own. They don’t want to send it to Moscow.”

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