"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

From 1596 to 1946 to 2016 and Back Again

At the beginning of June, I was invited to a private conference in Vienna hosted by the Pro Oriente Foundation, which has for more than a half-century been devoted to Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement. This particular conference was on the pseudo-sobor of Lviv of 1946, that bogus action by which the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church was forced "freely" to vote to "rejoin" the "mother church" of Russia, thereby leading to the official disappearance of the UGCC for nearly half a century. All this was undertaken on Stalin's orders and with the collusion and support of the Russian Church.

The hope of the conference was expressed in the title: “Arriving at a Common Narrative: The ‘Lviv Sobor’ of 1946 and Its Aftermath to the Present.” The original vision was to have Russian Orthodox scholars and official representatives there to discuss their perspective on 1946, and to enter into dialogue with UGCC scholars and hierarchs in the hopes that some common groundwork might be found leading to an eventual healing of memories of an extremely painful episode that is still cited constantly by the Russian Church even as recently as this year in the background of the Havana declaration between the pope of Rome and patriarch of Moscow.

The Russians didn't have the courage to come to Vienna, which was disappointing but entirely unsurprising. They sent a paper that said nothing but the same talking points one has heard for decades. No dialogue is possible when one party is too scared to show up; and no "common narrative" can be discovered when one side is ideologically committed to its own narrative and admits of no alternative interpretations, let alone challenging facts and evidence that put that narrative in question.

The chain of logic in that canned presentation in Vienna, and in ongoing Russian position, is this: the Union of Brest of 1596/6 was an historical injustice (committed by, inter alia, perfidious Jesuits and other proselytizing papists preying on innocent and helpless Orthodox) rectified by the Lviv "synod" of 1946, which the Russians then and since have celebrated publicly as an act of reunion. In this line of logic, 2016, the 70th anniversary of the synod was not an occasion for mourning or repentance, but of repeated, ham-fisted insistence that it was a good thing.

The fact that Brest has been subject to scholarly examination--including at earlier Pro Oriente conferences and in the two superlative books linked above--and the fact that the historical record does not bear out the usual version of helpless Orthodox being picked off by clever Catholics, does not seem to have altered Russian narratives at all. In this regard, I found the paper in Vienna a clear illustration of something Donald Spence argued, as I noted here: there is "narrative truth" and then "historical truth" and they do not always agree. It is sad that the Russians have chosen the former over the latter, and sadder still that their preference continues to cause a lot of pain to people in Ukraine.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read this thesis yet: https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/95953
    The author adds a refreshing new voice and had access to new materials: "Using manuscript and archival materials surfacing since the fall of Communism in Old Church Slavonic, Ruthenian, Polish, Italian, Latin and Ukrainian, this study finds that the imagined constructions of the past became foundational to the emergence of Ruthenian Greek-rite Catholicism and Ruthenian Greek-rite Catholic communities of faith. “

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