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

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Slava Ukrayina!

I have the fondest memories of the summer of 2001, which I spent in Ukraine. I have made it to five of the world's seven continents, but the trip to and time in Ukraine was, without a doubt, the most rewarding for all kinds of reasons, not least because I met the now late Archpriest Robert Anderson of most blessed memory. I would go back if for no other reason than to spend more time in such places of inneffable grandeur as the Kievan Caves Monastery and the Pochaev Lavra.

The world of Eastern Christianity is complicated enough for outsiders, but when you try to explain Eastern Christian ecclesial life in Ukraine, even the most sympathetic outsider is taxed trying to take in and differentiate among four Eastern churches: three Orthodox, and one Greek Catholic. Telling the history of how Christianity came to Ukraine, and how today the country ended up with four Eastern churches (to say nothing of a very substantial Roman Catholic population, and various Protestant groups also), takes one into further layers of often bewildering complexity.

Todd E. French therefore had his work cut out for him in his article "Orthodoxy in the [sic] Ukraine" in John McGuckin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I think on the whole he did a decent job, though there are some quirks, and noticeable gaps, in his coverage.

The first thing to notice, of course, is the strange presence of the definite article. Why is it there, but inconsistently? Many times he refers to "the Ukraine" but not always: the article appears twice on p. 604, but disappears on 605, reappears again on the left column on 606 but disappears in the right column on the same page--and so on throughout the article. That is sloppy copy-editing (whereas most of the rest of the two-volume text is free from any errors). The definite article used to indicate more than a lack of editorial attention: it used to indicate a lack of independence for the country when it was variously a province of the Polish-Lithuanian, Hapsburg, or most recently Soviet empires. But it has been independent for twenty years now, and proper English style does not require, indeed does not accept, the definite article: the country is, simply, Ukraine. Those who continue to insert the article are often ideologically committed to a nationalistic Russian revival of the old, thankfully dead, empire of the tsars in which Ukraine was nothing more than a province--"the Levant" of the Slavs, as it were.  Please God we have seen the end of that nonsense.

In any event, French gives the history in broad strokes, making it clear and comprehensible, with enough detail to cover the main periods and personages but without overwhelming the general reader. He does not take an overly apologetic approach--either apologizing for Russian influence, or excusing Orthodox behavior--and in fact commendably acknowledges, e.g., that "during General Dmitri Bibikov's rule (1837-52) the aim was to convert the two million remaining Catholics to Orthodoxy through willful tactics such as deportation and executions" (607).  Too many historians telling of relations in Ukraine invariably play up Catholic offenses--some real, some not, almost all wildly exaggerated--against the Orthodox, especially during and after the Union of Brest, and, more recently, after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. French avoids all that.

He also avoids, however, a couple of important details, not least the rather infelicitous "elevation" of the metropolitan of Moscow to patriarchal status. For those details, see Boris Gudziak's article "The Creation of the Moscow Patriarchate: A Prelude to Patriarchal Reforms in the Kyivan Metropolitanate Preceding the Union of Brest (1595-1596)" in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 37 (1996). Even more important is Gudziak's book, Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies), which is not cited in this article but should be.

Missing, also, are several good texts from the "References and Suggested Readings" list at the end of French's article. A good very general introduction to Ukraine in general, for those with no background, is Anna Reid, Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine.

I was also surprised to see that the work of Sophia Senyk is not here, especially her A History of the Church in Ukraine (Orientalia Christiana Analecta), and astonished that Paul Robert Magocsi is nowhere to be found. He has written many highly acclaimed works of scholarship that are nonetheless accessible to general readers, including:
More recent scholarship that would need to be considered here would include:
Still, on the whole, this article, and The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity generally does what one would expect such a volume to do and it remains a solid resource.

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