"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).

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Updated: Nicholas Denysenko on His Superb New and now Award-Winning Book

I learned last night that the author of this book, Nicholas Denysenko, has, for his labours herein, won honorable mention with the Omeljian Pritsak Book Prize in Ukrainian Studies from the prestigious academic Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies. That gives me an occasion to re-post this interview I did with him in September 2018.

I am always delighted when good scholarship emerges just in time to help people understand the headlines. And that is certainly the case with Nicholas Denysenko's forthcoming book, The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation, set for release in a few short weeks from Northern Illinois University Press--the one academic press that arguably pays more attention to East-Slavic Orthodox realities than any other. For the debates and conflicts between Moscow and Constantinople over Ukraine have been getting mainstream press attention these past few weeks, and as always the attention is matched with a good deal of heated rhetoric and often deliberately politically motivated misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Those doing the misrepresentation often assume--correctly--that the media and its readers will not know enough history to detect the distortions, or may not in fact care.

Into such an overheated atmosphere steps the scholar doing what makes scholarship so crucial: giving a cool, serene, and comprehensive overview that surveys the scene in all of its complexity without regard for whose ox gets gored or whose agenda advanced--and without parachuting in from the outside to prescribe simplistic solutions, either. Nick Denysenko has done all that and more in this superb new book of his, which really must be read by everyone before presuming to comment further on the Moscow-Kyiv-Constantinople triangulation.

I have interviewed him several times in the past about his numerous books, and once again sent him some questions to talk about this forthcoming work of his. Here are this thoughts.

AD: When we spoke last, in August 2017, you were about to take a fellowship in Collegeville. Tell us about your work there, and then about the new position you moved into after that.

Nicholas Denysenko: I was a resident scholar at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) during Fall 2017, and I also participated fully in the resident scholar program at the Collegeville Institute. HMML contains the digital files to hundreds of Slavonic manuscripts from Ukraine. I examined select manuscripts to learn more about the blessing of waters on Theophany. During my manuscript research, I found two late-19th/early-20th century hymnals from West Ukraine containing the texts for several feasts in the liturgical year. These are paraliturgical texts that belong, in general, to the type of hymnal Ukrainians adopted from Central Europe. The earliest hymnals lack musical notation and are handwritten in Slavonic texts, whereas the later hymnals have music. The paraliturgical hymnal was popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was also adopted by Russians. I was interested in the hymnals because of the texts: they express a deep theology and piety of the faithful, one worthy of comparison with the appointed hymnography for the liturgical year. I also wrote draft chapters for my book, The People’s Faith, during my time there.  It was a lifegiving experience, to be in the place where liturgical renewal for the life of the world was such a priority.

AD: Your recent publications show an impressive range--architecture, Chrismation, Orthodox liturgical reform. And now a book on Ukraine. What led to this book in particular? 

ND: This book is a product of years of responding to requests for information on the background of the divisions among the Churches in Ukraine. After I learned about Patriarch Kirill’s Russkii Mir initiative and Ukrainian resistance to it – especially dismissal of the ideology within the UOC-MP – I began to follow events there more closely.

The Maidan and annexation of Crimea led to new opportunities to write, and I noticed a pattern in media coverage on the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Most journalists and experts referred to 1992 as the origin of the schism and to Patriarch Filaret (of the KP) as the author of autocephaly. I knew this was not the case since Filaret joined an existing Church, and the journey to autocephaly began in 1917, with the first schism taking place in 1921. Ignoring significant historical events for convenience is like an incomplete puzzle – you don’t see the whole picture. The only way to understand what’s happening in Ukraine is to come to terms with her history. I took an inventory of English-language literature and found several strong sources, but there was nothing available the demonstrated how the first schism of 1921 evolved into the current separation of Churches. I viewed this lacuna as an opportunity to tell the story, and it’s important for a number of reasons.

First, there are very few Eastern Christian readers who know anything about the schism, so there is a gap in literacy. Second, it’s important to encourage capable scholars to write from within their traditions. In other words, why should Ukrainians rely solely on non-Ukrainian scholars to write their Church history? This is not a matter of patriotism or nostalgia for me – it’s the priority of contributing to the reconfiguration of a narrative for the sake of the truth. I knew I was entering a new field: I’m really a trained liturgist, so this was a chance to widen my own lens while contributing literature with the capacity to truly inform the reader.

AD: Your dedication and acknowledgments in The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation tell the story of your grandparents and their influence on you growing up in a Ukrainian-American household. Tell us a bit about the role they played in giving you a "crash course" in the complexities of Ukrainian history and ecclesiology.

ND: They arrived in the early 1950’s having survived the Holodomor and the terror of World War II, my grandfather a priest of the UOC-USA. My brother and I spent most weekends of our childhood with them, and I recall my sense of curiosity in my grandfather’s rectory office in St. Paul. I can still smell the oak wood floor, and I would page through his books, glance at his stack of carefully handwritten sermons, and open and read the pages of a variety of Church newspapers. He also had unique photos, including one of the synod of bishops of the UAOC, on his desk.

I learned from his books and papers, but tradition is what is passed on to us, and I vividly recall community parish life. The parish passed on its core values to us, and these included learning the Ukrainian language and history, the fundamental liturgical songs, daily prayers. Immigrants strive to demonstrate that they have arrived and will remain stable communities, and this parish was among the many that never questioned their legitimacy – not that they had reason to. My grandfather’s ministry was that of a pastor – preaching, presiding, consoling, and being a companion to the community.

For him, legitimacy would be confirmed by his peers, and while that was not generally a problem within the Ukrainian community, he endured unpleasant encounters with other Orthodox. His parish choir was asked to sing the responses for a Lenten Vespers when a local priest quietly pleaded with the host parish to disinvite them because they were ‘uncanonical.’ I cannot describe the degree to which my grandfather was hurt by this, and his response was a determination to show his peers that his Church was indeed canonical because of its roots in the autocephalous Church of Poland.

Please believe me when I say that I understand why people invoke ‘uncanonical,’ but it got me to thinking: is preaching the kingdom of God, presiding, receiving with thanks, consoling, and healing ‘uncanonical’? Why is it so important to have a certificate signed by a bishop from a particular city that confirms your legitimacy? While I ask these questions of myself, he responded with vigor to show his peers that his church was both canonical and full of divine grace. At the time, with this particular priest, he did not succeed, but he persevered. This is how communities assume control of their own narrative. The burden of proof was not on his community: it was on the priest who accused them of being ‘uncanonical.’

Thus was an ugly truth exposed: we lacked the mechanism for an accused Orthodox community to plead its case, make an appeal, offer testimony on behalf of themselves. Watching his efforts and similar works of others inspired me to do what I can: to work within the academy to contribute to a narrative on Ukrainian Orthodoxy that is largely unknown. My grandparents inspired me in many other ways: their deep fidelity to God despite much suffering, their acceptance of poverty – it was worth it, for the freedom America offered – but their determination to share one’s story continues to shape me today.

AD: You tell us at the outset about the need to understand how both autocephaly and church reform "caused the Orthodox Church in Ukraine to splinter over the span of a hundred years." For those not sure what autocephaly means, tell us how you understand it. And what do you mean by church reform--what types of reform, and in which areas?

ND: Technically, autocephaly means “self-governing.” There are plenty of solid scholarly definitions of autocephaly – one of the most recent treatments is by Cyril Hovorun [interviewed here] in his book, Scaffolds of the Church. I would describe autocephaly as both the local Church and a Church that has consistently borne the fullness of the Holy Spirit and therefore does not need to depend on another Church for its existence. An autocephalous Church could be a cluster of churches around an ancient and venerable See (e.g., Alexandria, Antioch), a regional structure (Czech Republic and Slovakia), and for the most part, a local Church whose boundaries are in alignment with a nation-state (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, etc.). The Moscow and Ecumenical Patriarchates are unique as multinational structures.

We have to learn to see the Ukrainian situation as stuck between empire and nation-state, especially given the specific circumstances surrounding the Kyivan Metropolia. An awakening of national consciousness stirred in Ukraine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries before the revolution, and discussion about the possibility of an autocephalous Church began to emerge at that time. When the tsarist regime ended, Ukraine experienced brief episodes of national sovereignty until the Soviets assumed control at the end of 1919. This was not a matter of establishing a national church; Ukrainians had complained about the eradication of native traditions of the Kyivan Metropolia, and originally, the impetus for autocephaly was to restore the Kyivan Metropolia, not to build a national Church. Of course there were nationalist figures within the larger movement, but the refrain of liberation from the tsarist regime was as much a desire to have a Church that truly represented the people, and not ruled by bishops who had sworn allegiance to the tsar.

This delicate period witnessed to public events that demonstrated a Ukrainian protest of tsarist repression, especially in a public panakhyda for Hetman Ivan Mazepa (18th c.) who had been anathematized by the Russian Church because he sided with Sweden in the war against Tsar Peter I. The autocephalists viewed the bishops as representatives who served the tsar first, and it was tsarist policies that symbolized oppression against the Ukrainian people. Their public proclamation of desire for autocephaly brought the entire picture into view: restoring the Kyivan Metropolia and its customs necessitated a permanent break from bishops loyal to the tsar. Russian clergy and leaders in Ukraine understood that this was a rejection of the idea and experience of Kyiv as the central religious cell of the Russian Empire. From the very beginning, then, autocephaly was a rejection of the Kyiv’s ecclesial union with Moscow in 1686 and it was a rejection of Russian imperialism, two of the core values of many of the Russian bishops and clergy in Ukraine, and of the narrative defining Russian Orthodox and imperial sovereignty.

As for reform, the emergence of an autocephalous Ukrainian Church took place during a time and context of modernization and renewal. While the Moscow Council of 1917-18 heard and endorsed proposals that updated the Church, especially with regards to conciliarity, other proposed reforms were either deferred or denied. We know that renovationism posed a direct threat to the survival of the Moscow Patriarchate in the early Soviet period, and the Ukrainian council of 1921 implemented many of the modernizations that have yet to permeate Orthodoxy: a married episcopate, strict limits on episcopal power, and the deliberate inclusion of the laity in Church life, not to mention liturgical Ukrainization and the audacity to establish an episcopate without bishop participating in the ordinations.

Traditional Orthodox dismissed these features as radical and innovationist, while the Ukrainians believed they were becoming a new local Church in the spirit of reforms that had been proposed in this time frame. The key point here is that Ukrainians themselves disagreed on these reforms: the 1942 UAOC arose from the Orthodox Church in Poland, a development made possible by the large number of Ukrainians who lived in Polish territory (especially Volyn’). They rejected most of the reforms adopted by the 1921 Church with the exception of liturgical Ukrainization, and their autocephalous movement fell squarely within mainstream Orthodoxy. But the 1921 UAOC created a stigma of illegitimacy that permeated each autocephlous cohort until the present day. So, the Church reforms adopted by the 1921 church challenged Ukrainian tradition, and in the final analysis, a more conservative approach prevailed among Ukrainian autocephalists.

AD: That term autocephaly, in regards to Ukraine, has often been in the news lately with developments coming out of Constantinople and then fierce reactions from Moscow. You quote (pp.127-28) a letter from Moscow to Constantinople in 1995 protesting the merger of the UOC in the USA with the Ecumenical Patriarch, noting that the Russian patriarch then fulminated and threatened a split--a frequent pattern whenever the EP seems to get involved in Ukrainian Orthodox affairs. You also note how, from 1995 to 1997, certain UOC bishops asked Patriarch Bartholomew to provide for the autocephaly of Ukraine, which he did not do then. What has changed over the last 23 years to prompt him to act now? In light of the research that went into your book, what do you expect to see happen in the coming months?

ND: I hope that at least some of the people who are jumping to crazy conclusions might look at the book. The conspiracy theories circulating online are fatuous because the theorists aren’t consulting history. Ukrainian autocephalists have reached out to Constantinople from the very beginning – this was the special mission of Oleksander Lotocky from 1919 to 1920, and Constantinople has occasionally acted, increasingly so in recent decades. For example, Constantinople established a Ukrainian diocese in the United States in 1932. This diocese eventually merged with the UOC-USA when Constantinople received them in 1995. Metropolitan Mstyslav led the UOC-USA for decades, and he was in constant communication with Constantinople, publicly declaring his support for the Phanar and calling upon the EP to convoke the Holy and Great Council. Constantinople exhibited warmth to the UOC-USA by responding to correspondence, and sent episcopal representatives who prayed (but did not concelebrate) with the Ukrainian community in South Bound Brook for the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus’-Ukraine in 1988 – hardly the action of a Church that regarded the Ukrainians as schismatics.

So Constantinople did not just enter the scene now; they have always been on the periphery, and their reception of the Canadian and American churches set the stage for them to act with more deliberation later. With all of our political analysis, we also must consider the ministry of healing and reconciliation. The EP’s reception of these Churches released them from isolation and brought them into communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church. (There are still tensions between the Ukrainian diaspora churches and the ones in Ukraine, which is another topic to be pursued.) But when the Ecumenical Patriarch says that his ministry is to heal schisms and reconcile those separated from the Church to the Church, he has done so with the Ukrainians. Furthermore, there is the issue of how an appeal is heard. In this case, the ecumenical patriarch met with the Ukrainians and got to know them. We tend to speak about these Churches and their leaders as if they were inhuman, but these communities consist of flesh-and-blood people. By meeting with them, hearing their appeal, and restoring them to the Church, the EP honored their human dignity and restored a portion of the Church that had been broken. 

Here is why Constantinople is acting now to issue a Tomos of autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine: the movement for autocephaly never went away, and it is growing steadily. While bishops and clergy have not migrated from the UOC-MP to the KP or UAOC, the KP in particular has had a steady uptick in the number of adherents. The autocephalist movement has survived Soviet liquidation, Nazi oppression, the Cold War, Crimea, and Russian aggression in Donbas. It is not going to just disappear.

Look at it this way: after the pseudo-sobor of L’viv in 1946, the Moscow Patriarchate issued numerous public statements honoring the end of the Unia and the return of Greek Catholics to Orthodoxy. If this return was real, and not coerced, there would only be a UGCC outside of Ukraine today. The autocephalist renaissance mirrors that of the UGCC – as soon as the UAOC became legal again (in 1989), the movement reappeared and grew rapidly. The autocephalists have appealed to Constantinople to recognize them – not to establish them or create them, or bless them to consider starting an autocephalous church – but to recognize already existing churches. Constantinople is addressing the reality on the ground, one that takes into account geopolitical concerns (Russian aggression) and ecclesial ones (Russia’s withdrawal from the Holy and Great Council of Crete in 2016). There is a direct link between Constantinople’s patronage of the Canadian and American Ukrainian Churches and the promise of a Tomos today – it set the stage for concrete action in Ukraine. But Constantinople was only going to act if it became clear that the autocephalist movement was a permanent fixture in Ukraine: there is no longer any question that it is.

Now that the MP has immediately ceased commemorating the EP, and Metropolitan Hilarion continues to claim that the 1686 transfer of Kyiv to Moscow was a reunion, some people will wonder if this might stop the Tomos. We have to see how this will play out since the EP has presented its case for being the only mother Church of the Kyivan Metropolia. The intrigue does not really lie in the EP’s fear to move forward – refusing to grant the Tomos at this point would undo all the claims they have recently made, and these assertions seem to be well-documented in the history of the Kyivan Metropolia. What remains a mystery is the UOC-MP.

Ukrainian religious experts have exposed the degree to which the Russian oligarch and member of Ukrainian Parliament Vadym Novinsky controls the operations of the UOC-MP. The interference of oligarchs in the UOC-MP is a problem they have yet to address, and Novinsky has not concealed his involvement as the lay patron of opposition to autocephaly: all one needs is to watch the many interviews he has granted to Ukrainian media outlets to hear his staunch and aggressive stance. Will a critical mass of clergy and laity of the MP trust in the amnesty promised by a Tomos? We will know in the coming months. Here is what we know for certain: the official stance of the EP on the canonical question, which seems to unfold little-by-little on a daily basis, is a direct threat to the Russian narrative of Kyiv as the mother of Russia. Certainly the MP is fighting to retain its prominence by keeping the UOC-MP intact and sealing the door to canonical space so the KP and UAOC cannot enter. But the loss of Kyiv is also a direct threat to the ideology of the Russkii mir, a factor that fuels the ferocity of the MP’s resistance to Constantinople’s action.

As for what to expect, there is more conjecture and rumor circulating than there are facts. We should expect Constantinople to set the stage for a unification council in Kyiv that will elect a new primate – I think that will happen this Fall. A Tomos of autocephaly would be issued to that Church, which would exist alongside churches wishing to remain in the MP. The angry reaction of the MP to this situation raises questions about what happens next, though. The period that follows the Tomos will be one of adjustment, for sure – the question concerns conflict between the MP and the new church in Ukraine. I think it all depends on how many of the clergy and faithful of the MP in Ukraine migrate to the new church. We know that approximately ten bishops signed the request for autocephaly – could more follow? Some experts predict a small percentage to migrate (10%), others a large percentage (90%). I think about 50% is a reasonable expectation, with gradual migration continuing in the period following. The more serious issue concerns the split between Constantinople and the MP. There will be a period of separation of the two patriarchates and the Chfurches in their respective orbits. It is clear that Constantinople is determined to take concrete action in Ukraine. Given the public statements they have issued, and Moscow’s swift and angry rebuttal, there is no going back now.

AD: You squarely face the nexus of problems at the outset: the relationship between church, state, and nation, stating bluntly that "the national element of the Ukrainian Church movement has perhaps been the greatest obstacle to achieving recognition of ecclesial autocephaly." Tell us why that national element has been so problematic. 

ND: The autocephalous movement coincided with the initial attempt to establish a nation-state. In these situations, priorities and strategies align, and the original initiators of autocephaly exploited the recently established model of the post-imperial nation-state as defining the local Church. Intellectuals who contributed to the state-building project were also involved in the Church, and this was true for one of the primary ideologues of the 1921 UAOC, Volodymyr Chekhivsky. The fledgling Ukrainian Directory of 1919 established a law for an autocephalous Church, and the minister of cults (Lotocky) was sent to Constantinople to see the project through. In this case, governmental leadership in Ukraine changed hands no less than four times from 1917 to 1920, and always with terrifying violence. That said, the pattern of aligned priorities on the part of intellectuals for state and church repeated itself through the course of Ukrainian history. Certain political figures attained prominent positions in the Church, especially Stepan Skrypnyk (later metropolitan Mstyslav and patriarch), who did not conceal his patriotism during his civil service in Poland, and was often a thorn in the side of Russophile churchmen in the Church of Poland.

Assessing the influence of nationalism on the Church is especially problematic during the WWII era. Many Ukrainians openly welcomed their Nazi captors, initially believing that Hitler was a modern Cyrus who came to set them free from Soviet (Babylonian) captivity only to learn that the new tyrant was just as vicious as the old one. Church leaders met with Nazi officials in Ukraine, and this suggests collaboration, but it is possible that Church officials had to deal with their occupiers to attempt to rebuild church life. It is well-known that the OUN leaders attempting to liberate Ukraine were nationalistic, sometimes extremely so. Some scholars conclude that the autocephalists contributed to the murder of the autonomist Metropolitan Oleksii Hromadskii by cooperating with the OUN. I concluded that there was not enough evidence to support it, but it was widely believed among people who belonged to the autonomist Church, which only served to deepen their separation from the 1942 UAOC, and enhance their perception of the UAOC as nationalist.

After the war, Orthodox bishops in the MP’s Ukrainian Exarchate implicated the bishops of the UGCC as collaborators with the OUN. The Cold War narrative used the Great Patriotic War as an opportunity to pit autocephalists and “uniates” as a united camp, fascist and nationalist, who betrayed their fellow citizens who fought on the right side with the motherland. I think it is easy to see how the present narrative of the Moscow Patriarchate simply recycles the Cold War polemics, blaming the UGCC and the Orthodox ‘schismatics' (KP and UAOC) for Crimea and the war in Donbas.

In other words, people who have no previous knowledge of the situation connect Ukraine with ethnophyletism on the basis of a narrative that began to take shape before World War II even ended. I’m not saying that ethnophyletism is not a problem – it can be, and a good example of the Church addressing came from the earlier dialogue between Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan and the UAOC, when the latter explicitly disavowed ethnophyletism through the process of negotiation. But two crucial points are lost in the noise of Soviet-era propaganda: the Orthodox Churches seeking autocephaly consistently stated their desire to restore the Kyivan Metropolia as the basis for autocephaly, and Ukraine has been ravaged by wars started by outsiders in all of the historical periods we mention here, so discussion of autocephaly always coincides with elevated patriotism because of war. We need to cleanse our lenses to take account of the whole picture before arriving at hasty conclusions on nationalism and the Church.
AD: Following my friend Justin Tse's writings on ecclesial colonization, I'm wondering--and could be very wide of the mark, so please correct me--whether nationalism in Ukraine is evaluated according to a different standard than in other Orthodox countries. Ukraine, it seems to me, is somehow more heavily criticized by a lot of people--not just Russians but other outsiders, including those in the American government and the Vatican--for wanting things that others take for granted, including national and ecclesial independence. Is that a fair observation? 

ND: Yes. When Ukraine’s parliament petitioned the Holy and Great Council in Crete in 2016 to grant autocephaly to the Church, they employed this exact language: the MP in Ukraine is Russian colonization of Ukraine through the Church. You can hear echoes of this language in Poroshenko’s comments as well.

Two additional observations. First, we have to distinguish the nationalistic tendencies we encounter in émigré communities from those in the native country. Post-World War II Ukrainian immigrants bore with them the painful memory of the Holodomor and the terror of the Nazis. My grandfather told us the story of the arrest and permanent disappearance of his father – arrested because he was considered an intellectual, as a school teacher!

Arriving in democratic countries after such an upheaval is an experience of deliverance and liberation, a taste of freedom. Émigré communities work hard to sustain their traditions and pass them on to the next generation. And their politics migrate with them. I think encounters with émigré communities can be jarring when one is introduced to their politics, so this raises the specter of nationalism as a threat. But we need to be honest about our assessments. Here’s the truth, and I am an eyewitness: were there instances of politics influencing the Church and occasionally becoming ugly in the émigré Ukrainian church? Yes.

But let’s also take ROCOR as an example. Their immigrants also brought their historical memories with them. Can you disentangle the politics of striving for the restoration of the monarchy from the liturgical commemoration of the tsar and royal family as royal martyrs? No. We need to be sympathetic when communities express their identities with reference to their contexts, especially when these environments were experiences of persecution, terror, and colonialism. As long as autocephalous churches are aligned with the borders of nation-states, we’re going to encounter this phenomenon of nationalism – and I have seen it among Greeks and Serbs as well as Ukrainians.

I do think Ukrainians are held to a different standard, for one reason: the hegemony of Soviet propaganda depicting Ukrainians who fought for independence as fascists. On the one hand, Ukrainians have to come to terms with their own history, which means accepting the fact that nationalism has reared its ugly head in Ukrainian history, sometimes with violence.

On the other hand, those who accuse all Ukrainians – especially the Orthodox seeking autocephaly – have to substantiate their arguments. This is a time for Orthodox soul-searching. Those who condemn the autocephaly movement in Ukraine – they’re awfully noisy on social media – can they substantiate their claims beyond articles published on polemical web sites or recycling Soviet propaganda (see chapter 4 of my book for more on this issue)? The only way to truly deal with this issue is to dialogue with Ukrainian autocephalists, to meet them in community.

But as we know well, the preferential option for division drives a growing number of Orthodox from dialogue with their brothers and sisters. Withdrawal from dialogue perpetuates isolation, and isolation breeds fear. It is fundamentally and morally wrong to refuse dialogue with Ukrainian autocephalist communities because they have been labelled as ‘schismatics’. Those who adopt this strategy attempt to isolate the community with the hope that they will dissolve, or break, and then agree to the conditions demanded by the established Church. Obviously, this is a strategy employed everywhere to gain leverage and apply pressure, but in the Church, it is a matter of employing the vocabulary of sacramental theology to imprint an identity of delegitimization on the autocephalists to justify the refusal to dialogue.

This strategy violates the history of the schism: in the earliest stages, an agreement between the opposing parties almost occurred, first in 1922 when the patriarchal exarchate in Ukraine not only declared autocephaly and adopted sobornopravist’, but also called for immediate dialogue with the 1921 UAOC, and then again in October 1942 when representatives of the autonomous and autocephalous churches reached an agreement at the Pochaiv monastery. Both attempts to unify failed because Ukraine was occupied by Soviet and Nazi regimes hostile to both churches. But these events demonstrate a willingness to dialogue, to not only hear the concerns of the other party, but to actually come to know them. This is why the Orthodox who dismiss the autocephalous cohorts without trying to know them or hear them out today need to perform some soul-searching. Does this strategy fulfill the canon of the Gospel? Will this strategy contribute to the healing of the schism? History is our teacher: refusal to dialogue breeds isolation, fear, and hate.

AD: The two councils of 1918 and 1921 play important roles here, and proposed some very interesting reforms--e.g., the restoration of a married episcopate. Tell us a bit about those councils. 

The autocephalists requested the 1918 council against the wishes of Metropolitan Volodymyr (Bohoiavlenskii), but Patriarch Tikhon blessed the council. This council prohibited using vernacular Ukrainian for the liturgy, a pastoral initiative that had been long prepared and taken up (along with vernacular Russian) at the 1917-18 Moscow Council. Two additional controversies inflamed divisions: the unilateral removal of dozens of delegates from the council to shift the balance from pro-autocephaly to pro-autonomy, a move admitted by Russian historians, and the election of Metropolitan Antonii Khrapovitskii in May 1918, a gathering that limited the number of participating delegates. The council was contentious: a battle between the pro-autocephaly and pro-autonomy parties.

In his memoirs, Metropolitan Evlogy remarked that the movement for autocephaly was relentless and the autocephalists had a clear majority until the constituency of the delegates changed. The autocephalists were enraged, as they believed that the conciliar rules were violated by exchanging one set of delegates (pro-autocephaly) for another (pro-autonomy). From their perspective, this act made the 1918 council a robber council. The deciding vote for autonomy was a surprise, but not as much as the vote to retain Church Slavonic. The conciliar decision to reject liturgical Ukrainization was the blow that began the separation of the autocephalist cohorts from the patriarchal Church in Ukraine. For them, these decisions cemented a narrative about the patriarchal bishops on the synod in Ukraine: their loyalty was to the tsar (even though the tsarist regime had passed), and could not be trusted. They rejected the 1918 council as a robber council.

The 1918 council became important again in 1941, when the portion of Western Ukraine Hitler had ceded to the USSR in 1939 came under Nazi control. In a short period of time, the Soviets managed to disrupt Church life with violence, in a region where Orthodox had reasonable freedoms in Poland. The bishops who gathered in Pochaiv declared that they recognize the 1918 council as canonical and authoritative and therefore rejoined the Moscow Patriarchate, while acknowledging that autocephaly was possible with the convocation of a new All-Ukrainian council.

But not all of the bishops participated. Metropolitan Dionisii of Warsaw had cultivated Ukrainian bishops as pastors of the Ukrainian majority in the Orthodox Church of Poland, and he declared that the reversion to the 1918 Kyiv council was a violation of the Tomos of autocephaly Constantinople bestowed on the Church in Poland in 1924. That Tomos specifically identifies the Orthodox Church in Poland as the successor of the ancient Kyivan Metropolia. The Ukrainians themselves were never able to resolve their disagreement over the canonical supremacy of the 1918 council or the 1924 Tomos.

The autocephalist cohorts received permission from Soviet authorities to use temples for vernacular liturgies (soon after the Soviets assumed control in Ukraine), and the synodal bishops tolerated this until 1920, when they suspended and then deposed all of the clergy who served in Ukrainian from holy orders. The October 1921 council failed to obtain a bishop who could inaugurate a hierarchy, so they established their own hierarchy which has never been recognized in Orthodoxy. Chapter 2 of my book goes into great detail about the 1921 council, because the patriarchal exarch, Metropolitan Michael, actually appeared at the council in a last-ditch effort to mend fences with the autocephalists – a historical example of an attempt to dialogue. The encounter was tense and emotional – the secretary notes that delegates were weeping, including the metropolitan.

I can highlight two features of the 1921 council. First, the council elucidates internal disagreement among the Ukrainians attending on the path to be adopted, especially concerning the establishment of a hierarchy to restore the Kyivan Metropolia. Some delegates who fully supported autocephaly abandoned the council when it adopted Volodymyr Chekhivsky’s rationale for ordaining bishops through the innovative conciliar rite of ordination that did not include bishops. As you mentioned, this council issued numerous new canons, precious material on the rejection of the 1918 council and married bishops. Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivsky’s homilies are published in Ukrainian and English – and he consistently identifies the 1921 UAOC as a new Church, a modernized Orthodox body that honors the laity and discards the ‘old’ episcopo-centric Church. The 1921 council attempted to inaugurate a new era of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, but history shows that the autocephalists returned to the foundations of traditional Orthodoxy very quickly. They are and were conservative.

AD: You note that one of the recurring issues coming out of the council of 1918 is ongoing controversy over the use of Church Slavonic vs. a vernacular Ukrainian. Here again I'm wondering whether there is an unacknowledged double standard at work here--a kind of linguistic snobbery redolent again of colonialism or imperialism? I well recall my Doktorvater  and dear mentor Fr. Andriy Chirovsky once saying that "Both Poles and Russians considered Ukrainian unfit to be called a language." Had that Polish-Russian snobbery infected these debates, leading to many refusing the use of a vernacular? 

ND: This issue is much more complicated than it seems because the preparations for the Moscow Council included proposals for translating liturgical and biblical texts into vernacular Russian and Ukrainian. Those proposals were defeated, both at the Moscow Council and at the 1918 Ukrainian council. Then-Metropolitan Tikhon resisted the introduction of the vernacular into the liturgy because he hoped to restore Communion with the Old Believers. There is a certain resistance to introducing the vernacular among all of the Churches that use Slavonic, and there were and are Ukrainians sympathetic to autocephaly who would prefer to retain Slavonic. The introduction of liturgical Ukrainization in Poland caused problems in multiple eparchies, a fact that demonstrates that the Ukrainianizers could be chauvinistic in imposing their agenda on the Church. This was not always a matter of Russians mocking Ukrainians for their language: one of the compromises agreed to but not realized at the Pochaiv meeting in October 1942 was to take the time to discuss a pastoral introduction of Ukrainization without forcing it on people who appreciated Slavonic.

On the other hand, the repression of Ukrainian long before the revolution elucidates a pattern of Russification that contributed to the autocephalist agenda. In the post-Soviet period, Metrpolitan Volodymyr Sabodan blessed mild Ukrainization within the UOC-MP. The issue has become controversial again under the leadership of Metropolitan Onufry, because he bitterly dismissed vernacular Ukrainian in remarks he made at the Kyivan eparchial assembly in December 2015, which seemed to inspire Metropolitan Oleksander Drabinko to write a series of essays demonstrating the evolution of liturgical language as a justification for using Ukrainian. It remains a hot-button issue within the UOC-MP, but the KP and UAOC are firmly rooted in Ukrainization. You essentially have multiple generations of faithful who have memorized prayers and liturgical texts in Ukrainian. I don’t think Ukrainians should abandon their Slavonic heritage, but there is no going back from Ukrainization. Aside from the mistakes of the past, which we cannot ignore, you could say that the Ukrainians are leading the rest of the Slavic Orthodox world when it comes to using the vernacular for liturgy.

AD: Your third chapter focuses on Ukrainian Orthodox in Canada and the US, and how churches in both became the bearers of a longing for national sovereignty and ecclesial independence. How did the North American context shape those longings? 

ND: The autocephaly initiative migrated to North America, and the core values of democracy and liberty provided fertile soil to keep the autocephaly initiative alive and well. The Ukrainian émigré communities took a leading role in fighting for the religious rights of Ukrainian citizens during the Cold War, and they contended against the injustice of the UGCC and UAOC in Soviet Ukraine as having no legal status. St. Andrew’s Center in South Bound Brook, New Jersey, became the primary center of Ukrainian autocephaly until the UAOC attained legal status in the USSR in 1989. The émigré community succeeded in preventing the initiative from dissolving, and they took full advantage of American anti-Soviet rhetoric throughout the Cold War period.

AD: I found utterly fascinating and in fact very exciting your discussions of the various manifestations of sobornopravnist’ in terms of church councils, revised rites of ordination, and much else. Tell us a bit about what that term means and some of the visions it gave rise to. 

ND: It means governance by council, and the idea is that the entire community participates in governing the Church. For Orthodox Ukrainians, this governance draws from the creative influence and patronage of lay brotherhoods in the early seventeenth century when the Orthodox Metropolia of Kyiv lacked bishops.

Sobornopravnist’ essentially rejects a mono-episcopal model of Church. In other words, bishops do not and cannot have absolute power. In a model of sobornopravnist’, you could have a synod, but it would not rule unilaterally – decisions would include substantial lay participation, not only in deliberation, but in the actual process of voting.

In the speeches delivered at the 1921 October council, eucharistic ecclesiology enters the scene: Chekhivsky asserted that the Eucharist is an offering of the entire people, and not just the bishops, and that history testifies to episodes where lay leaders correct bishops who had strayed from the truth. The conciliar ordination of Vasyl Lypkivsky entailed a chain of hands – all of the delegates of the council laid their hands on the ordinand, in order (presbyters, deacons, then laity). The problem, of course, was the absence of bishops. But I find something valuable in the core value of sobornopravnist’ – it is a reminder that the community is the Church, not just the clergy, and the Church should consider threading that core value through Church governance and liturgy.

AD: Equally fascinating were the various forms of "political theology" that emerge and change over the past century. Tell us a bit about the prominent features of some of those political theologies and how they change. 

ND: The two most prominent political theologies are the liberation theology underpinning the original autocephalist movement and the Russkii mir political theology that identifies Kyiv as a cell in a Russian Orthodox multinational civilization. I’ll say a bit more about the liberation theology: for the 1921 UAOC, Christ’s Gospel, his resurrection enables Christians to be liberated form the political powers of the world. Ukrainians would experience this liberation from the Russian bishops in Ukraine who imposed Tsarist policies on the people. Liberation from those bishops permitted the Church to embark on modernization. Chekhivsky wrote two liturgical dramas used at St. Sophia in Kyiv that exemplify this liberation theology. I translated most of that service in my article on liturgical innovations of the UAOC published in Studia Liturgica.

This liberation theology weaved its way through up until today. For the 1942 UAOC, “Red Moscow” was the tyrant from whom liberation was desired (and this was also the case for the autonomous Church). For the émigré Church, Red Moscow remained that tyrant, with the Moscow Patriarchate itself as the Soviet government’s assistant. And for today’s proponents of autocephaly, they seek liberation from Putin’s attempt to colonize Ukraine through the Moscow Patriarchate. In other words, political theologies migrate and develop over time – they also remain resilient.

AD: Your book tells an incredibly complex tale in great depth and detail while commendably eschewing, especially in your conclusion, any heavy-handed prescribing of solutions. Sum up what your hopes were for this book, and who should read it.

ND: In a nutshell, my goal was to inform readers for the purpose of attaining a better understanding of the Ukrainian Church situation. I also hope that my book might contribute to the demythologizing of prevailing stereotypes of the Ukrainian Church. Besides students and specialists, I hope that clergy and laity will read this book. I dream that in some small way, it could contribute to the healing of the schism.

I’ve been told that I should avoid advising patriarchs on how they should act, so heavy-handed prescribing is not included. I want to conclude with this:

Please consider the optics of current events in Ukraine. People who have lived their faith for 1,030 years – 1,030! – are instructed to defer to one or another patriarchate. Over the course of 97 years, all of them have appealed, at one time or another, to either Moscow or Constantinople for a resolution. When the response from patriarchates is silence, a people who practiced their faith for a millennium will decide their own fate. Readers will be tempted to respond by claiming that the “canonical territory” of Ukraine belongs to one patriarchate or another. Some will conclude that the canons require us to draw ecclesial boundaries in this exact way, and that they cannot be changed. Interpreting the canons to impose the will of one church on another is not only ecclesial colonization – it is morally dubious.

AD: Having finished this book, what are you at work on now?

ND: I have several article projects on my desk. I’ll be writing about Schmemann’s liturgical legacy, architecture in North America, and eucharistic theology and iconography. After a short break from book projects, I hope to return, with energy, to developing a manuscript on liturgical identity with an ecumenical landscape. And I hope to follow up on this book with a project that will feature Orthodox identity in Ukraine through parish history, which would entail spending some time in Ukraine, interviewing clergy and people, and reading their texts and contexts for clues on how they identify themselves and those around them. This could be a good opportunity to take an inventory of Church life in Ukraine after the Tomos.

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