Will Ukraine be Evangelizing the West?
Ukraine on the verge of a major geopolitical decision
M o s c o w – For three days ending on 2 October, a Ukrainian religious delegation including Baptists and Pentecostals visited European Union headquarters in Brussels. The response was generally positive in Ukraine and all signs appear on «go» for the country to sign an «Associate Agreement» with the EU in Vilnius on 29 November. Yet the supposed moral decadence of the West does pain conservative East European Orthodox and Protestants. They believe Eastern Europe has done a better job at retaining historic family values, a foundation of European culture, than has the West.
In Brussels, Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko), head of the independent, major «Ukrainian Orthodox Church», attempted to allay fears: «We note that values are disappearing in Europe and that initiatives are in place to force government recognition of sinful practices like same-sex partnerships. While churches are being sold off in the EU, we in Ukraine are building them. We want to take from the EU what is better and offer to Europe the better which we have. We care about religious and moral values and we are concerned about the upbringing of future generations in a religious spirit.»
Will the EU be an opportunity for Ukraine to evangelize the West? A quarter century ago, the mission efforts were headed in the opposite direction.
But there are also other issues involved: In late July, Kirill (Gundayev), Patriarch of the Moscow-based «Russian Orthodox Church», visited Kiev as part of a last-ditch appeal for Ukrainians to reconsider. After all, most of Russia and Ukraine were part of a common state as early as the 9th century. Russians and Ukrainians are intermarried and interrelated far beyond the point of no return. 80% of the Crimea is said to be Russian and major parts of Russia's Protestant leadership is of Ukrainian origin. See for ex. Ukrainian-«Baptist» names such as Sipko, Vlasenko, Vasilzhenko, Kartavenko, Semchenko — everything ending in «ko». For most Russians, the lopping off of Ukraine is comparable to erecting an electric fence between Maryland and Pennsylvania while installing a strict regime of passports and visas.
In a commentary from 4 October posted on a Russian-langauge site from Toronto, «Christian Megapolis», Mikhail Cherenkov, a young professor and intellectual from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, also attempted to sooth Ukrainian fears. «There's no need to be afraid», he wrote. «Europe is not as ghastly as hysterical Orthodox and fundamentalist Protestants would like us to believe. And Europe is in any case not as ghastly as that Asiatic, 'Taiga-Union' alternative. Everywhere is ghastly without God, and with him we can live anywhere.” Cherenkov, actually a Russian Baptist from Samara/Volga, was referring to the hoped-for customs union of Russia with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
This is not the first put-down Russians have endured over the last quarter century - with no end in sight. Russian nationalists of course dream of re-arising and repaying the West its due - to retake what they regard as theirs, stolen from them in their time of weakness.
One can interject, that Russians — thanks to their oligarchs - have no one to blame beyond themselves. The «casino capitalism» in which their state has been mired remains highly unattractive to its ex-Soviet neighbours. But these oligarchs are not to be confused with the nationalists: Oligarchs are Western – they have their bank accounts and offspring parked in the West.
Regular, every-day Russians feel on the brink of losing body parts. The sense of loss on the street is real. Pro-Westerners labelled Kirill an emissary of the Kremlin when he visited Ukraine in July. But he was more than that: He was an emissary of the Russian people and nation – he spoke for them from the heart.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 25 October 2013
A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #13-19, 611 words, 3.762 keystrokes and spaces.