Guidelines for a Church Dialogue between Russia and Ukraine
An American view from Moscow
M o s c o w -- 1. We must refrain from drastic, exaggerated and unhistorical statements. The Baptist Alexander Turchinov is not Martin Luther King and Viktor Yanukovich is not Hitler. Unfortunately, there are fascist elements present within the Ukrainian government and also extremist Cossack elements active in Donbass. But Poroshenko is no Hitler and Putin is no Stalin. The extreme political situation of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote during World War II (the necessity of murdering a tyrant) has not cropped up in recent Ukrainian and Russian history.
We will not call people on the other side nasty names: Eastern Ukrainian troops are not generally “terrorists” and Western ones are not generally “fascists”.
The phrase that we will standing up for our country “until the end” (“do kontsa”) has no real meaning. Where is the “end” located? None of us would favour turning our globe into ashes – the ultimate “end”.
2. We will accept the views of “dissenters” as legitimate. He or she has not been paid, bought nor frightened. They truly believe the opinion they are expressing. We will be very reluctant to assign sinister and evil motives to the reasoning of the other side. We cannot look into their hearts in a way which only God can. We often do not even understand how we arrived at our own opinions.
We will try very hard to understand the reasoning of the other side. How do my statements affect fellow believers on the other side of the barricades? Political statements by church leaders can have serious consequences for fellow believers on the other side.
3. Pro-Western Ukrainian Protestants have defended their position by claiming they are “with the people”. How is that significant? Does this imply that the Russian church should not be with its people?
Ukrainian believers are called to be loyal, law-abiding, honourable citizens. They need to demonstrate to the government their good intentions and their desire to work for the good of all. The same is true for Russia - both sides need to accept that. One cannot expect the citizens of Russia to take the sides of the Ukrainian government, nor vice versa.
Russians generally will not call their own government the aggressor and will not bless the political upset on Maidan. They will refrain from doing so not because of fear, but because they do not see conclusive evidence proving that Russia is the sole aggressor.
At the same time: Russians must accept that a majority of Ukrainians have chosen to take a pro-Western course involving separation from Russia. Russians cannot expect fellow Ukrainian believers to condemn the West. That decision must be made in Ukraine.
4. A totally apolitical church is impossible. The Protestant church in the USSR wanted to be such, but political statements were repeatedly forced upon her. A politically abstinent church could only survive as a sect on the very fringe of society. The Reformed German state president Gustav Heinemann (1899-1976) pointed to a better way to defend the church: Christians should be active in as many political parties as possible (except for the extremist fringe). Political variety is a key for the church’s defence. That is the best way to prove that the church is not the servant of any specific government or movement.
5. Churches point in the general direction – details are to be left to the individual citizen. Churches uphold peace, love for all races, ethnicities and cultures; they uphold family values and religious freedom. How guilty are the USA and Russia for the present war in Eastern Ukraine? Christians can and should offer their opinions, but they must also stress that they are not speaking in the name of their church. Crimea is essentially an issue of detail. Churches are not called to take a position either way – its members may. Churches do not speak as individuals do. The two dare not be confused.
6. Politics are an endless chain of reactions. What started the present Ukrainian conflict? Did it begin with the takeover of Crimea in 2014, with Maidan in 2013, or with the heated discussions on “Holodomor” (famine)? How about Stepan Bandera in the 1940s and civil war in the 1920s? Assigning blame to one side is a highly problematic endeavour.
7. The 92-year-old, retired German politician Egon Bahr reminded recently that governments are rarely driven by lofty ideals – they are instead driven by interests. "Democracy and human rights are never the issue in international politics. At issue are the interests of individual states.” Christians should keep their feet on the carpet; revolutionary fervour is a problematic ally.
By the way - Oslo
An official meeting of Ukrainian and Russian Protestant church leaders is scheduled for Oslo/Norway on 9 September. In contrast to the initial, largely unsuccessful meeting in Jerusalem on 10 April, the Russian Baptist Union (Vitaly Vlasenko) will be represented this time. Organizing the event from the Russian end is Moscow’s “Advisory Council for the Heads of the Protestant Churches of Russia”.
Alexander Dvorkin - a Victim of Hackers
Prof. Alexander Dvorkin (Moscow), Russia’s best-known and most controversial specialist on sects and the cults, reported in an interview with the author on 24 August that he has been victimized by a hackers. Occasionally, Russian-language mailings from the anonymous “firstname.lastname@example.org” address have been distributed on nearly a daily basis. The Orthodox professor explained: “I was a hippie in 1974 and at that time many of us claimed mental instability in order to avoid the draft.” After a month in a psychiatric hospital (which was standard procedure), he was recognized as unstable and unfit to serve in the army. Practically all the “revelations” these hackers are now distributing stem from that hospital stay. Someone had illegally obtained access to these hospital documents and forged some. Dvorkin emigrated to the US via Italy in 1977.
These attacks began in April; hacking Dvorkin’s address lists has made it possible for the perpetrators to send mailings to all persons with whom he has contact. Several anonymous “anti-Dvorkin” sites have appeared that publish new “revelations”, and a shower of articles with false additions have been published in over 30 newspapers and magazines and on dozens of Internet sites. Dvorkin believes the guilty party to be the Scientology organization. He notes though that Russian Pentecostals and Hare Krishnas have also been passing on this information via social networks. The pressure has included anonymous e-mails threatening to publish further material unless the 59-year-old “retires quickly and quietly”. He is constantly bugged by phone calls from unknown people posing as “journalists”. “I have essentially chosen to ignore these attacks”, the professor assured. A few items have appeared though on his website: “iriney.ru”.
An opinion voiced not only by the author: Such efforts are clearly both illegal and immoral and have no place in the practice of the followers of Christ, even if they do not share Dvorkin’s theological convictions.
Alexander Dvorkin revealed in further conversations that he hardly fits the stereotype of a rabid Russian nationalist. He described himself as a “liberal conservative” interested more in the church than in political affairs. He assured that he would “need to be crazy” in order to participate in Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s nationalist “Liberal Democratic Party of Russia”. Dvorkin describes Alexander Prokhanov, chief editor of the nationalist weekly “Zavtra”, as a “mystic Stalinist” with only nominal ties to Orthodoxy. (The brother of the chief editor’s grandfather was Ivan Prokhanov (1869-1935), a founder of Russia’s Evangelical-Christian and Baptist movements.)
Dvorkin regards himself as a monarchist but admits that his monarchism is purely theoretical. "I believe that any form of government is essentially evil, but the worst evil in our fallen world is no government at all. I am convinced that of all forms of government, the hereditary monarchy has proven to be the least evil. But circumstances change and some things from the past cannot be brought back to life. To dream about the restoration of monarchy in Russia would be utopian.”
He insisted that much of Russian media remains in the hands of liberals. He does have vehement reservations regarding Pentecostals and Charismatics and believes Russian Protestants would have a more secure future if they distanced themselves from the, as he calls it, “neo-Pentecostal movement”.
The Moscow Patriarchate as Mediator
Developments indicate that the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate” may well be best-equipped to mediate between the warring powers of Kiev and Moscow. Berlin’s “Neues Deutschland” reported on 21 August that Metropolitan Onuphrius (Berezovsky) had allowed his press spokesman to state: “As Ukrainian citizens we view the situation of Crimea no differently than our government and the entire world community. The Crimea is Ukrainian territory and must be returned to property of the Ukrainian state.” Only a few days before, on 13 August, Onuphrius had been inaugurated as the new “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine” succeeding the deceased Metropolitan Vladimir. His church, which encompasses roughly half of Ukraine’s Orthodox faithful, remains under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction and umbrella of the Moscow Patriarchate and its Patriarch, Kirill.
As we reported on 21 April, the Moscow Patriarchy has remained remarkably subdued on the issue of Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill was made conspicuous by his absence from Putin’s Moscow speech and festivities on 18 March marking the takeover of Crimea. The churches of this confession in Crimea are still responsible to the metropolitan of Kiev.
Of the three major Orthodox churches in Ukraine, only this one enjoys canonical status and is recognised by the entire world Orthodox community. The much smaller “Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate” (formed in 1992) and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” (formed in 1921) are both allied with the West. The same is true of the 1596-founded “Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church”, which answers to the Vatican and is strong only in western Ukraine. This last church has strong ties to the country’s Baptists.
Humanitarian Efforts in Ukraine
According to reports, refugees heading eastward into Russia from the troubled regions of eastern Ukraine outnumber those heading westward by 20-40%. Nevertheless, the ones travelling eastward appear to have stronger support from the hosting government. Housing, food and medical care appear to be organised; refugees are given free tickets to move elsewhere for residency and work. Some Ukrainians are being placed as far east as central Siberia. Baptists from Rostov region, Bryansk and Belarus have been active in tent camps within Russia near the Ukrainian border, organising activities primarily for children.
On the Ukrainian side of the border, North American Mennonites are active in humanitarian work from their offices in Zaporozhe (central Ukraine). See: “https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mennonite-Centre-Ukraine/735361069838076“. The initiative of a German Baptist, Heinrich Becker, appears to have access to the embattled city of Donetsk from the west. His organisation “Hoffnungsträger Ost e.V.” is located in Darmstadt, see: „www.Hoffnungstraeger-Ost.de“. Germany’s Baptist Federation in Elstal is working through Baptist Union offices in Kiev.
Humanitarian efforts in Ukraine are undoubtedly worthy of serious evangelical support.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 2 September 2014
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 #14-10, 1.809 words.