Kyiv - the New Jerusalem

religion | May 23, 2011 | By Paul Peter Jesep

In July 2010, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church issued a statement calling Kyiv the New Jerusalem because Ukraine's capital is “a religious ideal that for centuries defined the spiritual, cultural and political priorities of the People of Ukraine.”  Ukraine, the second largest and potentially one of the wealthiest nation’s in Europe, is re-examining its history and its place in the European family.  Few in the West have noticed and those that have don’t fully understand Russia’s anxiety about the re-assessment of widely held and long accepted views of Russian-Ukrainian culture, history, and spirituality.  

An interview by Andrei Zolotov Jr. with Hegumen Filipp Ryabykh, Deputy Chairman for the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, published on RussiaProfile.org, suggests that Russia feels as threatened by this review as it does about its geographic security stemming from the empire’s territorial breakup.

Fr. Ryabykh’s interview took place during the Los Angeles convention of the American Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  The interview and his participation at the convention were to further “Russiky Mir” or Russian World.

His remarks should bring scholarly attention to the scripted and managed approach the Moscow-Patriarchate prefers instead of open discussion of Eastern European history, religion, and spirituality in a post Imperial and Soviet age.  In addition, it raises issues regarding the Moscow Patriarchate’s willingness to use and be used by an increasingly authoritarian regime.

This church-state partnership contributes to the secularism that it contends corrupts and undermines society.  Ironically, it is the blurring of the church-state separation that led the Moscow Patriarchate to support an inept, corrupt, and highly dysfunctional autocracy that contributed to the Russian Revolution.  Today, the Russian Orthodox Church is heavily subsidized and receives deferential treatment from the current government.

Russian World

Russiky Mir is the philosophy and the formal name of an organization that the Moscow Patriarchate supports.  Former KGB officer and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin established the Russiky Mir Foundation in June 2007.  It promotes East Slavic culture, history, and language throughout the world from a distinctly Russian perspective.  In doing so it identifies as Russian the individual contributions of ethnic groups and individuals within them once part of the Imperial and Soviet empires. 

According to the Foundation’s website, “Russia’s vibrant, multicultural society has made many artistic, musical, literary, and scientific contributions to global culture … Russian language is at the heart of Russian culture and society.”  

This self-aggrandizement is an admission that Russia, Russianness, and the Russian soul are amalgamations of subordinated multiculturalism from its Imperial and Communist past.  Of all the cultures that have contributed to Russia, Kyiv-Rus now present day Ukraine remains its fundamental spiritual, emotional, and psychological core.

According to Fr. Ryabykh, “Ukraine was always considered the cradle of Russian civilization, and Moscow and St. Petersburg were considered the successors of Kiev [sic].” 

In an October 2009 op-ed for Pravda, Stanislav Mishin wrote that “We, the Rus:  Russians, Belarus and what is now termed Ukrainians, as well as the Carpatho Russians, Transnistria Moldovans and much of northern Kazakhstan are one people of one stock and primarily one faith.”  He added that “Kiev [sic] became our spiritual, moral and religious, as well as the physical capital” of all Rus.

Today, however, Western historians are now investigating the historical evidence offered by the Ukrainian intelligentsia that Moscow and St. Petersburg cannot be the successors to Kyiv-Rus.  The name was co-opted when Muscovy was an Asian power.   

It seems disingenuous when Fr. Ryabykh says that “Russia, even when it was building an empire, never considered Ukraine to be an object of colonization.”  Empress Catherine enslaved the Ukrainian peasantry with the introduction of serfdom in 1776.  Nor were tsarists or Bolsheviks sympathetic to the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1918.

He added during the interview that “Russian culture can let various peoples communicate with each other, but it is not being imposed as something compulsory and exclusive.”  Yet Jews were harassed, persecuted, and dehumanized throughout much of Russian history.  The Ukrainian language was banned in schools in both the Imperial and Soviet periods.  Nationalists often spent time in Gulags.  

 According to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “Russians are the largest people in Russia, the Russian language is the official language. The Russian Orthodox Church is the biggest confession in our country.”  He added that “We should develop the best features of the Russian character that have made our country strong, essentially created it – tolerance, outgoingness, ability to coexist with neighbors, self-confidence, well-known magnanimity, open-mindedness towards our own history and the history of other peoples.”  He seems to have overlooked Russia's history of ruthless territorial expansion.

Fr. Ryabykh contends that it is “only natural that the Russian Orthodox Church speaks about the role of the Orthodox church in Russian civilization, but does not diminish or silence the role of other religions and denominations that are traditional to the Russkiy Mir – Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, as well as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism” is peculiar.  

Internationally, Russia has been repeatedly criticized for a “religious freedom” that elevates Orthodoxy at the expense of all other faiths and Christian denominations.  Religious equality has never existed in Russia during the Imperial, Communist, or now in the post-Soviet period.  Spiritually and theologically it should raise the question – what is the Moscow-Patriarchate afraid of? 

If Russian Orthodoxy is the truest of faiths then it will overcome any perceived religious challenge.  Muslims, Buddhists, Evangelicals, and especially Jehovah Witnesses have long been targeted by the government with the full support of the Orthodox Church.  Anti-Semitism continues.

According to an April 2008 report by ChristianPost.com, a priest in the Moscow-Patriarchate preached that “We deplore those who are led astray – those Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and many others who cut Christ’s robes like bandits, who are like the soldiers who crucified Christ …” 

The U.S. State Department noted that although the Russian constitution provides for both religious freedom and religious equality, restrictions are imposed.  It documented “manifestations of anti-Semitism as well as hostility toward Roman Catholics and non-Orthodox Christian denominations.”

The American Center for Law and Justice reported that Protestants are especially persecuted often with the tacit approval of the Russian Orthodox Church.   In 2009, the Russian Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that outlawed religious activities by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Orthodox Church has been accused of fueling public animosity toward this Protestant denomination.

In 2010, Mischa Thompson, U.S. Mission representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for Freedom of Religion told a gathering that “… in Russia, a regional court can declare a religious text to be extremist, resulting in a nationwide ban on the material.” Anyone caught reading or distributing the material can face imprisonment for up to three years.  Thompson further noted that “unwarranted and illegal police raids on places of worship” are not uncommon.  Last year, religious properties in Kaliningrad once belonging to Catholics and Lutherans, but confiscated by the Communists, were given to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate has been accused of lobbying on behalf of businesses.  According to the news agency Ukrayinska Pravda, it intervened to increase the grain export quota for one company.  Metropolitan Volodymyr, head of Russian controled church, is quoted from a letter urging Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to do it because his church needed more money.  In another case, the Metropolitan asked the government to appoint a “vodka businesswoman” to the Cabinet of Ministers. 

Historically, the Russian Orthodox Church contributed to the moral legitimacy of an inept, corrupt autocracy more concerned about excess and self-preservation than serving the empire’s multi-ethnic citizens.  The Church, especially in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, fostered and contributed to a violent revolution by losing its way.  It ignored and encouraged anti-Semitism, blessed pointless wars, opposed political reforms that would decentralize power, and found excuses for industrial exploitation and the greed of unbridled capitalism.  In addition, widespread documentation exists that it was complicit with Communist bosses to survive as an institution.

In 2011, its behavior parallels its past.  Lessons have not been learned.  There should be a separation of church and state so that a “holy” institution is never compromised by political secularism.  Instead, Russian Orthodoxy is considered the unofficial state religion in a country increasingly sliding toward authoritarianism.  The Church cannot help halt and turn back this unfortunate development because it is part of the problem.  

Forgotten by Russian Orthodoxy then and now is when Satan offered Jesus power, control, and influence over the world.

Lucifer took Jesus “up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed” Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to” Jesus, “All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.”

“Away with you, Satan!” Jesus said, “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God,’ ” and only the Creator “will be served” (Matthew 4:11).  The Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate seems to have accepted Satan’s invitation.  It attempts to make Ukraine one of its secular kingdoms.

Culture War

Taras Kuzio of the Jamestown Foundation has long and correctly observed that there is an “undeclared Ukrainian-Russian cultural war …The Ukrainian-Russian cultural war is part of a wider on-going undeclared conflict between both countries over their evolving national identities.”  Russiky Mir is a strategy by the government and the Russian Orthodox Church to market to the world a distinctly Russian perspective.  It is an effort to present to the West a cultural, linguistic, and greater Russian nationality that includes former Soviet colonies.

A nation defines its soul through its culture – artists, writers, dancers, language, and composers.  Internationally, the “Russian Soul” has been studied and understood in the West through “Russia’s” faith and culture.

In the case of Ukraine, artist Repin, prelate Tikhon of Zadonsk, mystic Vladimir Soloviev, writers Gogol and Dostoevsky, philosopher and perhaps the first Sophiologist Jryhorij Skovoroda, composers Bortniansky, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, among many others were Ukrainian, of Ukrainian heritage, or were heavily influenced by Ukrainian culture.

Non-Ukrainian influence on Russia includes:  Composer Khachaturian (Armenian), Artist Marc Chagall (Belorussian), Dancer, choreographer and founder of the world renowned New York City Ballet George Balanchine (Georgian).  These are just a few examples.

In a post Imperial and Soviet age Russia, Russianness, and Russia’s identity, once long-settled, are now open to discussion and reassessment.

The New Jerusalem 

Kyiv is not the successor to the secular and religious politics of Rome or Istanbul (Constantinople).  Moscow has historically claimed to be the third and last Rome since the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453.  Rome exemplifies political power.  Russian Orthodoxy still believes in its messianic mission unable to see its own self-inflicted secularization.  The redemption of humanity can never come from the Moscow Patriarchate or Russia’s messianic mission.

Russia and Belorussia are plagued by xenophobia, degrees of increasing authoritarianism, legitimized by a complacent and at times complicit Russian Orthodox Church that is fundamentally opposed to individualism.  It prefers a collective or community approach managed by a select few.  A careful reading of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights underscores its fundamental differences from Ukrainian Orthodoxy due to Ukraine’s experience with degrees of liberty throughout its history.

In the Books of Genesis of the Ukrainian People by Mykola Kostomarov (and some believe co-authored by Taras Shevchenko) the author(s) reflect that “Ukraine will rise from its grave and will call all of its Slavic brothers, and they will hear its appeal, and all the Slavs will rise; and there will be no more tsars, tsars’ sons or daughters, princes, counts or dukes, excellencies, masters, boyars or serfs …”  Russia and Belorussia have replaced autocracy and Communism with a different breed of masters.  In each case the Russian Orthodox Church has been a willing participant. 

Kyiv is the New Jerusalem.  Moscow is the Third Rome.   

Bishop Paul Peter Jesep is an author, New York lawyer, and designated United States spokesperson for His Beatitude Metropolitan Myfodii of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine, the country’s third largest Orthodox Church.  The views expressed here are personal and in no way reflect the official positions of the UAOC.  He is also author of Credit Card Usury and the Christian Failure to Stop It and Crucifying Jesus and Secularizing America - the Republic of Faith without Wisdom. 



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