Humble Abuse and Responsibility: Some Reflections on the Situation Around the UOC
A Blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University
First, I would like to say two things. From 2009 to 2019, I was quite involved in the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC)—from singing and helping a priest-monk at a local parish near Kyiv to assisting the bishop during international trips to translating for international ecumenical guests at Lavra, the metropolia, and the Kyiv Theological Academy. Second, I was among the authors of the recent statement against violence in resolving conflicts among church communities in Ukraine, which was drafted after violence was used by Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) supporters against members of a UOC parish around the usage of a church building in Ivano-Frankivsk. I am against violence and illegal actions in and around the church, wherever it happens.
However, in the context of international sympathies expressed to the UOC today, I have to admit that the social opposition and violence directed at this church in Ukrainian society is not an artificial construct of the Ukrainian authorities; it is, in my opinion, a reaction to the hidden structural violence, which has been present in the matrix of this organization since 1990s and especially after 2014, when the leadership of the UOC changed. Of course, there are many kind people, good pastors, and positive local initiatives there. But there are also systemic issues, which made it impossible for me to identify with the UOC in 2019 and which became unbearable for those in Ukrainian society currently involved in the resistance to the Russian aggression.
In the UOC-MP—from the level of a local parish to that of the Kyiv Theological Academy and the Metropolia—personally or experienced by friends, I witnessed a lot of humiliation of human dignity explained from a “spiritual” standpoint. In my experience as a common parishioner, it was too often a place where you were systematically taught that you are too sinful to have a different opinion from your priest and/or bishop, to feel any good about yourself (especially as a woman who dares to think on theological matters), to have a voice; if something unfortunate happened to you, it was in most cases interpreted as your own fault and guilt, which you would have to humbly accept instead of trying to change anything except yourself. It could be done to you in a bold way—or in a more subtle way. If you were someone strong, confident, and in tune with the “main line,” you would probably not notice the many harmful behaviors and attitudes there. But if you were more vulnerable and thinking critically, it could be hard.
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