“Maidan theology” in the Experience and Reflections of the Younger Generation of Ukrainian Protestants
Acta Missiologiae, Vol. 5, 2017
The present article analyzes the particular features of reflections on “Maidan” in the experience of Ukrainian Protestant Christians. Protestant “Maidan theology” has developed mainly among the younger generation and has been supported by informal leaders. It is both inter-denominational and para-church in character; it was inspired by a critical hermeneutic of the Bible and social reality; by optimism in regard to civil society and pessimism as far as official church structures are concerned. For Ukrainians in particular and for post-Soviet Protestants in general, “Maidan theology” represents the first experience of social theology in action, as well as a significant factor in social life and church reform. The present article while expressing the connection between civil protest and the Protestant spirit, “Maidan theology” and Reformation theology, introduces and analyzes the experience and reflections of select figures from the Protestant evangelical community from late November 2013 until the present. The leading question of the analysis was: how can the church, through its various representatives, understand itself in light of the events of Maidan?
Key words: Ukraine, protestants, Maidan, theology, Church, society, politics, leaders.
The events on the Kyiv Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) which began in 2013, and the subsequent Russian-Ukrainian war, draw the observer’s attention not only by their tragic nature but also by their peculiar “hybrid” character. Religion has played a defining role along with political, economic, and socio-cultural motives. A Christian interpretation of events was able to mobilize the religious community and represent civil protest as a “revolution of dignity,” shifting the focus from a particular political issue concerning the direction of the country’s development to fundamental points of worldview concerning moral and spiritual issues.
In the light of Christian theologies, “Euromaidan” (protests of the Maidan demanding closer relationships with the EU) has become a much greater event, truly revolutionary in its depth and the scale of changes it represents. Addressing the “students of the Maidan,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, stated that, “this Maidan is all about true things. It is about principles, fundamentals, profundity, and dignity. Living through the current moments we together are revealing the sacrament of our common being. Whoever had the chance to ‘talk’ to the policemen and members of the Berkut (special police force) were able to see the sacrament in their eyes as well” (Gudziak 2013).
“The sacrament of our common being” has been revealed not only to society but to the church as well. The Christian community itself has needed to be reoriented, to develop a new language and new theological approaches toward the events taking place in Ukraine, which has rather tentatively been called “Maidan theology.”
An article with this title was published as early as 12 December 2013 by a well-known Orthodox author, Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun. He wrote about the religious and political simulation of Christianity and encouraged the church to turn its face toward ordinary people: “Ukrainian churches now have the opportunity to step out of the gray zone of collaborationism with the criminal authorities and stand their ground as the ‘Confessing Church,’ which stood against the Nazis in Germany. Nowadays churches in Ukraine can grow up to the level of society, which is rapidly growing on the basis of those values that should have been demonstrated by the churches. It is time to change our relationship with the authorities. It is time to establish our relationship with human rights. It is time to learn from the people how to appreciate and stand for dignity, decency, and humanity” (Hovorun 2013).
In this brief preliminary text there are a few highlighted points in common that characterize “Maidan theology” as an inter-confessional movement: focus on the community as the main subject of relationship and not the state; the ecumenical scope and interest in the resistance experience of various churches, in particular the Protestant “Confessing Church” in Germany; the lack of confidence in the authorities and the state-church “symphony”; humanistic enthusiasm; an anthropological approach to theology; the perception of the community as the area of divine revelation and action; the critique of an isolated and self-sufficient institutionalized church. These points have been developed in the writings of other “Maidan theologians” such as Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the theologian Antoine Arjakovsky, the publicist Yurii Chernomorets, Myroslav Marynovych, the Vice-Rector of Ukrainian Catholic University, and many Protestant authors.
The Russian Orthodox Church has given credence to the potential of the new movement. Alexander Shchipkov, who is closely connected with Patriarch Kirill, remarked that “‘Maidan theology,’ as promoted by Hovorun and others, may claim the status of a new religion. “This civil cult is, basically, an open call for Reformation” (Shchipkov 2014). In other words, the keepers of “canonical” Orthodoxy are trying to present the points of “Maidan theology” as a variety of liberal Protestant theology or even as an attempt at a new Reformation. Despite the evident incompatibility of a “civil cult” and “a call for Reformation,” the words cited above do partly depict the truth. “Maidan theology” has turned out to be related to the Protestant spirit, the experience of the Protestant Reformation, and the subsequent desacralization of state authority.
The Protestant factor in the events in Ukraine, as well as the Protestant tendency in “Maidan theology” has been specifically noted by leading Russian publishers. Thus, the article “Ukraine armed itself with a theology of revolution. Maidan and the war in Donbass affected sermons” (NG-Religii, March 4, 2015) emphasizes the radical character of changes in the theology of young Protestants and their influence at the inter-denominational level: “An instructor in theology and Christian ministry at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, Anatoliy Denisenko, shares his interesting memories: “What I experienced on the Maidan, reminded me of the words of Harvard professor Harvey Cox that, ʻWe are trying to live in a period of revolution without a theology of revolution. The development of such a theology should be the first item on the theological agenda today.ʼ Pastor Artem, serving as a chaplain to Ukrainian troops in the village of Peski, rendered his experience in the war as follows: ʻTo some extent, we are changing our understanding of the Scripture and of God’s wordʼ. These words could be the keynote of the changes that have occurred in the worldview of many Ukrainian spiritual figures within the last years” (Maltsev 2015).
While Ukrainian Christians are aware of the “keynote of changes,” there is still the question of how “Maidan theology” was reflected in the confessional matrices of various traditions, how church groups perceived it, and the way it alters the alignment of forces and emphases. For a deeper analysis, I would like to introduce two distinctions: inter-confessional and confessional.
In order to express the connection between civil protest and the Protestant spirit, “Maidan theology” and Reformation theology, I intend to introduce and analyze the experience and reflections of select figures from the Protestant evangelical community from late November 2013 until the present. These select figures belong to a new generation of evangelical leaders and have proven themselves as informal leaders; they have shaped the position of their communities without taking any official post. Therefore, my material contains Protestant voices; these voices, however, do not compose or represent any particular religious system. They form the complex polyphony of a self-organized, inter-church community, united by the same socio-theological challenge and appropriate intuition of the same theological response.
While the value of Protestant material in the “Maidan case” leaves no doubts, the second narrowing specification of the issue requires additional rationale. The shift of attention from the statements of confessional leaders and official documents to the stories of ordinary people who became field and vision leaders is caused by the direction of events themselves, when new acting figures unexpectedly have been brought to the forefront, as well as by the principles of the author’s methodology, which focuses on the birth of new ideas and heroes among ordinary believers. The members of the group of new Protestant leaders whose opinions and testimonies are of interest and novelty, are Oleg Magdych, Oles Dmitrenko, Taras Diatlyk, Denis Kondiuk, Petro Kovaliv, Denis Gorenkov, Marina Gogulia, Olena Panych, Natalia Prostun, Ekaterina Zhitskaia, Lesia Kotvitskaia, Anatolii Denisenko, Mykola Romaniuk. The author himself took part in these events and personally met every representative of the group that is here analyzed. The majority of the members’ testimonies were published in two collections (Fylypovych and Gorkusha 2014, Gordeev 2015). The following text is part of a more extended context of events and discussions, observations and dialogue, testimonies of the members of the select group, and personal relationships with them.
It is worth mentioning for methodological reasons that there is a necessary distinction between high, declarative, official religiosity and low, living, unofficial religiosity. On the one hand, there were the right and informative statements of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (VRCiRO, Jan. 13, 2017 www.vrciro.org.ua). On the other hand, there were real people who took part in the events on the Maidan, and shaped their position from within.
To a great extent the momentum of the Christian movement of Maidan was downstream, where ordinary believers and a number of priests and ministers took the initiative. One can talk of the alternative solidarity and alternative leaders that were formed in those events. They can be called “emerging leaders,” as they are still being shaped and their theology is still emerging. Therefore, it is necessary to hear the voices of this new solidarity along with those of the official declarations and recognized leaders, to reconstruct the theology, whose spirit and intuition united and guided the members of the group currently being analyzed.
Some methodological clarifications
Unquestionably, “Maidan theology” cannot be called uniform, comprehensive, and coordinated. It contains a fairly wide spectrum of positions. What these positions have in common is the object of their thought. In this sense, the so called “theology of Maidan” continues a long tradition of “theologies of…” (i.e. of revolution, of the death of God, of liberation, of process, of hope), which were very popular in the twentieth century. It is possible that a more precise name for this ideological movement would be “theologizing on the Maidan,” or “theologizing about the Maidan.” However, this more nuanced version would probably not be as well understood and accepted as the shorter and more concise version – “Maidan theology”—suggested by Cyril Hovorun.
The best formulation was discussed during preparations for an inter-confessional round table discussion that took place on 15 January 2014, as a result of which the title, “Theology in the presence of Maidan,” was developed, which Orthodox, Catholics, Greek Catholics, and Protestants all agreed upon. However, even the event’s participants spoke of “Maidan theology” for the sake of simplicity. Therefore, the title and contents of this article are oriented not towards the demands of any rigid forms of academic theology, but rather toward a means of self-identification for participants in the events, their words and positions, moving toward forms and formats in which theology became public and practical. So I prefer “Maidan theology” as a self-description and “theologizing on the Maidan” as a conceptualization.
Its focus is clear: the events of Maidan. However, its contents and structure are less clear. So much so, that the question might arise as to whether it is worth calling such a fragmented and unclear movement a “theology.” But could it be otherwise, taking into account that this “theology” was not written in academic offices, but arose on the streets and the squares, in the midst of fire and clashes? Unquestionably, under such circumstances there was not and could not be a theological system. Instead, there was a theological search for answers to a simple question: how can the church, through its various representatives, understand itself in light of the events of Maidan?
Naturally, on the basis of this search, and on the deeds and statements of its participants, we can reconstruct a more holistic theology. However, for us something else is more important: the recording of its first intuitions and intuitive manifestations. It is important to clarify the order of the theological process once more: Christians found themselves on the Maidan in response to very different convictions; afterwards they tried to understand themselves and the events that were taking place, the place and role of the church on the Maidan, and also possible adjustments to their theology in light of what was happening. The adjustments to their theology were so significant that the idea arose of not only a renewed, but rather a new theology—“Maidan theology”.
As a matter of fact, a comparison was drawn between the Reformation and what is happening now in terms of social change. “Maidan theology” serves as an attempt to bring together the church and society, examining their relationship from within a crisis situation, that is, a situation in which there is no continuation and no backward movement. Therefore, the main elements of the theological structure of this movement included three related points: ecclesiology, missiology, and social theology. However, once again, this is a reconstruction and an attempted systematization of what was a grassroots movement and a summation of personal stories. Here a narrative approach is preferable.
Following the brief description of “Maidan theology” below are the reflections and experience of the Protestant leaders of Maidan, their theologizing on the Maidan.. Finally, there are more clarifications and questions concerning Maidan theology in the light of the given testimonies and reflections.
“Maidan theology” as “theologizing from within”
“Maidan theology” can be called “theology from within,” shaped from within a critical social setting and under pressure from society. Such a theology is formed, or, to be more precise, re-formed, not in a parallel (spiritual, academic, church), but in a single social reality; not through rejection and adaptation, but through justification and life transformation. The role of the church on the Maidan was not so much to bring something belonging to its position and then give it to the people, as it was to receive something there and learn from it. “God has revealed himself through many events of our lives…, doesn’t that mean that He is speaking to us through the events on the Maidan?” (Marynovych 2015: 58). This is the question that begins a theological paper reflecting on the Maidan as a place and event of God’s revelation.
“Maidan theology” has become the first significant manifestation of Ukrainian theology. What could not be achieved in academic and church offices by various denominational theologians came to life as a result of an event of social reality outside the church walls. Only where the courageous, free, creative theological thought of the church meets the real needs and spiritual requirements of the community can there appear something authentic, worthy of attention, and useful for both the church and the world. It can be said that “Maidan theology” has its own particular character. It has a distinct national character as well as a humanistic, European character, and a firm character besides.
This characteristic was subtly noted by a Catholic philosopher and theologian, George Weigel. Talking about the inability of the West to defend its own core principles, its lack of cultural seriousness, its disconnectedness from reality, and its postmodern rejection of objective truth, he appeals to his Western colleagues to listen to the truths that form the moral and cultural foundation of the Western experiment in democracy of which Maidan reminds them: the inalienable dignity and value of the human personality; equality before the law; the relationship of the virtues of prudence, justice, courage, and moderation with democratic public life; the accountability of laws to a higher moral law; and finally, the truth that only a virtuous person can be free, and only those who live courageously and prudently can make self-governance work (Weigel 2014). In his opinion, “The church best serves the common good by forming the men and women who form the civil culture, civil society, and in so doing make democracy possible” (Weigel 2014). The church in Ukraine did not set this objective; rather Maidan set it for the church. The outcome is “Maidan theology”, an attempt to meet the requirements of society, not merely in terms of prospective European integration or future democracy, but also in terms of the spiritual foundation of social life and personal existential, human nature, the common good, values and sense, faith, hope, love.
First there is the matter of social theology and the theology of the social, in this case of social crisis. “Maidan theology” emerges as an attempt to recognize the theological sense of social transformation. This theology is not confined inside churches or seminaries, rather it is overwhelmingly socio-practical, i.e., the theology of the Kingdom, as it reveals itself in various areas of human reality. Such theology correlates well with contemporary approaches in the sociology of religion that speak of the “re-privatization” and “return” of religion, of shifting borders between the secular and religious. For instance, Yurii Chernomorets suggests understanding events on the Maidan in the framework of a post-secular paradigm:
The borders between “secular” and “sacred” have fallen, and we turned out once and forever to be in a unified cultural dimension. The symbols of this process are the presence of churches on the Maidan, the hospital in Mikhailovsky monastery, the attempts of the Pan-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations to facilitate negotiations between the conflicting sides. Today there are no borders between the church and society. The churches in Ukraine have become first and foremost a part of civil society; and only after that do they remain a sacred authority (Chornomorets 2014).
It seems that for the first time in the post-Soviet context the church and society, theology and life, were bound together. “Maidan theology” did not become another ideological movement among many “theologies of…”; instead, it became a practical guideline for the church and individual Christians. It was born on the Maidan, and it was intended for the Maidan, for civil life and Christian activity beyond the church walls. It liberated theology from being confined to its own habitual problems and returned to a lively and dynamic reality.
Second, this theology is critical towards itself, social reality, and its interpretations. “Maidan theology” was based on critical hermeneutics; it questioned interpretations that justified and supported the status quo. This theology created a demand for a prophetic understanding of the future as an open horizon of human responsibility. According to Myroslav Marynovych, the church has nearly lost its understanding of itself and its vision of the future:
The magisterium of the church also shares in the prophetic role of Christ with its gift of foreseeing the future. This means the ability to see the first glimmer of light when the surroundings are still full of darkness […] The church has almost lost its ability to feel the breath of the very near future. This has been especially noticeable in these times of crisis .[…] Being a church in times of crisis primarily means being true to oneself, and thus being the church (Marynovych 2015: 59).
Third, this movement is non-confessional or inter-confessional. “Maidan theology” was built on the intuition of a new ecclesiology of an open and united church of “mere Christians.” The Christians of Maidan did not reject ties with their own traditions, but they were seeking a new community beyond the church walls and not connected with any church bureaucracy. As was rightly noted by the president of Ukrainian Catholic University, Borys Gudziak
The clear social demand is relevant not only for Maidan, but also for the future of all Ukrainian churches. On the Maidan, the churches stood together. The pastoral ministry of various churches is especially worth mentioning. Pope Francis said, “Shepherds should smell of their own sheep.” On those frosty nights, Ukrainian priests were together with the parishioners. They smelled of burning tires and campfires (Gudziak 2014).
“Maidan theology” was the first national experience of a living ecumenical theology, of ecumenism in action. It is difficult to overestimate the consequences of such an experience for every church that lived it. The story of Maidan is the story of a common struggle and a common ecumenical victory. The narrative of a common success is more easily remembered than the narrative of individual confessions, which were not quite successful. In any case, the foundation of Maidan theology and any other possible theology after Maidan will be an ecumenical narrative of common struggle and victory.
“Maidan theology” as a sum of “little stories”
“Maidan theology” is a narrative and biographical theology. It is the sum of the experience, intuitions, and reflections of people who actually took part in the events. The “little stories” of “little leaders” are not organized into a single text, and yet they are united by the same values and connotations as well as by the relationships of civil and Christian solidarity.
It all started with civil solidarity. As Marina Gogulia, a Christian student leader and linguist states, she came to Euromaidan because of her conscience.
Conscience. I took part in Euromaidan from the very first evening when I was coming back from the Opera Theatre, where there was a premiere about the Holodomor. I was walking to the Maidan. I met people there who were also upset by the unsigned agreement about the association with the EU. I didn’t want to go into the Customs Union with Russia and under new control (Jeremicheva 2015).
Marina served in one of the self-defense sotnias and also in the Prayer Tent. It was on the Maidan that she found her Christian community.
On the Maidan I met quite a lot of noble people, who were such an example of bravery and sacrifice, which I had never seen before in my life. I was on the Maidan in the hardest moments – the night of 10-11 December; in mid-January when we were expecting a night dispersion; 18, 19, 20 February …I thought, if they aren’t afraid, it would be shameful for me to run home (Jeremicheva 2015).
After the events of 30 November there were not only social activists on the Maidan but also people who could not remain indifferent. They had neither an action plan nor a theological rationale. However, they had the feeling that what was happening really mattered. Olena Panych, a religious studies scholar, acknowledged,
I was motivated by two things – love for my motherland and anxiety about its future. Yes, there were Christians on the Maidan too, and there was even a tent where Christians prayed about Ukraine. I think everyone has a right to decide for themselves which position to take; however, I am sure that all believers should strive to know and understand as much as possible about what is going on in the country where they live (Panych 2013).
She did not worry about the official position of church leaders. “They either do not fully understand what it was all about, or they were trying to be diplomatic and politically correct. It is their right and their choice. I think that many ordinary church members hold different views” (Panych 2013).
In searching for an answer to the question concerning the reasons for the churches’ passivity and “theology of neutrality,” Panych has suggested some strong points.
There is evidence to think that the evangelical movement formed on Soviet territory became an imperial church; therefore, the heirs of this tradition…, unbeknownst to themselves, became hostages of the “Russian world.” The desire to get out from under the imperial influence of Russia in such a setting is considered rebellion against a familiar and overall legitimate order. It is no secret that evangelical Protestants in Ukraine (not all, but a significant part) were among the ranks of the strongest opponents of European integration. I visited churches where people prayed for the failure of the agreement of association with the EU. Euromaidan was a surprise for them and made them think over their position. And still, the tradition of contrasting themselves with the “immoral West” has not disappeared (Panych 2014).
This explains the strange dependence of post-Soviet Protestants on their Soviet past when they suffered repression. It also highlights the tendency of those churches to maintain the status quo in current discussions about the future of the country. For them, legitimacy was consecrated with the past and any changes are suspicious.
“Most evangelical Protestant churches have maintained the status quo in politics. On the other hand, some Christians continue to look at the events in Ukraine with the skepticism of the ‘post-Orange syndrome.’ Nowadays a new evangelical Protestant mindset is being formed that does not separate state processes from the spiritual needs of the nation, that does not proceed from a dichotomous perception of the church as the ‘spiritual’ part of life, which should by all means avoid any social and political issues. Whether we, as a country, choose an Eastern vector or a Western one…, what matters is whether we (Christians) will become theomachists because of our unwillingness to take on responsibility for our own nation” (Kondiuk 2013).
With these words the dean of Ukrainian Theological Evangelical Seminary (UETS), Denis Kondiuk, expressed his active position. “So where are the representatives of the Christian churches? Why are the leaders of Protestant denominations silent? Is it because they are standing on the foundation of pacifism, or it is because any support for oppositional power might have negative consequences for those leaders in the future?” (Denisenko 2013). Thousands of young Protestants, together with seminary professor Anatolii Denisenko, were asking these questions, expecting clarification from their churches. Meanwhile they realized that they still had the right to disagree with the official position and that they had the individual responsibility to
reconsider their attitude toward the revolution and to look at their Teacher in a new way. Instead of giving a specific answer to the question as to whether Jesus would go to the Maidan today or not, it is worth asking another specific question: “How do I envision Christ?” Is he a humble lamb or a guerrilla with a rifle on his shoulder? Or maybe someone else? Maybe he is a radical, a reformer, and revolutionary, who managed to affect the society he lived in by using a non-violent protest against the ruling regime (Denisenko 2013).
Not all people were thinking about the political choice of the country and the transformation of society. Most Christians saw their role in helping the victims and witnessing about God. A seminary student, Ekaterina Zhitskaia, stated
I considered my mission to be communicating with people and praying with them. I usually said the following: “I am neither ‘for’ the EU, nor ‘against’ it. I simply don’t like the way the Ukrainian authorities behave.” Besides, there were a lot of people on the Maidan who needed God and who needed to be shown that Christians truly are God’s children (Zhitskaia in Gordeev 2015: 68).
The unity of religious and social motives was demonstrated by theologically educated leaders. “My way to the Maidan was both a Christian and a civil response. It was clear, just as they dispersed students, they might also disperse Christians in the future,” stated the dean of a seminary (Kondiuk in Gordeev 2015: 46). In this sense, it was inevitable that non-participation would be understood as the sin of inertia. “It was a sin not to serve peaceful people on a predominantly peaceful Maidan. There were ministers who stood up between the conflicting sides and, in effect, stopped the fights” (Gordeev 2015: 70).
A youth pastor and the founder of the Interdenominational Prayer Tent on the Maidan, Oleh Magdych, prefers to talk about a sequence of motives, their gradual deepening and the radicalization of questions.
Motives? When I came, I wanted to help the guys who had been beaten up. I did not position myself as a pastor; I was an ordinary man. Of course, we had talks about God. We were still shocked and confused about our further actions. It was then that we got the idea of encouraging the nation to pray about Ukraine, since we already had enough food and clothes (Magdych in Gordeev 2015: 32-33).
A bit later we got a missionary motive: ‘It’s great to be light and salt in our churches every Sunday, but it’s not what we’ve been called to do.’ Jesus came to people. We have to shine in the darkness, and our churches are the places of light. I do not mean that Jesus is not in the church, but the tent ministry is much wider and greater than prayer alone” (Magdych in Gordeev 2015: 140). After the mass riots the thought occurred [to us] that the mere presence of Christians on the Maidan is not sufficient; they should proactively take part: “After the riots on Hrushevskogo Street we started to go to where the people were. Before that, we had been sitting in one place and waiting for them to come to us” (Magdych in Gordeev 2015: 203). According to one of the founders of the Prayer Tent, Oles Dmitrenko,
The further ministry of Protestants on Maidan was not initiated by the bishops or by the chairmen of religious unions or churches, but by conscientious young Christians from various churches in Kyiv. The absence of a prompt reaction, a solid position, an elementary love of country on the part of key leaders, frankly speaking, made people angry. Popular spiritual teachers and leadership coaches seemed to have vanished. Oleh Magdych, the youth pastor of the church ‘Novaia Zhizn’, and marketologist Andrei Shehovtsov, were among the first Protestant activists on the Maidan (Dmitrenko in Gordeev 2015: 54).
Oles Dmitrenko has an interesting story of how prayer and politics are connected. “From its very first day, the tent became a symbol of God’s presence on the Maidan. The first visitor to the tent was Yurii Lutsenko, a Ukranian politician and former Minister of Internal Affairs. He was excited, anxious, and earnestly asked, ‘Fellows, I beg you to pray. The situation is serious. We need God’s protection.’ While the bishops were waiting it out…., a politician desperately called for prayers” (Dmitrenko in Gordeev 2015: 55).
Apparently, the God of the bishops and the God of the students were not the same. In the opinion of an eighteen-year-old student, Karina Fedoricheva, “If it wasn’t for the Prayer Tent, many people would not hear any news of a kind and proactive God, who has nothing to do with the widely-spread stereotype about him, as an ‘old man in heaven,’ indifferent to human life” (Fedoricheva in Gordeev 2015: 106).
Indifferent bishops were quite content with the “indifferent old man in heaven.” The church was mostly represented by individual Christian activists. Christian student leader Denis Gorenkov admits that, “the hardest times for me were during the riots. I still remember clearly several nights at the end of December. It looked like the morning would never come. There were few people; desperation was in the air. My friends kept talking about the coming defeat of Maidan. I stayed there and kept praying, since I really didn’t know what else I could do, if not pray” (Gorenkov in Gordeev 2015: 119).
Often the circumstances (more precisely, God through the circumstances) showed what to do and mobilized the people. “On 22 January in the morning I saw on the news that three Orthodox monks were standing between the opposition and the Berkut police. I immediately realized that my place was with those monks. It was the best day of my life,” Denis Gorenkov related (Gorenkov in Gordeev 2015: 172).
Such emotional responses were not rare for those days. On the morning of 19 February, after a bloody night of riots, Taras Diatlik recalled the cheerful sunrise amidst the continued suffering.
That was the second most joyful day of my life, which could be compared only with the joy before dawn on the day of my wedding twenty-one years before. The reddish-black night was over; the prayers of God’s children had not ceased the whole night on the Maidan and throughout the world, no matter what denomination they belonged to. Maidan remained. For each of us Maidan was a trial from God. A trial of love, humanity, compassion, comfort, friendship, cooperation, unity in Christ, and simply a trial of human involvement, faithfulness to Truth, to God’s values, the philosophy of theological education, the essence of preaching, counseling (Diatlik 2014).
The experience of Maidan events and discussion concerning the church’s attitude toward what was happening were expressed not so much in a new understanding of society as in a re-thinking of the church, its theology, power, and ways of treating the Bible. Biblicism and fundamentalism lost their position; they did not pass the test of Maidan. Direct Bible quotes, torn from their context, served as justification for lawless authorities and crimes against humanity. Nowadays some young theologians say that
Bible reading should be accompanied by constant pondering over our time. It will help to correlate the gospel with modern life and deepen our understanding of the gospel and of life. Gutiérrez theology at its core is religious commentary on political events. Isn’t this the true nature of theology? This hermeneutical method leads to the conclusion that theology should not be understood as orthodoxy but as an endless critical perception of practice – orthopraxy (Denisenko 2015).
Young leaders read the Bible in a different manner than leaders from the Soviet generations. They saw in the Bible the foundation for an active civil position and church non-conformism. There were three claims that became the visible signs of group solidarity of the “little leaders” of the evangelical community. Those three claims were somewhat uncomfortable for formal confessional leaders who presented alternative socio-theological positions. The first public statement appeared on 11 December 2013 in the form of an open letter addressed to the evangelical community of Ukraine. This “letter of those in disagreement” questioned the statement of Viacheslav Nesteruk, President of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (AUAECB), that “there is no activism on our part on the Maidan.”
Such an opinion simplifies the social position of the ECB and reduces it to extreme ‘neutrality,’ as if the church were able to live somewhere in a neutral zone, outside society and beyond its questions or needs… Involvement in meetings is the individual responsibility of believers; such responsibility is not separated from faith and expresses faith through a civil position (Romaniuk, Cherenkov, Prokopchuk 2013).
The letter was signed by the leaders and theology professors of ECB theological academic institutions: Mykola Romaniuk, Mykhailo Cherenkov, Anatoliy Prokopchuk, Serhii Timchenko, Fedor Rachinets, Oleksandr Geichenko, Denis Gorenkov, Taras Diatlik, Denis Kondiuk, Kostantin Teteriatnikov, Valentin Sinii.
The discussion went on outside the walls of the Baptist church and had its effect among other evangelical churches. In this case, it is noteworthy to hear a woman’s voice, the brave opinion of psychotherapist Natalia Prostun:
It seems to me there is a bureaucratic system even in the Protestant movement. While the leaders were arriving at the decision concerning whether Christians should be on the Maidan or not, others had already been helping on the Maidan. I feel ashamed, since I identify with the evangelical faith. As a Christian, I realize that I would like to see heroes among the evangelical pastors. When Viacheslav Nesteruk wrote that “there are no Baptists on the Maidan” I started to think about the herd instinct of believers (Prostun in Gordeev 2015: 212).
During the following month the group of those who disagreed with “neutrality theology” increased and became inter-denominational, involving almost all Protestant denominations. On 21 January 2014, there was issued an “Appeal to the evangelical churches of Ukraine” composed of members of the round table “Maidan and the Church: The mission and social responsibility of every Christian.” It was addressed to “The leaders of church unions, ministers, ministry leaders, and members of the evangelical churches in Ukraine with the appeal to use all possible means to protect truth and justice in our country in the context of recent events (oppression of activists on the Maidan, threats to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the acceptance of anti-constitutional laws on 16 January and the armed riots of 19 January 2014)” (Gorenkov, Cherenkov, Shehovtsov, Dmitrenko 2014). The initiative of the round table and authorship of the text of the appeal belonged to the young leaders of the Prayer Tent on the Maidan (Andrei Shehovtsov and Oleh Magdych), the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (Denis Gorenkov and Evgenii Shatalov), Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (Petro Kovaliv and Denis Kondiuk), and the Association for Spiritual Renewal. As the authors noted, “The church rightly avoided any political speculations concerning the issue of association with the EU. But after blood was shed on 30 November 2013 on the Maidan, the church cannot stay neutral” (Gorenkov, Cherenkov, Shehovtsov, Dmitrenko 2014).
On 20 September 2014, the resolution of the round table “The church in war conditions: Theology, position, mission,” was published. It was addressed to “The evangelical churches of Ukraine and the international community with an appeal for active help, spiritual solidarity, constant prayer for the peace and protection of Ukraine from Russian aggression, the solidarity of Ukrainian churches, and revelation for our Russian brothers” and stated that
The war is testing the theology, position, and mission of the Ukrainian churches, it demands repentance and re-evaluation … First, evangelical theology does not approve an indifferent attitude toward war, the greatest tragedy of humanity. We cannot set up spiritual vocation in contrast to the civil responsibility of Christians. On the contrary, Christian vocation is embodied in forms of civil participation … Second, under conditions of military mobilization the church should take the position of compassion and action. The church can no longer be a passive observer or merely express its “anxiety” and good intentions for “peace.” Church ministers should be everywhere, where people are suffering and dying, including on the frontlines. If Christians have the calling to protect their homeland with a weapon, they should follow that call. Third, the field of war should become the field of mission—of reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness. In such a critical period of Ukrainian history the church as never before should be close to the people in order to serve them, and, along with them, to serve the country (The Resolution 2014).
This resolution is remarkable in that it reflects a turning point in the way the evangelical community views the war. Earlier, on 13 June 2014, delegates of the AUA ECB convention under pressure from adherents of “neutrality theology” (Sergei Sannikov, Grigorii Komendant, Viacheslav Nesteruk among them) refused to accept a similar resolution (I co-authored that project). In September (after a summer of fighting, bloodshed, the occupation of Donetsk by Girkin’s military divisions, and the “Ilovaisk cauldron” ), the resolution of the round table mentioned above did not cause as much opposition as did jealousy among the ECB leaders. On 20-21 November 2014, an all-Ukrainian pastors’ conference of the AUAECB was held. It had the same title– “The church under conditions of war,” and it supported the main points of the past resolutions.
Similar coincidences may serve to illustrate the provocative statement by Anatolii Denisenko, that “a professional academic minority is replacing the fundamentally minded church majority” (Denisenko, “From Biblicism…”). At the very least, one should admit that this minority has already taken the initiative, it defines the theological agenda for the whole church and even wider – for the whole Christian civil society and relationships between the church and the community.
The informal leaders of the evangelical community and their positions emerged much earlier than the official leaders of Protestant denominations stepped in and stated their “position guidelines.” As recalled by participants in the events,
The organizers often requested from the stage that someone from the Protestants be delegated for evening prayer and to share God’s word. But the bishops weren’t there. Therefore, the huge Protestant movement of Ukraine almost every night was represented by … a tiny little seminary student, Katia (Dmitrenko in Gordeev 2015: 86).
The difference, however, is obvious not only in the speed of the response; it is even more evident in the theological mindset of the Soviet generation and the post-Soviet one.
While the official leaders quoted Romans 13 unthinkingly, Christian lawyers asserted that, “The institute of power itself is from God, but any particular figure in power is not always from God. God has given people the right to choose, but our choice does not always correspond with God’s will” (Muzichenko 2015). A more thorough critical hermeneutic of Romans 13 was suggested by theology professor Petro Kovaliv
To submit to the authorities is not the same as to accept injustice. Thus, if the authorities decide to take the criminal’s way, instead of punishing the criminals we must declare our protest. We must also keep in mind that the structure of Ukraine significantly differs from the structure of the Roman Empire, when the New Testament authors wrote the epistles. According to the Constitution of Ukraine (article 5), the highest power belongs to the people. Therefore, the authorities are held responsible not only before God to serve good people and punish criminals, but also before the nation that elected them. The people have the right to evaluate what the authorities do and to replace them. Such a civil position not only does not contradict the Bible and the laws of Ukraine, but, on the contrary, it is absolutely supported by them. This was precisely the position and protest that Christians came out to express (Kovaliv 2014).
At the same time the theologian highlights “the right methods,” “the radical character of Christ’s love,” and the non-violent nature of the protest.
That is exactly what the protesters did, when they brought tea and food to the cold, hungry policemen; when they did not avenge themselves on policemen who had been surrounded during the riots on the Maidan on 11 December and released them through the human corridor; when they shared food with the members of the Anti-Maidan who had been deceived by the authorities, and later helped them return home (Kovaliv 2014).
This new “hermeneutics of freedom and responsibility” has gained more and more influence, in particular on the pages of official church publications. A young pastor from Rivne, Ivan Mikhalchuk, candidly wrote,
Many Christians of post-Soviet countries, due to historical reasons, explain their indifference to social life or to the expression of an active civil position by referring to passages from the Bible, e.g., “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Rom. 13:1 NIV). Now, let us approach this question from another perspective. If the authorities make laws that, as a matter of fact, contradict God’s principles, how should Christians respond? Or what should Christ’s followers do when the authorities do not follow the laws which they themselves have established: judge unfairly, steal from the poor, harm orphans? Strangely enough, Christians are capable of adjusting so well to the system, that on the one hand, they can position themselves as those who are outside politics and talk about fully obeying the authorities according to the Bible, while on the other hand, they justify their actions, claiming that circumstances in their country force them to give bribes. Doesn’t it sound hypocritical? In Old Testament times some of the kings were far from doing justice and living according with God’s will. Still, there were prophets who told them the truth. The Bible has a plenty of such examples. Isn’t it one of the objectives of the church in New Testament times to act righteously and do justice? Telling the truth to the authorities and motivating them to act rightly has nothing to do with being disobedient to them (Mikhalchuk 2014: 12).
Not all these ideas were immediately accepted, though. At first, the ideas of the ‘little leaders’ were rejected, then criticized, and only when things calmed down, were they accepted as a sign of a new developing church consensus. It is well known that during periods of stability generational differences are smoothed over, while in periods of crisis they are aggravated.
While one of the bishops was bragging that he had never read the Constitution, since the Bible is better, the leader of the Alliance of Christian Professionals, Sergei Serhii Gula, publicly objected: “It is irresponsible to know only God’s law and not to know the state laws” (Gula in Muzichenko 2015).
While most evangelical pastors were obsequiously praying about kings and were unaware of their civil rights, a youth pastor, Oleh Magdych was calling for “a war with the ‘sovok’ in the church’ : “Even the majority of people who came out to the Maidan still have ‘sovok’ in their heads. People don’t know the basic things about society and individuality…We have a distorted view of the authorities. It is the beginning of the war with sovok in our church” (Magdych in Muzichenko 2015). Baptist pastor Mykola Romaniuk wrote about the very same thing:
My Scripture meditations have led me to understand that God does not establish presidents, prime ministers, or mayors, neither does he establish directors or even pastors; we, the people, members of the community, elect them. Pondering the history of the church in fascist Germany, I can assert that the indecisive, agreeable, fearful, and “defensive” policy of a large group of pastors and priests granted Hitler the right to do whatever he wanted to. It is bad that the ills of society have been transferred to believers and ministers of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists (in particular). We have a chance to critically reconsider what went wrong with us, repent, and do our best to spread the Kingdom of God in Ukraine in a more urgent way (Romaniuk in Gordeev 2015: 10-11).
While the official leaders of the church unions refused even to pronounce the word “war,” hundreds of Protestants went to serve the troops, because they envisioned God’s presence not only in the church, but in the war as well. The simple words of one of the chaplains can serve as a good example of that intuitive theology.
You don’t need to run away, you don’t need to be afraid. You need to pursue God in your life. You need to bust the myth that it’s better to go to prison than to go to war. I never served in the army. But now God is calling me. Unknown things are always frightening, but I don’t want to avoid God’s call, like Jonah did, so that later I do not come back ashamed. I do worry, but with God I will go anywhere. I am a little part of God’s great plan and I rejoice that God has honored me to be with soldiers and to represent God among them. I do not support the war; I support the soldiers (Zhakun 2015: 30).
However, the most basic and important difference between field leaders and office leaders was that the former got involved, while the latter were merely observers. This changes the perspective.
I was hurt that Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Greek Catholics prevailed on the Maidan in number. These people have felt, and still feel, the cold shoulder attitude of the Protestant church because of ritual issues. It is precisely those people who responded to the needs of the protesters, heard their confessions, and prayed with them. It hurt me that the Protestants, who were well-known for their openness toward people and their evangelism, weren’t there with those people who desperately needed help. And simple Orthodox priests spent days and nights living with them. In that I saw God’s answer to the question of whether the church can be separated from the state. I understood that the church is separate from the state, but the church without the people is nonsense. Unfortunately, I wasn’t proud of the image of the Protestant confessions (Kotvitskaia in Gordeev 2015: 256),
admits a medical service activist of the Maidan, Lesia Kotvitskaia. She elaborates, “I saw that Protestant churches have woken up. But they did it only after the bloody morning” (Kotvitskaia in Gordeev 2015: 271). Similarly, another participant in the events, student Ekaterina Zhitskaia, shares her opinion: “Protestants could have done much more. Unfortunately, there were too many people among us who insisted on praying only at home or in church” (Zhitskaia in Gordeev 2015: 273). Theologian Denis Kondiuk thoughtfully concludes,
Did the Protestants use the chance of sharing the Good News on the Maidan? Yes and no. Young churches with young leaders showed a proactive attitude, the ability to respond to what was happening, and openness to new things. These ministers were not afraid of trying, searching, and taking risks. On the other hand, more experienced and respectable Ukrainian Protestant denominations seemed not to notice Maidan for some time…they waited, watched and thought about what to do (Kondiuk in Gordeev 2015: 69).
The imprint of “these little ones”
Comparing the main points of “Maidan theology” with the experience and reflections of the young Protestant leaders, there are still questions about the specifics. What was peculiar about the Maidan experience that made it different from other critical situations in the history of Ukraine and of the world? What is special about Maidan ecumenism and social theology? What was different about the Protestant version of “Maidan theology”? What new things did “Ukrainian liberation theology” reveal? How did “Maidan theology” influence the lifestyle of ordinary believers; what is special about them? It seems to me that so far it is impossible to find exhaustive answers to these questions until the individual experiences and reflections of those little leaders of Maidan are expressed in a better way and united into a single whole. Not until churches apply the experience of their “little” leaders and take it seriously as a challenge and a treasure.
By reconstructing the story of Maidan and the subsequent war, we discover amazing dimensions about the role of the churches and their theology. The proactive position of the churches was the result of pressure applied from below of weak and small factors, from the perspective of a weak and confused civil community, and from the perspective of the “little” Ukrainian Christian leaders. These two forces through their interaction determined the position of the Christian community in general, and motivated churches to take more decisive actions.
Unofficial leaders of the Protestant community were united by their lack of trust in official church structures and their trust in civil society, disappointed because of the dormant clergy, and amazed by the awakening world. In the events on the Maidan they saw not only an opportunity to serve, but also an important revelation about the church, its theology, and vocation. As it was summed up by Denis Gorenkov,
Believers should have come to the Maidan for numerous reasons. Firstly, there were the people who hunger and thirst for truth. Secondly, there were people like John the Baptist, who rebuked the authorities and the prophetic voice of the church should have been heard there as well. Thirdly, there were sinful people who needed Christian testimonies, prayers, and material aid. If there had been more Christians on the Maidan—and among the leaders on the Maidan there were Christians quite well familiar with politics and society—the Maidan agenda might have been different. I believe that the form of protest might have been changed too. We could have avoided violence and blood (Gorenkov in Gordeev 2015: 267).
“Maidan theology” was predominantly a socio-political theology, which was a hasty, unprepared response to the social crisis. In order to protect human dignity, the civil community had to ask the church for help. The church in its turn applied to unpopular and weakly developed socio-theological sections. The situation required a non-dogmatic, creative, human response, and the church could hardly provide it.
However, this time the church was represented by a community of ordinary laypeople and unusual ministers; their theology was more intuitive than well thought-out or coherent. Such phrases as “revolution of dignity” and “Maidan theology” were also intuitive. The “revolution of dignity” is a Christian version of what was happening, which reveals semantic levels far deeper than Euromaidan’s political demands, joining spiritual and social issues, providing the framework for non-violent resistance. Karina Fedoricheva remembers as follows:
Later on I realized there is no contradiction between civil and Christian motives. How, for instance, can you talk to a person only about the Good News, if they only want to talk about politics? I am sure that Protestant Christians would have done much more on the Maidan if they hadn’t hidden themselves at cozy and comfortable church services and gone to the people instead. The impact made by Christians is evident because civil war in our country did not start. Throughout the period of 18-20 February, one could expect that policemen would be killed right there in the streets; however, this did not happen. I saw that the protesters began to follow the example of Christians and not of the law enforcement groups. People would approach me on the Maidan and tell me, “We want to follow Christ’s example” (Fedoricheva in Gordeev 2015: 275).
The socio-political theology of Maidan was based on latent Christological and anthropological implications, intuitively connected with key points of dogmatics and the main sections of systematic theology. At the same time its enthusiasm was not of a religious character, as for example, the appeals of the Prayer Tent leaders: “Don’t be religious … Your potential is needed on the Maidan. Come and let’s do God’s work together. The Lord is there” (Fylypovych and Gorkusha 2014: 543). This imprint of Maidan has become a long-term trend. People began to talk more about Christ and less about denominational Christianity, more about the gospel and less about religion.
“Maidan theology” is existential and narrative, personal and public, i.e. it has been made up into a common text of “little” stories of Christians who took part in the events. It is their involvement in the events on the Maidan and their ideological leadership that shaped a general demand for “Maidan theology”. Therefore, “Maidan theology” in its Protestant version mainly emerged among the younger generation and was supported by informal leaders; it was inspired by critical hermeneutics of the Bible and social reality, optimism concerning the civil community, and pessimism about official church structures. It was ecumenical and simple, that is, markedly “evangelical,” non-denominational, non-dogmatic, intuitive. In general, it was largely of a social character, probably, for the first time in the history of Ukrainian Protestantism. It was a practical and sacrificial witness of and about faith, as was rightly expressed by one of the witnesses (μάρτυς), “You do not have any right to tell something until you deserve to. And the easiest way to deserve it is through service, because then people see that you are willing to sacrifice something” (Gordeev 2015: 214).
It is possible that “Maidan theology” is going to remain a historical episode and will have no continuation in the larger church tradition, but theology “after the Maidan” or “in the light of the Maidan” will be perceived in a different way. It will keep the imprint of “these little ones” whose lives and views were changed forever and thus changed the church and the nation.
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