Got news? Prayers and poetry in the Ukraine standoff

The daily march of the headlines from Kiev continues.

The other day, I offered up a post linked to an amazing Associated Press photo of a quarter of Orthodox Christians, including at least one priest and one monk, who put themselves in the line of fire in between a wall of riot police and the brick-tossing demonstrators. Click here to catch up on that.

I want to return to that subject for a moment (also watch for an upcoming Crossroads podcast with George Conger on Ukraine coverage), because several Orthodox readers of this site have sent me links to additional information about what is happening with those priests and monks. It appears that their public witness for peace is continuing?

As George has been stressing in his posts, it’s important to realize that — in part due to the complexities of post-Soviet life in this region — there are two major Eastern Orthodox bodies and hierarchies in Ukraine, one aligned with Russia and the other is an autonomous Ukrainian church.

The photograph featured above, and the following information, comes from a website in Russia. Keep that Russia link in mind.

Yesterday morning, monks from the Kiev-Caves Lavra Fr. Gabriel, Fr. Melchisedek, and Fr. Ephraim stood on Grushevsky Street in Kiev with a cross and icons, between the demonstrators and the Ukrainian special police force “Berkut”, and stopped the conflict. They entered the arena as peace-makers, and not in support of one side or the other.

Although they were invited to join the “people”, the fathers only prayed and sang the Paschal troparion: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” wrote the Ramensky deanery of Moscow on its Facebook page. The conflict ceased.

As the website Pravoslavie v Ukraine (“Orthodoxy in the Ukraine”) learned, at around 9:00 a.m., clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church came to Grushevsky Street, placed themselves between the warring sides, and began to pray, calling both sides to stop their fighting and repent.

The monks have no intention of leaving until the situation has completely stabilized. The clergymen are currently continuing their prayer on Grushevsky Street in shifts.

By all means, read it all. And has anyone seen coverage of these acts of witness in the American mainstream press? By the way, there is an option to translate the text into English, when I open the full Pravoslavie.ru report using the Chrome browser. Here is a link to a related story in the English version of the site.

Now, there is one point about this piece of the Russian site report that I want to emphasize. Note that the monks and priest-monks are from one of the most famous monastery complexes in all of Christianity — the monastery of the Kiev caves. I have prayed inside the Lavra during two trips to Kiev and it’s hard to understand what is happening with Orthodox faith in that land without learning about the amazing recovery of that institution, with its growing ranks of monks, in the post-Soviet era.

However, it is also crucial to note that this monastery serves as the base of operations for the leader of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Orthodox readers of a site based in Russia would probably know that.

So what does that mean?

At the very least, it means that it would be important for journalists to realize that some clergy loyal to an independent Ukraine are willing to stand up to demonstrators, as well as police. It also means that some Orthodox people in Russia are willing to praise the actions of Orthodox monks who are part of the church that is not tied to Moscow.

That’s interesting information. Might church leaders in both lands have some stature that would make them crucial to peace and bridge building? I am sure that the complexities of the situation are over my American head. However, it would be important for journalists to probe this religious dimension in the conflict and in the future of Ukraine. That’s a story (with glorious art) worth chasing.

With that in mind, I would like to praise a new Washington Post piece — “In Ukraine, death and protest come with a history” — that focuses on some of the cultural and even artistic events from the past that loom over what is happening today.

Poetry. Prayers. Protest. Power. National pride. Torture. Secret police.

It’s all there and it has happened before.

Read it all. And wait for the prayers at the end.

There is more to life than politics, folks.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Matt

    Terry, it appears that the Kiev Caves monastery is the center for the Moscow Patriarchate, not the Kiev Patriarchate. The Orthodox Wiki page you cited says this (note the abbreviation “UOC-MP,” not “UOC-KP”), and this article indicates that the facility was transferred to the UOC-MP by the Ukrainian Parliament in 2012.

    If true, this rather changes some of your conclusions. The reporting of these priests’ actions in Russia now fits into the partisan narrative, as does the fact that they positioned themselves facing the protesters with the police at their backs. These priests were in fact pro-Russian and likely pro-government.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    Aren’t there 3 major “Eastern” Churches in Ukraine. Yes the 3rd group is in communion with Rome and many Orthodox have nothing but disdain for the “Uniates” as some derisively call them.
    But wouldn’t members of the Church in communion with Rome very likely be siding with whichever Orthodox Church is most Western oriented. It can all get very confusing.
    I can see how reporters might have a tough time sorting things out to explain it all. But, then again, that is their job.

    • Matt

      Yes, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has also been a vocal supporter of the protests, as has the Orthodox Kiev Patriarchate. The Catholics are strongest in the western part of the country.


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