Religion as the moving force of democracy
In an article in today's Wall Street Journal, Adrian Karatnycky discusses the religious dimensions of the recent Ukrainian democracy demonstrations, and finds interesting parallels to the role of faith in America's recent elections and the faith of our own President and First Lady in shaping their attitudes towards their service to their country.
This is an encouraging sign to see in a country which had been under communist domination for 70 years -- an atheistic regime which attempted to completely stamp out religion in any form. My mother still remembers vividly when the churches were destroyed in her home town. As the bell towers were demolished the massive bells, which had pealed for hundreds of years, came crashing down with a cacophonous clanging as the horrified townspeople looked helplessly on, crossing themselves in terror and praying silently. She remembers their expressions of shock and fear. It was like the end of the world had come. She remembers the sickening thud as the heavy bells hit the ground. And she remembers all the anti-religious and anti-clerical slogans and songs and poems she learned as a child. They were inculcated in her so deeply that she can still recite them to this day.
"Religion is the opiate of the masses" was the rallying cry. She remembers that icons and any religious artifacts in the house were forbidden, and that her mother, who used to pray before the icon that always hung in the corner of every Ukrainian house, had to hide hers away. Still she found that her mother secretly prayed at night after the children had gone to bed (she discovered her one night by sneaking out of her bed). My grandmother wanted to protect her children from this sight, as children were also routinely indoctrinated to inform on their parents to authorities, and many in their innocence did. One such little boy who did, and whose parents were subsequently arrested for their "crime", was labeled a hero of the revolution. Every schoolbook bore his portrait and name and a statue was erected in his honor.
One day she told me she found her grandfather on his knees saying his daily prayers in front of the portrait of Taras Shevchenko, of whom I have written earlier -- the spiritual father of Ukraine and beloved bard. A portrait of Shevchenko also hung in every Ukrainian household. Having been inculcated with anti-religious propaganda at school, my young mother (she was about 7 years old) teased her grandfather. "What are you doing praying to Shevchenko?" she said, "he's not God." Her wise grandfather answered, "Do not scoff, my child, he is a holy man and it is permissible to pray to him as well."
When Czechoslovakia had its Velvet Revolution and the poet and playwright, Vaclav Havel, for years incarcerated and persecuted by the communists, became the new President, he said something so profound I have always remembered it. He said that it would take many years to heal the wounds inflicted on his country by communism. But the wounds that would take the longest to heal and that were by far the most profound, were not the economic and political injuries, but instead the wounds inflicted on the soul of the people -- the numbing, dumbing down of moral values, where the system reduced people to little more than animal status, keeping their heads low, staying out of trouble, and just trying to find enough food to eat and a little comfort to shield them from their sense of hopelessness and helplessness. He correctly realized that neither the political nor the economic renaissance of a country could take place without the spiritual renewal of the population.
And so I am gratified to see that this has taken place in Ukraine, and am not really surprised to find that a renewed sense of national pride and a desire for democracy and freedom has sprung from a renewed sense of religious faith. It is an ecumenical renewal, with all faiths -- including Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Jewish -- taking their place in the sphere of public life.
Here are some excerpts of the article.
Read the complete article at:
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...But there is another side to Ukraine's peaceful revolution. Interspersed with earnest youths, families and grandmothers who braved subzero temperatures at daily rallies for Mr. Yushchenko were nuns bearing orange sashes, proto-deacons and priest-monks.
The scene at Kiev's Independence Square was part political rally, part rock concert and part fireworks display. But it was also a religious experience. Each day's protest opened with prayer. On weekends, religious leaders held liturgies and prayer services for Orthodox Christians (whose adherents represent more than 60% of the population), Eastern Rite Catholics (10%), Protestants, evangelicals, Jews and Muslims. (Some 25% of Ukrainians say they are nonreligious.)
Mr. Yushchenko, who typically ends his speeches with "Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Ukrainian People, and Glory to the Lord, Our God," is a devout Orthodox Christian from northeastern Ukraine who regularly takes confession and communion.
His faith is reinforced by his American-born wife, Katya Chumachenko, who last week told the Chicago Tribune: "We're strong believers in God, and we strongly believe that God has a place for each one of us in this world, and that he has put us in this place for a reason."
Such sentiments echo the way that President Bush has spoken of his own faith. And like Mr. Bush, Mr. Yushchenko is careful to sound an ecumenical tone in his public remarks. At a Dec. 6 interfaith gathering, Mr. Yushchenko observed that "the spiritual harmony that rules among religious leaders on the platform is an image of the spiritual harmony present in Independence Square."
As a result of such careful balancing, Mr. Yushchenko's cause has strong backing from two influential religious leaders:
Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of the Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholic Church, who on Dec. 6 declared that "at the root of the crisis is an immoral regime which has deprived Ukrainian people of their legitimate rights and dignity." A leader of Kiev's Jewish community, Anatoly Shyhai, has told pro-Yushchenko protesters that Jews see the Ukrainian state as "an independent, democratic and European country at the apex of rights and interfaith amity." Thus religious values have become an important part of Mr. Yushchenko's moral appeal and his campaign to cleanse Ukraine of high-level corruption and crime.