Patriarch Lubomyr (Husar): ‘We are people who are just waking up to freedom…’

15 August 2011, 11:07 | Interview | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Liubomyr (Husar)Ukrainians are about to mark the twentieth anniversary of their country’s independence. In these two decades, a generation has grown up that did not experience communism, many events took place that changed – sometimes radically – life in Ukraine. Have Ukrainians been able to appreciate the long-awaited independence, which was obtained in the early '90s and achieved largely through the suffering of predecessors; what is the religious-spiritual, church, and public face of modern, young Ukraine; what it is like to live and develop in it, in particular for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church? These are the topics of RISU’s conversation with a man who, according to opinion polls, is considered to be the indisputable moral authority for Ukrainians of different social strata and cultural traditions, of different denominations and faiths – the primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from 2001-2010, Patriarch Lubomyr (Husar).

— Your Beatitude, we are approaching the twentieth anniversary of Ukraine's independence. What does this independence mean to you? Can one say that we value our freedom, independence, and are able to use it?

— I think we do not making the most of the gift of independence. Because independence for a nation, a state, is similar to independence for a person. A person needs to be free, to be himself. Lord God gives us this and says: “If you fulfill my law that God gave at Sinai (and which later Jesus Christ spread in the Sermon on the Mount), then you will be free.” I do not know whether we are able to appreciate freedom enough. Freedom is not doing whatever one wants – self-will. Freedom is being able to do good to be free. Who fulfills freedom and law is free, not bound, enslaved. Do we know how to respect it enough? I think that we do not use this independence enough. There are various reasons for this: it may be plain ignorance, fear to be free, for freedom is a responsibility. In one word, we are afraid to be free; we fear the consequences of our freedom, because it means responsibility. We are just beginning to use that independence and freedom. In my opinion, we have not done what we should have done, though, as I already said, we have the basis, we have the opportunity. Only it is not being used properly.

— Is Ukraine's independence today the way you envisioned it back when you lived abroad, more than twenty years ago?

— You know, this question is a bit theoretical, because ultimately we were very aware of what was happening in Ukraine half a century before what happened under the Bolshevik regime. We never thought that those people would feel completely free.

I will give an example for comparison. Practically for the entire twentieth century we were under occupation. There was the Austrian occupation, then Polish, then the very short time of the liberation struggle, later the Bolshevik occupation, German and Bolshevik again. In one word, people were not free. When we lived abroad in the camps for foreigners, as we were called, there were representatives of different peoples. I remember we always had a good impression of the Lithuanian group. Why? They were free almost twenty years from World War I to World War II. But they were very serious people, I would say, mature – they knew not only how to act, but also how to live together, cooperate, because they experienced twenty years of independence. We did not have this. And we did not think to dream that it would be the best. But specifically, I do not know if any one of us imagined how it would be.

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I think that what we have experienced over the past twenty years is quite natural. We are people who are just waking up to freedom, who are beginning to learn to be free in the full sense of the word: internally free, externally free, people conscious of their dignity, conscious of the dignity of others. Freedom for me and for all people. We are just learning. Maybe sociologists or experts who know the history, understand human behavior, could have imagined all of this, but not ordinary people like me. Ideas were different, but they were all very theoretical notions. I do not remember there being some great discussions on what Ukraine would be specifically. We said “independent, sovereign, rich, a country of talented people.” This could be said in theory, but what it would look like in actuality, for example, this thing – the lack of trust, lack of initiative, fear of responsibility... There were some discussions, but in the '90s. I remember there even being articles in the Western media on these topics. But, you know, it all had to be seen, lived.

— When you first arrived in Ukraine after years of living in the diaspora, what was your impression of Ukrainian reality? And where exactly, in your opinion, did the most substantial changes occur?

— I have several times on different occasions talked about this, because I was so shocked by what I saw. It was 1990. I came to Lviv, my hometown. On the streets no one was smiling. People went as if they were transfixed, depressed, stooped, not looking up, not looking into the eyes of one another, as if they were bearing some terrible inner burden. In one word, there was no sense of vibrancy in the city. It felt like a city, I would say, of depressed people. Lviv, which used to be, even during Polish times, I still remember, full of life. And I was very much depressed by this.

I'll give you another example that I remember from another experience. Once when I was visiting a family, they showed me a family album. There were pictures from a wedding with the newlyweds, groomsmen, parents, everyone. What really stood out for me was that in those pictures no one was smiling, even though it was a wedding, and all should be having a good time. But each person had such a serious facial expression. I grew up in America, where usually after the wedding the couple, along with the groomsmen and bridesmaids, goes to take pictures. This is a wedding, it is a party. And here the pictures look more like they are from a funeral rather than from a wedding. It was surprising to me.

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I was amazed at how today it all changed. And the changes I see are mostly in the behavior of the youth. Young people are growing up with some other, I would say, attitude – they are not afraid to laugh. I think that they behave completely naturally. And it's a good sign for me that this past, which weighed heavily on the shoulders of those poor people who lived in the communist "paradise," is somehow passing.

Let me give you another example. I came to Lviv for the first time in 1990, and then in '91, '92, '93. Then our associations, the Ukrainian youth of Christ, and others began to appear and they invited me to meetings. So I was very happy to go. But there the young people were afraid to speak. They sat, listened very carefully, but did not talk. How sad. And with children it was the same. The children were so incredibly polite. They sat quietly, straight up, not even moving, not wanting to disturb the silence – a very unnatural circumstance for children and youth. Young people are usually active, restless – different from older people. But the meetings with the young people were even unpleasant. People had even had to be prodded. It was a big problem for them to ask questions, to converse. Thank God it is no longer the case. When I meet with the youth, with students in schools, they ask interesting questions. In one word, young people are alive again, thank God. And I think that this is a big step forward.

— During the time of independence, Ukraine has had four presidents and various systems of government. How would you rate these periods in the context of the state’s relations with the churches, with various denominations, and overall with religious freedom in those twenty years?

— You see, between the four presidents or four groups of authorities I don’t see any difference – they are all the same. Many talk about democracy and such kinds of things. But I see no difference. As for the church in general, I would say that the state respects the church – maybe because it is afraid of it. We are still under the influence of the past, and such problems are not only in Ukraine but also in all who came from under such a regime.

The state and the church do not know how to act with each other. As I already mentioned, Ukraine was under various kinds of occupation. Thus the church’s attitude toward the state was always as an occupying power. Thank God, our Greek Catholic Church somehow always stuck with the people, defended the people, suffered with the people, rejoiced with the people. But how to behave toward the native authorities, the independent Ukrainian government, we did not know. We are learning. Even to this day we are learning. And there is no doubt that the government is also learning. Our current, let's say, ruling elite was educated in Soviet times and is afraid of the church because the church is a basis of independence, freedom, the basis for people who think, understand what human dignity is, seek in some way to honor this freedom, seek truth, justice. We had a, unfortunately, it seems, unique moment – the Orange Revolution, in which the church also played a role at least by its presence, its prayers. We did not want any changes, some fundamental social or political changes. The people wanted truth and justice. The authorities, I think, should be extremely careful with regards to the church; they should make sure that the church, God forbid, does not start something that would be in defiance of the authorities.

Ukraine has different churches, denominations, religious organizations, but none of them in these 20 years has tried to start a revolution. The one who preaches truth and freedom, however, is always dangerous for a government that wants to control everything. So you see, in general, I would say that the attitude is good, although the government wanted to control the church. Up until now it does the same – it wants to control the church, out of fear. And it’s quite natural. If there were freedom, truth and justice, about which the church talks about, we would look different.

— According to the Constitution of Ukraine, the church is separate from the state. Does the church consider this form of coexistence with the state the best variant? And is what Ukraine has today actually the way it is written in the Constitution? Is a secular form of church-state relations, which is accepted in the West, possible for us?

— For me and all those people educated in the West, the separation of the church and state is quite natural, because these are two sociological, social groups, which have very different goals. The church is for the spiritual good of the people, religious good of the people. The state has to provide as much welfare as possible – although this is not most important – so that everyone could live peacefully. However, the state must also care for the spiritual values: education, culture, and freedom of the church. The two complement each other. It is good that they are separated.

For example, in Iran the religious element controls the state. This is not good – neither for the state nor for their religion – because it puts religion in a very difficult situation. The state is a community of people for ensuring normal life, development, and the church or a religious organization is purely for religious purposes. When the church preaches freedom, it is not because the state does not do so. The church preaches freedom because it’s a consistent understanding of our human dignity. So the church is not against the state – the church and state are complementary. Therefore, I think the separation is logical and beneficial for Ukraine because if the state leads the church or the churches lead the country, then woe unto us.

— During these twenty years since the UGCC emerged from the underground and other churches also began to develop freely, many speak of a spiritual revival in Ukraine. In your opinion, is that what it really is?

— It hasn’t taken place yet. It is taking place now. People are beginning to understand what the spiritual space is, what the moral laws are, that God exists. And are beginning, I would say, to get accustomed to this, to take it seriously. But we still haven’t done all that is necessary. We still live on the achievements of our fathers and grandfathers. We have not reached the conviction that all this is part of a normal human life.

It is necessary to add elements of culture, for example, to have a spiritual revival. Culture has two basic definitions. First, it is the values that govern the relations between people. The second is the more creative side, that is, culture in the sense of art. We are a nation that grew up on Christianity. Ukrainian history has other elements, too, say, Judaism for example. But Christianity was at least for a thousand years the dominant element in shaping our culture. And it has become part of our spiritual space; it has impacted our spiritual face. One cannot imagine Ukrainian literature or art without God – even people who seem to be far from God and the church. For the concept of God is in the very structure of the culture. Cross out God and our literature will cease to exist.

panagia.jpgOnce, I remember, I had the opportunity to meet with the creators of culture, creative people. I shared with them the following: Why is the church interested in art? Because you, the artists – whether in art or literature, or something else – continue, bring closer to people certain spiritual values. For someone such literature may be a kind of first step toward God. I will even call this the missionary task of art and culture. That is what the Ukrainian people have. For thousands of years we fostered this. Although the communists tried to erase this, they failed. I even remember this moment: I heard somewhere in Brezno one of those big communists spoke in his language “God willing.” But for him it probably did not have any religious value. It was just a saying in his language. But it reflects that someone once perceived it very seriously, and it entered into the soul of the people. Culture – not the one that is called popular culture, but the one on which human interaction is based – is something that is deep-seated and cannot be destroyed or deleted. So I think it is very important today that we make our Christian culture a conscious element in the lives of our people.

You know, we go to church, especially in Western Ukraine. But in the East, many people go to church as well. Journalists reported that at Easter this year at least five million people attended church. This is almost one-tenth of the population. This is a respectable number in our world. We go to church on major holidays, but it is hard for us to be Christians from Monday to Saturday. But we need this – need to make Christianity deliberate. I think we still have a lot before us.

And how can this be implemented? Does the church have any tools?

— The tools are the normal life of the church, worship, preaching, school, Christian family, nurturing Christian morals, Christian literature, Christian art. And also that which today is a very popular word – evangelism, when a zealous believer shares his faith with his neighbors. Thus religion comes back into the people's consciousness.

— You have repeatedly said that one of your favorite audiences, people with whom you love to communicate, is the youth. Why is that?

— For two reasons. First, you know, old people have firm beliefs, which are hard to change – although we must speak with them, because they have life experience, life wisdom. But young people are the future. Their lives are not yet spoiled. The youth are ready to accept. I mean young people who have some critical thinking, at least fifteen years of age. In one word, these are people who are starting to think: "What will happen to me next?"

And the second reason, you know, I am pleased that I had the opportunity to listen to people who understand the youth’s situation and who tell me that our young people, despite the hardships that we now facing, have quite a positive attitude toward life. These are people who are thinking, looking for something long-term, stable, which provides not only the daily bread on the table but also spirituality, freedom, spiritual space. I do not know how long the Lord God will let me live, but I would like to spend this time meeting with the young.

I was at one meeting that brought together people from Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Cherkasy. And they asked questions, interesting spiritual questions. The second such meeting was at the conservatory in Dnipropetrovsk. There were also very good questions. In one word, these young people are interested in something – and not only how to make money, how to become rich, how to live a comfortable life, but something inside of them is working. And it’s so nice to talk with them. So I almost never refuse an invitation to speak with the youth, even if it’s not very convenient for me. I am always very eager to go. For in some way I feel that I am sowing something in good ground, that there is something worthy, that they listen and ask questions that make me think. So I am very happy to spend time with them.

Those of us who are today fifty years and over, we are the products of the last century, and not its best moments. God willing, the youth will stay good, clean and idealistic. It seems that despite all the different enticements coming from Western Europe – the ideal being strong, rich, someone who can do what he wants – there is a lot of good. If you want to think about the future, then think about the young people.

— A certain part of the youth is engaged in business. When in Ukraine after seventy years of communism business began, it was often done by methods which, to put it mildly, were very far from spirituality. How do you think business and spirituality can be combined? How do you talk to these young business people about spirituality?

— I met with a group of some fifty businessmen. I didn’t know where they came from, who they were. I was invited, and good. I came to them and said: I want to just say one thing above all that God gave me grace and mercy – in my life I have met an honest businessman. So, to be a businessman and to be honest are not mutually exclusive, even if people think that every politician and every businessman must be a thief, it's not true. I knew an honest businessman. So, businessmen can be honest. I will start from that. Being an honest businessman is quite possible, as well as to be an honest politician, you only need to want it. We must appreciate this. We must understand that this grants a certain satisfaction. Not accumulating a lot of money with all sorts of schemes, but to be free, to be a master of money, but not let it control you.

— Your Beatitude, there is also part of the Ukrainian youth that is interested in theology, including theology as a profession. What, in your opinion, can modern Ukrainian theologians, who study or have graduated, offer Ukraine, the society? Is a theological thought forming, which for seventy years had been stifled?

— I will give you an answer that is not very good or pleasant. So, how many people do we have who have completed theological studies at a higher, academic level – whether it was in Rome, in Belgium, in England or elsewhere? On the other hand, how many theological works have appeared in the last ten years? And here is your answer. I think that our theology is at a very low level. There are many talented people who have had the opportunity to learn, but it seems that they are very lazy or very frightened. But what is there to fear, this is academia. There is no reason to be afraid. Once they are prepared, they should work and be creative theologians.

I have a doctorate in theology, but have never considered myself a theologian. Why? Because I did not write, did not create, did not study theology professionally. I was a pastor; I wrote some epistles. And these people who say they are theologians, they have master’s degrees, licentiates, and doctorates, and God knows what. And what are the results of your work? I don’t see it. Calculate it – that would be interesting. I think you would be able to open the eyes of many of us to our reality. We have the Ukrainian Catholic University, which seeks to educate, sends students abroad to very prestigious universities where they can learn quite a lot of good things. But for some reason our theologians cannot be ignited. And without a sound theology we won’t get far. So I am ashamed by this.

I would be pleasantly surprised if you could convince me that everyone who defended his higher theological degree in the past five years wrote a solid book – not an occasion article in the parish bulletin, but a solid book. A book, which someone has responded to or one which someone has quoted. Do this kind of research. It is very important. Many people go into theology. And there are areas of theology that our students are simply afraid to touch, for example, Bible studies. How many of us are specialists in the Scripture? Specialists, not those who have learned to read and write a little something. How many of us are specialists in dogmatic theology? How many of us can write really solid works in liturgical theology? I will say frankly that I am not satisfied with what I have seen, but I may not be properly informed.

— Is the church ready to accept theologians? Are there jobs for them in the church? They can teach at the Ukrainian Catholic University, at other educational institutions. What else? Can they work in the church structure?

— Then why didn’t they go into business? Nobody forced them to go into theology. They chose to themselves.

I believe that a theologian can have any job. But we have only five seminaries and a university. I'm not saying that we have thousands of theologians. However, if each of the professors in the seminaries wrote a solid book…What is stopping him? They have a duty, if they want to be called theologians.

We fought to have theology be recognized by the state as an academic discipline. The state acknowledged it, though perhaps not as much as it should have, but nevertheless. Therefore, we must have a river of theological books, as there is great need in our theological thought. I'm not talking about translations. There are many translations, and some are very good, but so what. Where is our theology? Where is our theological creativity?

— Relating to the subject of theology is education, what do you think the Ukrainian school needs to change in a good sense? And why has the church for so many years wanted to be able to open its own schools?

— To educate children. I cannot swear by it, but I heard and remember that when elections were taking place (and how many elections have we already experienced!), university administrations told people whom they should vote for. What kind of education is this? They are producing slaves. Do we have universities to bring up slaves? Universities have to educate not only professionals but also honest people. And the church in America or in other countries can have many universities. We currently have only one. And we need to work hard to keep it.

What does the church want? At least up to secondary education, the level up to 17 and 18 year olds, not only to give a child knowledge but also to educate her. Educate her so that she is honest, and so that she is able to use her acquired knowledge wisely. Not just to sit in front of a computer and not know what to do with all the knowledge she has accumulated. She is not educated, is not formed. We need not only information but formation. We see that there are very good private schools, very good public schools where there are reputable educators, professors, teachers who really are educators. But there are also many where the only thing they have to offer is a certificate, or worse, where that certificate is purchased.

We want to give people the opportunity to choose. Want to go to a state university? Your right. Want to go to a private university? Your right. Want to go to a university that is based on Christian principles? Go ahead and send your child there, there are such schools. Therefore, we insist to start not from universities, but from kindergartens, especially secondary education, to educate children. Not only to fill them with knowledge but to educate them, and so parents can be pleased that their child finished school and not only has knowledge but is ready to go on with life.

— During these twenty years the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has changed in many ways. What it is today? What are its most important matters, problems?

— Two or three years ago we adopted a program for this time. We call the process the work of three teams. The first team that started work about three years ago had to help us solve the existing problems – administrative, financial, etc. And I can say that this team has fully justified itself, found ways to overcome difficulties, so that the church could function.

The second team, which was chosen by the synod, is composed of, I believe, ten bishops, and its head is, if I am not mistaken, Metropolitan Stepan (Soroka).They have to present to the synod their vision of the church in ten-twenty years, that is, a vision of the future. The vision is the goal, which we want to achieve. They are working on this. I know that they had sessions last year in December, January, and April. People gathered from around the world and worked on the vision. As far as I am aware, this matter is not yet complete. How do we want our church to be in ten, twenty, thirty years? This is a very complicated, but I think also very interesting. It shows the vitality of our church: we do not want to just drift down the river; we want to see our church as a church in the full sense of the word.

nahorody2.jpgWhat does it means to be a church? It is not an easy problem. It would seem that one just needs to flip through the Scriptures, the Catechism, that everything is written there. Our church is not only in Ukraine, but right now I am considering specifically Ukraine. What happened to our people in the past seventy years? Or the past ninety years – seventy communist and twenty free? What happened? I listen to different people. I returned permanently to Ukraine back in 1993, but I am still learning a lot. So what happened to our people? We do not want to fantasize, do not want to write that the church should be such and such, as the Catechism says. We want to write how the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church should be. God willing, maybe even a united Church of Kyiv. What should it be? Taking into account specific data, let it be North America, South America, which also have its own specifics. What should the church be there? Does it have to be completely Mexican, or can it still be a little Ukrainian? What should it give to its environment? What should it give to the Catholic Church? These are very complex issues. A commission is working on them, but not only them. Then upcoming synod will be in Brazil. And I believe that this issue will be the center of the discussion.

For the strategy, we created a third team, which is working on how we should reach our goals, how to realize our vision. By what means and ways? What people are needed to implement the vision which the second team has come up with and which the synod and our entire church community has accepted? The vision is, so to say, the second product. Because if we have a vision and want to reach it, want realize it, then use a strategy, we take small steps one at a time. So, in this regard is, thank God that we have very positive movement in our church. We don’t want to just, as I mentioned, drift along the river. No, we want to be creators. We want our church to take lead with the help of intelligence and other means. So it is great if we can seriously continue this work that began three years ago. And actually, I remember, we started it nine years ago. That was the first synod where we asked ourselves about the identity of our church.

— How do you feel about the fact that the church is present in the media? Because sometimes there are very different opinions.

— If Jesus Christ were here, he would probably write on the computer. I think so.

— Would he have use social networks? What do you think?

— I will give you an example. It is recorded in the Scriptures that Jesus Christ came, followed by many people, over the Sea of ​​Galilee. It is difficult to grasp how big those groups were – four to five thousand men, not including the women and children. People are sitting on the mountain, and Jesus Christ is in a boat, not on the coast but a few meters from shore. Why? Because water reflects sound very well. So, he used, so to speak, a natural method to augment his voice. And what is radio or television? A tool to augment the voice. Instead of talking to five people, one can talk to five million. But, in fact, one says the same thing. So it’s the same here. Jesus used modern natural methods.

For me this is proof that Jesus Christ did not shy away from the normal, natural means of communication. And if television and radio were around then, he would have used them. I think the church should use them, too. Only it is essential that the church very, very conscientiously follows the principles of sound journalism, or communication policy, for the truth, for morality. The church cannot take part in such nonsense that we often hear. The church must be truly in the service of truth. And then it has its purpose. It doesn’t always have to be catechization or religious themes, but it must always be truthful, respectful and not offend anyone. In one word, it must adhere to the principles of a devout Christian, one might even say of religious journalism or communications policy. Today to not be present in the communication space is suicide. The pope said this a few weeks ago. For me there is no doubt.

— When a little more than six months ago you announced your resignation from the position of the head of the Greek Catholic Church, you said you wanted to lift this burden. Do you feel as though a weight has really been lifted? Or is something still left? How does your day look now?

— Three questions and three answers. Of course, the burden of responsibility has been lifted. I no longer have to worry about what is happening from day to day, react, plan, gather people. Moreover, I have no more strength for this. Many people say that because I am retired, I have a lot of free time. This is true. I have enough time, but not enough strength. There comes a time when a person no longer has that vigor.

Thus the burden of maintaining the church has been lifted. A good man was elected – His Beatitude Sviatoslav, who is younger, full of energy, but already has life experience. With the help of those who chose him, with the help of clergy, monks, and laity, the matter moves forward.

The second question – whether I do something. You see, I am no longer trying hard to offer something. When change came, and His Beatitude Sviatoslav was elected, I drew his attention to some of the main, in my opinion, matters, because he was new to the global situation. But beyond that, I do not dictate or propose anything. I said right away that I will not be saying anything. But I'm open: if you want to ask, or consult – His Beatitude, or other bishops or laity, priests – come, I am ready with my experiences, with my knowledge to help. I do not meddle, do not dictate what needs to be done. And if someone wants advice then please come or call, or write. I am not far away; I did not forget about our church and want to continue serving it, but in this form.

When I had my first press conference, I, maybe, spoke too aggressively, and people thought that I would be working from morning to night. However, I have realized one thing: today I no longer have the strength I did 20-30 years ago. And, as I already mentioned, I don’t want to meddle. We have a primate, Patriarchal Curia, and other structures at work.

I have realized that now I need to devote more time to praying for our church. I believe it is my most important task today. The church needs prayer. People must speak with God – and that is prayer. With my experience, knowing the difficulties that are before the church, what can and should I do today? Perhaps it would be more normal if I could live in a monastery. If I had the strength and health, I would return to my monastery. But I can no longer do so physically, it is practically almost impossible. However, I can pray, and I think it what is most important for me today. This is the most important thing, and a way I can really help. Lord God manages our prayers. I do not dictate to the Lord, nor try to advise him on what He should do now. I pray, and God already knows himself what He should do.

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