Editor’s Note [at the Kyiv Post]: As Ukraine gets set to inaugurate its sixth president on May 20, the Kyiv Post is asking Ukrainians and those with Ukrainian ancestry who live abroad to send in their pictures (horizontal mug shots, please) with answers to the following three questions for publication. Please keep responses brief — no more than 200 words for each answer or 600 words in all. Include contact details for verification as well as full name, occupation and country of residence. A selection of respondents will be published periodically before Volodymyr Zelenskiy is sworn in as president. Send responses/photos with the subject header “Ukrainian Voices From Abroad” to Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner at email@example.com.
As I noted previously on these pages, the remarkable fact that three-fourths of a predominantly Orthodox Christian nation should cast its vote for a Jewish candidate over against an Orthodox incumbent serves as a clarion call—in a very positive way—for the newly organized Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) to adopt a more appropriate paradigm for church-state relations than the imperialist model inherited from centuries of Russian occupation. My advice to the OCU has been to work with government toward creating a more just society where all citizens and visitors feel welcome, regardless of religious affiliation, ethnic origin, language of preference, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.
My advice to Zelenskiy is to respect and work with the deep religiosity of the vast majority of his constituency, not only Orthodox but also Jewish, Muslim, Greek-Catholic, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Protestant—all of the faith communities represented by the All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO). Take the initiative to meet and enter into sustained dialogue with them, not only one on one with the individual religious bodies but with the AUCCRO as a group. Enlist them as allies in the pursuit of social justice and the common good for all Ukrainians. Assure them that their support for liberalizations in the social sphere will not infringe on their doctrines and practices within their own communities of faith.
Especially near and dear to my heart—and very important in terms of the European Union’s social values—is the well-being of Ukraine’s LGBTQ citizens and visitors. Unhampered by formal affiliation with the Orthodox Church, Zelenskiy can act more decisively than his predecessor to advance LGBTQ rights and protections, both through legislation in the Rada and persuasion in his public addresses to the nation. There is no reason that the necessary progress in this area should not include equal legal status for same-sex marriage and the right to change one’s gender legally. Ukraine has everything to gain from moving in this direction.
Even here Zelenskiy can enlist the support of AUCCRO members if he demonstrates convincingly that communities of faith stand to benefit as much from a freer, more open, more inclusive civil society as those who do not subscribe to their religious beliefs.
A final word specific to the Orthodox Church: Support the stability of the OCU by granting no more photo ops to “Patriarch” Denysenko. Ensure a safe home for the Russian Orthodox Church of Ukraine—but never hesitate to call out Metropolitan Onuphrius publicly if evidence shows his church colluding with the Kremlin against Ukraine’s national interests and security in any way.
This brief article appeared earlier today at the Kyiv Post. See the archive for Ukrainian Voices from Abroad here.
See our extensive Ukraine and Sexuality and Gender sections in our Archives by Author.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian of Ukrainian and Lemko descent on his mother’s side, PhD student in theological studies at the University of Toronto, founding editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and contributor of religious commentary at the Kyiv Post. He has written extensively in support of Ukraine’s political and ecclesiastical independence from Moscow and its aspirations to integrate with the European Union.