Archpriest Andrii Naharniak, Deputy Chairman of the Department of Social Service of the UGCC, on where to look for God in these difficult times and where he definitely does not exist. And also - what is social service and how, given such challenges, it is carried out.
Caritas is not an organization, but active love– What was the catalyst for the development of social service in our country? After all, it is known that such a phenomenon practically did not exist in Ukraine in the post-Soviet period.
– The catalyst is the Revolution of Dignity. It was an incredible association of Ukrainians, from which a powerful volunteer movement was later born.
In 2016, the UGCC held the first All-Ukrainian Social Service Forum , to which various initiatives were invited to create a common space for action. Based on these developments, the Development Strategy was written, which was later presented at the Synod of Bishops of our Church. This marked the beginning of a systematic approach. The idea was to create such a comprehensive atmosphere of caritas, because caritas is not only the name of the organization, it is the idea of active love. Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical was called "Deus Caritas Est", where he views "caritas" as a charitable love that every Christian and every church community should make. He also emphasizes the triune mission of the Church: liturgical (worship, prayers), the annunciation of the Good News and the preaching of the Word of God, and the actual service to one's neighbor - Caritas. All three are balanced.
Caritas as a merciful love that every Christian and every church society should make
We understand that for various reasons, in particular, due to the Soviet past, social service was not at the proper level in the life of Churches, parishes, Christians in Ukraine. Obviously, our society and the entire church community had to mature before it became a generally accepted practice. By the way, when Pope Paul VI spoke about Caritas, he emphasized precisely his educational role in the church community.
Many of us like to operate with gospel quotes. One of the most famous: “And how you give alms, let your left hand not know what your right hand is doing when you give alms, so that the secret is your alms, and your Father, who sees the secret, will reward you openly.” (Gospel of Matthew 6:3-4). We tried to supplement this guide, because these lines are that we should not be proud of our good deeds and internally perceive them as our merit. But the Gospel also says: “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Gospel of Matthew 5:16).
In other words, our actions should testify: firstly, about God, who is goodness, love, and about caritas, and secondly, about our faith (" In the same way, faith, when it has no works, is dead in itself» (The Epistle of the Apostle James 2:18)) and, thirdly, also about the opportunity for others to join in charity.
Our actions should testify to God
We have been working systematically for a long time to ensure that social service in the UGCC is formed and institutionalized. And I think we succeeded. During the time: from the first forum in 2016 to 2020, the social ministry activation program covered more than 400 parishes. Just then, the challenges posed by COVID-19 arose, providing another impetus for action. For example, the Vineyard evangelization, operating at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv, created the Sobor.Help group. At first, she helped older people who could not go out during the lockdowns - they bought food or medicine from them or at their own expense. There were periods when up to one hundred and fifty food packages were distributed per month, costing up to 400 UAH each. Currently, "Sobor.Help" is attended by more residents of the local community, and this is about forty people, families who find themselves in difficult life circumstances. That is, the number has decreased, because for us the question arose not of financial, as is usually the case, but of a greater limitation of the human resource. Volunteer service is rewarding, but exhausting. I like the phrase from the movie "Heaven is Real". The parishioner says to the pastor: “Saving the world is not your task. Jesus did it."
Reality is the place where God appears- It seems that in Christian psychology there is even such a term - the Jesus syndrome ...
– Among many other examples of successful social service: Reverend Vasyl Ulyshchak from Lubny in the Poltava region. Although there is a small community, the priest managed to organize dinners once a week for the poor, gifts for St. Nicholas Day for those who find themselves in difficult life circumstances, and other events. And so, not necessarily Greek Catholics donate to him for social service. He voiced the opinion that because of COVID-19, people have become more sensitive to the needs of each other.
Because of COVID-19, people have become more sensitive to each other's needs.
– In addition, the country has been at war for eight years… The UGCC often delivers sermons in accordance with real-time events.
– This style of preaching, when the gospel responds to life situations, is quite common in the last twenty years, when a significant number of new priests have been brought up. Obviously, over the past ten to eight years, it has become even more prominent. I think it's authentic. I am impressed by the words of the Russian theologian Sergei Averintsev, they say, God is present everywhere, except for one place - our fantasies, because it is real. So reality is the place of God's revelation. And, on the contrary, dreaminess, far-fetchedness is an illusion where He is not.
Reality is the place of God's revelation. And, on the contrary, daydreaming, far-fetchedness is an illusion, where He is not
– Reverend Andrii, could you share your personal experience on how faith helps you not to worry too much, maintaining inner peace and mental health?
– I love the joke about Pope John XXIII, who said: “Lord, this is Your Church, you are imbued with it, and I go to bed.” (smiles). This is the understanding that do everything possible from yourself, and the Heavenly Father will do the impossible. Maybe sometimes you don’t improve something, because you see that it’s already beyond your strength. You understand: even if you did, it still won’t work out as perfectly as God can perfectly do – which makes it possible to let go of deeds, events, not to let yourself be dragged into the cycle of negativity, despondency… The Apostle Paul noted: “Brothers, we know that by who love God…everything works together for good” (The Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, 8:28).
Ten years ago I had cancer. I once spoke with the Apostolic Nuncio, then Archbishop Thomas Gallickson, who also made a donation for my treatment:
“Well, it was an important experience in life,” I admitted.
- Important. But one day it will be enough,” he concluded.
I like to repeat the words “but the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
“We clearly connect church life with the existence of society”– Despite the fact that recently the number of vaccinated Ukrainians has increased, there are still many in our society who are against mandatory vaccination (there are especially many of them among Christians). Nevertheless, the Head of the UCHC was vaccinated back in March, then the clergy and those secular who work in the Church or cooperate with it. Finally, the vaccination point is open in the main cathedral of the Greek Catholics. How do you manage to convince the faithful, overcoming their fears on the topics of chipization, the last times, etc.?
- It's hard to deal with. People who are under the influence of such thoughts do not usually hear others. Sometimes convincing them is useless. You just need to give God the opportunity and time to act.
You just need to give God the opportunity and time to act.
When they talk about the end times, I say, they say, for someone the evening may not come. We must always be ready to stand before God. But why escalate instead of living?! Such tendencies exist in every denomination. However, these are also our faithful. And they have a right to their thoughts and views. Instead, we should treat them with respect.
—Reverend, to what extent does our society live by stereotypes? For example, when only Donetsk and Lugansk residents from the occupied territories moved closer to the center and to Right-Bank Ukraine, residents of those entrances where they bought or rented apartments often hid, saying that Donetsk people had moved in. There was talk about the peculiarities of their behavior. In your opinion, there are less stereotypes and fear, because the Donetsk years are already living among us?
I will answer with my own example. In 2003, I, a 30-year-old priest, moved from Lviv to Kyiv. I went to study for the master's program of social work of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. I remember that there was an attitude, I won’t say that to me personally, but to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as a bit sectarian. As one infamous Orthodox metropolitan said on the eve of Pope Ivan Paul’s arrival in Ukraine, they say that the word “Catholic” comes from the word “executioner”… backyards. Now everything has changed: the Greek Catholics are listened to as the spokesmen for expert opinion. We clearly link church life with the existence of society. In the context of all these processes, our position meets at least respect, if not full acceptance.
When the war began, our communities, although not numerous in the East - in Kramatorsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Mariupol - carried out powerful initiatives - for the military, internally displaced persons, families in difficult life circumstances ... Only millions of euros were provided through our local humanitarian aid through our Caritas . This could not but change the attitude towards us in this part of Ukraine. What is called, "By their fruits you will know them." (Gospel of Matthew 7:16).
Three Varieties of the Worldbuilding of the Church– In 2017, the Commission for Social Service of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations adopted the Strategy for the Participation of Churches in Worldbuilding . You, father, are one of its authors. Over the years, what practical steps have been taken? By the way, it was interesting to hear from one Protestant pastor that in the conflict zone, for example, in towns and villages close to the occupied territories, practical things are often perceived as peace: assistance with food for low-income or large families, medicines for people older age, insulation of dwellings ... That is, there the world has become synonymous with life.
– The participation strategy was developed by the interfaith society as a proposal for the Churches and religious organizations to take a certain proactive position in this process, because we understand that often the Churches want to turn from subjects into objects, using the destruction of the world.
Often Churches want to turn from subjects into objects, using in the destruction of the world
The UGCC tried to act in accordance with the mentioned document. Through the charitable network of the Church FundCaritas of Ukraine, we have implemented many peacebuilding projects. We have three types of projects and they must interact with each other, which gives a synergistic effect:
We helped with humanitarian aid: briquettes for heating, installation / restoration of windows, water (delivery or drilling of a well), repair work, medical assistance ...
The mentioned development projects relate, for example, to the provision of social care services for the elderly, as well as assistance in ensuring an independent life, in particular in employment (consulting on job search, job search, training / advanced training) ... For example, in Kharkiv, Mariupol , Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhia, Odesa, Kyiv, organized entrepreneurship schools that helped people build their own small businesses.
With colleagues from the Ukrainian Educational Platform
Obviously, the world begins with basic needs for food, housing, warmth… There is nothing new in this. Remember the strategy of the Greek Catholic Church in Galicia a hundred years ago? It started with cooperatives. In the work “How to build a native home”, Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytskyi wrote about the development of the economic solvency of society. He also considered educational work to be an important element. (Let's remember the "Enlightenment" organizations...). We are currently looking into this as well.
The world begins with basic needs for food, housing, warmth…
Purely peacebuilding projects have several forms of activity: the provision of psychological assistance (ATO/JFO soldiers, families of the victims, internally displaced persons…), Living Library events, meetings of the families of the victims, exhibitions and film screenings, conferences and round tables…
Returning to the theme of the Peacebuilding Strategy, now we are talking about the basic, fundamental development of peace in Ukraine - in families, communities, local communities.
- A sort of intra-Ukrainian integration.
There are not enough platforms for simple communication between the Churches– Reverend Andrii, in your opinion, is it possible to effectively promote peace in the East of Ukraine without the UOC-MP?
- Impossible. The UOC-MP does not demonstrate an aggressive stance on this issue. It's already good. They should appreciate it, understanding the pressure that is being exerted on them. The UOC was also present in the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) during the Revolution of Dignity. For you to understand, in VRCIRO decisions are made by consensus. What does it mean? If the UOC had said “no”, the decision could not be made.
It's about a higher level. And there is also a middle and lower level - we are talking about bishops, priests. In the commission of social service of the AUCCRO we are working on various topics, for example, medical chaplaincy. Therefore, there are meetings in different areas, to which the priests of the UOC-MP also come. For example, Metropolitan Filaret of Lviv and Galicia, who is responsible for these issues in the UOC-MP, also actively participates in such interfaith events.
We really don't have enough places for simple communication. Because just such meetings often relieve tension and we no longer treat each other as enemies. And this applies not only to him and me, but also to the represented structures.
We do not have enough platforms for simple communication
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The interview was prepared for the Religious Information Service of Ukraine with the assistance of the Peace and Development Foundation .