How Ukraine Could Reshape How We Think About Christian Unity

(RNS) – In his 1992 book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’, political scientist Francis Fukuyama provocatively and hopefully suggested that authoritarian and collectivist political regimes were on the way out.

The end of history did not mean that events would cease, of course, but rather that we had reached “the final point in the ideological evolution of mankind and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as a final form of human government”.

Although not an overtly religious argument, some critics, including the philosopher Jacques Derrida, viewed Fukuyama’s thesis as a kind of Christian eschatology, more prosaically known as the End Times.

Thirty years later, it really feels like history is back.


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As Lent begins on Wednesday, March 2 for Christians of Western tradition, we watch in horror as tanks cross national borders and a European state invades a neighboring country without provocation. In the living memory of most peoples of the world, it is an almost unknown event: in a first world where technocratic shenanigans have practically supplanted armed conflicts, there is suddenly the gravity of sin, human finitude, tragedy .

These are the themes of Lent itself, on a scale that reminds us why humans can get it into their heads that maybe only God can redeem us – if we can be redeemed at all.

Ukrainian Church leader Metropolitan Epiphanius, left, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, right, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, lead a mass at Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 22, 2021. (AP Photo/ Efrem Lukatsky)

The end of post-Cold War history had brought some freedom to post-Soviet Christians, especially in Ukraine, where many Orthodox seceded from the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019, a move recognized by the Orthodox community. in a broad sense but rejected by the Russian Orthodox Church. .

Just as Eastern Europeans turned to Western norms of market economies and liberal democracies, they were introduced to global Christianity and norms of ecumenical cooperation and tolerance for religious minorities. If it is still an evangelical, even territorial Christianity, it is not a faith bound by history.

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s erratic imperialist military moves only seem to deepen the contrast with his narrative about the Russian empire and Russian civilization that the Russian church may support but most others see will no longer exist in a post-Soviet world order.

The Ukrainian Orthodox have already shown a desire to assert more independence from Russian Orthodoxy, as when in January the Orthodox Church of Ukraine took into consideration move its Christmas celebration to December 25 instead of the traditional Orthodox Christmas on January 7.

In the Orthodox world, Great Lent begins with the observance of Pure Monday (March 7), the Eastern Church’s parallel to Ash Wednesday. Ukrainian Orthodox leaders strongly condemned the invasion, and it is clear to all that Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow abdicated his moral authority and spiritual independence in order to justify Putin’s war. Kievans defending themselves against a Russian siege will surely not be moved to unity with the Moscow Patriarchate if the Saint Sophia Cathedral, built in the 11th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is destroyed.

On the contrary, Orthodox Ukrainians and religious minorities, including Byzantine Catholics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews, see the world rallying to the Ukrainian cause and opposing Russian aggression at a degree unimaginable for many (perhaps no more than Putin himself).

An Orthodox priest blesses Ukrainian Air Force University cadets after a monthly memorial service for soldiers who were killed fighting against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 3, 2022. Russia maintains that it has no intention of attacking its neighbor, but demands that NATO does not expand to Ukraine and other countries ex-Soviets or does not deploy arms there.  He also wants the alliance to cancel its deployments in Eastern Europe.  (AP Photo/Evgeny Maloletka)

An Orthodox priest blesses Ukrainian Air Force University cadets after a monthly memorial service for soldiers who were killed fighting against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, February 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

As these Christians are reshaped by history, just as we move toward the mystical penitential rites of Lent, we might recall comparative literature scholar Joseph Campbell’s masterful 1949 book “The Hero of a Thousand Faces,” which contains much wisdom about how stories, myths and religions can unite people across great spans of history, distance and time.

“Once we have freed ourselves from the prejudices of our own ecclesiastical, tribal or national interpretation limited to the province of the archetypes of the world,” Campbell argues, we can receive “the glad tidings, which the Redeemer of the world brings and of which so many people were happy. hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate, that God is love… and that all without exception are his children.

This sentiment only encourages Christians to identify strongly with others, despite apparent differences and despite distances. Campbell warns:

Relatively insignificant matters like the remaining details of the creed, techniques of worship, and devices of episcopal organization (which have so absorbed the interest of Western theologians that they are today seriously discussed as the main questions of religion), are just pedantic traps. , unless they are maintained incidental to major education.

Campbell observes that religions always tend to debate which of his children the Father prefers more. The Moscow-Ukraine schism is surely much more, but Campbell’s reminder is still relevant: “The teaching is much less flattering: ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.’ The Cross of the Savior of the World, despite the behavior of its professed priests, is a much more democratic symbol than the local flag.

Natali Sevriukova reacts as she sees her residence following a rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Natali Sevriukova reacts as she sees her residence after a rocket attack in Kiev, Ukraine, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)


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In Christianity, the end of history is not the apparent triumph of a system of political organization. Faithful Ukrainians will observe Great Lent this year under the most difficult conditions and will no doubt be more than aware of their Christian beliefs about the nature and destiny of man.

The message of Lent, despite the differences in how it is celebrated, remains the same: dust you are and dust you will return to.

(Jacob Lupfer is a writer in Jacksonville, Florida. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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