Dangerous Obsession

Needless to say, we are faced with countless acute and complicated problems, problems that must be solved without delay or things will get even worse. Simultaneously, there are people obsessed with creating new problems, that exist only in the imagination of some public group. Those bringing forth such illusory problems are more often than not just a handful. Yet they make so much noise, distracting society from real and pressing issues. Let me offer several examples having to do with religious life, although this phenomenon is observed elsewhere, of course.

We know that the normal functioning of the tax system plays a very important role in the life of every society and even every individual. We also know that our tax system is anything but perfect, a fact owning to which so many live in misery. Nonetheless, certain clergymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, seemingly totally oblivious to the lamentable condition of their flock, are engrossed in a boisterous campaign against improvements in precisely that tax system, namely its computerization. Actually, most of us do not care about tax technologies, as long as they keep the system working. Yet the said Orthodox zealots have come up with a fantastic “problem,” turning the taxpayer’s ID code into “the number of the beast” (Revelations 13:18 mentions the number 666 — Ed.). Then the real fun began. Rallies, acts of civil disobedience, threats, millions of copies of publications, messages addressed to the highest echelons of power, and an ocean of demagoguery. If only this Herculean effort could be put into raising the impoverished flock’s standard of living!

Another eloquent example is the expected visit to Ukraine by Pope John Paul II. So many corrupt interpretations of theology, accusations, and paranoia are focused on an otherwise routine event (in any sober minded eye) as a foreigner’s visit to Ukraine, albeit in this case the guest is a humanist, philosopher, a person respected even by those professing different religions, and the spiritual leader of as many as six million Ukrainian citizens. He is also old and ailing. Meanwhile the Moscow Patriarchate appears struck dumb and stricken with grief, as if we were preparing to welcome some archon of terrorism threatening Russian Orthodoxy with immediate annihilation (“disastrous consequences” has already become a classic clichО). There would be far less commotion if we invited, say, Basayev or Gusinsky. at the same time, our Orthodox churches, with the Moscow one in the lead, never challenged the government with a formal protest after the Chornobyl explosion in 1986 or at any later date.

The Pontiff is no exception, as similar “problems” are engineered focused on other names. Only recently, the Editors received an open letter from a group of Ukrainian lawmakers addressed to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, begging him not to visit Ukraine (even though the visit is just a possibility being studied). Why? Because of his trip being fraught with “disastrous consequences” that would “bring discord to our land and our creed.” The paradox is that the visit by the Patriarch of Constantinople is meant to help unite Ukrainian Orthodoxy. If everybody is interested in such unity, why make such “problems”? The people’s deputies composed this amazing message just as events were unfolding in parliament that should have captured their undivided attention. Some perhaps feel that they are better at coping with imagined, not actual problems. Outwardly, it all looks as though Ukraine had fallen prey to the Black Death or that we are scared of catching it from foreign visitors. With “disastrous” consequences.

Let me end on an optimistic note. Another problem that was effectively solved: restoration of the Holy Dormition Cathedral at the Kyiv Pecherska Lavra Monastery of the Caves. Many years of debate about the cathedral’s debris, a host of cozy funds and foundations, big and small, meant to investigate the issue. And the multitude of irrational crossword puzzles tackled by dabblers (what will happen to the foundation, the slopes, sewage, the bell tower?). Some referred to outdated measurements, others to the engineer’s intuition shown by St. Theodosius of the Caves (Feodosy Pechersky, eleventh century); still others wrung their hands, mourning the graves of medieval monks being destroyed by drills cutting through the earth. Gradually, the problem acquired an even greater fantastic or mystic dimension, so much so the few if any believed a restoration project would ever be carried out. Finally, people appeared that were ready to cope with specific earthly rather than ethereal problems. They set to work and the reconstructed Dormition Cathedral was sanctified last Christmas. I do not know if the structure was as beautiful at any earlier time in its history.