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The Meaning of this Christmas for Ukrainians: Interview with Archbishop Borys Gudziak

The Meaning of this Christmas for Ukrainians: Interview with Archbishop Borys Gudziak

Ci spiace, ma questo articolo è disponibile soltanto in Inglese Americano.

The Most Rev. Archbishop Bishop Borys Gudziak is the current Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S. He founded the Institute of Church History and served as the rector and president of the Ukrainian Catholic University.

He has authored and edited several books on church history, theology, modern church life, and higher education reforms; and was previously Eparch for Ukrainian Catholics in France, Benelux and Switzerland.

Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Ph. D

How are you, as a Ukrainian Catholic bishop in the U.S., experiencing Christmas this year?

I am in the U.S., but we all are with Ukraine. Christmas transcends space and time in different ways.

For Ukrainians, the symbolism and significance of the Gospel narrative are particularly vivid this year. The manger in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago was infested and unwelcoming. Bethlehem was dark, cold, and dangerous. To enhance his power, Herod ordered a slaughter of innocents. Joseph with Mary and the Infant Jesus were forced to become refugees.

Our festivities, gifts, the Ho-Ho-Ho of a commercialized Santa Claus, and all other aspects of “Christmas without Christ” occlude the stark reality of the Bethlehem birth. This year the message of the “Emmanuel,” i.e., “God is with us” – in darkness, in loneliness, in marginalization, danger, and expulsion – is most poignant.

Annalena Baerbock also called for changes to the statute of the Hague-based ICC so it can eventually put the Russian leadership on trial for aggression.

What have you been doing during these 10 months of war?

I visited ten countries and travelled coast to coast in the U.S. to meet refugees and explain to diverse audiences what is happening in Ukraine. There is no need to explain the importance of global support. Everywhere I met people who were inspired by Ukrainians.

This feeling of inspiration is universal because it carries a deep truth. A truth about who human beings are, who they should not be, and ultimately a truth about our eternal vocation. Ukrainians are willing to risk their lives because their fear of death is conditioned. It is a fear overcome by the hope of eternal life.

And that hope springs forth in the little, vulnerable life beginning in a backward and provincial, cold, dark and dangerous Bethlehem.

How have the past 10 months changed Ukraine and the global community? What makes Ukrainians strong and resilient to Russian aggression?

Defending their dignity and territory, Ukrainians are being forced to reconsider values and narratives. As they re-examine themselves and take a stand, they catalyze broad global reassessment.

Ukraine has consolidated a crumbling NATO alliance and has given new meaning to the European Union (EU). Russian aggression has affected the economy, ecology, energy, agriculture, and food policy of the world. After Ukraine’s stand – politics, diplomacy and military strategy will not be the same again.

But most importantly, the willingness of Ukrainians to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend principles has made the world pause. In the 21st century when almost everything can be bought and sold, when truth is transactional, when media, politics, diplomacy, and popular culture are conditioned by a post-truth anti-ethic, Ukrainians have been saying: “No. Everything is not up for grabs. This is good, and that is absolute evil. This is true and that is false.” And they are doing so at the risk of their lives. Consciously, deliberately, and freely.

Ukraine is a big wake-up call to the world.

Nobody predicted it. There were evident seeds of such courage and valor during the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014. Yet most observers, including Ukrainians themselves, considered what happened in those two phenomena of great solidarity to be exceptional, unsustainable, and ultimately not consequential.

The last 10 months have shown that those principles and convictions have mobilized an entire society and that Ukrainian society is mobilizing a free world. It is not merely an emotional outburst. It is a rooted, compelling stance, and it is transforming the country and many processes globally.

What’s behind all this?

There are many factors. Undeniably, one is in the story that follows from Christmas. The main message behind God’s incarnation is that human beings have God-given dignity. God’s condescension, His movement – as the Ukrainian carol sings “from heaven to earth” – is a magnificent manifestation of Divine solidarity with humanity.

The humility of this salvific plan argues for being and doing things at a low level. We call this subsidiarity. And the angels sing the song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:9–11, 13–14). In other words, there is an announcement of the common good.

These four principles: 1. God-given human dignity; 2. solidarity; 3. subsidiarity; and 4; the common good projected from the Nativity scene in Bethlehem are the four main principles of the Catholic social doctrine. They are reflected today in a conscious or subconscious moral matrix holding together and guiding Ukrainian society.

 Do you feel that Ukrainian elites understand these deep roots?

Whether he knows it himself or not, even President Volodymyr Zelensky is carried by this matrix. He is a student at this school of social thought and moral action. He has been a fast learner. Just a year ago he was still a long way away from where he is today. Remember on Feb. 23, he was telling the world that Russia would not invade.

 For me this is a hopeful moment. It shows that we can grow, we can convert. Zelensky has been an effective leader most importantly because he followed the Ukrainian people who led him, who were way ahead of him on the Maidan in 2004; in 2013-2014; and on the front since the Russian invasion of Donbas and occupation of Crimea nine years ago.

 You are focusing so much on the spiritual phenomena of this war. Do you think they are more important than military tactics or political decisions?

I would not say “more important” but without understanding deeper principles one cannot fully grasp the reality of this war. The world is surprised by Ukrainians’ resolve and baffled by what undergirds the determination of Ukrainian society.

Without the emblems of Bethlehem, without the guidance of the Gospel that over a thousand years formed Ukrainian culture and faith, and the hopes and inspirations of Ukrainian people, Ukrainian resistance seems like a deus ex machina, something that emerged out of nothing.

Those who have studied Ukrainian human rights struggles and armed resistance, who are aware of the clandestine life of Christians in Soviet times, realize that the mustard seed was planted long ago and the yeast giving growth to the bread has been cultivated for centuries.

The willingness to give one’s life for one’s friend is, according to Jesus, “the greatest love”

(John 15:13). Ultimately, it is a grace, it is a gift, a mystery. Not a secret, not magic but an expression of God’s grace, realized in history, in the fate of a people who are on the way of the cross. This Via Crucis is giving new life, leading to a resurrection.

This Christmas, the question of the calendar was particularly acute. Does the date of Christmas divide or bring Ukrainians together?

The calendar question and divergent celebrations according to the Julian (Julius Caesar) and the Gregorian (Pope Gregory XIII), has been a source of dispute and discussion for almost four and a half centuries.

Based on the work of astronomers, Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 announced to the world the need to correct the flaws of the ancient Julian calendar. And so, in 1584, throughout the Catholic world on different continents, the calendar jumped ten days on Oct. 1 to Oct. 10 to correct the discrepancies between the calendar computations and astronomical events.

The British empire, being non-Catholic, refused to accept the calendar reform for almost 150 years. The Russian empire did not accept the Gregorian, “Catholic” calendar reform until after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Most of the Orthodox Churches stuck with the old calendar until the 20th century, by which time it was already 13 days off. What most people don’t realize is that, in the year 2100, the old calendar will be 14 days off and Christmas will be celebrated not on Jan. 7 but on Jan. 8 according to the old calendar.

There are manifestly scientific reasons for using the calendar of Pope Gregory. But since calendars and days of celebration are not strictly scientific moments but have important cultural and social underpinnings, in certain Eastern European (and Middle Eastern and North African) countries, there has been an attachment to the old calendar. Sometimes that attachment has been formulated in a negative, oppositional way: “We are not like them. We have our own calendar, which is part of our identity.”

Today for Ukrainians, the question of the old calendar ceases to be an important sign of distinction and defense against possible cultural or religious assimilation and political absorption. Quite the contrary. Increasingly, Ukrainians see the old calendar as an unwanted identification with a “Russian World” that Putin preaches and tries to bring about, committing crimes against humanity and genocide.

It is prudent that church leaders, like His Beatitude Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and His Beatitude Epiphany of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, are creating a commission to help their Churches and faithful understand the science and religious implications of a calendar change.

It is not only a question of Christmas, but it is the shifting of all the feasts that have fixed dates throughout the liturgical year. So, the feast of St. Nicholas and St. Michael (connected to the anniversary of the Maidan), the celebration of the Pokrov (Protection of the Mother of God, the Day of the Ukrainian Armed Forces), Transfiguration and all the Marian feasts will switch along with Christmas as a result of a calendar change.

A movement towards this change is inexorable but, during the war, the primary focus should be placed by the Churches and by society on staying together and winning the battle of life over death, of good over evil. The commission will do its work and the tides will change. The most important thing is that the great mysteries in the liturgical calendar year be more profoundly understood.

What they carry will help Ukraine defend itself, win the battle against Russian aggression, and foster the difficult post-Soviet reform of the Ukrainian judicial justice, business and economic practices, education, and culture. Although the dangers remain great, I trust that Ukraine will prioritize well and progress in its pilgrimage from fear to dignity.

Source: Kyiv Post

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