Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Призыв к единству / A call for unity

The following is my translation of this Interfax.ru article. It is continuing coverage of the recent controversy first described in the previous post.

Alexei II and Bartholomew I call for the preservation of Orthodox unity

Moscow. 27 July. INTERFAX.RU – The Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia Alexei II made a statement about the unshakable historical unity of the Orthodox Faith in Russian and Ukraine.

“Raising doubts about our centuries of indisputable common history only puts our future in jeopardy,” said Alexei II on Sunday following the feast-day liturgy on St. Vladimir’s Hill in Kiev.

The Patriarch reminded listeners, that due to historical circumstances, the ecclesiastical center of Christian Russia has moved more than once. “After Kiev, there was Vladimir, then Moscow, then Saint Petersburg, and once again Moscow. But Kiev, the mother of Russian cities, has not lost its significance, but rather has strengthened and today stands as one of the important centers, the southern capital, of Russian Orthodoxy,” emphasized Alexei II.

Turning to history, he remembered with thanks the Patriarch of Constantinople Dionysia, who in 1686 recognized the inclusion of the Kiev Metropolis in the body of the Moscow church, thanking “the reunification of that which was once one, but which became divided due to the confluence of historical circumstances.”

The reunification, according to Alexei II, was much longed-for by the episcopate, priests, the people, and the Ukrainian leaders of that time.

The Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia made it clear that, despite political changes in the former Soviet Union, the unity of the Orthodox Church must be preserved.

“The unity of Russian Orthodoxy does not pose a threat to sovereign government, such as the one which has succeeded Kievan Rus',” said Alexei II.

According to him, the Russian Orthodox Church “has created all the necessary conditions for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, headed by the Blessed Metropolitan Vladimir, to have full freedom and responsibility to care for the Ukrainian people.”

Alexei II thanked the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew for “expressing adherence to Canon Law of the Church.” He noted that “it is precisely upon such an unshakable foundation that the jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church must be built as is the soundness of Orthodox unity.”

The Church of Constantinople, as Alexei II noted, was the source for Christianity in Russia, and “for this, we shall always be connected with the Mother Church.”

Speaking later, the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I called for all sides of the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy to come together.

“My message to those participating in the resistance: sincerely do everything you can for the strengthening of peace and unity,” he said.

According to the Patriarch, these days celebrating the 1020th anniversary of the Christening of Russia have been welcomed “by one side as the remembrance of the gifts which the Ukrainian Nation received after the Christening, and by the other, as a call for division to overcome the body of the Church as quickly as possible.”

“The Mother Church of Constantinople has suffered with her dear daughter Ukrainian Church as if these divisions afflicted her very own body, yet also hopes for the rapid and full achievement of God’s wish for unity,” noted the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Earlier on Sunday, Alexei II and Bartholomew I jointly celebrated the Divine Liturgy in honor of the 1020th anniversary of the Christening of Russia in an open-air ceremony on St. Vladimir’s Hill in Kiev at the foot of Saint Vladimir’s tomb, according to an “Interfax-Religion” correspondent.

Before the start of the service, Alexei II approached St. Vladimir’s Hill by car, and upon exiting the vehicle, he was greeted by the applause of believers. As Alexei II and Bartholomew I proceeded together towards the platform prepared for the service, gathered believers enthusiastically chanted: “Alexei! Alexei!”

The President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, greeted the two Patriarchs beside the scarlet platform, which was surrounded by the Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, Archbishop Hieronymus of Greece, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, and representatives of other jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church. Yushchenko and Bartholomew I kissed each other three times and afterwards shook hands with Alexei II.

The service was broadcast live on all National Ukrainian channels.


Ющенко попросил благословения / Yushchenko asks for a blessing

The following is my translation of this Interfax.ru article:

The President of Ukraine asks the Ecumenical Patriarch for a blessing to establish a Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Moscow. 26 July. INTERFAX.RU – Several thousand Orthodox Christians gathered outside Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev to mark the 1020 year anniversary of the Christening of Russia. During the ceremony, Viktor Yushchenko, as expected, appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I for a blessing to establish a Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is just one more step by the Ukrainian President towards his goal for the Ukrainian Church to achieve independence from the ROC.

“I humbly request from your Holiness a blessing, a blessing for the dream, for the truth, for the hope, for our nation, for Ukraine,” said the head of state. “I believe that any divisions currently among Ukrainian believers are short-lived. I believe that we will achieve the realization of our dreams. I believe that as God’s gift, as a historical truth, a national Church will appear in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian leader expressed his certainty in that the 1020 year anniversary of the Christening of Russia was “a celebration for all the Ukrainian people” and for all Christian Churches. “Today, this celebration is returning home. Especially since the consecrated bell of Saint Sofia and the Doors (The Royal Doors of the iconostasis) have been returned. Especially since our frescoes, churches, and relics will all be returned,” said the President.

Yushchenko reminded listeners that, in accordance with his declaration, the 28th of July would henceforth be a holiday. In his speech he stated that the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was “a spiritual revival of the journey of faith, patience, and wisdom, and that in time and space, the Sofia of Constantinople will be united with the Sofia of Kiev.”

Speaking later, Bartholomew called upon the Ukrainian elite to apply all their efforts for the unification of the Orthodox Church. “Concern for the defense and restoration of the unity of the Church is our common responsibility, one which outweighs any kind of political or ecclesiastical aims,” said the Ecumenical Patriarch.

He also emphasized that “social, political, ecclesiastical and all intellectual leading powers of the Ukrainian people have the common duty to use the gifts that God has given them as broadly as possible within certain limits,” including “for the restoration of the role of unity, which the Orthodox Church played in the creation of the Ukrainian state. If the confusion over aims and the spiritual character of the Church continues, the unifying strength of the Church will suffer and the dangerous divisions in the body of the Church will worsen.”

After the ceremony, the Ukrainian leaders and the Ecumenical Patriarch, as well as other participants in the ceremony, proceeded to Mikhailovskaya square where a memorial for the victims of the great famine stands.

Yushchenko, with his wife Katerina, Patriarch Bartholomew, and Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s Parliament] Arseny Yatsenyuk placed “candles of commemoration” on the memorial. A minute of silence was observed throughout Ukraine in memory of the victims of the great famine which took place between 1932-33. Afterwards, the Ecumenical Patriarch and representatives of the Orthodox Churches of the world held a memorial service for the dead.

In the next few hours, the Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia, Alexei II, will arrive in the Ukrainian capital. There’s little doubt that the main concern of the Moscow Patriarch will be to challenge the Ukrainian intentions to put before Bartholomew and Aleksi the question of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In so far as the Moscow Patriarch is obviously not ready to discuss this topic, the celebrations could end in scandal.

--Columnist Lev Rubin


From June 2007 through June 2008, I was fortunate enough to live and study, at first, in Tbilisi, Georgia (~9 months), and then Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (~3 months). [If you are interested in my travels, please visit my travel blog]

Before coming to Georgia, I knew only the alphabet and a few basic phrases. While this may seem like little, it was an ideal level of knowledge for someone like me who was about to have lessons in an immersion environment--too little, and I would have wasted my time in Georgia with the rather mechanical task of learning the alphabet and sounds; too much, and I would have wasted time in the States inefficiently laboring over what could be practiced, actively used in Georgia. For most of my time in Georgia, I lived with a wonderful non-English speaking family and had private Georgian lessons through the highly recommended International Center for Georgian Language (ICGL). Over the course of my almost 9 months in Georgia, I slowly began to gain fluency in this sometimes absurdly difficult language.

Towards the end of my 6th month in Georgia, after giving up my ill-fated career as a student at the Tbilisi State Medical University, I began to take private Russian lessons concurrently with my Georgian studies. Unlike my experience with Georgian, I had been exposed to the Russian language before as a first year at college. The class I took then was called "Russian through Pushkin," and as the title suggests, it involved lots of reading and translating, yet, unfortunately, little conversation. I discovered that, while I thought I had completely forgotten all of my Russian, it came back to me rather quickly, and after 3 months, I was already venturing into new territory.

As a former republic of the Soviet Union, Georgia is often mistakenly assumed to be a bilingual, Georgian/Russian-speaking country. But this simply isn't the case. In fact, even during the times of the Soviet Union, Georgia was so proud of its "monolinguality", that when the Kremlin tried to make Russian the state language (as it had done successfully in all the other republics), the streets of Tbilisi filled with demonstrators. Of course, this isn't to say that Georgians don't know Russian. Georgians are in fact great linguists (perhaps somehow as a result of the complexity of their own language? I know that in my own experience, learning Russian seemed like learning English with an accent after having studied Georgian!) and many can speak three if not more languages, and Russian is the second language in most cases. But in Georgia, people speak Georgian to one another. Not Russian, not English. (I'm not counting the ethnic minorities in Georgia who indeed speak languages other than Georgian.)

So, while I was making good progress re-learning Russian grammar, I was faced once again with the same flaw of my first-year Russian class: I wasn't speaking Russian. And though my Russian teacher encouraged me to use Russian in my daily interactions with the locals, it felt awkward forcing myself to speak in a language I didn't know very well to people who regarded that language as a second or third language when I could just speak to them much more comfortably in their native tongue. I needed to be taken out of my comfort zone and forced to speak Russian.

Which is why I ended up in Kyrgyzstan. In contrast to Georgia, Kyrgyzstan was successfully Russified. Before I left Georgia, I had heard that in Kyrgyzstan, particularly in the capital, Bishkek, just about everyone spoke Russian--not just with foreigners but even with each other. I immediately found this to be true when I arrived at Manas Airport in Bishkek: the entirely ethnically Kyrgyz consular staff that issued my visa spoke amongst themselves solely in Russian. As I later learned from my teachers at the very well-run and inexpensive London School in Bishkek, the first language in Bishkek is Russian. Even many ethnic Kyrgyz in Bishkek have only a elementary grasp of their own Kyrgyz language! Combined with the relative low-cost of living and lessons and the breathtaking beauty of Central Asia, Bishkek turned out to be the best place for me to learn Russian.

Now, I am back in relatively dull America, preparing to return to the University of Chicago in September to finish my final two years of college. Before I left for Georgia a year ago, I was a declared Chemistry major. But having discovered my love for Eurasia and its languages, I've decided to pursue a double concentration of Chemistry and Russian (there is not, unfortunately and not surprisingly, a Georgian concentration available at the U of C) in hopes that I won't forget at least one of the languages I learned during my year abroad.

It's for the same reason that I've created this blog: the hope is that by translating works--articles, poems, short stories--that interest me, I will continue to improve both my Russian and Georgian. And for those of you who have found this blog, I hope I can provide you with a different perspective on a fascinating, yet often misrepresented, region of the world.


PS Tarjimani (თარჯიმანი) is Georgian for "translator."