We didn’t join Peace Corps because of our Christian faith. Like in our life in the US, our faith informs the way we live, work, and interact in Ukraine. Faith and religion is quite different in Ukraine though, and it really challenges preconceived notions about Western Christianity.
Religion in Ukraine, whether it’s Ukrainian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, or Roman Catholic, it’s all more conservative than most of the Western brands of the Christian Church. We do periodically attend a church which is a modern, Western-style, Assembly’s of God church. It is, however, quite uncommon to find this style of church in Ukraine.
The Orthodox and Catholic churches in Ukraine are deeply rooted in tradition and ritual, while Western churches are the newer off shoots stemming from these traditions and rituals. Due to the American social construct, the temptation is to view the Western Church as the “new and improved” form of Christianity. This would be completely untrue.
We live in western Ukraine, which is a deeply religious part of the world. It has a complicated past with all kinds of different influences. The result is a religious environment that is quite unfamiliar. I can’t help but ask myself, “if I’m a Christian in a Christian culture, how can this be unfamiliar?”.
Coming to Ukraine, it wasn’t unexpected that I would see an unfamiliar form of Christianity, but I also didn’t look at in a self-reflective way until recently. In hindsight, that’s crazy! Biblically, the Church is one under Christ. Christians in America are one with Christians in Ukraine, Christians in Ukraine are one with Christians in Bangladesh, and so on. Of course, you can account for some the unfamiliarity simply with cultural differences. I would, however, not say that I was even aware of the multitude of differences, let alone encouraged to embrace them.
This isn’t a commentary on Ukraine, America, or even religion in either of those places. This is about the Christian Church, its self-imposed denominations and its tunnel vision. I don’t want to be overly critical because I have found new life in the God of the Bible, but I also don’t want to ignore where we as the Body of Christ have gone wrong.
I recall that it was put like this one time. Jesus healed multiple people in the Bible of blindness. On one occasion he rubbed mud on the eyes of the individual. Now imagine that individual meeting someone else that Jesus healed of blindness without the use of mud. Can you imagine for a moment the conversation they might have, having been unaware of the circumstances of the other person? One might say “you need mud to heal blindness”, and the other may respond “no, you don’t need mud to heal blindness”. Can you then imagine what might come out of a conversation like that? Perhaps two different schools of thought or denominations? Pro-mud vs. No-mud?
I don’t intend for this to read like an indictment, but rather an encouragement to see each other as brothers and sisters, as family members who really are like minded, and not as “us” and “them”. Making every attempt to understand one another is vital. What can I learn from the traditions of the Ukrainian Orthodox church? Or even more, what can we all learn about other people; the religiously “different”, IDPs, refugees, migrants, or asylum seekers; whoever “they” are.
I think we can agree that there are many misunderstood people in this world. Why don’t we step back and challenge what we think?
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Chorinthians 12:12-26