By Paul Goble
Two weeks ago, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a decree calling for the commemoration in his country of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in order to call attention to and reaffirm “the enormous contribution of Protestant churches and religious organizations … and to express respect for their role in Ukrainian history.”
That decree “opens enormous possibilities for the mission of Evangelical churches in Ukraine,” Mikhail Cherenkov of the Baznica religious affairs portal says. But even more than that, it highlights the differences between Ukraine and Russia where Protestants are treated as little more than detested “sectarians” (baznica.info/article/reformaciya-kak-missiya/).
By choosing to commemorate the anniversary of Protestantism, Cherenkov says, Ukrainian officials are showing that they are seeking “the spiritual resources which could help them reform the country” as “everyone understands” that Russian Orthodox will not do that but rather will pull the country backwards.
At one point, the Orthodox Church sought to destroy the spread of the Reformation in Ukraine, just as it fought the spread of Catholicism both pure and in its Uniate form. The consequences of that, Cherenkov continues, are still having an impact and retarding change there.
As most people now recognize, “the Reformation concerns not only Protestant churches but Christianity as a whole and even more all of society, its culture, economics and politics. Ukrainian Protestants can provide a good example but for this they themselves must recall the heritage of the Reformation.” By his actions, Poroshenko is helping them to do so.
“During the years of Soviet power, Protestants weren’t given the chance to study and occupy any influential posts,” he continues. “Now everything is changing before our eyes as since independence, many thousands of young Evangelical Christians have received a higher education and begun successful careers.”
Such a generation, he says, “can be that force which will bring changes to society beginning in the workplace, the family, the church and via civic initiatives.” They need to recall the power of the Reformation and the way in which Protestantism as Max Weber observed contributed to the rise of capitalism and the modern world.
Chernenkov is the author of a 2008 book in Ukrainian, “The European Reformation and Ukrainian Evangelical Protestantism.” That book, although published in only 300 copies is essential reading for those concerned with the role of Protestantism in Ukraine especially since 1991 (bogoslov.ru/es/biblio/text/538842/index.html).