Marco Levytsky, NP-UN, Western Bureau.
The granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine earlier this year goes far beyond religion itself, as it provides a spiritual basis for the unity and national security of Ukraine, says former President Petro Poroshenko.
Speaking at a banquet, organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council at the Chateau Louis Conference Centre in Edmonton, November 25, he referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s well-known assessment of the fall of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.
He then cited former political prisoner and current Vice Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv who used that analogy to describe the granting of the Tomos on establishing autocephaly on January 6, 2019 as “the second greatest geopolitical tragedy” for Russia – though not of a century, but of a millennium.
Poroshenko was expanding upon point he made earlier that day, during a lecture at the University of Alberta.
“The decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew to grant Tomos on autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has been much more than restoration of historic truth and justice.
“It is about praying for independent Ukraine, praying about peace in Ukraine, praying about fallen Ukrainian heroes and not for Russkiy Mir and Mr. Putin!
“The very existence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is a huge blow against Russia-centrism of “global Orthodoxy, against Russian expansionism.
That’s why the newly-born Autocephalous church is under attack of Russian security services and Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine and beyond.
“Millions and millions of dollars are being spent to block the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, to block transition of the local Ukrainian communities from Russian church to Ukrainian one.
“Declaring to be the follower of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in the occupied Crimea or Donbas is the same as to invite death and repressions to your home.
“Therefore, it is the sacred duty of all the Ukrainians to stand in defense of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
“For the diaspora it is of vital importance to encourage the international recognition of the church.
“We have already gained three major diplomatic victories for our church – in Constantinople, in Alexandria and in Athens. Three out of 14 Orthodox patriarchates recognized the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” he stated.
At the banquet Poroshenko praised Patriarch Bartholomew for “the unbelievable strength of his faith in God and the great love for Ukraine” in ensuring the granting of the Tomos.
He also stressed the critical role played by Edmonton’s Bishop Ilarion, Eparch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, who was sent to Ukraine by Patriarch Bartholomew as a special Exarch to help implement the Tomos.
“You cannot imagine what a great contribution was made by Bishop Ilarion,” stated Poroshenko.
For his part, Bishop Ilarion, who led the opening prayer at the banquet, praised Poroshenko’s contribution.
“This was not a very easy time. There were a lot of critical moments but thanks to the wisdom, purposefulness, unbending will of the fifth President of Ukraine we were able to attain, with God’s help, the long-standing dreams of our people… the autocephaly of the of Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
In doing so, he compared the role Poroshenko played with that of the great rulers of Kyivan Rus’ – St. Volodymyr the Great and Yaroslav the Wise.
In his address, Poroshenko also stressed the importance of educating people with the true history of Ukraine which some now are trying to rewrite and stated that the greatest thing Ukraine needs now is “the unity of the world and solidarity with a free, democratic Ukraine.”
“We are not just fighting for the Ukrainian soul. We are fighting for democracy in the world and for freedom in the world,” he stated.
Poroshenko paid tribute to both federal Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, both of whom were present at the banquet.
He described Freeland as “a brilliant politician, an excellent diplomat, a dedicated Ukrainian” who has given Ukraine tremendous support over the years in her previous postings as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Trade, specifically mentioning the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement and the reaction to the Russian seizure of Ukrainian ships last year.
As for Kenney (or “Yaroslav Kenneychuk”, the Ukrainian name he affectionately gave him), Poroshenko described him as “one of the founders of the Ukrainian army” for the role he played in initiating Operation Unifier as Canada’s Defense Minister in 2015.
Under that program Canadians have trained over 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers fighting Russian aggression in the Donbas.
The current rotation of 200 soldiers from Edmonton includes 25% who have Ukrainian surnames and over 12% who speak Ukrainian, said Poroshenko.
Kenney, meanwhile, described Poroshenko as a “great friend of Canada” and told him that in visiting Edmonton, he is visiting “the uncontested capital of the Ukrainian Canadian community.”
“You can see the richness, the depth, the vitality, the history, but also the tremendous dynamic future of the Ukrainian Canadian community,” he said.
Kenney attributed this dynamism of the Ukrainian community in Canada to the fact they maintained their language, faith and culture during the russification of the Soviet period.
He also welcomed Freeland as the new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, in which role she has been tasked with the job of mending fences with Prairie premiers following the recent election, and said the two of them had a very productive meeting earlier in the day.
“Albertans regardless of party loyalty are proud to see a native Albertan serving as deputy prime minister of Canada” he said, adding: ““We’ll walk together the path of prosperity and unity as proud Canadians.”
Freeland joined in the congenial spirit of the evening, telling Kenney that even though she represents a Toronto riding she agrees that “Edmonton really is the capital of the Ukrainian Canadian community” and praising him for his support for Ukraine.
Referring to his “Yaroslav Kenneychuk” Ukrainian name, she related the legend of how Yaroslav the Wise advised his sons to maintain unity by giving each a single twig to break, then bundling them to show that when they are together, they cannot be broken.
This shows that there is strength in unity which is a lesson both for Ukraine and Canada, she noted.
As for Poroshenko, she commended him for defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and achieving the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
“Ivan Franko wrote about the great moment for which all of us have to be ready. If you had not been ready for this great moment, history would have been much different,” she said.
Freeland also commended him for losing an election with such grace and peacefully handing over political authority.
“That is the mark of a true democracy and that is the mark of a true democratic leader,” she said.
Speaking for Canada’s Official Opposition, Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan MP Garnett Genuis told Poroshenko that his party will continue to do everything to advance the cause of Ukraine in Parliament.
“Mr. President, the Ukrainian struggle for freedom and the search for justice really has been an inspiration to so many diaspora communities throughout Canada and to so many people around the world,” he said.
Ukraine’s Consul to Edmonton Nadiya Kostenko thanked Poroshenko for establishing the Consulate and noted how greatly she was impressed by the local community.
UCC National Vice President Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz thanked Kenney for his ”unequivocal and uncompromising position of support for the independence of Ukraine and the freedom of the Ukrainian people during that time – both here in Canada, with Canada’s allies, and on the international stage.”
She congratulated Freeland on her new appointment and her “outstanding leadership as Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs”.
As for Poroshenko, she expressed her gratitude for reviving the Ukrainian army, getting the Tomos approved, setting the course for European direction and establishing the Edmonton Consulate.
UCC – APC President Orysia Boychuk said that Ukrainian Albertans are proud of the Ukrainian Consulate in Edmonton and Operation Unifier under which “our Canadian Forces personnel – including many from Alberta – are training Ukrainian soldiers, who are bravely defending Ukraine’s liberty from Russia’s aggression.”
“The bonds between Canada and Ukraine are strong – and grow stronger every day. The bonds that unite us are those of family, of history, of tradition – and of values – for both of our peoples value freedom, independence, democracy and justice – and we celebrate those bonds tonight,” she added.
Master of Ceremonies was Roman Soltykevych. Rev. Danylo Kuc of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton led the closing prayer. Entertainment was provided by the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton and the Viter Ukrainian Folk Choir.