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Олександер Домбровський

Нарис історії українського євангельсько-реформованого руху


by Alexander Dombrowsky SUMMARY

The Outline of the History of the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Movement (U.E.-R. Movement) by Prof. Alexander Dombrowsky, Ph.D., the first endeavor to present a synthesis of the life and achievements of the Movement, is limited in scope as a result of chronological and territorial factors.

This work is a portrayal of the Movement's growth among the Ukrainian settlers in Canada and the United States of America, in ad­dition to its history in Western Ukraine (Galicia and Volhynia), where it was enhanced and strengthened through the significant influence of the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Movement in North America. Unfortunately, it was not possible to provide a more detailed history of the Movement in Western Ukraine from the end of World War II to the present. Sources and factual material became unavailable as a result of Muscovite-Bolshevik occupation of that land. Under actual Soviet conditions—brutal primarily to Ukrainians, and particularly toward the manifestation of any independent religious life—Ukrainian Churches, including the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Church, were driven into latter-day catacombs, thus nullifying the historian’s efforts to do any inquiry on the Movement from the onset of the occupation. For this reason, this work cannot claim to offer a complete synthesis, but only an outline of the Movement's history.

Following the author’s and publisher’s prefaces, succeeding chapters deal with the above-mentioned subjects. For, example, the chapter “Ukrainian Cultural Luminaries' more Important Critical Thoughts on Errors—particularly Religious Formalism in the Christian World—, and their Expressions of their Harmony with the World of Evangelical Ideas” contains quotations and explanations of statements made by the following authors: T. Shevchenko, M. Kostomariv, M. Drahomaniv, H. Skovoroda, M. Hrushevsky, S. Rudansky. There is abund­ance of such critical views found in world literature, in scholarly and popular works, publicist writings, and even in folklore of peoples and societies that, by tradition, are Orthodox or Catholic. Likewise, Ukrain­ian prose and poetry, scholarly and popular works, and publicist works are not free of these critical views. That is indicated by the fact that the very members of the traditional churches, born and reared in their systems, developed critical views not only regarding their outward religious form (i. e., ceremonial aspects), ethical-moral values of the leadership and laity of the Orthodox and Catholic congregations, but also of their dogmas. Though critical of these Churches, they remained within the system by which they and their forebears were nurtured. They were nominal members of their Churches, yet remained outside their denominations; and, more often than not, were closer to Protes­tantism than to the religion of their forefathers.

The critical views discussed in that chapter represent an in­significant number of creators of Ukrainian culture and science, yet they signify that Evangelical Christianity among Ukrainians is not a "new religion” of recent decades. To the contrary, in their writings, prominent representatives of Ukrainian culture, critical of the tradi­tional Churches’ teachings and ceremonialism, openly confessed their Evangelical views, and considered them as guides to be followed in religious and national life. Thus, one finds direct and indirect evidence of Evangelical Christianity in Ukrainian spirituality.

Subsequent chapters describe the history of the U.E.-R. Move­ment in North America (Canada and U.S.A.) and in Western Ukraine. The chapter “Ukrainian Independent Orthodox Church in Canada,” portrays the beginnings, growth and decline of that Church organiza­tion as an unusual phenomenon in the history of religio-church thought and practice in general; and a unique phenomenon of unification of Orthodoxy and Evangelical Christianity in the area of Ukrainian ex­perimental Evangelical Christianity in particular. The Ukrainian In­dependent Orthodox Church in Canada was close to Orthodoxy, yet independent of the hierarchy of the Eastern Church. In essence, it gravitated toward Evangelical Christianity.

Understanding the attachment of the Ukrainian immigrants in Canada to their traditional Churches and their rites as an expression of their national spirituality, the pioneers of the movement of the Independent Church—especially its founder and leader, John Bodrug, a confirmed Protestant as is stated in his memoirs, articles and other writings—were intent on organizing a denominational Church of such form and tenet as would progressively develop into full-fledged Evan­gelical Christianity in creed and dogma.

That was the first phase in the development and crystalization of the Evangelical Movement among Canadian Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Independent Orthodox Church lasted approximately from 1903 to 1912. The primary reason for its demise was its economic difficulty resulting from the discontinuance of financial aid by the Presbyterian Church of Canada. The newly arrived Ukrainian immigrants, settling in the west wilderness of central Canada without any material resources, were struggling to establish themselves financially, and were thus unable to render adequate support. In addition, not all settlers were spiritually prepared to embrace Evangelical Christianity. Following the dissolution of this Church, the majority of the leading workers and some members joined the Presbyterian Church.

The subsequent chapters, “History of Ukrainian Evangelical- Re­formed Movement in Canada”, depicts the record of the already pro­mulgated ideology of the now crystalized reformed evangelism among Ukrainian immigrants in Canada. Several factors contributed to the turning of some Ukrainian immigrants away from Catholicism and Or­thodoxy to Protestantism. Among the religio-psychological factors con­sidered are the following: religious freedom in Canada; Ukrainian im­migrants (mainly from Western Ukraine), living in a Protestant com­munity, notably Anglo-Saxon; lack of a sufficient number of Greek- Catholic clergy to provide the necessary spiritual ministry; dependence upon foreign, Roman Catholic clergy and episcopates, and instances of clerical abuse and impiety. A very important factor was the desire to have their own Church organization, independent of non-Ukrainian authorities or centers of the traditional Churches, which hopefully could be achieved in a Protestant climate. At that time, it must be noted, there was not a single instance of any pressure being exerted by the Protestant administrative centers in Canada. In fact, these centers, particularly the Presbyterian Church, offered moral and material help, as revealed in the history of the Ukrainian Independent Orthodox Church in Canada. This aid continued to some degree after the demise of that Church that had served as a religio-psychological bridge be­tween Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the U.E.-R. Movement.

It must be kept in mind that the U.E.-R. Movement among Ukrain­ian settlers in Canada was actually a Ukrainian movement, since Ukrainian pioneers of Evangelical persuasion—and not non-Ukrainians —labored among their fellow countrymen, and brought to them the meaning and teachings of Evangelical Christianity. Active among the Ukrainians were those of Presbyterian persuasion, to some extent Methodist and Baptist, and to a lesser degree Anglican.

The beginnings of the U.E.-R. Movement in North America may be viewed from two aspects. The one dealt with individual Evangelical awakening and conversion to Protestantism. The other involved a more systematic and substantially organized missionary work which initiated and accelerated the U.E.-R. Movement. Instrumental in fostering the Movement among Ukrainian settlers in North America at the beginning of the twentieth century were the Halenda brothers of Pittsburgh, Penn­sylvania.

As a result of systematically conducted missionary work, the First Ukrainian Presbyterian Congregation in Edmonton, Canada, was es­tablished on August 20, 1911—about the time the Ukrainian Inde­pendent Orthodox Church was closing its doors. In time other Ukrainian Presbyterian Congregations were organized in various Ukrainian settle­ments in Canada. Events were moving quickly. On July 6-7, 1915, the First Convention of Ukrainian Presbyterian Churches was held in Vegriville, Alberta, Canada, attended by delegates from other Churches in Canada, and by the Rev. B. Kusiw, pastor of the First Ukrainian Presbyterian Church in Newark, New Jersey. Thanks to church-or­ganizational cooperation and the trend to coordinate missionary work of the U.E.-R. Movement in North America, the main convention and meetings of the Movement were held in the U.S.A. and Canada on a continental basis; local conventions were either on a local or national basis as the situation warranted.

The First Ukrainian Evangelical Convention in North America con­vened on March 14-16, 1922, in Rochester, New York. As a result of the enthusiastic support by the delegates for the formation of a central coordinating body for the Movement, the Ukrainian Evangelical Alliance of North America was established immediately following the convention. Through the united efforts of the U.E.-R. Movement in North America, a group of preachers, headed by the Rev. B. Kusiw, was sent to Western Ukraine (occupied by Poland between World War I and II), where the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Church was established. This event is probably the most important achievement of the U.E.-R. Movement of North America. After the Second World War, Ukrainian Evangelical- Reformed Christians in Canada and the U.S.A. carried on an active aid program for the Ukrainians in displaced persons camps in Germany, who were forced to leave their native land occupied by Soviet armed forces, and to emigrate abroad—mainly to the U.S.A. and Canada.

At U.E.-R. Movement meetings and conventions there were dis­cussed, and outlined, plans not only for Evangelical-Reformed mis­sionary work, church organizational and coordinating activities, but also plans for publishing work, educational endeavors particularly directed to Evangelical youth, and overall cultural and community undertakings among the Ukrainians. The U.E.-R. Movement, under the guidance of the Ukrainian Evangelical Alliance of North America, manifested itself not only by its activity and loyalty in Evangelical-Re­formed missionary endeavors, but also, to a great extent, by its clear- cut national-cultural stance in spiritual, cultural and civic beneficent services to its people.

The chapter, “Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Movement in the U.S.A.” describes the work of the Movement in the “Land of Washing­ton” where Ukrainian Presbyterian Churches were founded and grew parallel to their growth in Canada. There was unanimity in purpose as evidenced by the formerly mentioned establishment of the Ukrainian Evangelical Alliance of North America, by joint meetings and conven­tions, and even by the same preachers alternating their ministry be­tween Ukrainian congregations in the two countries.

In Canada, Ukrainian Presbyterian congregations and smaller centers of that denomination were widely dispersed throughout the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. There was only one congregation in the province of Quebec—in Montreal.

In the U.S.A. there were fewer Presbyterian congregations and small centers, but there were in larger communities with greater con­centration of members and sympathizers. Considering those early times, the congregations in the U.S.A. already were well organized, and some very active. The U.E.-R. Movement in the U.S.A., thus, was not fragmented into smaller centers as it was in Canada, but de­veloped in several major cities, mainly in the Eastern States.

The Evangelical Protestant movement among Slavic, including Ukrainian settlers in the U.S.A., started in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area through the initiative of the Presbyterian Church as early as 1900. Among the early immigrants interested in Evangelical Christianity were Vasyl Riopka and the three Halenda brothers—Petro, Dmytro and Theodore. Their fervor was instrumental in the founding, in that city, of the oldest Ukrainian Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In Newark, New Jersey, the First Ukrainian Presbyterian Church was subsequently established—on June 20, 1909,—as a result of the concerns and in­terests among members of the Ukrainian Catholic parish in that city. The Church moved to Irvington, a nearby city, in 1950. This Church was the center of many ardent Ukrainian Evangelical workers, and was a significantly active nucleus of the Ukrainian Evangelical Alliance of North America.

Not far from the above-mentioned Ukrainian Presbyterian Church (in Newark) was the Presbyterian administered and financed Bloom­field College and Seminary which had a foreign language department, including Ukrainian. The Ukrainian department headed by the Rev. B. Kusiw and Dr. L. Cehelsky, educated Ukrainian students for the min­istry during 1913-1931. These students actively participated in that Church's religious, cultural and community work, thus enhancing the growth of the Church and service in the community. Added to these forward-looking events was the founding of the Ukrainian Presbyterian Church in New York City, which, with a small beginning, grew under the ministry of the Rev. Dr. W. Kupchinsky. The Ukrainian Evangelical- Reformed congregation in Detroit was organized by Rev. W. Borowsky following his arrival from Europe in 1947. The afore-mentioned Churches represented the larger Ukrainian Presbyterian congregations in the U.S.A. Naturally, there were smaller groups as well as in­dividual members throughout the U.S.A., particularly in the Eastern States.

As a result of the spirited efforts of the workers in the U.E.-R. Movement of North America, the Movement was introduced into

Western Ukraine. Following the first visit there by Evangelical-Reformed leaders from North America—pastors P. Crath, B. Kusiw, and L. Buchak and his wife (a deaconess)—the Ukrainian Evangelical Alliance of North America took the initiative in organizing and expanding mis­sionary work there. Of course, at the close of the First World War, there already were a number, though scant, of highly principled Evangelical centers, appropriate for the expansion of missionary work. In early 1925, pastor B. Kusiw toured cities of Western Ukraine: Horodenka, Kolomyya, Lwiw and other localities. The first stop in his itinerary was the city of Horodenka where he conferred with Dr. Morozowych, an attorney—and one of the earliest of Western Ukrainian leaders in the U.E.-R. Movement—and led, in the Doctor's home, the first Evangelical-Reformed worship service ever held there. Sub­sequently, other prominent preachers of the Movement’s Ukrainian Evangelical Alliance of North America visited Western Ukraine. Among them were pastors 0. Nyzhankivsky, J. Jacenty, J. Robert-Kovalevitch, J. Walenteichuk. Thus, 1925 was a significant year, marking the be­ginning of planned and organized Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed activities and missionary work in Western Ukraine to which endeavor the more active persons, and newly organized congregations and cen­ters gave their vigorous support, thus laying the foundation for the eventual establishment of the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Church in Western Ukraine.

Organizing and establishing the first Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed congregations followed in these localities: Stanislaviv, Krekhivtzi, Kolomyya, Molodiatyn, Voskresintzi, Pidhaychyky, Kaminky, Rakivchyk, Pistyn, Kosiv, Zaritchcha, Dobrotiv, Verkhivtzi, Peremyliv, Zadubrivtzi, Stryy, Mykolayiv, Vyslok Horishny, Stroniatyn, and a host of minor centers, scattered throughout Galicia. The territories of Volhynia and Polissia and others, likewise, were affected by these events. As a result, the following major congregations were started in the VoIhynia communities: Rivne, Aleksandria, Stepan, Tuchyn, Kustyn, Shubkiv, Kolesnyky and others.

In the beginning, the U.E.-R. Movement in Galicia, seeking legal sanctuary, was forced to link itself to the predominantly Lutheran Ger­man Evangelical Church of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confession whose Superintendent was Dr. Th.Zoeckler. The tie was severed by the Movement as a result of Dr. Zoeckler's tactics: proselytizing and inter­ference in the internal affairs of the Movement. The U.E.-R. Movement then established a brief tie with the Evangelical-Reformed Church in the Polish Republic, whose Superintendent, Dr. Stefan Skerski (a Czech), was influential in Polish government circles. Through his ef­forts the Synod of that Church approved in 1933, the independence of the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Church, and, for confirmation, forwarded its action to the Polish government’s Ministry for Religious Affairs. The Ministry failed to act as late as 1939—the year Poland collapsed, and World War II began. That period, 1933 to 1939, re­presents the final phase of the short but vigorous growth of the U.E.-R. Movement in Western Ukraine. With the advent, in 1939, of Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine, the new regime brutally liqui­dated the U.E.-R. Movement and its leaders. The remainder of the faithful and sympathizers went underground.

In assessing the U.E.-R. Movement in Western Ukraine between World Wars I and II, it is appropriate to point out that, in addition to its religious, missionary work, it was active in the cultural-educational field, as revealed by its plan, proposed shortly before World War II, to establish a Ukrainian Evangelical People’s University for Ukrainian youth. The war prevented its implementation. Prior to that effort, in August 1936, the first Ukrainian Evangelical Reformed school in Kolo­myya was opened—a seven-class facility called the M. Hrushevsky school in honor of the leading Ukrainian historian and first president of the short-lived Ukrainian National Republic. Though their funds were limited, Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Christians carried on social welfare work among Ukrainian Evangelical orphans, the sick and the aged.

Volhynia is the subject of another chapter on the history of the U.E.-R. Movement in Western Ukraine. There, Russian Eastern Or­thodoxy exerted a marked influence, later to be supplanted by an ag­gressive Polish Roman-Catholic influence supported by the Polish goverment. Contrasted to these influences, the U.E.-R. Movement began its work in this area on clear-cut Evangelical and national paths. Its earliest energetic supporters were found in the town of Aleksandria, county of Rivne, approximately in 1923. Later, in 1928, three young residents of Volhynia—T. Dowhaliuk, T. Semeniuk and W. Borowsky— went to Western Poland to study Evangelical theology.

The Polish government, while harassing the Movement in Galicia, covertly waging an anti-Evangelical campaign by invoking articles of law, brazenly and openly displayed its chicanery and persecution in Volhynia. In spite of the oppression, the Movement grew and became deeply rooted in Ukrainian society.

The history of the Movement bestows a special tribute on those preachers, loyal laborers, the faithful, the sympathizers who suffered persecution and martyrdom in its cause.

In his preface to the “Outline of the History of the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Movement,” the publisher expressed the follow­ing about the role, the fate, and the future of the Movement:

“Both the Ukrainian Autocephalus Orthodox Church and the Ukr. Evangelical-Reformed Church could not develop and sustain themselves properly in Ukraine because of the prevailing political-historical con­ditions. Their ideas were considered dangerous for the imperialist- colonial policies of the modern-day Kremlin chieftains. Just as the

Russian Tsars, so they too have set themselves the goal to completely assimilate peoples they have conquered, and to propagate the Russian culture and language, including Russian Eastern Orthodoxy—though in theory considering themselves atheists. “Unfortunately, these two Churches did not find the necessary understanding and support even among the Ukrainian immigrants in North America. At present, our people are still backward in comprehending religious matters, blindly conservative, or utterly indifferent to them. However, it would be un­forgivably sinful and delinquent on our part not to record in literature all that had happened, and still linked, to the legacy and work of the pioneers of the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Movement in North America and in Western Ukraine, where the Movement was halted by fiat and terror of contemporary Kremlin despots.

“The memory of these unusual Ukrainian Christian activists and patriots should be treasured, for it is to be their last testament for the contemporary and future generations of the Ukrainian people. Their spiritual experience will some day stand in good stead for all those in Ukraine, who will undertake to revive and rebuild the spiritual life of the Ukrainian people—once true religious and national freedom are introduced in Ukraine. Both Churches mentioned above would then be able to renew their activities. Even today, there are people in Ukraine who dream of choosing the best the various Christian Churches throughout the world have to offer, and of forming something united, e. g., a single Christian Church. They feel that the situation, as it is now, does not satisfy the human spirit and the spiritual needs of the Ukrainian people. There are also those who talk of the need for an "enlightened Christianity.”

“The fact that neither the Ukrainian Autocephalus Orthodox Church nor the Ukrainian Evangelical-Reformed Church has been properly appreciated and anderstood by the majority of Ukrainians proves that not the pioneers but rather the prevailing conditions and the spiritual-religious backwardness of our people are to blame. A fine example and proof of this is revealed in the life and deeds of John the Baptist, forerunner of Jesus Christ. It has been written that he was the ‘voice crying in the wilderness,' that is, he found himself in a spiritual vacuum prevailing among the Jewish people of that time. Many listened to him, but were not capable of understanding him. Yet, his work, as recorded in the Gospel, was not in vain. He prepared the way for the advent of Christ. Jesus called him one of the greatest prophets—says the Gospel (Luke 7:28). His preachings and deeds exerted great influence upon the further development of the idea of the Kingdom of God among his people and throughout the world. Such an appraisal might well be applied also to our pioneers of the two religious movements mentioned above.

“Undoubtedly, we all entertain hopes for better and freer pos­sibilities of religious spiritual life and work in Ukraine, for sound revival of Ukrainian religious life, for better brotherly cooperation between Ukrainians of the various denominations, for unification of Ukrainian Churches, et cetera. Given the limitations of the human minds, it is almost impossible today to give an answer or advice as to when and how all this is to come about. One thing, however, is cer­tain: Our Hevenly Father knows all this; and even more than we. If we do not have the answer to these issues, then certainly God does. This is already evident in the Charismatic movement. We are wit­nesses to the fact that at the congresses of the Christian charismatics —who hail from divergent denominational camps so utterly irrecon­cilable at one time—the spirit of brotherly reconciliation and mutual understanding prevail without human coercion. It is left to us only to have trust in the wisdom, power, and wonderful Providence of our great God. He will do all in His good time. But, we should not be in­different or indolent, waste our time or bury our talents given us by God.”

Pastor Theodosy Dovhaliuk, a pioneer of the U.E.-R. Movement in Volhynia, who perished in a Soviet concentration camp on the Solovky in 1943, in one of his poems written before 1939, said the following in his prophetic vision about the views cited above:

Though one hundred years go by,

Or two hundred more,

Yes, though a thousand more run out,

Superstition, folly and gloom shall fade;

Again the sun will shine,

Christ, our holy one will come And people truly will be people,

Christians—truly Christians.

Now, we see but glimmers,

Some snow-drops in the snow...

Now, 't is to suffer and endure—

By those who love the Truth

And fill their hearts with Light of God...

But do not falter, valiant pioneers!

God blessed those crystal-clear ideals,

Rewarded heroes of His Light...

To you belongs the future,

World rebirth, to your sons!...


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