Page 1


The Nanovic Forum Lecture, 2021 “With Strong Spirit and Unbroken”: Myroslav Marynovych on Faith in Communist and Post-Communist Europe BY GRÁINNE MCEVOY

“In my lifetime, I have lived several lives…” —Myroslav Marynovych The Nanovic Institute for European Studies was honored to welcome Myroslav Marynovych, Gulag survivor, human rights activist, and currently the vice-rector for university mission at Ukrainian Catholic University, to deliver the annual Nanovic Forum Lecture. In the 1970s, Marynovych joined the Brezhnev-era human rights movement in his native Ukraine, which led to a decade’s imprisonment in a Siberian Gulag and in internal exile. In a lecture titled “Faith in Communist and Post-Communist Europe,” Marynovych reflected on his own life and the experience of Ukraine as a window onto the broader experience of Eastern Europe under communism and after its demise. Clemens Sedmak, director of the Nanovic Institute and professor of social ethics, provided an introduction and welcomed Marynovych to the University of Notre Dame. He described the speaker as “a witness to the power of moral convictions” who emerged from his decade as a political prisoner “with strong spirit and unbroken.” Sedmak attributed this unbroken spirit to the firm moral ground on which Marynovych has stood throughout his life, as a dissident and prisoner of conscience, the head of Amnesty International and PEN International in Ukraine, and a Catholic university leader navigating the post-communist era.

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame


With Strong Spirit and Unbroken

As Sedmak explained, Marynovych’s firm spiritual foundation is reflected throughout his memoirs. “For the longest time,” Marynovych wrote in the introduction to The Universe behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Ukrainian Soviet Dissident, “I have had the feeling that every person is just one musical note on the heavenly keyboard, and that once in a while that note is pressed by the finger of the Divine Pianist. It is indeed a miracle when you are the note that is required in His melody.” This view of humanity, Sedmak reflected, “is beautiful, deep, and encouraging … a belief in the importance of each and every person.”

On the Religious Aspects of Communism Anticipating the arc of his lecture, Marynovych opened with some vivid snapshots of his life, reflecting upon the ways in which the many epochs of Ukraine’s history through the 20th century have unfolded before his eyes. This included memories of his grandfather, a Greek Catholic priest, who fell victim to state proselytism during the post-World War II reprisals against his church, of a university classmate threatened with punishment for getting married in a church, and of the ban on “worshiping any religious cult” during his imprisonment in a Gulag in the 1970s and 1980s. This trajectory of oppression, he notes, was fortunately cut short. Ukraine has enjoyed 30 years of independence and the establishment of religious freedom, which, according to Marynovych, remains one of the greatest achievements of Ukrainian democracy. “Having witnessed so many somersaults in the religious history of my land,” Marynovych determined, “I give myself the moral right to make certain generalizations that will enable us to trace both the tragic ‘kidnapping’ of Eastern Europe by the communist ‘Zeus’ and its turbulent return to the family of nations.” Marynovych argued that “from a religious perspective, communism was a huge mutation of the human spirit.” When communism invaded ordinary world civilization, he explained, people transferred what belongs to God to a godless earthly Caesar. Further, the “communist faith” took on its own quasi-religiosity, a set of new spiritual parameters that undermined the spiritual homeostasis of humanity. To illustrate this point, Marynovych shared a recollection from his trial in which the

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

3


With Strong Spirit and Unbroken

judge interrupted his attempt to quote Valdimir Lenin by exclaiming: “Stop pronouncing the holy name of Lenin! It sounds like a sacrilege in your mouth!” Having become a spiritual and worldly monster, Marynovych continued, communism turned Eastern Europe into the “Bloodlands,” (so called by Yale historian Timothy Snyder) the site of mass extermination, destruction of religion, acceptance of violence, and relativization of morality. In this context, Marynovych saw the emergence of two versions of the human spirit: the homo Sovieticus, the greatest victims of communism, who remained alive with “muddled minds, frozen hearts, and a broken moral backbone”; and those whose religious faith emerged not just intact, but reinforced. “Nothing confirms the indestructibility, the resiliency of religious feeling,” he argued, “as much as the experience of communism.”

A Second University Marynovych then invited his audience to the site of his second education: the Brezhnev-era labor camp no. 36 in the village of Kuchino, Perm region of the Russian Federation, where he was detained from 1978 to 1984. In the soviet penitentiary system, religious services of any kind were strictly forbidden, and prisoners were diligently protected from the “drug” that Karl Marx famously regarded as the “opium of the masses.” Nevertheless, Marynovych explained that “fortunately, the Holy Spirit did not comply with the camp guidelines and managed to show up anywhere and anytime He wanted.” For most prisoners of conscience, he reflected, their spiritual life takes on a new intensity and richness because of their circumstances. For his own part: “the period of imprisonment was a time when the nerve of my soul was especially sensitive to the problems of good and evil, and sufferings made the presence of God almost visible.” Marynovych made a number of failed attempts to circumvent the prison’s ban on worship including asking a recently-released friend to send a letter from the outside that included the Sermon on the Mount and taking the radical step of going on hunger strike for the right to receive a bible. And yet, his most powerful spiritual nourishment came from communicating and worshiping with

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

4


With Strong Spirit and Unbroken

his fellow prisoners. Regardless of his peers’ confessional differences—Orthodox, Greek-Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish—for Marynoych, “[their] spiritual lessons became my second university.” Marynovych explained the fortitude of the prisoners’ faith was intrinsically linked to the very fact of their imprisonment by the Soviet state and their continued commitment, even within the camp, to organized resistance. The anti-religious orientation of the communist ideology meant that “to declare oneself a believer was—in itself—an act of resistance and free self-expression,” and a group well-versed in the power of collective action found it was much more difficult for camp administrators to punish prisoners for participation in religious activity if those prisoners acted in unison. Collective punishment did, however, occur. After a group prayer to celebrate Easter in 1982, all participants were subjected to some form of reprisal. The three organizers, including Marynovych, were detained in the punitive kartser, a damp, frigid cement isolation cell where prisoners were kept for up to 60 days without warm clothing or bed covers and only starvation rations and a bare wooden rack for a bed. In these conditions, Marynovych found that persecution only served to invigorate his faith. Paradoxically, “the political camp—a place where forgiving your enemies was most difficult—became for religiously-oriented prisoners, a place of testing and affirmation of their faith.” Even their failures, he reflected, seemed to have spiritual significance. Assured of the firm moral ground on which their resistance stood, the prisoners had a clear awareness of their innocence and felt that in being punished for the truth, they were led to the grace of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are they who are persecuted because of God’s way.” (Matthew 5:10). This, Marynovych explained, “gave the prisoner extraordinary spiritual power and became a reliable backbone.”

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

5


With Strong Spirit and Unbroken

The Reimplanting of Faith in Ukraine In the last part of his lecture, Marynovych shared his thoughts on the complex process of reimplanting the faith in Ukraine following what he described as the annus mirabilis of 1989 and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. He explained that believers initially hoped that communist atheism would be swiftly replaced by an intensive church life and a return to confessional unity of the pre-communist past. Instead, they witnessed the spread of secularism and pluralism, and a consequent fragmentation of Christianity in Ukraine. Even so, Marynovych welcomed this confessional and jurisdictional pluralism as proof of Ukraine’s “spiritual maturity,” and a signal that the nation’s post-Soviet religious freedom “has become not only the fruit of democracy, but also an important guarantor of it.” He described how, during the Revolution of Dignity (2013-14), Ukrainian society rejected President Viktor Yanukovych’s attempt to introduce the Russian model of favoring one denomination over any other. During this Maidan, an uprising against the government’s attempts to manipulate electoral rights, protesters from across ethnic and religious groups united around a common value—human dignity. On November 30, 2013, when state-sanctioned riot police violently dispersed protesters in Kyiv, St. Michael’s Cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivian Patriarchate opened its gates to the bloodied Maidan activists. This incident encouraged Ukrainians to perceive the Church as a sanctuary for the defenders of democracy and to welcome Greek Catholic chaplains and the presence of an ecumenical prayer tent into the Maidan. For Marynovych these and other developments have signaled that Ukraine has been liberated from the atheism and moral relativism of the communist era. Marynovych was careful to emphasise that Christians in Ukraine—bishops, priests, religious and laity—must take care to reveal the “false cultural codes,” the remnant quasi-communist values of survival that are still dominant in Ukrainian society. He explained: “The time when the Ukrainian Churches had to rebuild their structures after the fall of communism is over—today the spiritual

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

6


With Strong Spirit and Unbroken

fruits of its service must appear on the restored branches of the Church.” The Ukrainian Catholic University, which positions itself as a modern and religiously-oriented university, is a powerful force in this endeavor. UCU is both a value-based university and an effective institution. “As a promoter of values,” Marynovych explained, “it has become a place of ‘soft’ evangelization for those who have never encountered a religious tradition before.” Marynovych drew his lecture to a close by reflecting on the challenge facing Ukrainian Christians, whether at UCU or within the Church hierarchy—the same challenge facing people of faith everywhere. Dramatic, sometimes rapid societal change brings enormous spiritual challenges and the faithful might easily adopt a position that, while defending the traditions they are bound to protect, becomes a parallel society of their own creation, a ghettoized position devoid of evangelical zeal. Such an attitude, Marynovych observes, draws the Church to one side of the culture wars evident around the world today, “when the truth dissolves between two mutually exclusive extremes.” Instead, he called upon the Church and its people to “extinguish these wars by reconciling all in the truth of Christ’s love.” Marynovych concluded with a characteristic expression of hope that there is a Christian answer to current global challenges. He quoted from “Longing for the Truth that Makes Us Free,” a document written jointly by a group of Ukrainian Christians of different denominations. In an analysis of verse 12:11 from the Book of Revelation, the group wrote: “the spiritual weapon in this struggle … is Christ’s World of Truth, man’s personal testimony and man’s readiness to sacrifice.” For Marynovych, this document was yet more evidence that Ukrainian Christians are taking a position on issues that pose a universal threat through entering into a dialogue with the world.

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

7


With Strong Spirit and Unbroken

The Nanovic Forum, facilitated by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, deepens Notre Dame’s rich tradition of connections to Europe by bringing prominent figures to campus in a wide range of fields to explore, discuss, and debate the most pressing questions about Europe today. Generously sponsored by Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic, the Forum invites its distinguished guests to interact with Notre Dame in ways they most wish, which can be surprising.

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

8


Profile for Nanovic Institute for European Studies

Nanovic Institute Event Brief: "With Strong Spirit and Unbroken"  

On September 16, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies was honored to welcome Myroslav Marynovych to deliver the 2021 Nanovic Forum Lec...

Nanovic Institute Event Brief: "With Strong Spirit and Unbroken"  

On September 16, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies was honored to welcome Myroslav Marynovych to deliver the 2021 Nanovic Forum Lec...

Profile for nanovicnd

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded