If ever he saw me looking dejected, my father would often say to me: “Listen son, there is little point in you sitting around crying into your Borscht; get off your backside and do something to make the situation better!” I woke up this morning thinking about these words, in the light of how the COVID19 virus has impacted on our world and Church. There really is no point in bemoaning the situation. It is what it is. In many ways the situation has had positive effects on Church life. The Live Streams have been a massive success in Australia. Through Zoom and video conferencing we have been brought closer as an Eparchy, and as a particular Church. We speak and meet over the internet with people who have been in the past only names to us; people that we would only otherwise have met, if we bought plane tickets to travel across a continent or over several continents. Through these same channels we have contacted Church and civic leaders. I have celebrated Divine Liturgies with the Patriarch in Kyiv; partaken in the Ordination of our Bishop Mykola; shared a few laughs with Bishop Peter, and learned so much about the people of our Eparchy. Yes, COVID19 has restricted our physical movement – but human beings through technology have adapted. A little over one hundred years ago, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptyts’kyi was arrested by Tsarist Russia, and placed under house arrest; the Poles also arrested him on another occasion. Although physically separated from his people, Sheptyts’kyi still led and communicated. Bishop Mykola is far more present to us – because of technology. Although Bishop Peter and our brother and sisters in Melbourne are in the catacombs of Lockdown, it is essentially a far better catacombs to live in than that of Ancient Rome, and 20th Century Ukraine. Due to a severe foot injury, that severely restricted my physical movement – I was essentially in lock-down for seven months. Our life situation is what it is. Things of course are very serious – but we need to eat the Borscht before it gets too cold. Stay safe – Stay well. ATK
The first Ukrainian to arrive on the Australian continent, did not do so with the influx of refugees and displaced persons after the Second World War, nor did he arrive during the Gold Rush era of the 19th Century; he arrived on the First Fleet in 1788. This should always be remembered by Australians of Ukrainian descent. As Professor Manning Clark notes in the first volume of his, A History of Australia – Volume I: From the Earliest Times to the Age of Macquarie (1962), “Representatives of other faiths on the convict ships were few … there was one Ukranian (sic)…” (p.94). By virtue of his presence, this anonymous Ukrainian was the first representative not only of Ukrainian identity on Terra Australis, but of the Spiritual Tradition of Kyiv-Rus’; however how much a convict could adequately provide of this ‘witness’ could be greatly debated.
The events of the Holodomor, World War II, the Sovietization of Ukraine, and the persecution of the Ukrainian people, and their Churches, forced those who could do so, into exile to form in the ‘Free World’, free Ukrainian communities. Taking advantage of the freedom in the West, these ‘displaced’ Ukrainian people, built a new world across the globe, in which they could live out their spiritual and cultural heritage. It was an extraordinary achievement; their efforts can only be described as heroic. Devoid of close family, without today’s fast travel, and vast and fast methods of communication, and also needing to speak new languages, the pioneers built communities – as safe havens to be ‘Ukrainians’, and to raise their children in the Faith and Culture that had been outlawed. Their presence in foreign nations, enriched their new homeland. The pioneers built with purpose. Churches, language schools, community halls, Credit societies, folk dancing groups, restaurants, Plast and CYM organisations, all served the purpose to satisfy the deepest yearnings of the pioneers, and the life they would have led in Ukraine, had not severe persecution forced them to leave, and made them ‘displaced persons’. People of Ukrainian background soon found themselves among the leading strata of society in the diaspora – if not within the pioneer generation, then within the generation that immediately followed them, and thereafter.
In terms of the history of the Ukrainian diaspora, although culturally and spiritually identical, there were differences in the psychology and tenor of those who ‘migrated’ from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th Century, to countries such as the United States and Canada, then those who fled their homeland after World War II. The former group left Ukraine driven by a spirit of ambition to improve their lot, the latter group did not ‘migrate’, it was purely a life and death imperative.
The psychology of the two groups, ‘migrants’ and ‘displaced persons,’ (a study in itself for a good Doctoral thesis) was distinct, the post-war refugees bringing to their new homelands, the scars of having been brutalised; a people who had witnessed, if not experienced, horrific forms of human depravity. They were dealing with psychological nightmares as they built their new homes. Their children, would be only too aware of this, but they, the first generation of Ukrainian Australians, would grow up as a free people, speaking a language different outside of their home, to that language they would speak to their parents, and to that at Church on Sunday. Oftentimes the command of the Ukrainian language, by the first generation Ukrainian Australians was conversational, but not technical – that which engaged higher order thinking. This stood in comparison to that of the ‘second’ language they studied at school, and later at university. It would not be that the ‘family’ language was inferior – but that the knowledge of the Ukrainian language did not grow, as they, the children did.
Some of the first generation would marry within their Ukrainian community, others would not, and generation after generation, more and more would move away from the place their parents first settled in, to build families within an increasingly multicultural context. These mixed marriages faced cultural disparity, one of which being that the stories of family suffering were so vastly different or even seemingly ‘absurd’ to the reality of contemporary life in Australia. The fact that Ukraine was a ‘puppet nation’ behind the Iron Curtain, gave the stories of family history, a lack of credibility and a sense of hopelesness. The communities established in Australia, originally established to build a free Ukraine, a new Ukraine, and preserve Ukrainian identity in a new land, became a place, as generations passed on, of sentimental attachment for many; a Church to visit at Easter or Christmas, a dancing group to watch as it toured. The Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the pioneers, bore Ukrainian Christian names, and surnames, but many could only stutter a response when others quizzed them of the heritage of these names. It became easy for the descendants of these pioneers to butcher their Christian or surnames because of the ignorance of an essentially, Anglo-Saxon-Celtic nation, as Australia was. The bastardization of cultural identity, in order to gain wider acceptance in a new country, was not purely an Australian phenomenon. It continues today. The current Premier of Queensland, Anastacia Palaszczuk, who every native Ukrainian speaker would pronounce her surname as: Paar – laarsh – chook, has informed the media that her name is pronounced: ‘Pa – la – shay’. Credit to her that she leads an Australian state – but the correct pronunciation of her surname is a point of wider education to the Australian population, as well. “What’s in a name?”, as Shakespeare quipped. Quite a lot.
In order to further assimilate many of the first generation Ukrainian Australians had to bear the brunt of being referred to as: Poles, ‘Commies’ or Russians, because people in the new lands in the West, knew what these nationalities were, or they bundled Ukraine within the context of the government that had imprisoned the Ukrainian people. What was this ‘hidden’ Ukraine, at the time of the Cold War? The place where Ilya Kuryakin spent his childhood, or the location of the Chornobyl Nuclear disaster. In sum, Ukraine lay within the Soviet Union. ‘Russia’ was a default term, for any achievement made by a Ukrainian within the Soviet Union. The use of this term, as a ‘pejorative’ perpetuated the cultural and political enslavement of the Ukrainian peoples.
Teenagers are oftentimes rebellious – and rebellion for first generation children frequently means that the culture of the parents is challenged. In the case of migrant groups, teenagers who are rebelling from parents and wishing to be accepted by the ‘herd’, breaking away from their ethnic identity is not uncommon. To return to their ethnic roots becomes increasingly difficult if they have lost the ability to speak the language of this community – or have not passed on this language to their children. Rejected by their ethnic community they find themselves absorbed into the culture of the herd; perhaps returning occasionally to reminisce. If this generation marries an adult of non-Ukrainian ethnicity, and the spouse who has Ukrainian ethnicity has only a tenuous grasp of this at that, there is actually very little thread to bind them to Ukrainian identity after their grandparents and their love passes away. Perhaps one of the major reasons why our Live Streaming of the divine Liturgies has been so popular throughout Australia, during COVID19, is that those who wish to re-visit their spiritual roots can do so from the anonymity of their homes.
The post war pioneer generation brought Ukrainian culture with them – but also a paradigm having been forged by their experiences raised in oppression and fear. Their children would grow as a free people; not constrained by fear. As generation after generation passed – if spiritual and cultural transmission began to be diluted – subsequently, the reasons for identifying as of Ukrainian heritage: spiritually and culturally weakened. I recall a friend of mine tell an invited guest to the Ukrainian parish: “You will be right – if you just say – ‘Hospray Paar – May Lou.’”
Over the course of three decades I would have taught a dozen children of Ukrainian migrants to Australia – all of whom refused to acknowledge any association with Ukrainian ethnicity. The schools which I taught in were primarily populated with children whose parents occupied the higher socio-economic strata, who wanted to be accepted by the established classes, and to do this, thought by shrugging off the ‘refugee stigma’ – they would become more upwardly mobile. Other causes of their ‘giving up’ their cultural past, were, for example: one of their parents finding the transmission of the Ukrainian culture too hard; cultural irrelevance in the Australian context; ill-treatment by pioneer Ukrainian parents who were emotionally scarred by the events of the 20th Century, hence a rejection of their parents and their heritage; a failure to be welcomed within the Ukrainian community; geographic distance from the Ukrainian community during their formative years; and probably the most common response – the language barrier of subsequent generations, which they placed in the too hard basket, finding no need to learn a new language, dead for all constructive purposes – in an Australian milieu – that prides itself on speaking – ‘Strine’.
Another problem that the Ukrainians faced in the diaspora in Australia was that they built greatness for ‘their’ present reality, in the hope, that their children would be heirs to this foundation. I need to emphasize that what these pioneers created – was genius. There is not one day that I attend Divine Liturgy, in which I do not sit and stare with sheer amazement; not only at the Church – but at all they created in the name of Ukrainian identity. But despite appearances, the present is never static, but is always growing and moving, even if we can’t see the world revolve beneath our feet. What was not perceived by the pioneers, was the intrinsic message of Pentecost: “And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2: 6 – 8, RSV). The Apostles to the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius were called by God to enculturate the Gospel message in order to touch the hearts, souls and minds of the Slavs. St. Pope John Paul the Second wrote of the brother Saints: “8. Byzantine in culture, the brothers Cyril and Methodius succeeded in becoming apostles of the Slavs in the full sense of the word. Separation from one’s homeland, which God sometimes requires of those he has chosen, when accepted with faith in his promise is always a mysterious and fertile pre-condition for the development and growth of the People of God on earth. The Lord said to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing”… 9. The Slavonic Life of Methodius reports in the following words the request made by the Prince Rastislav to the Emperor Michael III through his envoys: “Many Christian teachers have reached us from Italy, from Greece and from Germany, who instruct us in different ways. But we Slavs … have no one to direct us towards the truth and instruct us in an understandable way”…Together with a great respect for persons and a disinterested concern for their true good, the two holy Brothers had the resources of energy, prudence, zeal and charity needed for bringing the light to the future believers, and at the same time for showing them what is good and offering concrete help for attaining it. For this purpose they desired to become similar in every aspect to those to whom they were bringing the Gospel; they wished to become part of those peoples and to share their lot in everything…10. For the purposes of evangelization, the two holy Brothers-as their biographies indicate-undertook the difficult task of translating the texts of the Sacred Scriptures, which they knew in Greek, into the language of the Slav population which had settled along the borders of their own region and native city. Making use of their own Greek language and culture for this arduous and unusual enterprise, they set themselves to understanding and penetrating the language, customs and traditions of the Slav peoples, faithfully interpreting the aspirations and human values which were present and expressed therein.11. In order to translate the truths of the Gospel into a new language, they had to make an effort to gain a good grasp of the interior world of those to whom they intended to proclaim the word of God in images and concepts that would sound familiar to them. They realized that an essential condition of the success of their missionary activity was to transpose correctly Biblical notions and Greek theological concepts into a very different context of thought and historical experience. It was a question of a new method of catechesis.” (John Paul the Second, Slavorum Apostoli, 1995, Par. 8 – 11)
The children of the pioneers responded warmly to that which did not require a second language but which was attractive: dancing, cooking, clothing, religious spectacle, the hugs of grandparents. But Faith transmission requires more: it requires, Faith that seeks Understanding. The way we pray becomes evidence as to what we believe deep in our hearts. If the individual cannot understand the very essence of their Faith – Scripture, and cannot understand the priest’s homily, because he is speaking a language incomprehensible – then the attraction to the Church becomes sensual: sight, sound, smell, hearing, tasting, touching – all essential to the celebration, but not intellectual. When the individual seeks to know, if they cannot discern the ‘content’ of the message – they will seek to find a message in other places. This point is critical, for the Faith-hungry adult seeks to engage with the message. The pioneer generation had no reason to leave the Church – they were immersed at many, if not all levels – but the following generation and those to follow, became spectators, inactive, disempowered, and drifted to a Church nearby, or to no Church at all. The pioneer-priests of the pioneer laity, were native Ukrainian speakers – the entire Divine Liturgy was sung and spoken in Ukrainian. But to those Australian born, those whose Ukrainian language was limited to the words: ‘дідусь’ (grandfather) and ‘бабуся’ (grandmother) – the language became a sizeable barrier.
For me, as a child, adolescent and young man, what I found most difficult, was the in-fighting and community bickering – something that was not visibly evident, when we went as a family to Mass at the local Parish School. I wanted to pray – develop a deeper connection with God, the rest for me was nonsense. In my mind if you wanted to be taken seriously, you had to act seriously and civilly, and not spread rumours about this or that man who stole a horse from your grandfather and some such. As my Australian friends would say – “This sounded like bulldust to me.” While I was listening to this – I was missing the football.
A further problem was born – when the Ukrainian identity, became one of culture, but not one of Faith. Spiritual matters are eternal – culture enhances the spiritual; it highlights a secular context within the eternal. To remove religion and Faith from the notion of Ukrainian identity, is a rejection of the foundations of Kyiv-Rus’, and all that has been at the heart of the history of Ukraine since the Baptism of the nation in 988. Young people of Ukrainian identity in Australia are not to blame for this lack of Faith transmission. A general movement away from Church in Australia over the last five decades, has influenced them as it has influenced all Australian youth; but for Faith transmission to work, a child and a young adult must feel a sense of belonging and a purpose within the Church.
In this series, I wish to unpack how a re-examined Spirit of Pentecost can awaken our Church’s future in the diaspora.
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
This post is also available in: Ukrainian