Ukrainian Orthodox priest on the Maidan
I will now go back to my visit to Kiev this January: the Synod ended and the bishops of Synod (the Ukrainian Synod comprises 10 bishops out of a total 30) went out of the room. The Patriarch met me with the same warmth as before, but it was easy to discern that he was worried. On that day, government forces had killed three demonstrators and used tear-gas against the protestors. Among the injured in Kiev’s central square, the Maidan, was a Crimean bishop who, along with us, was also waiting for the end of the Synod.
Both Synodals (that’s how the bishops in the synod are called) and those who were waiting in the lobby were hungry, so we moved straight to a dining hall. A modest but delicious dinner awaited us there: hot borscht, fish and fruit. The Patriarch blessed the food and we sat at the table. The dinner of the Patriarch was quite a scene. Once we sat at the table, the bishops and metropolitans immediately took out their iPads and iPhones – all of them were rushing to learn about what was happening on the barricades. One after another, they read out the news while having dinner.
“Look! The Moscow Patriarchate is now trying to lure our people using relics,” one bishop exclaimed, holding the iPhone close to his eyes and busily reading the information appearing on its screen.
“What relics?” asked the Patriarch, taking a spoonful of borscht.
“The Gifts of the Magi, which the Magi brought to the newborn Jesus; the Russians brought them to Lavra,” the bishop replied.
“The Gifts of the Magi? But they are not relics at all. How do we know that they are those very gifts?” said Metropolitan Epiphany, the patriarchal locum tenens, indignantly. This piece of news made everyone upset – they all started to express their dissatisfaction.
“Let me recount a story about relics,” said one chubby and pleasant bishop. “I sent one lower rank religious servant to Greece. He made a pilgrimage to a church. He was shown numerous skulls there – all of them of John the Baptist; moreover, he was told that only two of them really belonged to John the Baptist.” This joke amused us all.
“If one were to collect all the Holy Nails, those which were used to crucify Christ, that are stored in churches, they would, perhaps, make up some 10 tons. Hundreds of thousands of nails alleged to be such are kept in churches,” Bishop Evstratiy said… The Patriarch then decided to intervene in order to prevent too much joking about relics. He started speaking calmly:
“There are genuine relics and there are fake relics. There are the relics of St. Barbara in our St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral that we know are genuine… As for the gifts of the Magi, I do not know whether they are true,” said the Patriarch, trying to calm down the bishops. With this remark, the conversation on relics stopped and bishops turned back to their iPhones and iPads.