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'Off-Ramp Theory': The U-Turn

When the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church was driven underground, it was completely understandable for the Church in Ukraine, with its unique qualities and local characteristics, to exist in exile. In this way, the Church existed not only to continue the Christian mandate of St. Volodymyr’s baptism, but to also serve as a sort-of national reboot for when Ukraine could re-establish its sovereignty. According to the highway metaphor, this Church constructed a highway with a built-in U-Turn, intending to take everybody back to the place where they started.

There are many instances in which the Church fulfilled this role admirably, and, in tandem with the emergent underground Church in Ukraine, can be proud of its role in re-establishing an open Church and society in Ukraine. But with decades since Ukrainian independence behind us, and the existential threats to Ukrainian cultural and linguistic expression under control (owing less to the Church), this kind of national triage is damaging the Church that wants to develop and grow abroad.

Unfortunately, many who were raised on this way were taught that no other way is possible, leading many to abandon their faith as their commitment to the Ukrainian state also waned. This is one way of assuring that the Church will only exist in Ukraine, defeating the purpose of our Church's Patriarchal (i.e. global) nature. As such, these parishes should also either off-ramp along with newer immigrants, or (as was their original mandate) migrate back to Ukraine entirely, which decades have proven to be unlikely.

Many argue that assimilation is an evil worth resisting. Some have noted the example of the Mennonites or Ashkenazis who have resisted certain elements of assimilation while also keeping their Tradition alive. The off ramp to a new Church that these “old ethnic” churches face is not a concession to assimilation, but rather a recognition of its challenges. It’s a recognition that other institutions are better equipped at opposing American cultural hegemony, in part because they have a radically different mandate: one that is equally loyal to an ethno-group as it is to God. Notwithstanding the implications of this etho-phyletistic attitude, perhaps it’s worth interrogating how effective our Ukrainian Churches in America have been at mimicking an Amish-like resistance to assimilation and why?


This article is part of a series on the "Off-Ramp Theory" of Popular Formation, which will be developed here at over the next months and years. You can read the introduction here.



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