The Reformation-500 as the Ukrainian Protestants’ mega project: the media aspect

On 26th of August 2016 the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed the decree on the celebration in 2017 the 500th anniversary of
European Reformation (R500) in Ukraine at the  state level [12]. For many this seems to open the «star time» for Ukrainian Protestants. One can compare this event with the neighboring countries: Russian Federation in 2017 will commemorate 100 years of October (Bolshevik) Revolution, Belorussia – 500 years of national typography. The previous time, when political VIPs in Ukrainian lands showed such respect and attention for Protestant Christianity, was the 16th century. At that time large percentage of Orthodox Ruthenian (then name for Ukrainians) nobles serving Poland crown converted (for short time though) either to Calvinism or Socinianism (local anti-trinitarian branch of Protestantism) [9]. Ukrainian Protestants compare [8] this decree to that of Persian king Cyrus who in 538 B.C. allowed Jews hold captive by Babylonians to come back to their motherland and to rebuild ruined Jerusalem and its Temple (Erza 6:14, 7:25).

Protestants consider R500 to be the historical chance for them to show and to confirm that Protestantism was the alternative faith which
Ukrainians chose when they were dissatisfied with Orthodoxy [2:1] and with secularism. The first aim of the present paper is to single
out the grounds for this turn in Ukrainian politics. Its second aim is to analyze the prospects for Ukrainian Protestants which are opened with the access to the use of secular media. The object of the research is Ukraine’s historical and current context which influences the
local perception of 500th anniversary of European Reformation.
The subject of the study is the media aspect of celebrating this anniversary in Ukraine. The decree No. 357/2016 «On the celebration
of the 500th anniversary of Reformation in Ukraine» reads: «Aiming to acknowledge the significant contribution of Protestant Churches and religious organizations to the development of religious, cultural and social sphere of Ukraine, to express the respect for their role in Ukrainian history and incipience of its independent state, and also to celebrate in Ukraine the 500th anniversary of Reformation I decree:
1. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine must: 1) elaborate in cooperation with representatives of Protestant religious organizations of Ukraine and adopt in three months’ period the plan of measures on preparation and celebration in Ukraine the 500th anniversary of Reformation, in particular:
– holding in October of 2017 in Kyiv a grand event on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Reformation;
– holding thematic academic conferences, symposiums, round tables, seminars, other academic and educational events on the occasion
of the 500th anniversary of Reformation, elaborating the necessary guidelines for those events;
– preparing and publishing academic and popular-scientific works on the 500th anniversary of Reformation and publishing the collection of famous Reformers’ works;
– holding in schools and colleges the thematic events on the history of Reformation;
– preserving and popularizing notable domestic achievements of cultural history;
– making museum exhibits on the 500th anniversary of Reformation;
– holding a festival of Church music and singing;
– minting and putting into circulation the coin commemorating the 500th anniversary of Reformation;
– issuing the postage stamp and envelope commemorating the 500th anniversary of Reformation;
– producing and placing the public service ads commemorating the 500th anniversary of Reformation;
– producing and screening of documentaries and movies commemorating the 500th anniversary of Reformation;
2) solve in the established order the question about financing events on preparation and celebration in Ukraine the 500th anniversary of
2. The Kyiv City State Administration must help Protestant religious organizations to hold in September of 2017 in Kyiv city the events on the 500th anniversary of Reformation.
3. The State Committee for Television and  Radio-Broadcasting of Ukraine must provide in the established order the coverage in the state mass media the events on the 500th anniversary of Reformation, producing and broadcasting the series of thematic TV and radio programmes, documentaries and movies.
4. The Security Service of Ukraine along with the State Archive Service of Ukraine must help the religious organizations and NGOs, academic institutions and organizations to have access to archive documents on [Tzars and Soviet time – M. B.] persecutions toward religious organizations.
5. The Regional and Kyiv City State Administration must: – elaborate along with regional organizational committees formed by Protestant religious organizations and adopt regional plans of events on commemorating the 500th anniversary of Reformation, and secure their implementation;
– hold along with representatives of public and local authorities, religious organizations and the public the celebrations on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Reformation;
– promote the initiatives of religious organizations aimed at holding thematic educational, edifying, cultural, sport and other
events» [13].

As one can see the decree mostly presents exactly the media aspect of R500 project: a) events as communicative acts (conferences, symposiums,round tables, seminars, festivals, museum exhibits), b) information carriers and formats (promulgated guidelines, books – academic and popular-scientific works, collection of famous Reformers’ works, commemorative coin, postage stamp and envelope, public service ads, documentaries and movies, TV and radio programmes, elaborated plans of events), c) access as the way to communicate: access to prestigious places (at prestigious times) in the capital city, access to archive documents, to state media for broadcasting the necessary content.Maybe the most remarkable aspect of this situation is that actually Protestant anniversary will be promoted in Ukraine with the help of state bodies, budget, places and media. It is more than a surprising transformation of the social status of the «suspicious», «dangerous», «alien sect» (that was the «official» way of pubic naming of Protestants here).

The «official» start of Reformation is agreed to be the 31st of October 1517. Augustinian monk, the Doctor of Theology Martin Luther at that day nailed his theological treatise («95 Theses») against Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences to the doors of the Castle Church
where he was a priest in Wittenberg, Germany (then the central part of the Holy Roman Empire). At that time the idea of reform was nothing new to the World Church. The intellectual and social dynamism of Judeo-Christian tradition caused endless efforts to re-examine its doctrine and practice during Christian era: raising of Islam, iconoclastic movement in Byzantium Empire, Church split in the 11th century, monastic movements – to name only a few Western persons active in social and political spheres: Francis of Assisi (France), Girolamo Savonarola (Florence), John Wicliffe (England), Jan Hus and Jerome of Prague (both Bohemia) [5].

European Reformation itself also was to the large extent a communicative act. Its grand technological prerequisite was a printing press
invented in 1439 by Johannes Gutenberg. Luther is called the organizer of the first «contemporary» information campaign and the author of a genre and a format of a printed theological pamphlet widely used for social and political criticism. Luther’s efforts were also successful because of the raise of bourgeois class as a new audience of such alternative communication [11:37–41]. The main religious consequence of
Reformation was the rise of Protestantism.

Historians of Protestantism talk about several consecutive «waves» of reform inside this part of World Christianity. Some Protestant
denominations (mostly of Calvinist origin) even put the word «Reformed» in their titles. Summing this up, Karl Barth in 1947 coined a famous phrase allegedly deriving from a saying of St. Augustine: «Ecclesia semper reformanda est» (Latin for «the church must always be reformed»). The 500th anniversary of Reformation in 2017 coincides with important social processes taking part in many parts of Ukrainian society and government. For centuries Ukraine was a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-denominational
territory. Lack of statehood, adherence to different societal traditions caused some Ukrainian nationalist thinkers of 19–20th centuries to
question Orthodoxy as the Ukrainian «indigenous» religion. Looking for the Western alternatives they also evaluated Protestantism as the ideological and symbolic source for nation-building.

The Brotherhood of St. Kyrylo and Mefodii was a secret political society of Ukrainian intellectuals (1845–47) who sought to liberalize the
political and social system of the imperial Russia basing on the Christian moral principles. Mykhailo Drahomanov, the influential Ukrainian political thinker of the 2nd part of the 19th century, popularized Protestantism as «cheap (civil) church», the supporter of free will and belief, and perceived traditional Ukrainian brotherhoods as pro-Evangelical phenomena. Protestantism also gained a high evaluation in the works by Mykhailo Hrushevskyi – the most prominent Ukrainian historian and the head of Central Rada (Ukraine’s 1917–18 revolutionary parliament).

In 1991 Ukraine became independent, and its more and more open pro-Western political and cultural orientation was caused by the ambition to detach from the post-Soviet and Russian context and influence. This associated Protestants with the desired «West»: «The changes in the laws on freedom of conscience that were adopted in the former Soviet republics – Lithuania (1995), Russia (1997), Belorussia (2002), Moldova (2007) and so on, narrowed the legal prospects of Protestant, above all Evangelical, congregations. But Ukraine
did not revise the Law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, which was adopted in 1990. According to it Protestant churches do not have any legal restrictions, and during recent 25 years they have the best conditions for development in the entire previous history» [10:15].

The opponents of Ukraine as an «Orthodox nation» now also come from Greek Catholic circles. Here is the excerpt from the book by
possibly most renowned Ukrainian historian of our time Yaroslav Hrytsak, the professor of Ukrainian Catholic University: «The first and most common barrier between different countries – “who’s got where” – is a religious one: the most successful and modernized countries are those with Protestant and Confucian ethics, the “loosers” are Muslim and pagan countries. The classic Christianity is in the “golden mean”. Inside it one can clearly distinguish the “Catholic” and “Orthodox” zones. <…> Ukraine got at once in some discouraging [sociological – M. B.] clusters: Orthodox, Communist, Soviet. The legacy of the latter two can be handled with in the nearest future, but the first will not disappear overnight» [7:26–27, 32]. Being a home of half of post-Soviet Protestants, Ukraine is also a place of major institutions of those churches on post-USSR territory [3:1]: seminaries, charitable organizations, printing houses, newspapers, magazines, radio stations. Ukraine is a leading donor of Protestant missionaries, pastors and church activists in other post-Soviet countries. Greek Catholic and Protestant churches in Ukraine cultivate strong social ties among their members, at the same time trying to play a socially active role. This makes these churches the conservative part of fledgling civil society in Ukraine. Especially at times of social crises (Maidan of 2004, Euromaidan and Donbas war conflict since 2013) the activity of these churches can even substitute the missing state institutions. During post-Euromaidan crisis from 21 February to 7 June 2014 the office of acting President of Ukraine was taken by Oleksandr Turchynov – a politician, screenwriter and economist, who is also a member of one of Kyiv Baptist churches and sometimes preaches at the services. Turchynov’s strong anti-Russian stance in the conflict over Crimea and Donbas caused bloggers to give him a satiric nickname «the Bloody Pastor». During the current crisis Protestants and other «non-traditional» organizations became the first targets and victims of religious persecutions in Crimea and Donbas – the territories uncontrolled by Ukrainian government [4; 6; 14]. A month before Poroshenko singed the above mentioned decree, Russia adopted the infamous Yarovaya Law which amends a pre-existing counterterrorism law and increases regulation of evangelism, including a ban on the performance of «missionary activities» in non-religious setting. After signing the decree Poroshenko emphasized: «We want to demonstrate that our church-state relations have a fundamental difference from that of Russia. You can see this difference on the example of Crimea and Donbas, where with the guns came “the Russian world”». And he also highlighted that Ukraine is a multidenominational country: «Ukrainians demonstrate unity, bringing together people of different views, different religions, different nationalities, uniting around the ideas of freedom and democracy» [12].

Mr. President also stressed the importance of all religions’ chaplaincy in Ukrainian army and urged Protestants to participate in caring for wounded and families of soldiers killed in the war zone. The singing of the decree took place in the presence of leaders of international Protestant unions – Paul Msiza, the President of Baptist World Alliance, and Anthony Peck, the General Secretary of European Baptist Federation. We can also see here the power of naming. For young Ukrainian state the 500th anniversary symbolizes the tradition and historical memory. «Europe[an]» and «reform» are one of most frequently used words in the actual political discourse of Ukraine and here they can be perceived as synonyms of hope. To implement the events listed in the presidential decree, the Ukrainian Protestants try to
accumulate and mobilize available resources. Up to now 12 Protestant Church unions (Adventists, Baptists, Calvinists, Charismatics, Evangelical Christians, Lutherans, Pentecostals) joined the project (see the official web-site of the project

The Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine formed seven sections of activity: creative, youth, charitable, media,
academic-historical, legal, resources’. The similar system is to be created in the regions starting with 26 (without the annexed Crimea) regional centers. The sections’ representatives announced continuing recruitment of intellectuals to participate in the project: analysts, researchers, University professors, writers, men of art. One can see the rising of new «Church» elite and public persons. They are a) the biggest Church unions’ leaders as project’s «faces» and «arguments» for conservative supporters, b) politicians (Pavlo Unhurian – People’s Deputy, R500 committee’s head, and Oleksandr Turchynov, now Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine), c) the supremos of strategic media (Vyacheslav Demyan, CEO of the Hope Media Group) and Protestant interdenominational organizations (Jaroslaw Lukasik, the director of Eastern European Leadership Forum). The main events already being held as part of the project are National Prayer Breakfast (organized in May), two visits of Nick Vujicic (April and September), and Christmas Singing Flash Mob (December). All three events gained positive coverage by national media.

The organizers of the 5th National PrayerBreakfast gathered tens of Western Christians in high political and business positions. For the first
time the Breakfast was visited by the heads of Ukrainian government: the President of Ukraine, the Prime-Minister and the Speaker of Verkhovna Rada (Parliament). The speakers – foreign and Ukrainian politicians, religious and business leaders – called for reconciliation, moral and value reforms of respective spheres of society. In 2016 Nick Vujicic, an Australian Christian evangelist and internationally known motivational speaker born without limbs, visited Ukraine two times. During his September visit he held a speech
in Verkhovna Rada after which he suggested that everybody would kneel down to pray. No one objected.

Christmas Singing Flash Mob in Kyiv downtown included performances of choir with 2000 singers and a bells orchestra. Its guests were
government officials, notable political and public figures. A shot from news story about Christmas Singing Flash Mob was included into the New Year message by President Poroshenko (at 1:34 min of the YouTube version). In their communicative acts Protestants try to
overcome their «sectarian» image created by the ideological machine of Tzarist and Soviet regimes. «We are not sectarians» – that was the motto of interviews which members of Kharkiv R500 committee recently gave to the author of this article. These activists claim that Ukraine «badly needs reformation, transformation of a single (believing) person, a church congregation (a person’s surrounding) and the whole society». Of course this urges Protestants to answer a much more complicated question: should R500 media channels reveal the existing state of affairs in these denominations or should a «new» Protestantism in Ukraine be created? New prospects require Protestants to practice new approach and understanding of mission, to present a new (non-sectarian) Church, to occupy a new societal niche.
The media attention to the Christmas Flash Mob made those questions more acute. Was it a Nativity worship, a New Year concert, a political
meeting? These discussions manifest conservative Protestants’ changing and uncertain identity. Who are we? Whom do we want to be? What is our role in the post-Soviet / independent / postmodern / oligarchic / non-Russian Ukraine? Baptisms as the main criteria of effectiveness of post-Soviet Protestant activity are mostly do not happen any more. The churches have to switch to intensive growth, exercising faith in the social work [1]. In the last decade church charity was the main aim and right, the bridge for preaching, the
way of educating possible listeners of the sermon. Serving paved the way to communication and understanding.

Probably R500 starts the next phase of the Protestant mission in Ukraine. Having «paid» for society’s attention and respect, Protestants are now again awaited to say a word. Rather, the Word. And this makes media the main «frontier» of church work. 1990s was a time of hunger for information on religious matters. Also churches tried to develop internal communication, to «legalize» Christian content. It seems that now is the time to communicate through Church to the wider society. Through domestic to foreign media, through nearest to farthest, through religious to secular. To look for a lingua franca with unchurched people. Mimicking the secular patterns, using common
cultural forms: cultural, academic, educational events. Conclusions. 500th anniversary of European Reformation coincided with almost two centuries of modern Ukrainian national revival. Yaroslav Hrytsak believes that the latter draws an entirely Western trajectory. The President Poroshenko’s decree gives Ukrainian Protestants a unique opportunity to present their values and ideology with the use of secular media. This also creates a challenge for these churches to revise their public image based mostly on stark contrast between an idealized of «Holy City» (the Church) endangered by the pressure of the «Sinful World».

1. Balaklytskyi M. Ways of measuring the influence of religious mass media in the Ukraine / M. Balaklytskyi // Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe. — Vol. XXXIII, No. 2. — October 2013. — P. 25—51.
2. Lunkin R. The Ukrainian Revolution and Christian churches / R. Lunkin // East-West Church&Ministry Report. — Summer 2014. — Vol. 22, No. 3. — P. 1—5.
3. Wanner C. Communities of the converted: Ukrainians and global Evangelism / C. Wanner. — Cornell University Press, 2007. — 305 p.
4. When God becomes the weapon. Persecution based on religious beliefs in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. April 2015. Report prepared by Center for Civil Liberties and International Partnership for Human Rights in the framework of the Civic Solidarity Platform [Electronic resource]. — Access mode :
5. Балаклицький М. Реформація триває? [Електронний ресурс] / М. Балаклицький. — Режим доступу : — [28.11.2016].
6. Власти Горловки, неподконтрольной Украине, конфисковали молитвенный дом адвентистов седьмого дня вместе с имуществом общины [Электронный ресурс]. — Режим доступа : — [05.12.2016].
7. Грицак Я. Життя, смерть та інші неприємності / Я. Грицак. — К. : Грані-Т, 2008. — 232 с.
8. Кожух А. Указ Президента о 500-летии Реформации имеет такое же важное значение, как указ о восстановлении разрушенного вавилонянами Иерусалима [Электронный ресурс] / А. Кожух. — Режим доступа : — [02.11.2016].
9. Любащенко В. Істория протестантизму в Україні / В. Любащенко. — Львів : Просвіта, 1995. — 350 с.
10. Любащенко В. Протестантизм в Україні / В. Любащенко // 500 років Реформації. Рух, що змінив світ. — К. : Джерело життя, 2016. — C. 13—15.
11. Михайлин І. Історія української журналістики. Період становлення: від журналістики в
Україні до української журналістики / І. Михайлин. — Х. : Прапор, 2005. — 320 с.
12. Президент підписав Указ «Про відзначення в Україні 500-річчя Реформації» [Електронний ресурс]. — Режим доступу : — [26.08.2016].
13. Указ Президента України №357/2016 «Про відзначення в Україні 500-річчя Реформації» [Електронний ресурс]. — Режим доступу : — [26.08.2016].
14. Фионик Д. Восхождение. Кто убил четырёх христиан в осаждённом Славянске [Электронный ресурс] / Д. Фионик. — Режим доступа : — [29.08.2014].


Балаклицький Максим, Кабінет експертів