A letter from our reader – K.A. Pokrovskiy – was received by our newspaper. This letter included critics on the interview of the YMCA Ukraine President, Orthodox priest – father Ievgeniy Zhabkovskiy – "YMCA - the meeting place". Our reader is negatively impressed by the fact of cooperation of Churches and "absolutely social" youth organisation, where the Churches are in a position of "institution of social service". "The YMCA should continue it's social life and leave the Church alone. And the Church should leave the YMCA", – he says.
More than that, K.A. Pokrovskiy thinks that the YMCA is a harmful organization, which he proves with the decisions of the meetings of ROCA (Russian Orthodox Church Abroad), which negatively evaluated YMCA's activities. But is it as bad with the YMCA as our respected reader says? Let us try to find out.
Viktor Serbulov, YMCA Ukraine General Secretary:
Of course, the influence of priests upon youth is a tuning fork in the informal education, which is able to adjust to the correct moral way. Why would a social organization cooperate with the Church? What may be the goals of such cooperation? YMCA is based on the idea of influence on the young people not through verbal preaching of religion and morality, but by creating a respectable environment in the society. This might not be seen at once, but as the time goes, it brings more and more results.
YMCA conducts different social programs — from handicrafts and teaching languages to holding trainings and charitable activities for children with special needs. And when young people come to the YMCA and they are ready to learn something, to do scouting, or to be volunteers in our social programs, we don't ask them, which Church they go to. Some of them don't go anywhere, at all. Time changes people in the YMCA: first of all, they become morally purer and more tolerant to others.
YMCA is a place where you will meet representatives of different religions, and atheists too. Nevertheless, they learn how to live and to work together, recognizing the validity of Christian approach to the life. And after that there is a question of choice for every person: "What to do? And what to strive for?". The answer is simple: one should build his life on the Christian principles. And that is what the YMCA encourages to do in all the activities and in love to people. This is where the function of the YMCA comes to an end: we have suggested the person to think over his choice. Many people when thinking about it go to the Church, search for communication with the God. That is why the YMCA becomes a stair to the Church for those, whose souls are longing there. And some people don't step on that stair and are happy with moral growth, mental and physical development. We don't try to drag anyone anywhere: everybody has the right to make the choice, to build his own life and to pick, what to strive for.
For example, after a joint visit to Svyatogorska Lavra (Orthodox Monastery), the Principal of one of the schools in Lugansk region started to visit the Church on Sundays. And he meets his pupils there, which makes him very happy.
YMCA is an interdenominational social organization. We invite priests from different Christian Churches to take part in our seminars on social issues and youth education. We live in a country where children of different faiths go to the same school. That means we have to conduct social activities together. And if it is salted with Christian approach, it is easier for us to neighbor, to live and to educate our children in a peaceful way in our Christian country.
Oleksiy Bakhanov, YMCA Ukraine resource centre coordinator:
Historical role of the YMCA is to help people. Our organization on the territory of modern Ukraine was founded in Odessa and then in Kiev in the beginning of XX century. During the First World War the YMCA members were helping the wounded people and prisoners. And during the Second World War it was the same. YMCA supported the creation of the Red Cross.
The activity of the YMCA was supported by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and Patriarch Tikhon. Holy martyr Tsar Nicholas II financially assisted the YMCA when he saw how useful it's work was. Alex Ridiger (Patriarch Alexy II) was a member of Russian Christian Movement in Estonia, that cooperated closely with the YMCA.
Publishing house YMCA-PRESS deserves a special story. It's main goal was preserving, development and spread of Christian culture. Many important books were published by it. The authors were such clergymen as Sergiy Bulgakov, Sergiy Chetverikov, Vasiliy Zenkovskiy, patriarch Antonij (Surozhskiy), famous philosophers and theologians: N. А. Berdiaev, S. L. Frank, B.P. Vysheslavtsev, N.O. Losskiy and many others. There were more that 400 philosophic and theological books issued in total. Besides that, the new translation of the Bible and other books into Russian were published.
In late 20th and early 30th years of the XX century several meetings and conferences of the YMCA and members of the Russian Students' Christian Movement (RSCM) with the representatives of local Orthodox Churches took place. The participants discussed different forms of work with orthodox youth, problems and misunderstandings. The work of social organizations (like the YMCA) working on Christian basis was highly assessed at the conference in Thessalonica. It was noted that spiritual component is essential in general education. It should be filled with Christian spirit, and the teachers should have a truly religious life and awoke spiritual inspiration in the children's souls. They need to understand modern young people, their psychology and needs in order to know how to attract the young souls to the God and to the Church.
An article about the work of the YMCA was published in a magazine of the Synod Department on youth affairs of Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), named "Sretenie" (the Candlemas), in the "Experience" section. This proves that ROC recognizes the YMCA as useful in education of the young generation. A handbook for clergymen "U kostra" (At the campfire), which was issued in 2004, mentioned the YMCA in a good way. The "Scouts' methods of work" section said: "It is very important to make the youth to know about such organizations as the Red Cross, the YMCA… The story about foundation and activities of these organizations should be told during the campfire discussions."
In 2007, during a joint spiritual camp near Zhytomyr (Ukraine), Metropolitan Volodymyr blessed the godly work for youth and children, done be the YMCA of Ukraine.
Invited by Synod Department of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), representatives of the YMCA of Ukraine took part in the 1st All-Ukrainian Orthodox youth patriotic meeting in December 2007.
Within our programs we try to unite different people and to make the world better and purer. We want to help people to learn how to help themselves and the others and to base this work on Christian values. The YMCA is trying to find a way to reach young people who are far away from the Church. And this is how our organization works for many years.
Priest Ievgenii Zhabkovskyi, the YMCA Ukraine President:
It is great that we have been noticed and that we are being interesting for the people. Any opinion is important for us. But absence of constructive suggestions in the letter of the reader is upsetting. If you think we're doing something wrong, please, help us. Let us do it together. I am ready to discuss all the work I do as the YMCA President in an open discussion.
There are young people I met in the YMCA, and now they are my congregation. Some of them were married by me. Thanks to our meeting and communication in the YMCA, they are not afraid of the Church and church people any more; they started to change their lives and became Christians.
If you invite students to the church, they would attend it as an excursion. But when it is a scout camp, for example, I have a lot of time to talk to them. It is a tool of my pastoral service.
And I have never seen any "secret instructions" or "Masonic guidance". If anything like that happened, I would find out about it the first, since I'm a President of the organization. And believe me, I would never work in a Masonic organization!
My opponent rebuked us that the foreigners most likely were reading the prayers "in other languages". That's why I want to underline that we never cooperate with sects. Just young people from Norway and other countries were reading the "Paternoster" in their mother languages.
The critic says: "When you gather young people, why don't you do it at the church, from the very beginning?".
Well, I suggest the respected reader to try to take 20 young people into the church and make them stay there after the first Vigil Service. We use all the available ways and forms of work with youth. YMCA activities for me is one of such ways. I use everything, "put on any hat" to communicate to a young person and to lead him at least to the point of understanding that the God does exist and one should build relationships with Him.
Oleg Karpenko, a journalist of "the Church Orthodox newspaper":
At the beginning of his letter, our reader wrote that he is not intended to dispute to and he will not fight for his opinion, but only shares his observations. Nevertheless, his claims and accusatory tone is nothing but a controversy, - not only with our newspaper and the YMCA, but also with the Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (who blessed our publication), with the diocesan Bishop of priest Ievgenii Zhabkovskyi (who blessed him to work with the YMCA), with the Synod Department for youth affairs of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (which cooperates with this organization for a long time).
At the first sight, Mr. Pokrovskiy fairly notices: why do we need this secular youth organization if we have the Church where we can bring together young people. But it seems that the accuser of the YMCA hasn't done this by himself and can hardly imagine, how difficult it may be. Yes, the youth has now started going to the Churches. But let us be honest: how many of young orthodox people are there? In fact – not so many. And how many young hearts who are fighting the lie of this world are on the crossroad? It is a crime to wait till trouble or sorrow brings them to an orthodox temple. Isn't it better to search for a chance to meet them and to become "all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some of them" (1 Corinthians 9: 22)?
Article prepared by Oleg Karpenko
See the original text in Ukrainian here: http://cpgazeta-ru.blogspot.com/2011/11/ymca.html