Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytskyi: 65 anniversary of his repose

On Saturday, November 1, 2008, I published this note. Today, one year later, it is the 65th anniversary of the repose of this great man of the Church. It should be noted, that certainly for various reasons, this “deadline” date is not that mentioned. The problem is not to know whether Metropolitan Sheptytskyi was a Greek Catholic Ukrainian head of a Church that pathetically suffered during world war II and of course before. The point is the width, length, breadth, the in-depth insights that this remarkable servant of God has shown during his life.

I refuse to fence him in his “national” Church or inside the Eastern Catholic Rites. The Ukraine is a place of hardships at the moment. This concerns the political situation but also and mainly the sort of permanent “split” and taming process that shows in this place of God-seeking experience. I had underscored that Israel is a real social and political laboratory as Ukraine is in many ways. The personal destiny of Metropolitan Andrii meets with all the various elements that connect Judaism, Israel and The Ukrainian Church between Orthodoxy and other tendencies.

Present-day rlationships between Ukraine and Israel are somehow difficult. The late Metropolitan had written and thought a lot on his part and he saved a lot, extraordinary number of Jews in outstanding situaitons and actions. This should continue to pave the way for real dialogue.


Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytskyi / Слуга Б. митр. Андрей Шептицький of L’viv-L’vov/Львiв=Льов-Łwów-Lembergלביב-לעמבערג of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church passed away 65 years ago on November 1st [Greg. cal.]/Oct. 19 [Julian cal.] , 1944 – Heshvan 15, 5705 – ט”ו דחשון תש”ה. He was born in Prylbychi to an old Ukrainian family that then belonged to the Polish Roman Catholic noblesse. He decided to return to the Oriental rite, reinvigorated the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, revived the Basilian Studite Byzantine tradition, wrote and preached in Ukrainian. He was made a bishop in 1899 (Stanyslaviv). Assigned metropolitan of Lviv in 1900.

A Polish Ukrainian-born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire then under Ukrainan self-ruled short period of independence, heading his Church over Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia, Romania and the related diasporas, he was in jail under the tsarist regime (1914-1917), he had to face the Ukrainian civil war during the Bolshevik and Soviet period, then the first German occupation, the Nazi invasion, the Soviet rule.

During the Russian revolution, he heartedly welcomed in his monastery of Lviv his former jailer-keeper, Archbishop Eulogyi [and Abp. Vladimir] appointed by the Moscow Orthodox Patriarch St. Tikhon (murdered in 1927). He obtained the required documents for these two envoys of Patriarch Tikhon, which allowed them taking spiritual care of the Russian Orthodox refugees in Western Europe. Before World War I, he visited the Holy Land with groups of pilgrims. He also organized the Ukrainian Church in North and South America. He surely helped the Orthodox Church to get organized at the beginning of the 20th century, when for the first time after centuries, East and West rediscovered their heritage and roots. This slowly shows up at the present in the long series of encounters and missed rendezvous. He gave the example of conveying a constant dialogue with others, which is so important at the moment. He was a man inspirited by eternity.

He had been given special rights by the Popes from the very beginning of his ministry. They were confirmed by Pope Pius XII in order to resolve on his own the unbelievable confusing situation during World War II in his territory. During WWII, being lame in a wheel-chair, he conducted a permanent Synod sending “pastoral messages and letters” that were read in his eparchy/diocese of Ukraine. In his “труди – [Works]”, he fought all the then ongoing spiritual, moral, ethical, societal conflicts of a profoundly affected region. His famous pastoral letter “не убий – [Thou shalt not kill- לא תרצח “] ” condemned anti-Semitism and the deportation of the Jews.

Metropolitan Andrei fluently spoke many languages, i.a. French, German, English, Russian, read and spoke Hebrew and Yiddish (as late Moscow Patriarch Tikhon also did and showed when he was the Metropolitan of Vilnius). He had frequent meetings with Chief Rabbi Lewyn of Lviv who was murdered by the Nazis. He saved the son of the Rabbi and thousands of Jewish people. After the Shoah, the son of the Chief Rabbi, Kurt Lewyn, described his remarkable attitude in a book “A Journey through Illusions”. He is the only head of the Church who directly protested to Himmler and then Hitler [telexes] against the deportation, mass murder and extermination of the Jews. In the meanwhile he also had to face the Nazis and the Communists, being totally isolated though assisted by his brother Fr. Klement and a wide network of assistants. He was a man of prestige and unusual spiritual insights that influenced far beyond the framework of his own Church. He was a man of knowledge, a theologian, “a man beyond all standards/norms” as stated Prof. Gutman (specialist of the Shoah) in a meeting I attended some years ago in Jerusalem. There were few people of good will, a survivor and a specialist of his exceptional biography.

His brother Klement has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and recognized as a “Righteous among the Nations” by the Israeli Institute of Yad VaShem. The cause for the recognition of the unique attitude of the late Metropolitan was opened in the Roman Church on December 5, 1958. It is still pending: he has been denied by all parts although the prestige of his actions and positions are widely known. His personality was much respected: he died on November 1st, 1944. Stalin did not dare touch him or do take any action till the end of the 40 days of mourning. It appears that the Soviets deported the clergy and decided to erase his memory.

For years, I have been in contact with those in charge of his recognition. Metropolitan Andrei was considered by his flock as “the national [Ukrainian] Moses – рідним Мойсеєм”; he was definitely not a narrow-minded or stubborn nationalist. In the most hideous times of confused sequences of horrible periods, he became a true and outstanding witness. This deals with our own problems. Firstly in Israel: a rare man of knowledge and insightful prophetic views about the existence of the Jewish people in his area. His views about social care and welfare, dignity and ethics, economy and politics. He undoubtedly knew and experienced the in-depth meaning of true Christianity submitted to real vital faith and an incredible fighter for the life of every human being.

It will take a lot of time to understand such a character who confronted all sorts of paradoxes and messy events that continue to affect the development of the world today. He spoke with the words of his generation. He remains tremendously astounding in the present. We often think that we are open-minded and “universal” but we get afraid; then we frame, fence and block ourselves in all possible ways in our quest for identity, revenge or ignorance. Metropolitan Sheptytskyi never forced to foreign or alien creeds. He respected the souls and protected numerous peoples, in particular the Jews during the period of a full idolatry period of apostasy.

His writings and social activities should be a plus for Israel that encompasses the whole of the diversified multi-faceted aspects of humans that came from the Ukraine as survivors of the “Holodomor – голодомор” (mass murder through hunger in the Ukraine 1932-35). The Supreme Soviet intentionally assassinated through famine all the nations in Ukraine, to begin with the locals and Jews, Czechs, Gypsies and other peoples.

This is why the peaceful construction of a Jewish State will someday – in due time, when it will be a bit accessible for our faculties to reach out to the uniqueness of such a rare personality and man of faith. At this point, we are all, striving against the shading devils that have split our unity as human beings. It is not a time of opacity or blindness. We are marching in the future in the pangs of a long-term birthing process.

65 years ago, a man passed the borderline that connects the world of beneath and the world of above by witnessing in silence to the hope of his faith. There are borders and lines that constantly seem to postpone full understanding of out-the-way souls in exceptional situations. This happens with regards to Andrei Sheptytskyi. Still, his repose leads us onto a journey that will overcome one day the many illusions that continue to harm and hurt our generation. Contradiction is often a sign of positive struggle for life.

av aleksandr [winogradsky frenkel]

November 1st/October 19th, 2009 – י”ד דחשון תש”ע

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