Metropolitan Sheptytsky and present-day movements in Ukraine

 The situation in Ukraine questions in many ways. Corruption, inter-faith, connectedness or splits with Russia. There are different aspects that show the present-day Republic of Ukraine as a multi-faceted territory with different members of a mixed up nation. Do Ukrainians exist as such at the moment? Who is who, where, in what tongue, dialect, nationality, culture, mental references? There is the West, born from a rather Ukrainian-speaking tradition, former Habsburg and K u. K. region for the most, captured by the Russians, penetrated by the Slovaks, the Poles, the Romanians with the Russyn specificity in Trans-Carpathia.

In the East, the language is more russified, Russian is daily thinking and way of understanding history, economics. In the South, an embattled situation: approaching Odesa some years ago, I was told that they felt Russian and not Ukrainian even if the people do speak a mixture of the two Slavic tongues. Crimea thinks Russia/Russian, whilst the Gagauze are Turkish speakers, there are the Bessarabians and “Modovians”, people of German, Georgian, Romanian, Bulgarian and still the Jews in this historic cradle of “European if not Aryan” linguistic and mentally characterized region that spread to all directions till Caucasus and Persia. In the first centuries A.D., the Greek have been quite present as also the Jews, then the Khazars and the Muslims.

Ukraine is and remains “on a rope/ za kordonu – за кордону”, i.e. a region that, by nature and some cultural, identity and spiritual call has the task to link and not to control, to open the ways to vast and contrasted sectors of activities and historic prospects without playing, for now so many centuries, any ruling and decisional role.

Corruption is seemingly everywhere and mainly – so far it is confirmed and can be checked adequately – affects the authorities, the government, the police, the army, also the way the ordinary people out there in the country-side have lost the fundamentals of decency and self-control. There are very decent people in Ukraine, but relations are often and naturally “twisting”, even when there could be some rectitude. The problem is to know whether the country does exist. Is it not merely a “robot” born out of the collapse of the Russian Revolution and the thirst for a national self-ruled state, a republic that has started with the help of the Germans and the “German-speaking and Alemanic cultural Empires of Central Europe and the German Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm II”. Subsequently, Europe is important, Western religious and Christian prospects showed to be essential, but they could not break through for a long period of time. Rather, Western “intruders” crossed the “rope” and got swallowed: this did affect the Orthodox Church and the presence of the Catholics, Calvinists (15th century), the Lutheran and all possible splits that are present in the country for the moment.

This also explains why Germany is indeed capable to envision the situation while the Europeans as a whole are not that concerned or don’t have the parameters to get to the core of the local embattled issues.

Ukraine is also the mother of the officially baptized Rus’ of Kiev/Kyiv. This relates to the baptism that has rather been “imposed” by saint Vladimir (Volodymyr, Valdemar), a man of the Viking (Variag) tribes that had penetrated the immense territories of what further on developed int oRussia, Belarussia (White Russia or Belarus) and the Ukraine. Ukraine is merely a vast territory annexed by Catherine the Great for some regions but kept as “on the frontiers and barriers” of the Empire, always fencing and protecting the Empire form all the Asian invaders and the Polish-Lithuanian threats.

More than 170 years ago, empoverished Ukrainians (say to begin with those from the Western region of the Ukraine), used to travel and earn some money in North and South America. They are still very present in the Canadian Provinces of the West from Saskachewan to British Columbia and of course in the North of the United States. Other chose South America and Argentina for a great part.

The problem is growing as years pass: who is the true Rus’? Where is the authentic Rus’, if any? Who is or are the heirs of the Kievan Rus’?

The question may sound a bit bizarre. It is not. Over a century, the Church in the Russian Empire has survived as an undergrounds network of different jurisdictions. The Russian Orthodox Church has come out only twenty (20) years ago and quickly evolves, spreads, builds, creates structural bodies and call to priesthood, new forms of laity and re-deploys in new styles its dioceses/eparchies by appointing new bishops – hierarchs. The task is huge, impressive. It is brand new. The West had not really been prepared or gotten aware to witnessing to such a strong, powerful revival. Things cannot be perfects, there are a lot of defective aspects. Still, the re-deployment of the Orthodox Church in the lands of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova (as pointed by Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow and All Russia) is a tantamount work, born from the apostasy during the time of the communists. It is being built upon the ruins of communism and the people who join the Church have often been the members of the communist personnel, for some odd reasons or out of true convictions.

This makes the situation quite subtle for many and not quite understandable for the Westerners.

For decades, the Roman Catholic (Latin rite) Church had been convinced that the fall of communism will lead to a full renewal of the faith in the post-Tsarist and post-Soviet Empire and that they would join the Church of Rome. The Kievan Rus’ had been baptized in 988 AD., i.e. – and Vladimir Soloviev pointed out – that it has not been submitted to the East-West Roman Empire Church Great Schism byt the time of its adoption of Christianity, even in the Byzantine rite and cultural style.

The Catholic Church has strongly influenced the local Churches, but as coming from the West. Again and again, there is a permanent framing out of the Slavic area out of fear of external threats, especially from the Westerners. When the Russian Orthodox Church could re-develop in the immense territories of the former Empire, it got embattled with some other spiritual influences as also with traditionally very important Church, e.g. the Patriarchate of Georgia, on of the first autocephalous Churches of the Eastern tradition.

Ukraine has been a Soviet Republic, merely to make some balance with the West at the United Nation Organization. After 1994, the new republic had to find its way to true self-ruling and independence. In short, the Churches flourished in an area that is driven by the muli-creative aspect if not need for spiritual diversity and various “tastes”. The Baptists, Evangelicals, Messianics showed; some of these groups had strongly supported the underground Orthodox Church in times of hardships. The Catholics have always been present – the Greek Catholic (Ukrainian) also called “Uniates”, the Armenians, the Melkites (along with Antioch), the Nestorians/Assyrians and the large number of the Protestant Churches or “sects” (though the word is too deprecating in many ways).

With regards to the Greek Catholic Church of the Ukraine (Halych, Galicia, Kyiv and Lv’iv, Lemberg [Lwów, Lvov, Leopol]), it strongly revived under the exceptional impulse given by the outstanding personality of Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, Archbishop major of Lviv, often called “Patriarch” and whose personality influenced the whole of the Church. He had large views, prospects, visited North and South America, developed and trained his clergy and lay people. He journeyed with a large group to the Holy Land in 1916 and used to read Hebrew fluently (he also spoke Yiddish). He wrote and led with the help of his brother Klement (actually canonized by the Catholic Church and recognized as a Righteous from the Nations by Yad VaShem, Israel, which is not the case for the Metropolitan) an  Synod during the Second World War and saved a lot of Jews with much respect for their identity. He led this Synod from his wheel-chair and quite in full solitude. He died on November 1, 1944 and the Soviet authorities waited till the end of the 40 days of mourning before they started deporting the major part of the Greek Catholic Ukrainian clergy.

Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytsky was not a nationalist. His writings are too often misused for the benefit of “Ukrainian identity and national purposes”. His pastoral and liturgical works were conducted with the aim at uniting the Eastern traditions of the Slavic Byzantine Churches. He reinvigorated the Ukrainian rite that had been widely “westernized and latinized”. He was linked by his family backgrounds to the historic heads of the Kievan Church.

As Metropolitan Euloge, who was sent to Europe by Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and had retained Metro. Andrii in jail for a while in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution, wrote in his memories, he had been heartfeltly been welcomed by the Metropolitan at Lviv on his way to Europe and Metro. Andrii also helped him and his assistance Archbishop Vladimir to get the required laissez-passers for France via his connection with Georges Clémenceau.

This means that he showed to be a “man of the Ecclesia Universa” as the original Pentarchy is indeed both “Catholic (Κath’olon/Καθ’ολον = open to the totality, to all and all things) and Orthodox (OrthodoksisΟρθοδοξις = true faith, upright and just, authentic faith).

This is why the absence of Metropolitan Sheptytsky is felt in the present context of fightings, violence at Kiev in Ukraine. Some people – both clergy and lay people – may pretend that he is “invisibly” referred to. But there is not evidence that he is really mentioned in the actual environment and circumstances.

Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky has always been involved and interested in social affairs. On the other hand, he was very prudent with regards to the participation of the clergy in social demonstrations and movements for some specific reasons that are not linked to any sort of national, religious, spiritual putting aside or backlaid attitudes. It was more acute and insightful. Here is a first text as published in the book “Christian Social Ethics in Ukraine, the legacy of Andrei Sheptytsky” by Andrii Krawchuk, (Ottawa 1997, pp. 15-16):

“(A third area into which) Sheptytsky introduced adjustments was the social content of preaching. Excessive zeal had led some priests to preach their own social message in church. While Metropolitan Sheptytsky encouraged his priests to prepare for social action through intensive study of the social question and to acquaint themselves with the existing and theoretical and practical literature on the subject (“Перше слово растирія”, 1900), he also emphasized that they were not permitted to theorize or expostulate on socio-economic matters from the pulipt. A sermon was to remain the word of God, dealing only with the truth of the faith and morality. Not even the social activity of a priest, which was recognized as a necessary part of his pastoral ministry, could be the subject of a sermon if it did not deal directly with faith and morality. The only items relating to social action that could be inorporated int osermons were the church’s principles, which the Metropolitan summarized in five these: 1) that religion and morality are not private matters, but have social significance; 2) that in accordance with divine and natural law, a man may acquire and hold privtae property; 3) that all people ar equal in their nature and in the ultimate purpose of their life, but not in status, particular rights, or authority, and that striving for equality in everything is utopian; 4) that family bonds are sacred according to nature and natural law, and whoever undremines those bonds shakes the foundations of human happiness; and 5) that socialism, which rejects these truths, is hostile to God, the church, the faith and the good of the people.

This restriction of the content of the sermons was intended to prevent any confusion between Christianity and socialism or between a priest’s pastorla and social roles.

The corrective limits on social action were not the only practical significance of the guidelines. The Metropolitan did, after all, strongly support his church’s involvement in social action. He had indicated his perception of the universal social mission of the Church in 1900, as bishop of Stanyslaviv:

“Even today, [the Church] still has the same power [as before], which comforts the dying prisoner and the African Negro (sic) and enlightens the aboriginal American Indians; which stands up throughout the whole world in defence of the poor and does not hesitate, when necessary, boldly to level an accusation of lawlessness and injustice at even the greatest lords and princes of the world…”.

This is not the purpose to assess the accuracy of this appraisal of the contemporary church’s global social commitment, but only to indicate the kind of Christian social mission with which Sheptytsky was explicitly prepared to identify himself.

Note that Metropolitan Sheptytsky composed a prayer for the Ukrainian people that further confirmed his concern for their progress: “Bestow your blessing also upon the temporal welfare of our people, allowing them to develop the natural strengths that you have given them, grant them true and unspoiled enlightment, bless their work in all fields of science and welfare…” [Molytva za ruskyi narid/Молитва за рускії нарід, in Bozha Siiba, Zhovkva, 1913, p. 131.

The views of the Metropolitan are interesting and should, even with the gap of time that has passed, serve to envision a correct approach of the spiritual stand.

(to be continued in views of the Ukrainian situation)

protopresbyter Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]


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