Today, on November 1st, 1944, i.e. 70 years ago, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptysky, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church passed away after nearly 44 years of hard and persistant, tenaceous work for his flock and the union of the Churches.
He never focused on any sort of nationalism, had the courage to come back to the old way of being a Christian in the Church of Kiev, the first historic Rus’ of Kiev before any split. As Vladimir Soloviev pointed out, the Rus was baptized when Rome and Constantinople were still in full communion. He corrected many things, coming closer to Orthodoxy and assisting the then-revived Patriarchate of Moscow to find its way to Europe, at a time when the Westerners had totally forgotten about the essential heritage that linked the two parts of the Roman Empire Pentarchy.
Kyr Sheptytsky was also a learned man of God, born to a society in Central and Eastern Europe that was intermingling all sorts of nations and creeds, denominations and jurisdictions. He knew Hebrew quite well, Yiddish which was not quite frequent at the time. As an Israeli priest, I have to underscore his actions to prevent the deportation and extermination of the Jews that were so numerous in Ukraine and the Galician-Ludomirian Empire at that time as in all the marches of the Russian Empire.
He telexed to Himmler, directly saved and protected (without baptizing them) thousands of Jews thus imperiling his own status while facing the nazis, the Soviet communists and somehow his own Catholic Church. His tbeatification trial started in 1958, twice stopped by the Polish Catholics, though always reopened by the popes. Some few members of my family (Frenkel side) were saved by him though they got killed a bit later by the Soviets.
I worked with late Bishop Michael Hrynchyshyn [+ November 12, 2012] who had been the postulator for his canonization. In 2005, the one and only meeting took place in Jerusalem, headed by Prof. Gutman (former chairman of Yad VaSHem), Prof. Redlich and some survivors and we were a handful. I was the only priest to attend the meeting. Ever since, no meeting took place though Israel has a very strong link with Ukraine, L’viv, the Christian denominations there.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky chose love instead of hatred that had been prevailing over centuries of profound common life between the Ukrainians and the Yiddishkayt/Jewishness and emergence of the Hassidic movements. Opacity is easier that a mishmashing dialogue.
In 1999, I had been appointed the “spiritual director” of the Association of “the Ukrainians in the Holy Land” and am still the only Orthodox priest to systematically include prayers in Ukrainian beside hearing confessions or performing weddings with some parts in the language. I chose this because from hatred to peaceful life with the Jews in Hebrew, Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish is somehow a gift in which late Metropolitan Andrei does participate on his way to sainthood to and for all of us the living. Memory eternal, זכרונו לברכה, Вечная память – Вічна пам’ять, מיט אייביקער רו!