"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday, 12 February 2016


In preparation for the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, we must realise that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church are not going to forget - even for a minute - their disagreement in which many complete refuse to see the other's point of view and have an inability to put themselves in the shoes of people on the other side, to see why the other side interprets what has taken place and what is taking place in a different way from themselves.   Watching the video of Metropolitan Hilarion and hearing his complaints, and then reading the statement by the Sheptytsky Institute, it becomes clear that the latter's call for dialogue is absolutely necessary.  However, calm dialogue while bullets are flying overhead is impossible.   First the bullets must stop.

Tradition, as expressed in the Byzantine Liturgy at what we call the offertory, at the kiss of peace, tells us that, in order to sing the Credo with one heart and one voice, we must love one another.  This is the basic commandment which authenticates everything else; while lack of love is the main obstacle to understanding.  Without love, even our understanding of history and our understanding of the news become distorted and even falsified. Even if our list of complaints against history or current events are correct, they cease to be capable of telling the whole story. History and news are reduced to propaganda.   This is because hatred is directed only to the bit of the person or group or nation that is hated, and everything else is related to that: only love can embrace the person, group or nation as a whole, in a way that what is bad or limited is acknowledged but placed within a context of a wider love: only love is realistic, only love is catholic.  

I wish I could say that one side so loves the other that its members' subjective appreciation of the truth does full justice to the historic and political realities; but we are all sinners, and this Lent in the year of Mercy may be a suitable time to examine and change our basic attitudes in line with Christ's commandment.

For now, let us listen to Metropolitan Hilarion's views, as expressed in this interview before commenting on some of his charges against the opposition to the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in the Ukraine.

The first thing to notice is that, on being asked to comment on a remark of Patriarch Kirill who said that President Putin's presidency is a miracle, Metropolitan Hilarion talked about the great poverty that existed before Putin and the very different world that Putin has brought about.  It is clear that ordinary bread and butter issues and our ordinary, everyday experience colours our beliefs.   

It must be admitted that the people of western Ukraine have far less pleasant memories of the Russians and the Russian Orthodox Church, and that these memories colour their beliefs and opinions.   There is the Holodomor of 1933 and the enforced suppression of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 1946. 
The Holodomor of 1933
Millions died because Stalin exported all available food to finance his heavy industry, leaving the population to starve.   Those who crossed into Russia to look for food were sent back to die.  A communist leader in the Kharkiv district wrote in 1934:
“Famine in Ukraine was brought on to decrease the number of Ukrainians, replace the dead with people from other parts of the USSR and thereby to kill the slightest thought of any Ukrainian independence.“
On the whole, the Russians have either denied it ever happened, or - when the evidence became too great - denied that the Ukraine had been singled out and that many died in Russia too.   The Holodomor is for the Russians what the slaughter of the Armenians is to the Turks. The rest of the world believe neither the Russians nor the Turks.

The important thing is that the Russians and Ukrainians have two different, conflicting narratives about the Holodomor; and this is an adequate reason to explain anti-Russian sentiment, especially in the West.  If the Russians want to be accepted, the Holodomor needs to be dealt with, not simply denied or pushed under the carpet.   As it was a direct result of Russian government policy, an apology may be in order, or, at least a joint study of the facts.

The pseudo-Synod Of Lviv, 1946.

Here is an account of these events by an Orthodox historian, Dr Vladimir Moss: 
"After the Soviet victory in the war, it was the turn of the Soviets and the Sovietized Moscow Patriarchate to apply pressure. Towards the end of the war it was suggested to the uniate episcopate in Western Ukraine that it simply “liquidate itself”. When all five uniate bishops refused, in April, 1945, they were arrested. Within a month a clearly Soviet-inspired “initiative movement” for unification with the MP headed by Protopresbyter G. Kostelnikov appeared. By the spring of 1946 997 out of 1270 uniate priests [78%] in Western Ukraine had joined this movement. On March 8-10 a uniate council of clergy and laity meeting in Lvov [in St George's Cathedral] voted to join the Orthodox Church and annul the Brest unia with the Roman Catholic Church of 1596. Those uniates who rejected the council were forced underground. Similar liquidations of the uniate churches took place in Czechoslovakia and Romania… Central Committee documents show that the whole procedure was controlled by the first secretary of the Ukrainian party, Nikita Khruschev, who in all significant details sought the sanction of Stalin."[3]

According to the letter, written on September 24, 1949, to first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine M. Khrushchev by the head of the Council on Matters of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Council of Ministers of the USSR G. Karpov, between March 1946 and August 1949 to the ROC were passed “3,001 Uniate parish churches, 1,242 priests, 463 deacons, and 1,018 psalmists in the Zakarpattya, Drohobych, Lviv, and Stanislaviv regions.”

What happened to those who remained faithful to Rome?   Thousands were moved in cattle trucks, to prison camps,  I knew an old lady who, at the age of ten, was shipped in a cattle truck to Siberia, to work.  Her only crime: being Catholic.  She told me she was given a slice of bread a day.  Others had their children taken away from them. Many were tortured, others were killed.  Many avoided all this by becoming Orthodox.  It was believed in Rome, as well as in Russia, that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had been eliminated.

  Hence the surprise when, in 1990, freedom of religion was, once more, permitted, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church rose again.  Many Orthodox who had only been Orthodox under duress, began to return to the Greek Catholic Church.  The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is now the largest Eastern church in communion with Rome.

Several things resulted from these events which are with us today: 

  • Once the Greek Catholic Church became free under the Law to practise its religion, they would reclaim their churches.   The Lviv Synod was totally uncanonical because all the legitimate bishops were in prison.  If this synod had been organised by the Polish government against an Orthodox church, the Russian Orthodox Church would be shouting foul.  Instead, it sulks.  In the nineties, about 500 churches returned to Greek Catholic ownership, often through decisions of the courts.
  • Catholics taken in cattle trucks to different parts of the Soviet Union became Christian communities ready to burst out in all types of Catholic activity once freedom was granted. Orthodox authorities have complained that these Greek Catholic parishes are out side their traditional area: they forget the cattle trucks.
  • By supporting the practice of bringing Greek Catholics into communion with Moscow under threat of losing their children, exile, torture and death, they imported into the Orthodox Church people who would become Greek Catholic again, once the opportunity presented itself, as well as others who have become content with Orthodox teaching, but who have no love for the Russian Orthodox Church because of its ties with Stalin.  In other words, by importing so many reluctant converts, the Russian Orthodox Church was importing a tendency towards schism.
  • They also left themselves open to a comparison being made between the Orthodox Church that colaborated with the Atheist regime and the Greek Catholic Church that didn't.
  • On the other hand, history has helplessly mixed up religion with politics, and  it can be argued by Russians that the formation of the Greek Catholic Church was as much the result of Polish aggression as its elimination is the result of Russian aggression.  It could be asked how many of the churches confiscated from the Greek Catholics in 1946 were Orthodox before the Union of Brest. 
  • Hence, there are  opposing versions of history that continue to wound both sides; and the only solution to this is to arrive together at a single, more nuanced, holistic version; and this can only be arrived at if they love one another; and this requires Lenten conversion of heart.
  • However the Greek Catholic Church came to be, its members are innocent of what happened before, they have a right to exist, and the Russian Orthodox and the Greek Catholics have to put up with one another; just as the Palestinians and Jews can only progress in dialogue.
  • There are many people for whom the Orthodox liturgy and communion with Rome are essential parts of their religion.   Stalin threw at them everything he could: no pain, no suffering, no threats, not even the threat of death could defeat them. Stalin is now just a bad memory, and the Greek Catholics are a flourishing church.  They have earned through suffering the right to be part of the process towards unity; chiefly, I believe, as a means of educating Latin Catholics on the marvels of Eastern Christianity, showing us how much richer is Catholic Tradition than the merely Latin stream.

If the "uniate" was is not the correct way to unity, as both pope and patriarchs are agreed, what is the way?   Before we discuss this, let us first listen to Pope Francis, speaking to Patriarch Bartholomew and his bishops and priests at the Phanar, after the Divine Liturgy:
Pope Francis says that, in seeking full communion with the Orthodox, the Catholic Church imposes no conditions, only a shared profession of faith.  Moreover, we wish to seek the way we can guarantee the unity of the Church in the light of Scripture and the experience of the Church in the first millenium.    Patriarch Bartholomew speaks of a  primacy of love, of honour and of service within the context of synodality - echoes of the Ravenna Document.   We have seen in the two synods on the family how Pope Francis is already putting the Ravenna Document into practice!   The two titles he uses of the many history has passed down to him express the same doctrine: "Bishop of Rome" and "servant of the servants of God".

The pope's teaching is not an example of weak-kneed liberalism nor is it minimalist.  It is a sound position based on good ressourcement principle, in continuity with Vatican II and his immediate papal predecessors.  It is based on the following principles:

  1. As it says in the first chapter of Sacrosanctum Concilium (document of Vatican II On the Liturgy), the liturgy is the source and goal of all the Church's powers.  It follows that all the Church's powers arise in the local eucharistic church and not in the universal Church.   This is borne out in history in that Catholic Tradition, the product of the synergy between thhe Holy Spirit and the Church, has taken many forms within regions that have as their centre a particular missionary church, the greatest in the early Church being Alexandria, Antioch and Rome, but there were and are many others. Just as the gospels each gives us the complete Gospel, each in its own way, so each of these traditions is complete in that each portrays Christ who is the fullness of revelation and the basic content of each, and each is a version of the one Tradition that comes from the apostles.
  2. While it is the duty of each family of churches to keep its tradition intact, as it has been passed down from the apostles, the full richness of Catholicism can only be reached by discovering the common Tradition behind its tradition and by looking for solutions to pastoral problems and inspiration in theology and spirituality, not only within one's own tradition, but in other traditions. All of the traditions are the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church; and this is an extension of the divine-human synergy enjoyed by the Church with the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist.
  3. It follows that the Church, by its very nature, is a unity discovered and operating in diversity.   The bishops represent the universal Church in their local churches and the diversity of their local churches in the universal Church.  The Primate represents the universal love of God which is the source of their identity with one another which forms them into a single organism, whether it be local, regional or universal
  4. It used to be held in Catholic circles that doctrine develops down the ages into ever greater clarity.Nowadays it is realised that doctrine cannot be separated from other aspects of Christian life, especially the quest for union with God, that there can be a forgetting as well as a remembering, and that insights into the truth can be found in the past or in a different tradition within the Church. However, Tradition has the same authority all down the ages, from the time of the apostles till now.
  5. Hence, if something was allowed in one century and has not been an obstacle to sanctity in the past, there is nothing against the Church adopting it again if the conditions are right.
  6. At a time when authentic strands of Tradition are coming together, authentic traditions that have been separated by schism, then it seems a good time to apply this principle. In the first millenium, those who believed in a very high doctrine of the papacy rubbed shoulders with those who were unaware of that tradition, and there were saints in both areas.  If this is so, then the Church authority (the Pope) has no right to impose that doctrine on the other side, even if it is a dogma in our own church.  This because the pope is a servant of Tradition, and not its master, and the Orthodox tradition  has the same authority as his own.  All that he can ask is that the other side does not reject the papal dogma as heresy, and holds a view in harmony with the Church of the first millenium.  Both sides have passed down the apostolic Tradition that has been given to them, but its development in both churches bears the mark of their separate histories in the second millenium.  The churches recognise each other as sister churches: the rest  can be left to the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth. There is a precedent.

In fact, the above solution was already accepted in practice after Vatican I!   The Melkites had united with Rome, not as a result of Jesuit missionaries or foreign interference but as a result of a split in the Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Patriarch and a portion of clergy and faithful, together with their own theologians and tradition, broke with Constantinople and came into communion with Rome.   They considered themselves as "Orthodox in communion with Rome".  However, at Vatican I, they rejected the papal dogmas as contrary to Orthodox tradition and said that they continued to accept the Pope as the Orthodox did in the first millenium. When made to sign the Vatican I dogmas, they added a note that they only accepted them in so far as they were consistent with their own Tradition. They made a major contribution to Vatican II, representing, in the words of the patriarch, all the Orthodox bishops who, for historical reasons, could not be there.  They continue in  that position to the present day, and thus have set a precedent.


One of the things that fiercely divides the Orthodox is their relations with Rome.  This is especially true within Russia and Greece.   There are many who hold that Catholic sacraments are invalid because they are celebrated outside the unity of the Church, that Catholic saints and spirituality are a sham for the same reason.  In the 19th century, many accepted wholesale Protestant polemic against Catholicism, and the pope is the whore of Babylon and anti-Christ.   In Soviet Russia, the authorities were happy to favour anyone who spoke of Catholicism in those terms.

At the same time, there have always been places where close relations between Catholics and Orthodox existed at humble levels.  I spoke to a Greek Orthodox priest who said, "We are not in communion because we disagree about the pope.  We don't want the pope.  However, we agree at an ordinary day to day level that we are sister churches, and are willing to help one another when extraordinary circumstances dictate.   For instance, I looked after a Jesuit parish for a few weeks when no Catholic substitute could be found.  I was instructed by my bishop not to use the Roman canon because it does not have an epiclesis, but I used one of the other ones.  Doing something like that is not normal, but happens in  a crisis.  Usually we are friends, but friends who disagree."

With those two realities in mind, listen to the pope and also the patriarch of Constantinople's reply.  See how Rome is already putting the Ravenna document in practice.   It looks as though reunion is just round the corner.  It would split Orthodoxy right down the middle.  And this is happening just when Patriarch Kirill and "Putin's God Squad" are trying to restore Holy Russia, when Orthodox unity is paramount.  Rome has a lot to offer to Moscow as the Orthodox Church strives to re-convert the Russians, and Russian Orthodoxy has much to offer the Catholic Church in the New Evangelisation; but unity will never work until we love one another, and we don't.  Giving the impression that unity is just round the corner could gravely damage the bid to convert Russia.  Russia wants a different approach: close cooperation in things that will not challenge slavic xenophobia: hence, the meeting in Cuba.                           

Statement Regarding the Meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Cuba
February 5, 2016

Statement of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies Regarding the Meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba


The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, welcomes the announcement of the Holy Father’s meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba this Friday, February 12. We consider this an opportunity for Pope Francis to raise important issues that have been of grave concern to Eastern Catholics and many others for more than two decades.

Among these issues, beginning with the most recent, are the following:

1. The support by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate for the Kremlin’s aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
The violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine is contrary to all international law, in particular, the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 to which the Russian government was a signatory. We believe that as a Christian institution the Moscow Patriarchate is obliged to challenge the Russian government’s violent activity in Ukraine, activity that has led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians.

2. The Moscow Patriarchate’s promotion of the notion of a “Russian World” (Russkii Mir).
This notion has provided an ideological foundation for the Russian government’s aggression in Ukraine. The idea of a “protectorate” to be exercised by Russia within Ukraine and other sovereign countries has hampered inter-ethnic harmony and understanding. It evokes the Russification policies of the USSR.

3. The Moscow Patriarchate’s continued misrepresentation of ecclesiastical events in Ukraine.
Frequently, the free and legitimate desire of Christians in Ukraine to choose which Church they belong to, is portrayed by the Moscow Patriarchate as the seizure of her parishes by “illegitimate,” and even “violent,” means. Ukraine does not have an established Church or religion. Its legislation in this area is fully pluralistic. Consequently, attempts by the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine to gain privileged status run counter to the separation of church and state in Ukraine. In fact, it is the Moscow Patriarchate’s false or exaggerated accusations of violence that engender hostility among Christians who might otherwise resolve these issues of ecclesial allegiance with far less rancor. The Moscow Patriarchate should be apprised of the fact that in Ukraine her desire to maintain the kind of privileged status that it enjoyed under Communism is harmful to its own interests – not to mention the proclamation of the Gospel.

4. The Moscow Patriarchate’s claims against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Since the emergence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from the underground in 1989, the Moscow Patriarchate has consistently made mendacious accusations against the UGCC. These began with claims of “violent take-overs” of parishes in Western Ukraine and continued with false reports of proselytism, which have never been substantiated. Meanwhile, the parishes that chose to break with Moscow in the early 1990s were all parishes that had been part of the UGCC until 1946. In that year the Soviet government, with the complicity of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, forcibly liquidated the UGCC throughout the USSR. The unwillingness of the Moscow Patriarchate to honestly discuss these matters is another impediment to the healing of memories, promoted so eloquently by Saint John Paul II. Moreover, every time that the Moscow Patriarchate has been asked to provide a list of the victims of violence – with medical reports etc – it has failed to do so.

5. An unwillingness of institutions associated with the Moscow Patriarchate to publicly study the events of March, 1946 in an objective manner.
Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the Pseudo-Synod of Lviv of 1946. It was at that gathering that the Soviet government declared the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church illegal. This led to the forced deportation of tens of thousands of Catholics and the countless deaths of those who refused to leave the Catholic Church and join the Russian Orthodox Church. In view of the constant misrepresentation of these events by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, last year the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies invited an academic institution with ties to the Moscow Patriarchate to cosponsor an international conference on the events of 1946. The conference would have provided an excellent opportunity for both sides to objectively and fairly study the facts. The request fell on deaf ears. Consequently, we ask His Holiness, Pope Francis to propose such a conference to Patriarch Kirill, and hereby assert our desire to cooperate in its realization. We believe that such a conference could foster the “Dialogue of Truth” suggested by the Balamand Statement of 1993. It would also provide an opportunity for Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, more specifically, Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Russian Orthodox, to move in the direction of a broader dialogue. We hope that Patriarch Kirill’s willingness to overcome the reluctance to meet the Pope – a reluctance that has inevitably led to the perception that the Moscow Patriarchate fears the truth and avoids open dialogue – will also lead to a willingness to confront the issues listed above in a fair and truly Christian manner. The cause of the Gospel and the credibility of Christ’s Church can only benefit from such dialogue – if the dialogue is indeed sincere and open.

It is reported that among the chief aims of the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will be to discuss support for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies is truly gratified to hear this. We believe that the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East has been virtually ignored in some circles, including certain Western governments.

In conclusion, we shall indeed be praying for God’s blessing on this historic meeting between the Pope and Patriarch. We ask that the Spirit of Truth guide all those involved in this meeting and those reporting on it. May that Heavenly King indeed come and dwell within us and purify all our intentions and actions (cf. Byzantine-Rite Prayer to the Holy Spirit).

Contact: Rev. Peter Galadza, PhD

Acting Director, Sheptytsky Institute, Saint Paul University

The problem with Sandro Magister's view is that, while the Ukrainian Catholics are understandably against Putin, Syrian Christians have been taking out Russian passports for a long time now, knowing that he is the only one who has spoken up for them. The persecution of Christians has been largely ignored in the West 

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