"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

Monday 14 November 2016



I accepted a two-week holiday in Ukraine with a certain amount of hesitation because up till then I had done nothing to offend members of the Russian Orthodox Church, many of whom are my friends, for whose church and tradition I have the greatest respect and affection. What makes the situation problematic is that the schism between Orthodoxy and the "Greek Catholics" is still an open wound, still hurting and  still bleeding,  especially for the Russians.   

It does not help that, for all their wonderful liturgy and spirituality, their incomparable Russian novels and their delightful hospitality, so many Russian Orthodox seem to have a peculiar interpretation of history, more like propaganda than history, with no  attempt to see the other side.   Even people like Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk who studied at Oxford seem unable to admit that that there are more sides to the argument than theirs and that Greek Catholics of the Ukraine are as much victims of injustice and cruelty as anybody else in this sad story.

I was met at Kiev airport by a seminarian called Oleg.  He wore an Eastern-style cassock with a cloth belt and  on his wrist a chotki  (an Orthodox rosary, sometimes called a "Jesus rosary" in the West because it is used in a continuous invocation of the name "Jesus").  He is obvious very competent, and he spent the time between my arrival and my night train showing me around Kiev in a car.  We also had an excellent meal of borsch and Ukrainian salad before he bundled me into the train for a six-hour journey to Lviv.

Oleg, besides studying theology, spends some of his spare time as a member of a movement of young people who, in the the spirit of Jean Vanier and L'Arche, befriend and accompany mentally handicapped people. The movement in Kiev has three chaplains, two Catholic priests and one Orthodox (of the Kiev Patriarchate - more about that later).

Kiev is a very beautiful city.   Its majestic buildings, wide avenues and glorious churches uplift the heart.   Also, while there is quite a lot of traffic during the day, in the evening, at least in the parts that Brother Oleg showed me, the traffic was very light, and there was none of the bustling chaos that is a characteristic of night life in all the other capitals that I have known.   Perhaps the people are not accustomed to a night life, or perhaps money is scarce and they let their hair down only at the weekend.
Oleg eventually took me to the train for Lviv, (or Lvov for the Russians).   At the entrance to the station is a Macdonalds which, he told me, delivers more fast food than any other Macdonalds in Europe.  I had difficulty climbing the stairs up into the train and had to be helped by Oleg and a passer by.  I was given a bottom bunk and passed an uneasy six hours ride to Lviv.
Father Panteleimon is on the right
We are in the Basilian noviciate

Father Panteleimon  met me at Lviv railway station.   He is a Basilian monk and was wearing their habit which looks like an Oratorian or Redemptorist habit, with a white, open collar, standard clerical dress in the West two centuries ago.  Round his waist he wore a leather belt.  (On Sunday and feastdays, they wear a black hood and cloak which is the equivalent of a cowl)
Father Panteleimon (nearest) with Basilian students in the chapel

The late Father Dyfrig, a member of my community, a close friend of Father Panteleimon and also a friend of mine, told me that there are two tendencies in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.   One is "Catholics of Byzantine Rite" whose theology and attitudes are very much the same as their western counterparts, even though they celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite.   If they are Basilian monks, they wear a wide black sash round the waist.   Then there are "Orthodox in union with Rome" whose theology, spirituality and mind-set are typically Orthodox except for the fact that they are in union with Rome; and,  if they are Basilians, they wear a leather belt.   Father Panteleimon wears a leather belt but told me that there is no such clear cut difference between sash wearers and those who wear a belt. 

Father Panteleimon is from Donbas, in Eastern Ukraine where the fighting is.  He is half Russian and half Ukrainian and was baptised and brought up Russian Orthodox  His parents are academics, as is he.  According to Father Dyfrig, when he expressed the wish to embrace the monastic life, it was to be in some Russian Orthodox monastery; but his parents told him that there is a problem he should look at before he entered a monastery: it was the conflicting claims of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.   He followed their advice which resulted in him joining the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the monastic Basilian Order.  

He met me as I was collecting my things ready to get off the train and drove me to the seminary of the order of which he is rector.

Lviv is another beautiful city with its parks, fine buildings, monasteries and churches. "Ukraine", I was told, means "borderland", and there is no city so much a border than Lviv.  It was founded as a city in 1256 but was raised to the ground by the Taters only a few years later.  It was rebuilt in 1270 and became capital of Galicia-Volhinia. 

 Very soon, it became a centre  of trade, and Poles, Germans and Armenians settled there.   In 1323, the city passed to Boleslaus of Masovia who became Orthodox.  The local nobility were not in agreement, so they poisoned him.   He died in 1340 and the city passed by inheritance to King Casimir III of Poland.  Then followed a bewildering succession of invasions and squabbles until it settled down as a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  There were three cathedrals, Roman Catholic (Latin), Greek Catholic and Armenian.  Apart from being sacked by the Swedes during the war with the Taters, Lviv continued under Poland until it was annexed by Austria in 1772 under its German name of Lemburg.  It became a typical city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, it could easily be mistaken for an Austrian city.

In 1910, there was a census by the Austrian government: 51% of the population were Roman Catholics, 28% were Jews, and 19% were Greek Catholics.   86% spoke Polish and 11% preferred to speak Ukrainian.   There were no Orthodox parishes, all Eastern rite churches being Greek Catholic, though they had been Orthodox under the Constantinople before the Union of Brest in 1595.

After the first World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to an end and, eventually Lviv became part of Poland and this lasted until the Russians and Germans attacked as allies, though their alliance was short-lived.  Lviv was first occupied by the Russians and then, in 1941, by the Germans.   Some western Ukrainians rejoiced at the German takeover and even joined the German army; but others, perhaps the majority, took part in a guerilla war against both Russians and Germans.  When the Russians took over at the end of World War II,it became part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, and Stalin decided to wipe out the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
This was done with a ruthlessness and a cruelty that was Stalin's trademark.   All the bishops were either dead or imprisoned or in exile.  An uncanonical synod of Lviv in 1946 cancelled the Union of Brest; priests who did not obey the new situation were imprisoned, tortured or even murdered  and people were loaded into cattle trucks and sent to concentration camps.  Churches that had been Greek Catholic since 1595  became Orthodox.   All this was reversed once Gorbachov allowed freedom of religion.

My first visit was to the Greek Catholic cathedral of St George.  There had been a church there since 1280 which was destroyed by the Poles in 1340, after which a Byzantine church was built.   In July, 1700, the local bishop here proclaimed union with the Holy See in this church, formally accepting the Union of Brest (1595).    The present church began in 1746, and it became the metropolitan church for the whole Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Following the Second World War, Soviet authorities began persecuting the UGCC, imprisoning the newly ordained Archbishop of Lviv, Josyf Slipyj, in 1945, as well as the rest of the church hierarchy. In March 1946, the cathedral hosted the Synod of Lviv, which nullified the Union of Brest. A young Volodymyr Sterniuk (future archbishop and leader of the UGCC) concealed in the church loft, witnessed the decision to enjoin the Metropolinate of Halychyna with the Russian Orthodox Church, along with the rest the catholic parishes across Soviet Ukraine. The Cathedral was reconsecrated as Saint Yury's, and became the mother church of the Lvіv-Ternopіl diocese.

The UGCC reemerged in 1989, when it was recognized by the Soviet authorities in the midst of Perestroika, and began to reclaim parishes which they had ceded 45 years earlier. On August 12, 1990, members of the nationalistic People's Movement of Ukraine party occupied and commandeered the cathedral. Two days later, the governing council of the Lviv Oblast recognized UGCC's claim of the cathedral, and it has remained a centre for the UGCC throughout the early years of Ukraine's independence until 2005 when the head of the UGCC moved his seat to the nation's captial, Kiev (more later).

My guide, Brother Matthew of the Basilians, directed my attention to the wonder-working icon of Our Lady, which is one reason why people visit the cathedral.   Also on display was a large copy of the Holy Shroud of Turin (my guide in his Basilian habit is just in the picture):
Down a steep staircase is a crypt in which the major archbishops of the UGCC are buried.  People were visiting the graves with great devotion as to saints.  
another church, another miraculous icon

We then went on to visit other greek catholic churches before returning to the monastery.  I asked how, on independence, it was decided which churches should be returned to the Catholics, and which would be retained by the Orthodox.  Many became Catholic when the clergy left the Orthodox Church and became Catholics: this was quite common: the churches were originally made Orthodox by force, so that, when it was no longer obligatory, they reverted.  A monk pointed out one church where the change was messy, and there had been a court case.  However, on the whole, the transition was relatively peaceful.  It may have been different in other parts of Ukraine.

The Basilian monks are building a very beautiful church in classical Byzantine style in their seminary, but it is taking a long time due to lack of funds.
Divine Liturgy (Mass) in the seminary.

  Meanwhile, they have a modern chapel at the end of the refectory where they sing their Office and celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

  I concelebrated every day: I have the hang of it by now and can celebrate prayerfully without losing my place.  I find no contrast between my normal Mass and the Divine Liturgy, nor do I celebrate in a different spirit; but the experience of celebrating in the Byzantine rite certainly adds to my devotion when I am celebrating my ordinary Mass in English or Spanish: it has a lasting effect.  God is Good!!
Dr Roman Zaviyskyy, Me, Fr Panteleimon

One day, Father Panteleimon, Brother Pio and I went to visit Dr Roman Zaviyskyy who was another close friend of Father Dyfrig at Belmont.   He has a doctorate in theology of Oxford University and is Dean of the Philosophy and Theology Faculty of the Ukrainian Catholic University.   Here is his account of recent Ukrainian Catholic history:
What struck me was the beauty of the icons in the modern faculty chapel:
faculty chapel
We were invited to be present at the consecration of the new university church.  It isn't finished yet, still needing the icons, iconostasis etc.  However, it has good lines, and I much prefer it to the new cathedral in Kiev, but of that, more later.  The episcopal synod of the UGCC was meeting in Lviv when I arrived, and the consecration of the  new church was the final closing event. I was placed just behind the bishops:

Because we had time, we visited a small wooden church with very interesting "royal doors" - the central double doors leading directly to the holy table or throne (altar).  They show Jesse from whose body grows his rod which flowers at the top of the doors, producing a cross that signifies Christ.  Between Jesse and Christ there are depicted Christ's royal ancestors who descended from Jesse.
Great Vespers at the Lavra of the Holy Dormition

At the consecration of the church, I met for the first time the abbot and one of the monks of the Univ Lavra of the Dormition.  They are Ukrainian Catholic monks of the Studite Rule, and their aim is to be as authentic monasteries of the Eastern Orthodox tradition as possible.A couple of days later, I went to stay there in the company of Father Manuil who had stayed in Belmont for two extended periods.  Later, he was to be my guide in Kiev.
Lavra Univ of the Dormition
Most of the monks were on retreat in another monastery, so only a skeleton crew was present.  Here we are in the refectory:
Father Manuil is next to me.  Following the Orthodox tradition, there is a fully blown church sanctuary in the refectory, thus showing the connection between liturgy and the ordinary rite of eating:
Here is a photo of Hieromonks Manuil, Makary and myself.

The community is quite large, and there is at least one recluse who rarely leaves his cell.   Twenty members of the community were martyred in Stalin's purge, while others spent much time in gulags; and there is a glass case in which small chalices etc are shown: they were used for the secret celebration of the Divine Liturgy during the persecution.

The monastery originally came into being for the holy well dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.  A smattering of people come in dribs and drabs all the time to collect the water for all kinds of purposes; and there are large pilgrimages which draw thousands.  
The blessing of water on August 1st
One such is on the feast of the Dormition (the Assumption of Our Lady) in which there is the ceremony of the Burial of Our Lady, her death and assumption into heaven being THE perfect example of what happens to Christians when they die.  The festivity begins at the beginning of August when the abbot placed a crucifix three times into a large container of water.  This reminds us of what happens on the feast of the Theophany (Epiphany).  The latter feast celebrates the Baptism of Christ: on the 1st of August, they celebrate our own baptism, in which we share in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Then follows a strict fast which ends with the Burial of the Mother of God, though many forget to fast nowadays.  Here is the funeral procession of Our Lady:

Then there is the entombment:

Some will be surprised that there should be such a ceremony in the Byzantine liturgy as "The Burial of the Theotokos".  There is a pious belief in the West that Mary did not die.  This is what happens when either East or West regard their own Tradition as the whole and speculate in their own terms as though the other Tradition is not properly Catholic.   Pope St John Paul II said:

Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did not die and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory. However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century, whereas a common tradition actually exists which sees Mary's death as her entry into heavenly glory.
2. Could Mary of Nazareth have experienced the drama of death in her own flesh? Reflecting on Mary's destiny and her relationship with her divine Son, it seems legitimate to answer in the affirmative: since Christ died, it would be difficult to maintain the contrary for his Mother.
The Fathers of the Church, who had no doubts in this regard, reasoned along these lines. One need only quote St Jacob of Sarug (d. 521), who wrote that when the time came for Mary "to walk on the way of all generations", the way, that is, of death, "the group of the Twelve Apostles" gathered to bury "the virginal body of the Blessed One" (Discourse on the burial of the Holy Mother of God, 87-99 in C. Vona, Lateranum 19 [1953], 188). 

My Visit to Fr Manuil's Parents

My last visit in Western Ukraine was to the parents of Father Manuil.  His Father was brought up Russian Orthodox and studied for the priesthood in Russia.  When the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church became legal, he and his village became Greek Catholic automatically.  After all, they had been made Orthodox by force.

I did not have the opportunity to ask him why he "poped", as the Anglicans would say.  He is certainly a patriotic Ukrainian, as is his son.   In fact, he is a military chaplain and proudly showed me his uniform which had been a gift from the British Army.  He was off the next week on a military pilgrimage.  He clearly resents Russia, but wasn't too keen on Poland either.  He sees the Eastern Catholic Church as the church of western Ukraine.   Of course, he has no problem with Catholic teaching either.

Travelling through the countryside, we went through village after village, and practically all were Catholic, with their Byzantine village church, some quite modern, all very beautiful, like the one in the picture.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, while I was enjoying Ukrainian hospitality, said at the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue at Chieti in September 2016:
“The actions of the Greek Catholics in Ukraine and their aggressive rhetoric aimed against (targeting) the Orthodox Church indicate (show) that the Unia remains a bleeding wound on the body of Christendom and the main stumbling block in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.”

The tragedy of Catholic-Orthodox schism is that, when it occurred, and whenever it occurred because it didn't all happen at once, neither side was conscious of any break with its past, any change of belief, any difference of teaching.  Each side blamed the other  for the split and regarded itself as the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church", and there was nothing in its own experience to contradict this assumption.  Each  saw the obvious bad effects of schism in the other church and saw only continuity in its own from apostolic times to the present day.

Under these sad circumstances, with each church making such exclusive claims, it made sense when the parents of Father Panteleimon told him that he had to decide between the competing claims of Orthodoxy and Catholicism.  The  Union of Brest (1595-6) and the activities by the Russian government in the nineteenth and early twentieth century pre-suppose this stark alternative between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  Actually, with Ukraine being the borderland between Western Europe and the Eastern Slav lands, where western influences melt into Russian ones, it is not surprising that the Ukrainian Catholic Church should exist with characteristics of both.

Metropolitan Hilarion wants a solemn repudiation of the Union of Brest.  Personally, I would be against any move to question the UGCC's right to exist.  It is a sui iuris local church  which won its right to exist by martyrdom.  I believe that any repudiation by the Catholic Church of the Brest Union must also affirm the UGCC's right to exist and contain a repudiation by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Lviv Synod (March 6-10, 1946) which was a far more unchristian, cruel and reprehensible affair than what happened at Brest.

In fact, both churches need a healing of memories, forgiving one another, and embracing one another in ecumenical love.   While I was there I asked fellow monks how they came to be Catholics - most were baptised in the Orthodox Church.  All of them pointed to the influence of members of their families.  I had been told that the major reason why Orthodoxy survived the years of persecution in Russia was that, traditionally, Orthodoxy is passed down from one generation to the next within the family  rather than by parish catechesis.   The same was true in the Ukraine in the UGCC.   Metropolitan Hilarion stoops to propaganda and calls it  history.

The next post will tell of my visit to Kiev.   One of my chief reasons for going to Ukraine was to visit the Caves monastery,   An Orthodox nun from St Elizabeth's Convent in Minsk had given me an icon of holy founders of this monastery, and the icon hangs with others in my monastic cell.  I think I have come to know the two saints, and I wanted to visit their monastery.  Until next time, God Bless.

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