"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

Tuesday, 20 December 2016


(Moscow Patriarchate)
My main motive for going to Ukraine was to visit the Caves Monastery.  Ever since an Orthodox nun of St Elizabeth's Convent in Minsk gave me an icon of saints Anthony and Theodosius, founders of Caves monastery, I have wanted to go there.  If saints Anthony and Theodosius were willing to share my hospitality through the icon that is hanging in my monastic cell, I wanted to return the favour by my visit.

According to the Primary Chronicle, in the early 11th century, Anthony, an Orthodox monk from Esphigmenon monastery on Mount Athos, originally from Liubech of the Principality of Chernihiv, returned to Rus' and settled in Kiev as a missionary of monastic tradition to Kievan Rus'. He chose a cave at the Berestov Mount that overlooked the Dnieper River and a community of disciples soon grew. Prince Iziaslav I of Kiev ceded the whole mount to the Antonite monks who founded a monastery built by architects from Constantinople.

The Kiev Pechersk Lavra contains numerous architectural monuments, ranging from bell towers to cathedrals to underground cave systems and to strong stone fortification walls. The main attractions of the Lavra include Great Lavra Belltower, the notable feature of the Kiev skyline, and the Dormition Cathedral, destroyed in World War II, and fully reconstructed in recent years. Other churches and cathedrals of the Lavra include: the Refectory Church, the Church of All Saints, the Church of the Saviour at Berestove, the Church of the Exaltation of Cross, the Church of the Trinity, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, the Church of the Conception of St. Anne, and the Church of the Life-Giving Spring. The Lavra also contains many other constructions, including: the St. Nicholas Monastery, the Kiev Theological Academy and Seminary.

The cathedral church of the Dormition was destroyed by the Soviets but rebuilt in the 1990's - a wonderful tribute to both the fervour and taste of those who have been restoring the Christian heritage of the Ukraine.  It is now as it was before Stalin's minions tore it down.  What is left of the old 11th century church have been incorporated into the exterior wall, as can be seen in the above photo.

"Lavra" means a monastic settlement which can include one or more monastic communities, houses of three or four monks, hermits etc.   

Under the Caves monastery there is an interconnected system of caves  which is said to reach out for hundreds of kilometeres; and it was in these caves where the monastery now stands that St Anthony of Kiev began his monastic retreat while evangelising the "Kieven Rus" people.
Saints Anthony and Theodosius of Kiev

Anthony of Kiev (c. 983-1073) was a monk and the founder of the monastic tradition in the Kievan Rus'. Also called Anthony of the Caves (Russian: Антоний Печерский, Ukrainian: Антоній Печерський) he, together with Theodosius of Kiev, co-founded Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Kiev Monastery of the Caves).

He was born in Lyubech in Chernigov Principality and was baptized with the name "Antipas". He was drawn to the spiritual life from an early age and, when he was of age, left for the Greek Orthodox Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos to live as a hermit. He lived in a secluded cave there overlooking the sea, which is still shown to visitors. In circa 1011, the abbot gave Anthony the job of expanding monasticism in his native Kiev, which had only recently begun its conversion to Christianity.

Anthony returned to Kiev, and founded several monasteries on the Greek model on the order of local princes. These monasteries were not as austere as Anthony was used to from his time on Mount Athos. He instead chose to live in a small four-yard cave which had been dug by the presbyter Hilarion.

In 1015, his peaceful austerity was interrupted by the death of Vladimir I of Kiev, and the subsequent fratricidal war for the throne between Vladimir's sons Yaroslav and Sviatopolk, and Anthony returned to Mount Athos. When the conflict ended, the abbot sent Anthony back to Kiev, prophesying that many monks would join him on his return.

When Iziaslav and his brothers were facing a popular uprising involving the Cumans, they came to Anthony for his blessing. They did not get it. Anthony foretold that because of their sins they would be defeated, and that the brothers would be buried in a church they would build. Shortly thereafter Iziaslav left because of the rebellion. He suspected Anthony of sympathizing with the opposition and arranged to banish Anthony upon his return. Before he could do so, Iziaslav's brother, Sviatoslav, arranged for Anthony to be secretly taken to Chernigov. Anthony dug himself a cave there. The Eletsky Monastery there is said by some to be built on the site of Anthony's cave. Eventually Iziaslav was again reconciled to Anthony and asked that he return to Kiev.

On his return, Anthony and Theodosius decided to build a larger stone church to accommodate the ever increasing number of monks. Anthony himself did not live to see the church completed. He died in 1073, shortly after blessing the foundation of the new church, at 90 years old. Shortly before his death he called the monks together and consoled them about his coming death. He also asked them that his remains be hidden away forever. The monks carried out his request. He was reportedly buried in his cave, but no relics have ever been found. Many however have subsequently come to the cave to pray and many of them have reported being healed there.

The photo at the top of this article shows the cathedral of the Dormition and, on its right hand side, the refectory church.  All the large monasteries have one of these.  In effect, the monks used to - and perhaps still do in some places - have their meals together in a church, with the nave as an eating area and what we call the sanctuary, and they call "the altar", separated from the monks only by an iconostasis.   In this lavra, the sanctuary is shaped like a mini-Hagia Sophia.   In the old days, this demonstrated that all community acts, especially eating together, are sacred acts.  Often nowadays, the refectory church is used for church ceremonies that are smaller than those in the main church or when there is a pastoral need for another Mass.  In Caves Monastery, the refectory church is quite big.

In my visit here I learned how ugly relations between Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) and Greek Catholics can be, more among the clergy than the laity.  Brother Pio decided to wear polo and jeans for this visit because his Greek Catholic Basilian habit is too recognisable, while Father Manuil, a Studite monk, could have been taken for Orthodox.   Nevertheless he was nervous during our visit, "It is alright for western Catholics wanting to befriend the Orthodox; but, in a Moscow Patriarchate place they can shout insults at us, calling us 'heretics' or worse.  I am not claiming that there are no Greek Catholics who would do the same to them, only that I have never seen them publicly shaming Orthodox, nor do we treat Orthodox visitors to our monastery with disrespect."  

If all this is a sad reflection on the legacy of history, they are also proud of this wonderful complex of cathedral, churches, buildings and caves. Dormition Cathedral is incredibly beautiful.  

 On its walls and in the icons that are for sale there is evidence of its long history of sanctity, with many canonised saints who have lived as monks of the community.

Below ground are the underground passages in which holy abbots and monks are buried;

 and there are the other caves which served as monastic cells, some of which are chapels.

Pio and Manuil in the cathedral shop
Pio had taken off his habit

My guides, Father Manuil and Brother Pio, had no problem visiting this monastery, even though all three of us in our distinctive habits drew a lot of attention as a priest and some seminarians stopped and stared at us, more in curiosity than in anger.  A Benedictine, a Studite and a Basilian: it appears to be the beginning of a bad ecclesiastical joke!

Originally built in the Middle Ages by Sviatopolk II Iziaslavych,[1][2] the monastery comprises the Cathedral itself, the Refectory of St. John the Divine, built in 1713, the Economic Gates, constructed in 1760 and the monastery's bell tower, which was added c. 1716–1719. The exterior of the structure was rebuilt in the Ukrainian Baroque style in the 18th century while the interior remained in its original Byzantine style.[3] The original cathedral was demolished by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s, but was reconstructed and opened in 1999 following Ukrainian independence in 1991.

After Ukraine regained independence in 1991, the demolition of the monastery was deemed a crime and voices started to be heard calling for the monastery's full-scale reconstruction as an important part of the cultural heritage of the Ukrainian people. These plans were approved and carried out in 1997–1998, whereupon the cathedral and belltower were transferred to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate. Yuriy Ivakin, the chief archaeologist for the site, said that more than 260 valuable ancient artifacts were recovered during excavations of the site before reconstruction. In addition, a portion of the ancient cathedral, still intact, was uncovered; this today makes up a part of the current cathedral's crypt.

 Like the Caves Lavra, the "Golden-domed" monastery is a marvellous tribute to those who restored it  in the nineteen nineties.
This is the refectory church where the monks used to eat
By Dezidor - Own work (own photo), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3105490
The Caves Monastery is the residence of the Metropolitan of Kiev, Halych and All Little Russia who is head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate); while the Golden domed St Michael's Monastery is the main centre of the Patriarchate of Kiev, and I believe the Patriarch lives there.
St Volodymyr's Cathedral

Nevertheless the main cathedral is the other end of a wide avenue, facing St Michael's Monastery in the distance.


I am mentioning this group for the sake of completeness, even though I only saw their main Andreevsky Church from the outside and have never met any member of it.  They pre-exist the Kievan patriarch Church, were one time in communion with it but broke off relations with them.  There are also one or two sub-groups.  

The Autocephalous Orthodox Church claims 10% of  the population; The Orthodox Church (Kievan Patriarchate) claims about 33% and is creeping up; the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is the largest with over 50%.

the red stone wall is from the earlier building

The cathedral's name comes from the 6th-century Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople (meaning Holy Wisdom, and dedicated to the Holy Wisdom rather than a specific saint named Sophia). Architecture-wise, its model could have been the 13-domed oaken Holy Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod (c. 989), which Yaroslav I the Wise determined to imitate in stone as a sign of gratitude to the citizens of Novgorod who had helped him secure the Kievan throne in 1019.

The first foundations were laid in 1037 or 1011,[6] but the cathedral took two decades to complete. According to Dr. Nadia Nikitenko, an historian who has studied the cathedral for 30 years, the cathedral was founded in 1011, under the reign of Yaroslav's father, Grand Prince of Kievan Rus', Vladimir the Great. This info has been accepted by both UNESCO and Ukraine, which officially celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the cathedral during 2011.[7]) The structure has 5 naves, 5 apses, and (quite surprisingly for Byzantine architecture) 13 cupolas. It is surrounded by two-tier galleries from three sides. Measuring 37 to 55 m (121 to 180 ft), the exterior used to be faced with plinths. On the inside, it retains mosaics and frescos from the 11th century, including a dilapidated representation of Yaroslav's family, and the Orans.

Saved from destruction through the representations of important scientists and historians, it was confiscated by the Soviet authorities and turned into a museum.  It is still owned by the civil authorities who have been restoring it, with its historic tombs and ancient mosaics.  Father Manuil has an incredible memory for detail, especially on Ukrainian history, complete with dates.  In the entrance to the cathedral, there is a model of the old city with buttons that light up different parts of the city.  He went through the history.  Of course, it is not a functioning church now, but they are allowed on special occasions, and the refectory church at the side of the main one is used by the Moscow patriarchate church.
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kiev

Of course, I was guest of monks of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; but, unfortunately, there are extremely bad relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and this Catholic Byzantine rite church.  Recent history and a modern civil war have added to the bitterness.   In Russia, in accordance with Byzantine tradition, there  is a "symphonic" relationship between the Russian Church and the Russian state; while in Ukraine the church is besmirched by its collaboration with the Soviet regime.  

Both churches look at the same Ukrainian history but interpret it differently, not because one side is lying, but because they experienced it differently.   

The Greek Catholics remember that, in western Ukraine, there were simply no Orthodox churches: all churches were Greek Catholic until around 1945 when Stalin tried to eliminate the Greek Catholic Church with Orthodox episcopal cooperation, some of the most important Orthodox bishops being KGB agents anyway.  A fraudulent church synod was called - all the Greek Catholic bishops being in prison - and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church ceased to exist.  Monks and priests were imprisoned, murdered of fled into exile; many lay people were shipped off in cattle trucks to other parts of Russia.  Both Russia and the Vatican believed that Stalin had succeeded...until Gorbachev allowed freedom of religion.  Both were surprised how many people reclaimed their Greek Catholic heritage.  They were accused of robbing Orthodox churches, proselytising and using underhand methods of gaining converts, property and power: anything but rejecting the conversion to Orthodoxy that was forced on them at the point of a Russian gun.  They have also been accused of proselytising in parts of Russia where traditionally they have no roots, it being forgotten that they were taken there in cattle trucks.

The Orthodox have a different version. They acknowledge that the churches were Catholic in 1945, before Stalin's action, but they remember that many centuries ago the whole region was Orthodox, until the Poles, the Lithuanians and, later, the Austrians had their way.  Thus, the Orthodox were only claiming back what had been originally theirs.  In Stalin's time, the Orthodox Church was also persecuted and millions of Russians were arrested, murdered or sent to hard labour camps or exiled.  Orthodox bishops collaborated to stay alive and to preserve the Russian Orthodox Church for better times.  It wasn't, as Ukrainians tend to hold, a Russian against Ukrainian thing: it was Soviet communism against Christianity.  They collaborated with Stalin against the Ukrainian Catholics so that the Church that really does matter in those regions of Greater Russia would survive.

Meanwhile in Ukraine the Greek Catholic Church has an attraction that the Moscow Patriarchate cannot claim: no one can accuse that "Unia" of having collaborated with Soviet Russia.

What can we learn from all this?  Pope Francis has said that in the Church there is no authority other than that of service - hence the extent of jurisdiction decides how many feet we can wash - and that there is no power in the Church other than the Cross.  Thus there is a fundamental difference between civil jurisdiction and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, between civil law and church law.  Christ made this quite clear: those with ecclesiastical jurisdiction have no power to "lord it over them", and, unlike civil law which is backed by power, church law must be, in order to be valid, an expression of ecclesial love which is the visible sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit that comes down on the gifts and the people in the Eucharist.

Hence, when ecclesiastic power and civil power work together in such a way that ecclesiastical power serves civil power, then the activity is sub-Christian and against the Gospel.  Hence, if the Union of Brest was enforced by civil power of the Poles and Lithuanians, then it was a sub-Christian act.  On the other hand, if Orthodox came to accept papal claims and to believe true Orthodoxy implies communion with Peter, like Father Panteleimon whom we met in the first article, then I can't see where the objection lies.  After all, there are Orthodox active in the Philippines, in Venezuela and other places who quite happily receive Catholics into their church, and there is even "Western rite Orthodoxy".  It is a sad effect of schism that people are presented with an either-or situation and have to choose, no more obviously than in Ukraine.  Having said this, my own belief about the Church is, "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church," and that we are already one in Christ.

 What saddens me is that Metropolitan Hilarion, in spite of his Oxford education, does not seem capable of critical analysis with regard to Ukraine.  There have been wrongs on both sides, and Russian Orthodox are the last people to be able to accuse the "Unia" of proselytism.  As one Ukrainian Catholic priest said to me, what is needed is a healing of memories so that we can forgive one another from our hearts.

St Basil's Monastery
celebrating a feast oof Our Lady

St Basil's monastery is  a large Greek Catholic parish with a modern church and a fairly small community of Basilian monks.  It was there that Father Manuil, Brother Pio and I stayed during our time in Kiev.


I cannot say that I was greatly impressed by this building - perhaps I am too fond of the traditional style.  However, when it has icons on the walls and a proper iconostasis, it may look much better.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, celebrates the divine liturgy at Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kiev Dec. 8, 2013. (CNS photo/courtesy Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church)

As we arrived, we saw Archbishop Shevchuk standing outside the entrance to the Cathedral chatting to some parishioners.  

Inside, a priest was celebrating baptism in the centre of the church.  He had been Orthodox, had
studied theology in Russia and had become a monk of the famous Orthodox monastery of Valaam.  One day, he returned to his native Ukraine to visit his family and, while he was there, decided to join the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.   He joined as a monk and entered the Studite order, which is the nearest observance to an Orthodox monastery that you can get.  

One strong impression I had during my stay is that the main reason for the enormous success of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic revival is that the faith, which included loyalty to the pope, was kept alive in families and was passed on from one generation to the next.  This also happened among the Orthodox in Russia.

One of my final visits was to the Greek Catholic seminary in Kiev.  In the above photo, I have Fr Manuil on my left and his brother, a seminarian, on my right.  Oleg, the seminarist who met me at the airport when I first arrived, is on my extreme left.   They were a bright lot and most spoke at least some English, while some were quite fluent.  I spoke to those who were free - those in the photo - on the Church in Peru.  I also asked some in general conversation how they came to be Catholics and this re-enforced my impression that what beat all Stalin's pressure was the strength of the Catholic family.

It was a wonderful visit, though I am a bit disappointed that I had no real contact with the Orthodox.  The monks, both Basilian and Studite, were so kind, and I would love to have the opportunity to deepen the friendships that were formed during my stay.  I am very grateful: my holiday was a fitting celebration for my sixty years as a professed monk.

Below are two talks given by Ukrainian theologians of the Moscow patriarchate on the present troubles.

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