Before addressing the topic, ecumenical thought and ecumenical activity of the two leaders of the Ukrainian Church, Metropolitan Sheptytsky and Patriarch Slipyj, we shall attempt to answer the basic question: what is ecumenism? Generally speaking, the definition can be the following: ecumenism is a movement toward a greater understanding among Christians of various confessions, the final goal of which is the renewal of unity of Christ’s Church while retaining the autonomy and individuality of each Christian denomination.
According to this definition, ecumenism is a phenomenon of the XX century. Its beginnings reach back to the year 1910, when in the Scottish metropolis of Edinburgh a world missionary conference took place during which ecumenical ideas were espoused. Inasmuch as this conference was organized by the Anglican Church, it is assumed that the Protestants gave birth to ecumenism. Indeed, during the first half of the XX century, the advocators of ecumenism, at least in the West, were as a rule, Protestant theologians and preachers. Regarding the Catholic Church, it actively joined this movement only at the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965).
However, as it was convincingly demonstrated by Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, one of the Eastern branches of the Catholic Church, specifically the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, began to develop the idea of ecumenism at the beginning of the XX century, well before the conference in Edinburgh in 1910, which was manifested most clearly in the ecumenical activities of the primate of that time, Servant of God, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky.
The topic Sheptytsky and ecumenism is complex and multi-faceted. It touches on a broad spectrum of not only theological and dogmatic ecclesiastical questions, but also on the social and political aspects. In analyzing the genesis of Sheptytsky’s views on Church unity, Husar does not hesitate in calling them ecumenical and in calling the Metropolitan a forerunner of contemporary ecumenism. On the other hand, other scholars in analyzing the activities of the Metropolitan’s contemporaries use other terminology, as for example, “The Pre-Ecumenical Approach to Christian Unity.” In pointing out the parallels between the teachings of the Metropolitan in the first half of the XX century and the resolutions of the Second Vatican Council as manifested in the documents concerning the Eastern Catholic Churches and ecumenism, Husar points out the beginnings of these ideas in the letter works of the Metropolitan.
Immediately after occupying the Metropolitan See of the Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Andrew began his ecumenical work and marshalled all his energies and efforts on the unity of the Churches. His ecumenical, or as it was known at that time ‘Uniate’ work, was performed specially authorized by Pope Pius X. It is in this matter that he went incognito to Belarus and the Russian Empire where he developed contacts with supporters of unity and helped them to make contacts with the Apostolic See. For example, he sent Belarusian students to study in Lviv, Rome and Innsbruck.
Metropolitan Andrew formed his ecumenical plans based on a real historical need for the consolidation of the Ukrainian people. He considered the unity of Churches in East and West Ukraine a basic condition for the unification of the people, and the very idea of unity he saw within the context of the unity of all Christian Churches. It is important to note here that the Metropolitan did not use the term ‘ecumenism,’ but simply the word “РУХ” – (movement). In the years 1905 and 1907, Metropolitan Andrew went clandestinely to Russia; he visited Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as Kyiv and attempted to come to terms with the perspectives of union activities on the territory of the Empire while making contacts with Orthodox Ukrainians and Russians who leaned toward the unity of Churches.
It is important to note that while defending the rights of Ukrainian citizens in various parts of the Russian Empire, the Metropolitan did not discriminate between Western and Eastern Ukrainians, although he understood very well that they had different Church affiliations. His work toward the unity of Churches was focused on the Orthodox as well as on the Catholics. He made his position concerning the ecumenical process very clear: “The essence of any kind of activity for Church unity must be as follows: it must do everything to change the thinking of our brothers, the eastern Christians, in such a manner that they themselves would, of their own free will, seek a unity with the center of the Catholic Church.”
Long ago, in the year 1907, in his pastoral letter to the clergy, Andrey Sheptytsky wrote the following prophetic words, “the times are nigh in which we, without doubt, shall be called to a most important, but also most difficult task – the unity of the Eastern Churches. This work is a real idealistic goal and it is the answer to our most fervent prayer. According to prevalent thought, the clergy of our province, in response to divine Providence, is able and should place this matter under the protection of the Universal Church of Christ. Our position between East and West demands this. United with the West in our faith and with the East in our rite, more than anyone else, we shall be able to work on the great renewal of Church unity….”
These words of Andrey Sheptytsky are an eloquent testimony to his profound understanding of the historical mission of the Greek-Catholic Church in the matter of mutual understanding and the eventual unity of the Christian East and the Christian West. This mission of the Greek-Catholic Church, according to the great Metropolitan, is also determined by a geopolitical factor. From the very beginnings of acceptance and spread of Christianity in Rus’-Ukraine, Ukraine quite naturally became a bridge between the East and the West. The great achievement of the Metropolitan is the fact that he focused the attention on this phenomenon, crystallized and documented the idea regarding the historic mission of the Ukrainian Church which is not only to unite within itself the spiritual riches of these two Christian civilizations and be at the same time a passive object of their influences and interests, but also, and most of all, to become an active factor in ecclesiastical relations between them.
But the geopolitical condition is not the only factor that determines the character of Ukrainian Greek-Catholicism. As a natural mediator between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West, there was another factor which inspired Andrey Sheptytsky to seek ways toward peace and eventual unity for Catholics and Orthodox. That factor was the Ukrainian people’s lack of statehood and the growth of the national liberation movement. The great Metropolitan knew well that in the battle for the renewal of independence of the Ukrainian state there was first and foremost a necessity for brotherly unity of the Catholics and the Orthodox – to put it bluntly, the liquidation of the historic Kyivan Church. He wrote as follows, “The matter of unity of the churches is of great importance for the Ukrainian people. The unity of religion is perhaps the essential condition for a national solidarity and can become the basis of a moral unity and profound foundation for all people who believe themselves to be Ukrainian.” The achievement of unity of religion in “our native home,” according to Andrey Sheptytsky, might point the way to the realization of the ecumenical idea within the framework of the Universal Church. Championing these two great ideas was the Servant of God, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, dedicating his theoretical, theological and practical activity.
As an ecumenist, Andrey Sheptytsky desired to maintain contact with the Orthodox: he studied their history, their theology, their canon law, their rite and he also maintained personal contacts with them. From these contacts, the Metropolitan learned several valuable lessons: how the Orthodox could receive the Union, but not in the form of the Union of Brest. The first lesson was the understanding that for the union to be effective for ecumenical activity, it had to be reformed in such a manner so that it could agree with its original purpose. Then Sheptytsky fought against so called “Uniatism,” which insisted that to be Catholic the faithful had, at least partially, to take some elements from the Latin rite. With the passing of time, Sheptytsky’s views developed and perfected themselves through a dialogue with the Orthodox and he came to the conclusion that the idea of the Union as Uniatism had to be rejected in favor of a better, more ecumenical, process. And this is exactly what he did with the Russian Catholic Church, not being limited as he was in his own Church. In the years 1941-1942, he continued this dialogue with the Orthodox clergy and intelligentsia and with considerable diplomatic talent, he clearly spoke about the possibility of seeking another solution.
In speaking about the ecumenical activities of the great Metropolitan we should not omit the mention of the Visegrád Congress. He was their real inspiration and their first chairman. The first of these congresses took place in 1907 and it continued to take place every two years until the First World War. These congresses documented the theses about the equality of rites in the Universal Church, created a strong nucleus of the ecumenical movement, one that sincerely desired Church unity, and placed this movement on a solid theological/dogmatic foundation.
It should be mentioned that in the spirit of ecumenism, the Metropolitan always turned to the Orthodox hierarchy and intelligentsia in matters of Church unity, stressing that he was not a candidate for Patriarch of Ukraine and that the Patriarch had to be someone from Eastern Ukraine who recognizes the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff. This kind of unity did not mean that the person needed to be under the Pope as Patriarch of the West, it rather means, “the recognition of the highest authority as a father and pastor of the Universal Church.”
Already in his first pastoral letter in 1901, the Metropolitan calls on the clergy, “to be ready to sacrifice blood for holy faith.” This very sacrificial life of the Metropolitan for the sake of Church unity, his readiness to sacrifice himself for the sake of Christ and his people, became the reasons to open the process of his beatification.
In order to show how fervently the Metropolitan desired and dedicated himself to the matter of Church unity, we are quoting a part of his letter (December 26, 1939) to Cardinal Tisseran:
“I repeat once more my plea, which I send to the Holy Father through the good offices of Your Eminence. And I asked again that the Holy Father, by means of his Apostolic and Paternal Blessing, would allow, appoint and authorize me to die for the sake of faith and unity of the Church.”
The Ecumenical Activity of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj
A great disciple of the great teacher was Josyf Slipyj. One could possibly have the impression that in questions of ecumenism Slipyj was in the shadow of Sheptytsky as indicated by Jaroslav Pelikan. Nevertheless, when Slipyj came to Rome in 1963, in his words to Pope John XXIII (today a saint,) one could hear a certain attitude of peace between the Church of the East and the Church of the West. A profound knowledge of the question of unity brought Slipyj to the conclusion that both sides (East and West) must shoulder historical responsibility for the division of Christianity. This attitude was not without its criticisms to ecumenism Catholic style (which wants to arrive at unity, but does not want to conduct a dialogue.) Patriarch Josyf cited John XXIII as a man of “heroic humility” who accused the West of the Schism between East and West. The responsibility for the Schism rests on our shoulders. In order to change the situation, according to Pope John XXIII, “it is necessary to carry on a dialogue with them” instead of judging and rejecting them. This is a new attitude and new approach of Josyf Slipyj after coming to Rome from captivity.
Ecumenism as the work for the unity of churches, just as with his predecessor Sheptytsky, becomes the spiritus movens as priest and hierarch. Although the academic background of Slipyj was scholasticism, nonetheless ecumenical, or as it was known at that time, the question of union was of perpetual interest to him. While studying in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1922, he traveled to Visegrád and wrote an article for the clergy in the monthly journal Nyva. This work is important for us for in it, on the basis of the observations made my Dr. Josyf Slipyj, we are able to see how the ecumenical movement was born. He wrote that in Visegrád, in this capital of the once powerful Moravian state, on the territory of the Slavic apostles Cyril and Methodius, reigned a friendly atmosphere and “a peaceful and ideal co-existence of both rites.” During the process of writing, his psychology and thinking changed and a new world opened to him regarding church unity. One can boldly assert that the Visegrád Congresses approached these problems which were later studied at the Second Vatican Council. Also, in his articles on the Congresses, Fr. Josyf did not ignore the various confrontational moments that took place in them.
In 1924 (7/31 – 8/3) Fr. Slipyj took part in the Fourth Union Congress in Visegrád. He delivered a paper entitled “The Meaning of St. Thomas for the Cause of Unity.” In this work he posed the question concerning theological/ideological divergencies between East and West. In addition to this union congress, he also participated in other congresses in Prague and Pinsk.
Just like Metropolitan Andrey, Josyf Slipyj did not espouse the view that the unity between Orthodox and Catholic Churches must come at any price, he considered both churches to have equal rights. He analyzed the ecumenical problems in his salient work, “Byzantism yak forma kultura” [Byzantism as a form of culture] the tenets of which were approved during the Fourth Papal Conference which dealt with that topic. Slipyj revealed both the strong and the weak sides of the two confessions and evaluated Eastern Byzantism and Western Scholasticism.
In the conclusion of this work the author formulated his own ecumenical principle. “Neither a single thing nor any creative activity can fully reveal the power, the beauty and the glory of God’s wisdom and the unfathomable depths of divine revelation. The more there are diverse forms and cultures, the better and more complete is the expression of the activities of the Church. From this point of view, the Byzantine culture has the right to exist and to flower within the Catholic Church.”
In 1936, on the occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of the death Metropolitan Josyf Rutsky, Fr. Josyf on behalf of Metropolitan Andrey organized in Lviv a union congress. Over two hundred people attended and twelve papers were delivered. His Beatitude read a paper entitled “Views on United and Non-United Churches of the East and the Dogmatical Differences Among Them.”
In addition to interesting thoughts, the ecumenical movement in the entire Church, the author also offered a projection of a program of union which was supposed to be realized by the Ukrainian Church, a living witness of the struggle for union of Christ’s Church throughout the centuries of its history. The author wanted the Ukrainian Church as a creation of the union movement of the past to cease being an object, or an experimental model of all kinds of changing conceptions, but rather that she be complete in her own right and discipline in further ecumenical struggles and that this Church should attain its autonomous rights enjoyed legitimately by other churches of the Christian East.
Here are the titles of the papers delivered by His Beatitude during various sessions of the congresses:
- De valore S. Thomae Aquinatis eiusque influx in theologiam orientalem – 1924;
- De septenario numero sacramentorum apud Orientales uti vincula Unionis et conservationis fidei – 1933 ;
- De cultu SS. Cyrilli et Methodii in Ucraina – 1936.
In speaking about Patriarch Josyf, Father Ivan Dacko voiced the following observations:
“His knowledge of theology acquired and formed in Lviv, Innsbruck and Rome was neo-scholasticism which dominated the theology in the first decades of the twentieth century. Written in the same spirit were his theological studies and his textbook on dogmas concerning sacraments; this is how he viewed the church until 1945, the year of his incarceration. His eighteen year imprisonment and exile, and this does sound rather paradoxical, was for him a time of profound meditation, a re-evaluation of his views and the study of the spirituality, theology and the general understanding of the Church in the East where he lived, suffered and which he studied.”
After eighteen years of exile
On 11 October 1963 during the fifth session of the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Agajanyan, who was the chair of this session, recognized the Metropolitan who was met by the fathers of the council with spontaneous applause. They were all eager to hear what the Metropolitan had to say about contemporary problems of Church life after having spent eighteen years isolated from the world of culture. At the council it was made clear that each presentation be limited to ten minutes, yet the speech of the Metropolitan/Confessor lasted twenty minutes and was listened to with rapt attention. The speech was characterized by a clarity of thought, profound theological arguments and a sonorous voice. The fathers of the Council saw before them not only a heroic confessor of faith, but also a profound theological thinker and great pastor who understood all the problems of Christ’s Church and who shed light on them, the Church of martyrs’ and all those who suffered with her. At the end of his speech, Metropolitan Josyf presented the fathers of the Council with a project for the creation of a Kyivan-Halych Patriarchate. Metropolitan Josyf’s second speech was delivered at the Third Session of the Council; it was a defense of the Eastern Churches from Latinization. There he spoke in the name of all Ukrainian hierarchs and in his speech it was felt that the Confessor of Faith, “speaks of something of extreme importance for the entire Church and at the same time about something that is most painful for the Eastern Church: ‘it is a question of whether to be or not to be for the Eastern Church,’ referring to the Latinization of the Christian East.”
Ukrainian hierarchs noted with joy that the Second Vatican Council had representatives from the Ukrainian Orthodox communities of the United States. Also, the hierarchs from the Ukrainian Catholic Church sent from the Second Vatican Council a greeting to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This greeting contained the following words: “Following the example of the hierarchs of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches who, on the occasion of the ecumenical council, rid themselves of the relics of painful memories of the past, let us too rid ourselves of painful memories from the history of our two Ukrainian Churches and in a new ecumenical spirit let us begin a new relationship in Christian love and brotherhood.” His Beatitude expressed his unease concerning the fact that Eastern Catholics are losing the individual characteristics of their rite, their discipline and their theology and take over almost mechanically all kinds of Latin elements which have a detrimental effect on their rite.
Just like the great Metropolitan Andrey, His Beatitude Josyf used all his strength to move the Christian East closer to the Catholic Church, first of all with our not yet united brethren on Ukrainian lands. He stressed that nations which were in union with the Apostolic See retained their rite and their discipline. There was a quest to regain the ancient core of the Church, when both Churches adhered to the same doctrines of faith, recognized the parity of rites and each developed autonomously and equally.
In working toward the renewal of Eastern tradition, Josyf Slipyj places first and foremost not the differences and elements of alienation between the two, but rather elements of commonality, respect and love; after all we should not forget that the influences from both Eastern and Western Churches on the world were the same. Differentiation between Eastern and Western theology would seem to be detrimental on the former as well as on the latter. The basis of Eastern theology on its traditions had to take into account the achievements of the West. At the same time, he believed in the need for liturgical identity. He was worried that even in the Galician lands there was a variety of rights present even though the Ukrainian Church demands as a whole one identity comprised of two parts (the Catholic and the non-United). The ritual identity is intimately united with the desire of national aspiration and exerts a positive influence on it. The desire to have a liturgical identity was affirmed by the Union congress of 1936 and it corresponds to the needs of many classes of people. But Josyf Slipyj warns against the attempts to forcefully spread the Galician rite to the whole of Ukraine. The basis of this we see in the beginning of the XVII century, that is the first period of the union, “and according to this, take from later neologisms that which is viable and essential and that which corresponds with its content or at least to its form to the spirit of the rite.” This kind of approach can be explained by the fact that the Ukrainians received the face of Christ from Byzantium and never lost contact with it. During the first decades of the XVII century the Ukrainian rite, “at first in the Catholic faith and then in that of the non-United was very little effected by foreign influences and developed in an independent manner;” “it was completely ours and a natural creation of the Church.”
The scholarly heritage of Josyf Slipyj contains a number of works dedicated to the famous names of the Christian Church. Among is the first called Apostle Andrew, the patron of the Ukrainian Catholic University of St. Clement Pope, with whom Christianity on Ukrainian lands identifies its mission. Another preacher of Church unity in the lands of our forebears was Pope Martin I who, after his exile from Rome, was martyred in Constantinople and condemned to death but eventually sent to Crimea, where he suffered a martyr’s death in 655. With these Popes, Josyf Slipyj links the name of Maksym the Confessor who, following the Lateran Synod, was exiled to the coast of the Black Sea, to Lazika. His Beatitude stressed, “this trinity maintained an ecclesiastical unity which grew and developed later under Volodymyr (Vladimir).”
He also writes about St. Josaphat, Metropolitan Josyf (Rutsky), his great predecessor the Righteous Metropolitan Andrey, who all their lives worked toward the unity of the Church. “The work about St. Josaphat ends with the words, ‘just like the union bore witness with the works of St. Josaphat that it was not alien to our nation and our history and that it is based on our tradition and our culture, in the same manner it also testifies that it wholeheartedly embraces the autonomy of Ukraine.’” The Ukrainian people will always be grateful to the merciful God that He chose from our people one great and untiring warrior for the realization of Christ’s wish that “all be one.”
On the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Andrey, His Beatitude Josyf said the following words:
“Today we glorify the memory of the Great Metropolitan, a Confessor of Faith and a person of aristocratic blood and dynamic spirit. We glorify a man of prayer and profound thought who is also held in high esteem by the Orthodox faithful as a pioneer of dialogue between our Orthodox and Anglican brethren. He was the spirit of unlimited greatness and sensitivity. His humble and holy life, his dedication in the struggle against enemies became the reason for his beatification which has already been accomplished.”
His Beatitude wrote a separate article about Metropolitan Andrey in the spread of the Catholic Church in Russia. Immediately after his liberation in 1917, the Metropolitan convoked a synod in St. Petersburg which was called the Eparchial Synod of the Greek-Catholic Church in Russia. The participants of this synod recognized the primacy of the Roman Pontiff while maintaining their Greek-Eastern rite. This synod duty-bound the priests “to stress the positive side of Catholic teachings and avoid polemics.”
As a counselor of Metropolitan Andrey and the continuator of his cause, His Beatitude Josyf followed in his footsteps. He dedicated all his energies to bring closer the Christian East with the Catholic Church. Because of this, he did many things to achieve that: “he reformed the curriculum of the Theological Academy in accordance with the newest models and demands of our Church; wrote many scholarly treatises, etc.” In his spiritual Testament, Patriarch Josyf, a passionate adherent to universal ecumenism, urged the people first of all to pray, to work and to struggle for the preservation of “the Christian soul of each human being of the Ukrainian nation and for all the Ukrainian people” and beseech the Almighty God that He “help us to fulfill our yearning to be united and complete our struggle for ecclesiastical unity in the creation of the Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.”
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