Fifty years ago, I was in the city of Philadelphia on the other side of the fence of a special ceremony at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral there: the elevation of two relatively young Ukrainian priests to bishops. I did not know the two men, but I was opposed to their elevation because I felt, as did many others particularly of the patriarchate persuasion, that their designation should have been made by the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church at the time, Cardinal Josef Slipyj, and not the Pope. I still believe that but I have gotten to know at least one of the men quite well. In fact, after only several years I acknowledged that no better choice for the Ukrainian people could have been made by the Ukrainian patriarch himself.
The man I’m referring to is Basil Losten. He is the most devoted and selfless clergyman I have ever known (sorry, Bishop Paul, you are up there but with some way to go, though you are still young). I am unable to comment upon Bishop Basil’s profound thoughts or deep prayers. I have never been with him at a retreat. Our active interaction has been within the community with much personal contact. My adjudication and highest praise are predicated on his interaction with people, his flock and others in general. He is the most people-oriented of any clergyman I have ever known, and he is a sincere Ukrainian patriot.
He is devoted to his flock. I have seen him missing from the dais at events honoring him because he was out there on the floor communicating personally with the average person. I have witnessed and experienced his personal involvement in seemingly mundane matters because he recognizes that all matters, save one’s relationship with God, are mundane essentially, but often seem crucial to the average person.
While his appointment was decried by ardent proponents of the Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church such as myself, Bishop Basil (Losten) has worked tirelessly in that regard with top officials of the Church in Kyiv and Rome. There is no one more pro-Ukrainian Catholic as a distinct beautiful entity. Similarly, his ecumenism is unparalleled. He insists on a special work ethic with the Ukrainian Orthodox. One of his closest friends was Bishop Vsevolod (Majdanski) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. Perhaps few remember that Bishop Basil (Losten) initiated the annual observances of the Holodomor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in the early 1990s. That annual commemoration is still going strong today. And Bishop Basil insisted that the observances include the Ukrainian Orthodox, despite reluctance to his insistence from various corners.
Community events and observances were not only endorsed and participated in but actually initiated by him. I have been to meetings with the bishop where he was an obstacle to closing debate until such time as a resolution had been reached. Naturally he abused his position since no one had the courage to call the question on him. The result, however, was better than expected in almost all cases. This abuse of his position as presiding chairman or even simply an adviser with no vote was in fact availing himself of the power of his position and personality to bring people together even when they did not want to be brought together. It seemed that there was a special presence in the room but it did not look like a dove. In fact, it had a beard.
Last year on his 90th birthday I called him to express best wishes, but I did so a month later. I genuinely believe that the bishop was not offended as I commented, “better late than never.” This year he called me exactly on my birthday, which was not a milestone, and said that he has a calendar, unlike me. We both laughed and then proceeded to discuss the needs of the community structures with which we are jointly involved.
This is not hyperbole. When God created Bishop Basil Losten, he either broke the mold or set it aside in a special place for a time when there would be an exceptional need for another individual like Bishop Basil.
Mnohaya Lita, Vladyko! Often, we fail to show it or do so in tardy fashion, but we thank or should thank God for you and all of your work.