Religious events in 2015 were varied, including a visit by Pope Francis to the United States and the 150th anniversary of the birth of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. Most often, though, religious leaders from Ukraine appealed to the West for increased humanitarian assistance for Ukraine as it defends against Russian aggression and reminded the world of historical examples of Russia’s aggression against Ukrainians, such as the Holodomor.
Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate was in Washington on February 3-7 to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast. The patriarch explained that he had come “to pray together for world peace” and to interact with and remind American leaders that Ukraine is asking the U.S. to fulfill its duty as a signatory of the Budapest Memorandum to help Ukraine defend its territory. During a press conference at the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, the patriarch called on the United Sates to help Ukraine protect itself against Russian aggression, not only with humanitarian assistance, but with military aid as well.
Patriarch Filaret also met with congressmen and senators – Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D- Ohio) and Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) – to brief them on the situation in Ukraine and to award Sen. McCain the Order of St. Volodymyr, first degree, for his continuous work on behalf of Ukraine. Patriarch Filaret also attended a meeting on February 6 at the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, where he suggested that with ample modern weapons and other military equipment from the West, Ukraine would gain the upper hand in fighting against Russian aggression. He added that Ukrainian soldiers are willing to die in their fight to protect their native land, while Russian soldiers are not willing to die for the sake of acquiring foreign land.
The University of Alberta hosted the Sanctuary Project – whose full name is Sanctuary: The Spiritual Heritage Documentation Project – workshop on February 17. The project focuses on documenting sacral culture on the Canadian prairies and connecting scholars with the community. The aim of the project is to facilitate interaction between museum personnel and church decision-makers who need to deal with sacred objects. It is sponsored by a grant from the Killam Foundation through its Connection Program, with additional support from the Kule Chair in Ukrainian Ethnography and the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies (CIUS). During the workshop, participants discussed resolutions on the needs of rural parish communities as well as a guidebook outlining best practices and policies to follow when dealing with sacred objects, including ownership once a transaction is complete between a church and a museum. An online database includes links to resources provided by the Historical Resource Management Branch of Alberta Culture and Tourism, the Alberta Museums Association and the Royal Alberta Museum.
In an update on April 16, CIUS hosted a talk by Prof. John-Paul Himka and Natalia Kononenko of the Sanctuary Project, who reported on fieldwork in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Among the areas of examination were ritual practices – Easter, Christmas, baptisms and weddings as described by the parishioners or clergy – prayer books, church architecture and iconography. The role of the church on the prairie land of Canada was that of keeper of tradition and culture, such as the baking of traditional ritual breads, pysanka-writing or embroidery, but also other things such as baseball, to help assimilate the new immigrants.
The annual St. Thomas Sunday pilgrimage, known in Ukrainian as “Providna Nedilia,” attracted thousands to the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. (UOC-U.S.A.) on April 18-19 in South Bound Brook, N.J. Divine liturgies were served at St. Andrew Memorial Church with Bishop Saba of the North American Diocese of the Georgian Orthodox Church joining Metropolitan Antony and Bishop Daniel of the UOC-U.S.A. A general prayer service was held at the memorial cross, in memory of the victims of the Holodomor, Chornobyl, those who served in the armed forces of the U.S.A. and of Ukraine, as well as Christian victims in the Middle East and the heroes of the Euro-Maidan protests (Revolution of Dignity). Commemorations were made at the gravesites of those interred at St. Andrew Cemetery, beginning at the crypt of Patriarch Mstyslav, the first patriarch of Kyiv and all Ukraine, at Holy Resurrection Mausoleum. The Ukrainian Cultural Center was busy with vendors and exhibits, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Museum informed visitors of the vast historical and cultural roots of Ukraine. Answers to visitors’ questions were provided by Natalia Honcharenko and Dr. Michael Andrec.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate has been losing parishes in Ukraine since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, but more number shifts began to show in April 2015 when the Moscow Church openly supported the Russian side, while denouncing the Ukrainian side. This trend continues to reduce Russian Patriarch Kirill’s influence and, thereby, Moscow’s influence in Ukraine.
Vladimir Fesenko of the Kyiv Center for Applied Political Research, said “the current leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate has made a very serious error by shifting from formal neutrality” about the Russian side of the conflict in Ukraine to open support of the Russian side and opposition to Ukraine. “This can have very sad consequences for this Church and for its place” in Ukraine. Both parishioners and clergy have voted with their feet by leaving these parishes or have become increasingly critical of the bishops and of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The key event that triggered this shift, for most, was the fact that the UOC-MP Metropolitan Onufrii did not stand in honor of Ukrainians who had died defending their country. The Rev. Bogdan Timoshenko of the UOC-KP said that the Moscow Church had less of a position to talk about reuniting with the Ukrainian Church, and as it dissolves, its members, priests and hierarchs will shift toward the Ukrainian side, rather than a formal unification.
On May 8, a Ukrainian Catholic delegation from the Sheptytsky Institute in Ottawa visited the apostolic nuncio of Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, to inform him of the situation in Ukraine and to call for solidarity with Ukraine in its defense of its territory.
The Sheptytsky Institute hosted a Colloquium on the Future of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church in North America on May 8-10 at Holy Spirit Seminary in Ottawa. The event, sponsored by the Ukrainian Patriarchal Society and the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Instutute (MASI) of Eastern Christian Studies, attracted clergy as well as scholars. Led by the Rev. Dr. Andriy Chirovsky, topics focused on current challenges facing the Ukrainian Catholic Church in North America, especially the opportunities presented by the Revolution of Dignity and the challenges created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The gathering of theologians also agreed that the Ukrainian Catholic Church should use the term Greco-Catholic instead of Greek-Catholic, which it called a mistranslation from the Ukrainian. The participants also agreed to create a scholarly society for Ukrainian Greco-Catholic intellectual endeavors in and for North America.
The UOC-U.S.A. received a $10,000 donation from the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America on May 18 for its charitable outreach projects in Ukraine. During the presentation at the Consistory Offices of the Metropolia of the UOC-U.S.A. in South Bound Brook, N.J., UNWLA President Marianna Zajac presented the check to Bishop Daniel. Metropolitan Antony was present for the official ceremony, lauding the work of the UNWLA in assisting the needs of the Ukrainian communities in the U.S. as well as in Ukraine.
The Weekly’s columnist, Dr. Myron Kuropas, lauded the work of the Rev. Chirovsky with the MASI in Ottawa, and the 25th anniversary of the founding of the institute with a jubilee report to mark the institute’s progress. The institute, Dr. Kuropas explained, was made possible in Canada with the support of Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk and consultations with the Rev. Joseph Andrijishyn, rector of Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Interparchial Seminary at St. Paul University in Ottawa.
Pope Francis signed a decree on July 16 that recognized Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1901-1944 as “venerable.” The move was a step in the process toward sainthood that was made possible by the opening of Soviet archives in the former Soviet space. Metropolitan Sheptytsky was also recognized for saving the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. The year 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the Catholic leader’s birth. Bishop Borys Gudziak noted that, “The Soviets did not liquidate the Greek-Catholic Church while he was alive.” He was allowed a public funeral, but five months later, the Soviets arrested all the bishops and moved toward declaring the Ukrainian Catholic Church illegal.
On July 17, the Rev. Dr. Peter Galadza, the MASI acting director, issued a statement on the recognition of Metropolitan Sheptytsky as “venerable” by Pope Francis. “During this time of foreign aggression against Ukraine – as well as turmoil in so many other historically Eastern Christian lands – this recognition brings particular consolation.” Governments, the Rev. Galadza continued, as well as Jews themselves have argued for the archbishop’s beatification. The archbishop was also a champion of dialogue between Catholic and Orthodox Churches. “It confirms the institute’s mission and compels us even more earnestly to follow Sheptytsky’s saintly example,” the statement concluded.
A monument to Sheptytsky was unveiled in Lviv on July 29 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Catholic hierarch’s birth. Blessed by Patriarch Sviatoslav, the monument sits near St. George Cathedral. President Petro Poroshenko and his wife, Maryna, were in attendance among the multitude. A special program was held at the Lviv Opera House to mark the occasion. Construction of the monument began in May 2015. Sculpted by Andriy Koverko, with designers and architects Ihor Kuzmak and Mykhailo Fedyk, the 3.6-meter-high statue is cast from bronze and features Metropolitan Sheptytsky in a monastic robe, holding a cross with his head bowed.
Bishop Gudziak was among the panelists during a discussion on issues facing families in the 21st century during the annual Catholic conference held at the Napa Institute on August 1 in Irvine, Calif. The conference attracted more than 300 clergy, business leaders, Catholic journalists, Church activists and philanthropists, this year under the motto “Equipping Catholics in the Next America.”
In describing the situation in Ukraine, Bishop Gudziak, who was more up-beat in his assessment, explained: “When our Church came out of the underground in 1990, our Church had been decimated by decades of intense Soviet persecution. The ranks of our clergy had been reduced to only 300, mostly elderly priests with an average age of 75. Today, our Church in Ukraine, despite war and severe economic pressures has grown dramatically, with more than 3,000 priests with an average age of 38. Our seminaries are producing hundreds of new priests every year and vocations are strong.”
Bishop Gudiziak added, “The catacombs are not romantic – the underground is real… Fear and distrust entered into the DNA of the population… We know that all relationships, particularly marriage and family relationships, are based on trust. And over the last century, the trust of the people of Ukraine has been tried in ways we cannot even imagine.”
Noting the situation in Ukraine after the Euro-Maidan protests, Bishop Gudziak stated: “There’s a long road ahead. There’s bewilderment, there’s frustration. But we should trust that the Lord is working in history… Let us be peaceful and joyful in our faith in God who is the God of history, who will not let His Truth be trampled. And as the story of the Church in Ukraine shows, He leads His people from a land of slavery to the Promised Land.”
Another major religious event in 2015 was the visit by Pope Francis to the United States, including stops in Philadelphia, Washington and New York. The pope’s visit coincided with the conclusion of the eighth World Meeting of Families on September 22-25 in Philadelphia that was attended by Metropolitan Stefan Soroka and the Rev. Taras Lonchyna. On September 26, Pope Francis celebrated mass at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral Basilica in Philadelphia and on September 27, he celebrated a mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway that attracted more than 800,000. Ukrainians could be spotted dressed in traditional embroidered shirts, waving Ukrainian flags and that of the Vatican, as well as in uniforms of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization.
Pope Francis met with Patriarch Sviatoslav on October 14 during the pontifical synod on the family hosted by the Vatican. During their exchange, when Patriach Sviatoslav explained the dire humanitarian situation due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, he presented the pope with a medal commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Metropolitan Sheptytsky. Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Metropolitan Sheptytsky, and told the patriarch, “Ukraine is in my heart and will always remain there.”
On the morning of November 7, Patriarch Filaret met with members of the Ukrainian American community as well as political leaders – including Rep. Kaptur, who is the co-chair of the Ukrainian Congressional Caucus – at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill. While acknowledging the support of the international community, the patriarch highlighted that there remained little faith for international talks after the security guarantees of the Budapest Memorandum were not upheld – first in Crimea and then in the Donbas. But, he added, President Vladimir Putin was beginning to doubt himself, and there was reason to believe that Ukraine can overcome its challenges. However, Ukraine was in desperate need of humanitarian assistance from the West and support to set and keep Ukraine on its path toward democracy, he underscored.
Ukraine’s religious leaders – representatives of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, representing 85 percent of the citizens of Ukraine – met with Obama administration officials in Washington on November 9 at the White House. Included in the delegation from Ukraine were Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarch Filaret and Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav. Also attending the meeting were Ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly; Rosytlav Pavlenko, deputy head of the Presidential Administration; and Nadia K. McConnell, president of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. In a letter to President Obama, the religious leaders urged the president to increase humanitarian assistance, especially with winter approaching. After the meeting at the White House, the leaders continued their appeal during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington that was organized by the Sound the Alarm for Ukraine Coalition, moderated by Ambassador John Herbst of the Atlantic Council. Following the press conference, the religious leaders of Ukraine visited the Holdomor monument that was unveiled and blessed on November 7.
Patriarch Sviatoslav, joined by Metropolitan Stefan Soroka, Bishop John Bura and Bishop emeritus Basil Losten, Bishop John McIntyre of the Latin-rite Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and clergy from the Philadelphia Archeparchy, celebrated a divine liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia on November 15 that was attended by nearly 1,200. The liturgy celebrated consecrated life, and Patriarch Sviatoslav cited, as examples to follow, the lives of Metropolitan Sheptytsky and Blessed Sister Josaphata Hordashevska, who founded the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001 during his visit to Ukraine. The patriarch blessed icons of Metropolitan Sheptytsky and Sister Josaphata that were written by iconographer Chrystyna Dochwat, who received the Metropolitan Sheptytsky medal from Patriarch Sviatoslav.
The patriarch also celebrated divine liturgy at the Ukrainian National Catholic Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington on November 8, following the blessing of the Holdomor monument in Washington on November 7. While in the U.S., the patriarch also visited parishes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Assumption Catholic School in Perth Amboy, N.J., where he met with students and teachers, and answered a variety of questions from his young audience.