Letter from the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops to Their Faithful on the Occasion of the 1999 Synod
(Krekhiv, Ukraine, September 8, 1999) All Christian nations are in the midst of a unique event, the transition from the second to the third millennium of the Christian era. This is a great Jubilee for all people.
The Ukrainian nation and its Church, together with other nations of the world, stand on the threshold of the third millennium and are about to enter a new Christian era. For them the second millennium was a real martyrdom in the struggle for civil rights of the people and the unity of Christ’s Church. At times it seemed that the Ukrainian Church ceased to exist, and the Ukrainian nation lost all hope for its independence. But the power of God performed a great miracle: the Church rose from the dead and the nation gained its independence.
The Ukrainian Church and the whole Ukrainian nation entered the third millennium of Christianity with its "mountains of corpses and rivers of blood" sacrificed in the second millennium. The blood of these martyrs should become the spiritual catalyst of growth and sanctification of new Ukrainian generations and contribute to the spiritual renewal of the materialized world in the third millennium.
Analyzing the thousand-year Christian history of the Ukrainian nation, its way of the cross and its spiritual achievements, it must be observed that still wider horizons are opening up before Ukraine for attaining unity in the universal Church of other churches of the east. Today the eyes of many are focused on the Ukrainian Church as one who by virtue of her Christian faith, and the blood of martyrs for the unity of the Church, is called by god to be an example for the unity of the Christian East.
We, your Pastors, are well aware of the great difficulties you are experiencing and we deeply share them with you. First of all there is the economic situation of our nation: unemployment, the look of daily bread for many, mass emigration to other parts of the world, where many cougars lurk. We observe that the Ukrainian society is impoverished. What meager work there is, is not adequately compensated, and pensioners often suffer hunger. In many, used to the Soviet system, there is a lack of initiative and a reluctance to work. The land of Ukraine is fertile, nut it often remains unworked, and what is worse, there is often the lack of means of harvesting its fruits.
But in spite if this, thank God, there is much that is positive. The use of the Ukrainian language is gradually spreading, schools are becoming nationalized, many churches have been renewed and new ones built. Seminaries and monasteries have been opened and there are priests as well but much work and sacrifice is still needed to improve life in all its aspects.
On her part, our church, both in Ukraine and other countries, is in pain, with its modest means, to come to the aid of the poor and the needy, especially through her charitable organizations, which assist the most abandoned. By means of this letter we appeal to all who are materially well off to share their goods with those in need for the love of Christ. And yet in spite of all those shortcomings and problems, which will not last for ever, we enjoy one of God’s most precious gifts, the gift of freedom of the people in their own independent country. This gift of God we must treasure and promote in keeping with Christian principles.
We are aware of and we are concerned about the difficult situation of our young people in Ukraine who cannot easily gain entrance into higher education. When they do attain their desired diplomas or professions, they cannot find work and never seek work in other countries. We are also aware of all the moral pitfalls which young people face because of a lack of Christian principles.
We are witnesses to the political confusion in Ukraine, which threatens the foundations of her independence. There is similar confusion in the ecclesiastical field, which threatens the unity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was always the bukwark of our people in the most difficult times of their history.
However, the current situation of our nation and church should not lead us to despair, precisely now on the eve of such historical events, which are the Great Jubilee of the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of Christ as man and the start of the third millennium of the new Christian era. Our salvation, as well as that of all nations, is Christ our God, the Saviour of all peoples and nations. We ought to follow the example of Christ’s disciples of Emmaus, who upon encountering the risen Christ, were filled with joy and gladness, as was the entire believing community in Jerusalem. We believe, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, who lives and acts in His Church, will manifest His glory and power in the third millennium, especially in our Church, which has suffered so much in His name.
Now we, your Pastors, assembled in our Synod, appeal to all of you; priests, monastics, community leaders, creators of Ukrainian culture, the youth, those suffering in body and soul, and all people of good will, rekindle faith in your hearts in Christ our God, the Saviour of nations, and in the most Holy Mother of God, the Protectress of the Ukrainian people, because Christ continues to dwell among us. He will save and glorify us among the nations of the world, because we suffered with Him for long centuries.
We are aware, our dear people in Christ, that in the present unusually difficult condition of our nation and our newly independent country, the eyes of all who cherish the good fortune of Ukraine, are turned to our Church, which from the very beginnings of Ukrainian Christianity was its spiritual leader and unified the nation in spite of centuries of statelessness. She, our Church, will again today save our nation because in the Church, God's power is at work, indeed the risen Christ, the head of the Church.
Today, dear Brothers and Sisters, we want to follow the example of our great predecessor in the episcopacy, the servant of God Metropolitan Andrew. A hundred years ago he took leadership of the Kievan-Halych Church, with the see in Lviv, which then too was not in a very promising situation. In his first pastoral letters he wrote to his faithful, "With my whole heart I love our Church and our holy rite and have dedicated my entire life to God's cause... On my part the sacrifice has been made." And writing to his priests he said, "Today with a sincere heart I greet you as brothers and coworkers. Right now I belong more to you than to my family or my monastic community, because the ties that bind me to you are stronger than any others... In our apostolic work from this day on I am in irrevocable solidarity with you, and today ask the same from you…we will carry out our obligations, because we know that if we don't, our people will be lost. We know that if we do not teach the children their catechism, they will grow up un-Christian, if we do not absolve sinners, sins will only multiply without measure and number… But certainly our people are deserving of our love and our sacrifice. For all, who are poor, who work and life weighs heavily on their shoulders, the uneducated and the learned, those without life's means, see in us their only defense, their only help, they see in us their fathers and leaders... We shall be shepherds and fathers for our people" (from the journal "Prapor")
Andrew Sheptytsky in his letters decisively demands Christian patriotism in the entire nation, pointing to the patriotism of Christ and of St. Paul the Apostle. Metropolitan Andrew warns, as we do, against divisions and hatred, before useless party politics. He writes, "We appeal to the whole nation to unite forces, because a force divided is always weak. We fervently urge the people to grow in strength by all means, to hold fervently to the law of Christ, so that with a strengthened Christian culture, they would draw all Christian nations to unity."
We follow the example of the great Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, who with paternal love and a painful heart accompanied masses of Ukrainian emigrants to countries beyond the seas, and looked after them there. In like manner, we too today accompany our citizens of Ukraine, who, because of hard times at home leave to seek work in various countries of this demoralized world, risking great moral dangers. Preserve your faith, our dear children, your high Christian morality, and seek refuge in our Catholic churches in those lands, because there you will find Christ, and the Mother of God, who will take care of you. We accompany you with our prayers and our blessing.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, we dedicate a special message to today's Ukrainian youth, who experienced the wicked school of atheism, to parents, teachers, professors, catechists, who educate them. You children, young men and women, now have the opportunity to get to know Christ, our
God and Saviour, our light, joy, happiness which you seek. Only Christ can make you happy. Get to know Christ, to love him, become good Christians and upright citizens. Then our fatherland, our country, will become more Christian, as at the time of St. Volodymyr the Great.
Finally, a word to the political authorities of our renewed young country. We express our respect to you and assure you of our prayers. Your service to the nation at the top levels of government is truly important as it is difficult, considering the unenviable inheritance which you received upon the fall of the Soviet Union, that ruin of all aspects of Christian and national life. We must remember that the Ukrainian nation is deeply Christian and with its thousand-year Christian heritage, now has to be renewed in the new Ukrainian state. Christ's Church is your ally, for through her apostolate she prepares upright citizens for Ukraine, and that is essential for a country. The constant prayer of the Church, "for our civil authorities" is a pledge of God's Wisdom in the guidance of the Ukrainian nation into the future.
We place all these hopes of ours for a bright future for our nation and our Church under the all-powerful patronage of the Most Pure Virgin Mary. We are convinced that a renewal of the whole world will soon come about by the power and action of Spirit and the prayers of Mary, Mother of the Church and Help of Christians. New good times will come. Justice and love will prevail among nations, and the Kingdom of Christ will be established on earth.
As a pledge of our paternal love to you, Reverend Fathers, and dear Brothers and Sisters, accept our Episcopal blessings.
(As printed in PROGRESS Ukrainian Catholic News, Winnipeg, for Sept. 29, 1999)
Rev. Fr. Michael Winn
Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Winnipeg
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Last Modified on 09/22/1999.