Saturday, May 02, 2015

Sui Juris Churches VIII: The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Languages: Church Slavonic and Ukrainian

Juridical Status: Major Archiepiscopal

Approximate Population: Somewhere between 5 and 10 million, about 4 or 5 million of which are in western Ukraine.

Brief History: The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, also on rare occasions known as the Kyivan Catholic Church, is the largest of all the Eastern Catholic particular churches, and it has been growing swiftly. It is very well organized, deeply entrenched, has extensive influence. For all that, it is not officially a patriarchal church; Rome has avoided actually recognizing it as having that status in order to avoid antagonizing the Orthodox.

The roots of the modern Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, so called to distinguish it from the Latin Catholic church in the region, are found in the Ruthenian Unions, especially the Union of Brest in 1595. The Ruthenian Church at that time was quite extensive, geographically and culturally. The fates of different populations went different ways. The Ukrainian Catholics became embroiled in the complicated political situation created by the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was cannibalized in the late eighteenth century by three nations, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. In the aftermath of several defeated Polish uprisings, some of which had had extensive support among Catholics in the Russian Partition of Poland, the Russian Empire began actively to suppress the Byzantine Rite Catholics in its territory. The suppression was extensive, systematic, and very effective.

As a measure of protection, the primary center of Byzantine Rite Catholicism in the region was shifted from Kiev, under Russian domination, to Lviv, which was in Austrian jurisdiction. The Austrian Empire under Maria Theresa actively supported the Byzantine Rite Catholic populations. It throve, and the populations in these areas were firmly loyal to the Austrian Empire. The collapse of that Empire would have devastating effects. It now found itself divided among several different nations, and not all of them were friendly any longer. There was active harassment, particularly in Poland, which saw the Greek Catholics in the area as untrustworthy. In addition, it lacked the resources for unity that it once had, and in 1916 Rome split the Ruthenian population according to linguistic lines, leading to the distinction between Ruthenian Catholics and Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

If the aftermath of World War I was a serious blow to the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, the aftermath of World War II would be even more devastating. Communist regimes began actively persecuting the church, transferring its property to the Russian Orthodox Church and driving it underground. The persecutions were very effective, but in many areas it was clear that there was still at least slow growth among the Ukrainian Greek Catholic population. The Communist regime would occasionally conduct purges of newly ordained priests or close down a convent or monastery operating in secret. From afar the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was actively supported by Rome, but there was not much that could practically be done.

The Metropolitan Archbishop of Lviv, Josyf Slipyj, was arrested in 1945 and eventually sentenced to the Siberian Gulag. In 1963, he was finally set free due to the influence of John XXIII and John F. Kennedy; because of this, he was able to participate in the Second Vatican Council. From this time, the Ukrainians began petitioning Rome to recognize him as patriarch, but Paul VI declined and instead created the position of 'Major Archbishop'. During this period the headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church were in Rome, at the church of Santi Sergio e Bacco.

In 1989, through the influence of Gorbachev's liberalization reforms, the church was able to begin functioning in public, and Slipyj's successor was able to return to Lviv. It found that it was in something of a mess; it had nothing except the population of faithful Ukrainian Catholics. It began slowly to rebuild; the tensions between Catholics trying to get back Catholic property and Orthodox who had inherited it occasionally spilled over into violence. Since the independence of Ukraine in 1991, however, the church has flourished, and in 2004, the primary see of the church was moved from Lviv back to Kiev (Kyiv).

Notable Monuments: St. George Ukrainian Cathedral in Lviv; Santi Sergio e Bacco and Santa Sofia a Via Boccea in Rome.

Notable Saints: Josaphat Kuntsevych (November 25). The process for canonization of Venerable Andrey Sheptytsky is relatively advanced, so he may well be raised to the general calendar at some point. There are also many martyrs under Communist regimes, like Blessed Lojze Grozde, who may one day be raised to the general calendar. As a Byzantine Rite church, Ukrainian Greek Catholics have a number of Orthodox saints on their calendars.

Notable Religious Institutes: As with the Ruthenians Catholic Church, the Order of St. Basil has always had a major place in the religious life of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Major Archeparchy of Kyiv–Halych, twelve archeparchies (mostly in Ukraine but also including archeparchies for Canada, the United States, and Brazil), and several other eparchies and exarchates scattered through the world. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church.)

Online Sources and Resources:

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