Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Might the Ukrainian Catholic Church's Russophobia be shooting it in the foot?

Russia understandably is a sore subject in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). I'm functionally a Russian Catholic worshipping there, because it's close culturally and it's here, but know to largely keep quiet about it. I know Russian, not fluently, and Slavonic, the old liturgical language shared with Russia, and don't really know Ukrainian as such. I know a few unique words and recognize it when I see and hear it. This parish is descendants of pre-1914 immigration so it's not extremely nationalistic. The liturgical languages now are English and some Ukrainian. The UGCC as of the 1596 union with Rome was the whole metropolia of Kiev, all of the Ukraine and Byelorussia but with lots of resistance. Russian expansion and persecution westward (most of the Ukraine went under Russia in the 1600s) reduced the UGCC by the 1800s to Galicia, under Poland (who weren't nice to them), which was sometimes under Austria-Hungary (who were nice). Then Stalin stole it in World War II, outlawing the UGCC, driving it underground for 40 years. Galicia's related to Russia, brother East Slavs, but was never Russian. It's the home base of the Ukrainian language. That said, most of the Ukraine speaks, you guessed it, Russian. People who don't identify as Russian speak Russian. It's like German-speaking Austria vs. Germany. Kiev, the capital, speaks Russian but the government pretends it doesn't. Russian has no official recognition in the Ukraine. The trouble behind the UGCC's decline in America might be that the UGCC doesn't want to admit that the Ukraine speaks Russian. So recent Ukrainian immigrants, in the Russian communities, aren't served. Post-Soviet immigration hasn't helped the UGCC. Offer Russian-speaking priests with Russian sermons and maybe the UGCC here would come back to life. Another issue, though, is would this put us head-to-head against the Orthodox Church in America (the old Russian metropolia in America, actually 60% descendants of Rusyn and Ukrainian ex-Catholics we harassed about clerical marriage), the Moscow Patriarchal parishes, and ROCOR (by the way, all these Russian groups, split in Communist times, are in communion), which has priests from Russia ministering in these areas? That would go against our long game: don't solicit individual conversions; work to reconcile all the Orthodox to us together and leave the rite alone. Well, the Ukrainians who go there probably don't identify as Ukrainian so the question might be moot. Still, tread carefully.


  1. I know that, practically speaking, achieving corporate reunion between Catholics and Orthodox would be ideal. However, I've always respected the courage of conviction that Orthodox Christians (and pre-Vatican II Catholics) expressed by working for individual conversions to their Church. Christianity has historically been characterized by an opposition to heresy and schism and work to unite those outside the Church with the Church. I view the replacement of work for individual conversion with corporate reunion as signs of a new ecclesiology that replaces the essential unity of the Church with "degrees of communion" and a "subsist in" ecclesiology that disassociates the Church of Christ from the Catholic Church (or Orthodox Church, if one is Orthodox). If the Church possesses only a "fullness of truth" and many Churches share in this fullness of communion and salvation in varying degrees, corporate reunion makes sense. If, however, the Catholic/Orthodox Church is the one ark of salvation and heresy and schism exist outside of her, she must work for individual conversions in order to be faithful to the Great Commission of Matt. 28:20. But the Holy Fathers only taught the latter. I think we should retain it.

    1. The Orthodox and other separated Eastern churches have bishops and the Mass, and all of their defined doctrine, our early councils, is true. Not so with Protestants. So corporate reunion is possible, desirable, with them; not possible with Protestants. It's not a new ecclesiology. Our true-church claim (which every ancient church has) is doctrine, not negotiable, and in no way does this deny that teaching. It's what we've wanted all along: we've always recognized their bishops and their Liturgy as real. It's the smart way to go about it. One of my sayings: born Orthodox get the benefit of the doubt. Attempts to convert them one at a time failed (the Greek and Russian Byzantine Catholic churches failed), and the unias did too (bringing in the metropolia of Kiev as the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and the Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch as the Melkite Church), in the sense of falling short of our ultimate goal, and only increased the Orthodox' resentment of us.

      It will probably never happen but we can aim for nothing less: each Orthodox church's synod (as there is no Orthodox Church; they're all independent) would have to decide to come back, then all those churches would return together and we would leave the rite alone, the way I use the rite.

      As the late Archimandrite Serge (Keleher) said when he told me of his own return to the church, we accept individual conversions from the separated East, but quietly.

      Soliciting individual conversions of Protestants including Anglicans is fine.

  2. It's all very sad. Much hostility is caused by political machinations and underhand dirty tricks, on all sides.


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