Passion Thursday Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to priests of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

Thursday, 17 April 2014, 19:34
Very Reverend, Right Reverend and Venerable Fathers, Dear Brothers in the Priesthood of Christ!

Once again we approach Holy Thursday, when, on the way to His crucifixion and opening the doors to resurrection, our Divine Saviour established the Holy Mystery of the Priesthood. In relation to this, I desire to meditate with you upon this great gift –in which we became participants when Christ called us to have part in His priesthood. He reminds us at the Last Supper: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (Jn. 15:16)  

Always at turning points in the history of our nation special signs of Christ’s priesthood have been revealed. When the hearts of the people become filled with uncertainty, anxiety and fear, they first of all turn to spiritual fathers for counsel and support through the Word of God and His grace. We can rightly recognize that through our ministry people seek that which is eternal and righteous… for that which does not pass away. They seek God – by Whom we have been called to witness to them, and to hope in Him. It is in that key that the substance of Christ’s priesthood is revealed to us in the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews. The holy author portrays for us Christ the Eternal High-Priest who in His resurrection entered into the Heavenly Sanctuary, that, “we might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchiz'edek.” (Heb. 6:18-20)

So many people come to us today in order to once again find that hope – that anchor of their soul! Today’s world and today’s Ukraine thirst for hope. We continuously witness that human suffering, exploitation and fear that generate doubt and despair in the soul. How important it is for us ourselves - who have received the grace of the Christ’s priesthood - to feel within us that anchor of certainty that unites us to Christ by the unseen power of the Holy Spirit. May this feast-day of ours help us - in the midst of the stormy sea of life – to find the anchor of the priestly soul which is Christian Hope. This hope, according to the writing of the holy Apostle Paul, “does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)  

A Priest is the servant of hope, who witnesses about it before the world and establishes others in hope. That is how the faithful of our Church want to see him. That is how Christ wants to see him… Christ Who called upon His Apostles during various experiences and trials not to lose spirit, but to place their trust in God as He Himself did during His earthly life. The source of our hope is the Lord, His paschal victory over sin and death and over the powers of evil and darkness. United with the Lord, a disciple of Christ does not place his hope in himself, but in God, Who raises the dead and frees from death those who place their complete trust in Him. (cf. 2 Cor. 1:9-10). In this way, the priest’s hope is directed toward Christ the Lord and in Him he seeks his fulfilment. So let our daily praying of the Divine Praises, reflections on the Word of God and our frequent approaching the Holy Mysteries - help us to more deeply unite ourselves with our Lord the Good Shepherd – the very image that we should be for our people. Let us also rediscover the depth of priestly solidarity with our brothers in the priesthood of Christ. Let us strengthen one another in faith and in hope, and in our love toward God and our neighbour, and in our ministry to the needy and the suffering.     

I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and recognition for each of you that supported your Faithful during the events of the last months on the squares of Ukraine and who, by your brave disposition, will help them to persist to the end. I am especially thankful to those pastors that did not abandon their sheep in southern and eastern Ukraine, particularly in Crimea. You were the anchor of hope for our Faithful and you radiated for them a loving God. Thanks to you many people received the gift of faith, requested the Sacrament of Baptism, perhaps for the first time in their lives they made a Confession and came to understand the truth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Such priestly zeal and courage showed that you are worthy sons and heirs of the persecuted Church of martyrs that victoriously came through the furnace of persecution and rose to new life a quarter century ago. We do not know through what trials our Lord will now lead us. But we are certain that as long as our faith in God does not waver, as long as we maintain the anchor of the soul – the certainty of Christian hope in the Lord and His all-powerful grace of the Holy Spirit – as good shepherds, we will be able to, “lay down our lives for the sheep” (cf. Jn. 10:11).

Our people today suffer body and soul. To post-revolutionary wounds was added: the worry of military aggression, the pre-election campaign as well as economic crisis. In your hands, dear Fathers, Jesus Christ has placed the medicine of the Holy Sacraments and the power of the prayer of the Church, pastoral sensitivity and the Word of God as comfort for our suffering nation. Bring them to the people, heal their hearts, teach them how not to fall into anxiety or aggression, hatred and despair. 

Today our people pose extraordinarily high moral demands to the government and politicians, civil servants and police officers, desiring a cleansing of society from all injustices and corruption, from untruths and disregard of human dignity. All of this is the echo of the cry of the human soul for the advent of the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Our response to the trampling of the Divine law, that caused such great damage to our country and to Ukrainian society, must be the renewal of various aspects of national existence in the light of the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments of God. These are the signposts to a person’s true happiness and that of the whole nation. Today’s circumstances encourage us as servants of Christ to preach the Gospel of salvation with a new strength and zeal, confirming our sermons with evidence of the holiness of our own lives.

Dear Fathers and brothers in the priesthood of Christ! Preparing myself for the day of the Last Supper, when following the example of Christ, I wash your feet during the Divine Liturgy, I join with each one of you, I pray for each of you, I rejoice with your joys and I worry with your troubles. At this feast of the Priesthood of Christ, I sincerely greet all the bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians of our Church and assure you of my continuous prayer for you, your families, for the seminary and monastic communities.

            With the words of the Apostle I express to you my sincerest wishes: “hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour…. be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Rom. 12:9-12) And, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13)

 

The Blessing of the Lord be upon you!

+ Sviatoslav

Issued in Kyiv, at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ

on Akafist Saturday, 5 April 2014 A.D.