Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav To the Clergy of the UGCC On Holy Thursday 2020

Wednesday, 08 April 2020, 12:51
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood of Christ!

Before his own passion, moving towards the illustrious feast of the final victory of life over death, our Saviour Jesus Christ, in the midst of the particular circumstances of this year, once again calls each of us to come together around his Mystical Table this Holy Thursday. Here we celebrate the special closeness of the Lord, who chose us to share in his eternal priesthood. Today, in this time of turbulent challenges, once again he chooses and gathers us, his co-workers in the pastoring of souls, to entrust us with the most profound desires of his heart, to share with us his own life and make us partakers in his Body and Blood, so that we might become partners in his service to humanity, for whose salvation he goes to his voluntary suffering and death on the cross.

In establishing the Holy Mystery of the Priesthood of the New Covenant, our Lord makes us a community: a community of partakers in the one Bread—his Body, and one Cup—his Blood. Along with this, our Teacher makes us a community of his like-minded followers. Henceforth his Word and example become the centre and meaning of our personal life in today’s world. Once again he says to us: You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:14-15). Therefore, in order that we might worthily fulfil our priestly ministry, we are called to grow in one-mindedness with our Saviour, to be partakers in his care over the world. And so, in a special way we should give ear to the anxieties and hopes of humanity today, in order to be able to faithfully bring before God’s face the prayers and pleas of our entire people, the pain and sadness of each human heart, raised up today to the very Creator of life.

Today we celebrate Easter in extraordinary circumstances. The celebratory words of undefeated hope— “Christ is risen! Truly, he is risen!” —resound throughout the world this year in empty churches. A new deadly disease forced humankind to stop and rethink the value of human life and its manner of action. This year, the time of Great Lent suddenly became a time of review and purification of how we build relationships, both with God and with our neighbour. In the situation of quarantine isolation that humanity finds itself today, each person has experienced vulnerability and fear, while the world, created with our hands, has proved to be fragile and insecure. Precisely through us, his priests, the Lord seeks to stand with each human being in the days of his or her trials. In this Paschal time—a time of passage from death to life, from the darkness of night to the bright morning of Christ’s resurrection—the Lord seeks to be close to human frailty through us, placing his own shoulders under the heavy Cross of humanity.

Compelled in the present circumstances to spend much more time in their family circle, people suddenly came to experience a crisis in family relations, becoming more deeply aware that marriage and parental love—these are not formalities, but а conscious feat of courageous responsibility for one another. Behind the doors of our homes, closed before the danger of disease, we became hostages to a threatening fear that emerges in the midst of the spread of infection and the increase of victims of the epidemic. We have been overcome by a sense of our helplessness and loneliness. In such circumstances, people of advanced age are particularly susceptible. Together, we are experiencing global alienation.

At the same time through new contemporary means of communication, a unique opportunity to overcome loneliness by the power of prayer has opened up before us. Possibly more than ever before, pastors now have an opportunity to be in the homes of their faithful through online broadcasts, and to respond to a deep spiritual search for God. Forced to be separated by quarantine, not one of us in the great community of Christ’s Church should feel forgotten, abandoned, doomed to loneliness. For we are the Church of Christ, united in the eternal love of the One, who taking upon himself responsibility for human sin, descended into the radical measure of its consequences, to the Hades of rejection and fear of loneliness (see Ps 22:1), in order to defeat its hostile darkness with the light of his divine love. Today, we, as his pastors of souls, with our faith and our care for the people of God entrusted to us, are called to shine confidently with the light of hope in the twilight of global isolation.

The dramatic circumstances of universal anxiety and human pain create for us new and complex challenges. It is through us that our Lord seeks to approach wounded humanity and embrace it. By celebrating services in empty churches, we become ever more aware that to be a priest of Christ today means to be not merely a celebrant of divine services, but also a builder of culture, possibly, a new and renewed culture of our being together.

Today, we are beginning to understand much better, that being the Church of Christ means to be a community,—a community of partakers in the one Body and Blood of our Saviour, a community of those who of are the same mind with Christ, brothers and sisters of the one hope, united by the one love we all share. Community is the place where one does not experience loneliness. Therefore, pastoral ministry today means, first of all, to communicate, and also, in the light of the Word of God, to understand the sense of human experience in the contemporary circumstances of our life. That human life, that human experience becomes our ambo—the place from which the words of Christ’s Gospel is proclaimed into the wide world. It becomes the centre of God’s presence among his people, the place where we together celebrate the Holy Mysteries. The new culture of building relations between people, which is being created before our very eyes in the circumstance of the present pandemic, the new way of being of one mind and living by the one and same Holy Spirit, demands of us an authentic pastoral conversion.

From the start, we ourselves must travel the spiritual path of conversion to the fullness of Christ. Only a converted priest, who unceasingly recognizes, in the light of Christ’s Gospel, the truth about himself, overcomes his own sin and grows in holiness, can help other people convert and rediscover the road to God. Pastoral conversion involves a fundamental change in how a priest communicates with people, for whose souls he carries personal responsibility before God. Forced to loneliness, people expect that God will not forget them That is why today we are called to become for many of our faithful a living incarnation of our Lord God’s care, a healing voice of his comfort and consolation. In forced isolation, such pastoral visitations through a phone call or other means of communication are an especially valuable way for God’s Word to reach a person. An eloquent example of a vibrant church community today is its care for the elderly and those in need, the sick, and those who care for them.

In order to help a person today open up to God in faith, one cannot act by the power of authority, coercion, impudent arrogance, or insolence. One cannot impose human relationships on someone. It is the fruit of sincere mutual respect for the dignity of each person. One cannot compel someone to love or to be happy. God does not impose himself on someone, but shares himself, like someone sharing bread with a person who is hungry. One cannot force a person to pray or keep the Lord’s commandments. God’s love to a person needs to be witnessed and offered as a gift by the sharing of life. Then will a person respond to God’s calling with a reciprocity for which he or she was created, will open up and allow him, who shows interest in difficult times, to enter into his or her personal world. One can only make someone today a friend of Christ by “capturing” them through the power of one’s own example and the depth of inner conviction, witness of life, shared among brothers and sisters, as Eucharistic bread—broken, divided, and shared, in order tо satisfy the hunger of the human heart.,

The only effective way of pastoral ministry in the new situation is, in light of the Christian faith, to become aware of one’s own pain and experience of joy. It is the ability to open up a person to new horizons of hope and love in their lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. An important part of our mission is to help a person today to be fully themselves and to see the beauty of his or her humanity in relationship with another person. Furthermore, one of our fundamental tasks in contemporary human society is to create a culture that cultivates respect for the human dignity of a person and teaches responsibility for the common good. No one will ever tire of their own humanity. Nevertheless, this humanity needs protection, and it can be fully protected only in the womb of the Church of Christ.

My dear brothers in the ministry of Christ!

With gratitude and admiration, I gaze today on your pastoral zeal for human souls in these circumstances of great universal pain and general anxiety. I was particularly impressed with the words of our brother in Italy, who said: “I do not fear this virus! I am only afraid of becoming a carrier of this disease and threatening the lives of my parishioners through infection.” Such zeal and Christian consciousness, even in regards to upholding the rules of quarantine in the fulfilment of priestly duties, is an expression of the readiness of a pastor to be close to his people and to “lay down his life for his sheep” (see Jn 10:15). Thank you to all priests who recorded a video appeal to our faithful with the message, “We are with you!” I rejoice in the fact that you long for living communication with your people and are seeking every possible way to be with them and give them the possibility of feeling your care and prayer. With special thanks, I remember today those pastors, who fulfil their assigned ministry on the Ukrainian front-line positions of today—our hospital and military chaplains. I am convinced that these new circumstances will allow our people to better know and love their Church, and through your ministry—to a deeper trust in the Lord God.

With special prayer, I embrace those of our pastors, who have become sick with the coronavirus and find themselves in hospitals and compulsory isolation. I assure you of the prayers and solidarity of our entire Church, both in Ukraine and throughout the world. Not long ago, conversing with one of our sick brothers, I saw in his situation a special mission: to be the face of the Church and the path of God’s grace to the sick and to the medical personnel, who remain at their side behind the invisible wall of isolation. This reminds us of the achievement of our heavenly patron, the priest-martyr Omelian Kovch, who sensed his position as the only priest among those condemned to death, in order to faithfully guide them to eternity. Similarly, today our brothers in the priesthood who are infected with the disease sense their calling to carry Christ to those whose lives and health remain under threat in medical facilities. May the Lord assist each one of us in all circumstances of life to faithfully fulfil our priestly mission with the humble strength and creative action of the Holy Spirit.

Already today, in these unusual circumstances of quarantine, we must prepare for its completion. Most assuredly we will emerge from forced self-isolation and will return to and help others return to the normal rhythm of our church life and ministry! For it is the Lord who gives us the light of hope that together we will defeat the wounds of the epidemic. Possibly we are not yet fully aware of all the economic and socio-political difficulties that await us all. But no one can take away from us the joy of the Resurrection. Let us rejoice, like the apostles, who, having seen the risen Saviour, cast aside all doubt, and their disappointment was transformed into hope. May this joy and hope of the Resurrection be the message of our preaching, as it was in apostolic times!

Dear Brothers! I sincerely greet you on this day that is so special for us—the day when the Holy Mystery of the Priesthood was established. My wish for all of you, that the Holy Spirit with his breath may always renew in your souls the seal of the priesthood in the order of Melchizedek, and even in the most difficult moments may remind you of the joy of that initial love of Christ, that we experienced at our first Divine Liturgy—the joy of being his forever!

From all my heart I wish you and all your families a festive celebration of the glorious Resurrection of Christ, strong physical and spiritual health, heavenly peace, and joy.

The blessing of the Lord be upon you!

 

 

 

+ SVIATOSLAV

 

Given in Kyiv

at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ,

on the vigil of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos,

April 6 (March 24), 2020 A.D.