"We must be ourselves!" Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the birth of Patriarch Josyph Slipyj

Sunday, 19 February 2017, 09:50
"We must be ourselves!" Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to the faithful of the UGCC and all people of good will on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the birth of Patriarch Josyph Slipyj

Lord, teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. (Ps. 143, 10)


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

February 17 of this year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Patriarch Josyph Slipyj  – Confessor of faith and longtime Primate of our Church. The Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has entrusted to all the faithful this whole year to honor his memory and pray for his glorification here, on earth, among the choir of the blessed and saints.

The life of Patriarch Josyph Slipyj passed in the whirlwind of difficult and dramatic events of the ХХth century. He, as no one else, experienced almost all the burdens and sufferings of that historical period. His life  passed against the backdrop of revolutions and two World Wars, collapse of empires and constant change of state boundaries; he went through imprisonment, exile and, finally, forced emigration... The Patriarch unified in himself the experiences of hundreds of thousands or even millions of Ukrainians, for whom those decades became a true via dolorosa per aspera ad astrа. It is this motto  – "Per aspera ad astra" (through hardships to the stars) – Josyph Slipyj put in 1939  on his episcopal escutcheon. His secret episcopal ordination took place under conditions of persecutions against the Church during the first Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine. Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, confined by a serious disease to a wheelchair, tried to provide successive leadership for the Church and was looking for a person whom "no trials could break". Young Bishop Josyph probably felt that his ministry would be a path through the thorns.  However, as stars are a guide for the sailor not to get lost in the stormy sea, so the light of Christ that enlightens everything, became the guide for the future Patriarch in his own life and in his serving to others.

He came into this world as a subject of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and left it as an outcast of the last empire of the ХХth century – the Soviet one. In his childhood little Josyph dreamed of becoming a priest or a scholar. With the blessing and support of Metropolitan Andrej Sheptytsky he was able to realize and combine these two great callings, although external circumstances didn't always foster their full realization. His student years coincided with the unrest of World War I and desperate attempts of our people to gain independence and unite into one state. Josyph Slipyj received his priestly ordination from the hands of Metropolitan Andrej in September 1917, when the latter could finally return from the Russian captivity. His higher theologian studies in Innsbruck and then in Rome passed amid the post-war devastation and great socio-political and spiritual-moral crises in Europe of that time.

In 1922, after finishing his studies abroad, Father Josyph returned to a new political reality in his homeland. This time it was a restored Polish state, in which Ukrainians again found themselves in the role of a discriminated national and religious minority. This is why the Head of our Church entrusted to him the leadership of the Spiritual Seminary, the establishment of the Ukrainian theological  academic society and the development of the Greek Catholic Theological Academy in Lviv, which became the leading academic and educational centers not only for the Church circles, but for the whole Ukrainian community in Halychyna. 

But ahead was even bigger test - the Second World War. The Ukrainian "blood lands" got in the center of collision of two totalitarianisms  – Hitler's and Stalin's regimes, each of which was building their "new order" on the bones of millions of innocent victims and in denial of eternal Christian and universal values.

In November 1944, after the return to Western Ukraine of the Bolshevik power and passing on into eternity of Metropolitan Andrej, Bishop Josyph took over the leadership of the Church. They say that even a top-rank official of the Soviet secret service, who had been sent to Lviv in order to coordinate the violent liquidation of the UGCC, and, having seen the young bishop in bishop's vestments during the funeral procession, whether with regret or "with knowledge of the matter", observed: "How many crosses have they placed on that bishop! How is he supposed to bear them all?" And already in the night of April 11th, 1945 the new Primate of the UGCC, together with other bishops and well-known priests, was arrested. He spent the next 18 years behind the walls of the  repressive Soviet penal system, tirelessly and relentlessly carrying his cross of a confessor of faith and confirmed others in hope. Deep faith in God, faith that Lord's Providence should defend the Church, which the Savior Himself established and which no one could destroy, were for him spiritual supports and guides in order not to lose himself in the midst of the prickly thorns of terrible ordeals.

Having received his release in 1963, thanks to the efforts of St. Pope John ХХІІІ and American President John Kennedy, and, having arrived in Rome, Metropolitan Josyph never renounced his Ukrainian (though Soviet) citizenship. Moreover, "deported without the right of return" archpastor wanted to be together with his suffering people, at least in the distance to show solidarity with his faithful, who remained "in the house of bondage". While in the West, he made great efforts in order to find and gather those who, either by material need or political circumstances in the homeland, had been scattered throughout the world. The Patriarch-confessor understood that without solid spiritual and intellectual foundations the nation will be doomed to forget her roots, to disorganization and self-abasement, to utter subjugation and assimilation. Therefore, Bishop Josyph Slipyj issues his first decrees "in the free world" about the establishment and development of two institutions: the Ukrainian Catholic University and the Cathedral of St. Sophia. Despite his advanced age, and not lamenting about his energy and health having been broken by years of imprisonment, he visited our each eparchy and every exarchate in the diaspora; he visited almost every parish, collecting not only funds, but also rallying all "who were scattered" into one, full of her dignity, nation under God in his Particular Church.

Patriarch and Cardinal Josyph Slipyj didn't live to see by only a few years the collapse of Soviet Union and its utter demise.  He reposed in the Lord on September 7, 1984 and only in August 1992 his mortal remains stately and solemnly "returned"  from Rome to Lviv, after the Ukrainian people had gained their state's independence, and after the persecuted Church had come out of catacombs. But a true respite for his tireless soul our great Patriarch bequeathed only then  when, "if it be God's will and the wish of the Ukrainian people, place my coffin in the catacombs of the renewed St. Sophia Cathedral" in Kyiv as a sign of unity and sobornist'  of our entire nation and its unified Kyivan Church. We all should work hard on this task in order to fulfill the last will of this great man of the Church!

Meditating on the pages of the biography of Patriarch Josyph, we may assume that in his youth, dreaming about his future, he wasn't even thinking that he would have to experience so many difficulties and trials. But, as we know from his memoirs, he always asked himself: "What does the Lord expect from me?" And he often pondered on the question: "What will history say about me one day, with what shall I stand before the Lord at Christ's Last Judgment?" It is clear that Josyph Slipyj became a great man not at any one moment. From day to day he grew in prayer, holiness, wisdom, in the sense of responsibility, and most of all – in fidelity to God' s will. 

His life, as the life of everyone of us, wasn't a straight path, but rather a labyrinth, in which every choice is important. Because at every turn it is possible to make an error, choosing the wrong way. In order not to get lost on that path, we need an inner compass that will show us the correct route. The servant of God Josyph didn't search for guides in transient ideas or vain expectations. In his pastoral letter  "On the unity in Christ" (June, 3, 1976) he addressed his flock with simple advice: "We must be ourselves!" This "being ourselves" is being born in everyone of us at the moment when in our prayer to our Heavenly Father we recognize His will concerning our life. And every stage in Patriarch Josyph's biography is marked with this sign of authenticity, at the heart of which Christ abides.

He was himself when he revealed in himself the attraction to learning and devoted his entire life to it, not so much by his own academic work but by creating the conditions and  institutions for others. He was himself when he felt the calling to priesthood and gave away his whole self to it, despite the restrictions and bans to perform his ministry. He was himself when he refused from the promised freedom    and high positions if he were to renounce his Church. He was himself when, having found himself in the West, became the voice and symbol of "silent Church" in the USSR and of all the persecuted by the godless, totalitarian government. He was himself when he was defending the right of the religious community, of which he was the Head, to patriarchal dignity. Only this posture gave him the opportunity not to depend on stunning changes around him and to walk through all those turning points in history with dignity.

Today, when we often hear that we live in "fluid times" or even in "the post-truth era", when everything around is constantly changing, nothing is longstanding and firm, truth does not exist, there are only "points of view", that the one is right whoever has power and money, and popularity can be gained by means of cheap slogans and promises, − Patriarch Josyph's invitation to authenticity, to "being yourself", is once again extremely important.

To be ourselves was never easy; it's even more difficult to exercise our calling in the uncertain times we are now experiencing. At first glance, it's much easier and more comfortable to adapt to change, to fit ourselves to external circumstances, to refuse to recognize absolute Truth... But woe to the person who ceases to be himself. The life of Patriarch Josyph, the resurrection of our Church from catacombs and her further dynamic development bear witness that only the one overcomes volatility and fluidity of history, who invariably remains in his or her core the same as the Lord created him or her. This path, even though difficult and full of thorns, is possible, and it brings a person great inner satisfaction and joy because he or she exercises his or her Christian duty and does God's will, and only in this way can be himself or herself.

Therefore, in this Jubilee Year of our Patriarch Josyph, we encourage all to think about who we are and what our task is on this earthly pilgrimage to eternity, in our journey today "through hardships to the stars". And may the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, be for us that leading star, which will allow us to overcome all obstacles on this path of truly knowing our very selves through His Cross and Resurrection. The life destiny of Patriarch Josyph persuades us that, with deep faith and God's help, a person of unbreakable will, who doesn't renounce his or her God-given being, who doesn't betray his or her calling and who exercises his or her ministry, will win, whatever the circumstances, in a duel with evil and falsehood.

The blessing of the Lord be upon you with His grace and love for mankind, always, now and for ever and ever.



Given in Kyiv,

At the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, 

on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ,

 15 February 2017 A.D.


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