In Ukraine, Building on the Past, Planning for the Future

In the Spring 2020 edition of ONE, writer Anna Nekrasov chronicles the story of Ukraine today, as the church continues to rebuild after the Soviet era. Below, she describes a visit to a seminary.

After a morning liturgy at the the Patriarchal Cathedral, we drove to the Three Holy Hierarchs Spiritual Seminary, located in the village of Kniazhychi. We were with the Rev. Oleksa Petriv, who teaches about church-state relations there.

The seminarians were studying the constitution of Ukraine, discussing some of its articles about church and state issues and carefully listening to the lecturer, who was explaining to them the nuances of Ukrainian law.  

Father Oleksa told the students: “Our activity in civil society to protect public morals takes place within the Constitution.”

It was Friday, a short study day. After the class, some students were planning to go to town, some to visit their families; others were heading to the library or for lunch. We went downstairs to the refectory, where we met Roman Kichula, a student. He graciously invited us to have lunch. A few minutes later, delicious hot soup, buckwheat porridge and beetroot salad with prunes appeared on our table.

It was a breezy, sunny day and some of the young men were playing football. The ground was covered with grass and surrounded by fallen autumn leaves. The goals were made of wooden posts, and we were told that sometimes they just disappear, taken away to be used as firewood.

Watching students during the day, seeing how serious they were about both their studies and the game, I thought about what a priest of the future could be. What could it mean for the church to be modern?

“We want to bring our values, our understanding of human dignity into this world, into the global culture that is emerging today.”

I saw young people full of hope for the future — open to the new, yet respectful of their traditions. These are men planning to become priests in a complicated world, where many people, organizations and associations are contributing however they can to make this world a better place.

I remembered the words that the Rev. Volodymyr Malchyn had told me when I met him earlier, that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) is not only preserving what they received, “as a museum exhibit, which must be preserved at all costs, even if it is covered with dust“ and left unused. But there is more. “Our task,” he told me, “is to pass on our Christian heritage to future generations and that is why this process requires a dialogue with the youth, with the modern man. It requires creativity from us, and creativity is a sign of the Holy Spirit”.

Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the difficult times of World War II and the Soviet occupation. In his 1941decree, “How to Build a Native House,” he called on the clergy “to look closely at the masses and to study life, to see closely how people can be victims not only of hard work, but also of great dangers and false hopes.”

Closely attending to Ukrainian society, analyzing modern life, the clergy of the UGCC do not separate their spiritual motivation from the position of an active public leader, but combine them, reinforcing each other.

“We want to bring our values, our understanding of human dignity into this world, into the global culture that is emerging today,” says His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

The active participation of the UGCC in the development of civil society in Ukraine also helps people to perceive the church not only as a place to escape from their problems, but as a place where problems be solved together — both at the spiritual level as well as on the social one.

“We are a moral voice,” says Father Volodymyr. “In difficult situations, people want to hear clear guidelines about how to act, and here the church — through the bishops, through His Beatitude Sviatoslav and through the priests — gives answers to these difficult questions that can arise.”

Discover more about An Ancient Church, A New Ukraine in the current edition of ONE.

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