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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Answering the Call

Recently ordained priests rejuvenate Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church

“From now on I will only call my son ‘Father,’ ” says Myroslava Sergeeva proudly. Just a few hours earlier, she watched her son, Petro Moysiak, profess his obedience during an ordination ceremony inside the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of the Transfiguration in Kolomiya, a city in western Ukraine, 124 miles south of Lviv.

Father Petro Moysiak recently finished six years of study at Holy Spirit Seminary in Lviv. Though now a priest, he does not officially graduate until he completes a year of training in a parish. In the coming weeks, he will depart for Argentina to do just that.

His early ordination is in fact a rare exception, one that required the intercession of the recently elected head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

“Our Petro is quite experienced,” explains his stepfather, Valeriy Sergeev. “In 2003, he graduated from Ternopil National Academy of Economy with a graduate degree in accounting and auditing. And from November 2003 to February 2004, he experienced the war in Iraq.”

“All that time I was searching for God in places where there was no God: in accountancy and in war,” says the 29-year-old priest. “At Ukraine’s peace mission in Kut, Iraq, there were no chaplains and almost no one practiced Christianity. I did take my prayer book with me and always read it. The other guys would make fun of me. Later on though, they asked me to remember them in my prayers.”

“Here’s the interesting thing,” begins the young priest’s spiritual mentor, 38-year-old Father Petro Holiney. “In Petro’s letters from Iraq, there was nothing written about a possible future in the priesthood, but at the same time all his letters hinted at his true calling.”

Born in the well-established village of Deliatyn, 30 miles outside the regional capital of Ivano-Frankivsk, Petro Moysiak grew up in a traditional Ukrainian Greek Catholic family — which was still an underground church until he was 9 years old. As a child, he sang in the church choir and served as an altar server.

In 2001, he established two youth groups, St. Josaphat the Martyr for boys and St. Olha for girls. Both groups help local senior citizens, disabled persons and orphans in villages throughout western Ukraine. They also sing traditional carols at Christmas and organize summer camp activities in the Carpathian Mountains for children.

“This year we are celebrating our tenth anniversary,” says Father Petro Moysiak’s 19-year-old sister, Oksana, a member of St. Olha. “And this is all thanks to my brother.”

Father Moysiak and Father Holiney represent a new generation of young priests who face unique challenges in a changing corner of the world that has experienced a spiritual revival in the post-Soviet era.

Both men find great inspiration in the teachings and work of the late Father Mykhailo Kosylo, a talented pedagogue, poet and founder and rector of Lviv’s late Soviet-era underground Ukrainian Greek Catholic seminary, which operated from the 1970’s through the early 1990’s. Father Kosylo secretly trained a total of 20 seminarians, the last of whom was Father Holiney. Other clergy often refer to these priests as “Kosylivtsi” after Father Koslyo.

The seminary consisted of no more than a simple house, which Father Kosylo built in the village of Dora, about 113 miles from Lviv. The attic, with its vaulted ceiling, served as its tiny chapel. Father Kosylo crafted an iconostasis with his own hands, which one could quickly and easily disassemble and stow away, if ever the K.G.B. raided the seminary.

Today, the seminary functions as an active parish and a small museum. The museum, which Father Holiney runs and curates, displays numerous ancient books, Bibles and calendars, as well as Father Kosylo’s manuscripts and notebooks.

Father Kosylo also used the house as a dormitory for his seminarians. Today, his much younger sister, 61-year-old Mariya Cherleniuk-Kosylo, continues the tradition and welcomes a handful of seminarians from Holy Spirit as boarders. She keeps the house, tends the garden and cooks for the men, who call her “mother.”

In the Greek Catholic tradition, seminarians are permitted to marry prior to ordination. But some still choose a life of celibacy; if they do, they cannot marry after they are ordained.

All the Kosylivtsi priests decided to remain celibate, including Father Holiney and the newly ordained Father Moysiak.

“It is my personal choice,” explains Father Moysiak. “The third year of seminary was decisive for me. I weighed all the factors and decided to remain unmarried. An unmarried priest, in my humble opinion, is better prepared to follow his calling.”

However, most Ukrainian Greek Catholic faithful feel quite differently about married priests. “Usually, there are only three to five unmarried priests from each class of about 30 graduates,” says Father Mykolai-Volodymyr Fredyna, rector of Holy Spirit Seminary. “Such statistics can be explained by the fact that parishioners are used to having the priest’s family serve as a model for them.”

Each year, Holy Spirit Seminary hosts a retreat for the seminarians’ fiancées. Priests and their wives as well as other lay and religious leaders give talks and lead discussion groups about the challenges, joys and expectations of married life in the church. Often during the retreat, a few women realize the lifestyle is not for them. Most, though, happily marry their fiancés.

“Quite a few girls dream of becoming priests’ wives, especially those from villages,” says Father Dmytro Hrynyk, who graduated from Holy Spirit in 2008 and has since served as a pastor at Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Mother in Lviv. “Though my wife, Khrystyna, tells me she married me as a person first and foremost.”

Born in Sykhiv, Lviv’s largest residential neighborhood and home to Holy Spirit Seminary, 27-year-old Father Hrynyk grew up in a poor but devout Ukrainian Greek Catholic family. As a child, he served as an altar server. At the time, the parish had just broken ground on its future spiritual home, Nativity of the Mother of God Church, and the congregation would assemble under a large tent for the Divine Liturgy.

On 26 June 2001, only months after workers had completed the church, Pope John Paul II led a massive youth rally at the parish. Among the some half million faithful who crowded the grounds that rainy day was a teenage Dmytro Hrynyk. He and the other young people listened with delight when the pope sang several stanzas of a popular Ukrainian folk song about rain.

In the tenth grade, he first considered a life in the service of the church. Though supportive, his parents did not pressure him, insisting he follow his heart. “My mother simply said: ‘You need to pray to achieve your goal,’ ” recalls Father Hrynyk.

That year, he enrolled at the Ukrainian Blessed Martyr Klymentiy Sheptytsky Ukrainian Greek Catholic High School. When he graduated, he immediately entered the newly opened Holy Spirit Seminary. Within his first year, the young man found his true calling and focused all his energies on answering it.

His parents, whose income barely covered the basics, could not afford his tuition. Luckily, the seminary waived his tuition: Father Hrynyk worked in construction on campus for four summers to pay for four years of study.

Currently, annual tuition at Holy Spirit Seminary costs roughly $620, a substantial sum in a country where the average monthly income hovers at $240. Still, the seminary has never rejected an applicant nor ceased to matriculate a seminarian based on his ability to pay. More than a third receive support from the Archeparchy of Lviv. Benefactors, through agencies including CNEWA, sponsor the remaining students. The seminary also offers work-study opportunities to help seminarians make ends meet.

“Priests need to understand and be aware of many processes in the modern world to be able to explain them to parishioners,” says Father Hrynyk from the sacristy of Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Mother. “We also need to modernize the church.”

The other priests in his parish belong to the previous generation, who attended seminary during the boom in Ukrainian vocations in the 1990’s. In those years, a seminary, which today would enroll perhaps a total of 200 seminarians, often matriculated as many as 400. Many of these priests also graduated from the seminary after just three years of intensive study, in contrast to the current crop, which typically graduates after six years. Twenty years ago, Ukraine’s seminaries as well as many of the country’s universities had few if any computers available to students.

“So I often need to explain to them that we require a computer to at least print out wedding forms or announcements,” adds the young priest.

Thanks to Father Hrynyk’s efforts, the parish now benefits from a computer and some other modern equipment.

The young priest has a busy schedule. He celebrates the Divine Liturgy every morning at 8 and hears confession in parishioners’ homes afterward until about 10. The rest of the afternoon, he juggles his time among ongoing projects to establish a marriage preparation school for couples and a catechetical school for children and youth, functioning as chaplain at the Lviv region’s children’s psychiatric clinic and teaching Christian ethics at a local school.

In the evenings, he celebrates the Divine Liturgy, after which he instructs a marriage preparation course to the parish’s young couples.

“There is always more work for the younger priests,” smiles Father Hrynyk. “But I am full of hope and energy, as my wife and my 2-year-old daughter, Yustyna, support me in my calling.”

Holy Spirit Seminary has high academic standards. Applicants must take an entrance exam to enroll in the yearlong preliminary program. On average, only about 80 percent of applicants pass. At the end of the preliminary year, students then take an entrance exam to enter the seminary. In 2011, only 47 of 69 students passed the exam.

Each year, on average two or three students fail. Over the course of the six-year program, about a third of the seminarians will fail, be asked to leave or drop out for one reason or another.

“We are looking for quality and not quantity,” explains the rector, Father Fredyna. “If a seminarian believes in his vocation, he should study the scholarship of the kingdom of God. We are extremely concerned about forming well-educated and pious priests.”

In each graduating class, another one or two seminarians do not take their priestly vows. “Most of them become successful in business or education,” says the rector.

In 2008, Holy Spirit Seminary received a perfect score in an assessment conducted by a special curia comprised of rectors from seminaries in Ukraine, Rome and around the world. Holy Spirit’s perfect score has bolstered its reputation as the premiere Ukrainian Greek Catholic seminary. It now attracts applicants from all over the country.

My brother even told me to enter the seminary somewhere else since I did not excel in school, but I refused,” says Yuriy Ostapyuk, who graduated from Holy Spirit in 2009. “And I have never regretted it. Moreover, it was in Lviv where I met my fiancée.”

Born in the town of Sokal, 48 miles northeast of Lviv, the 26-year-old subdeacon did not always have a strong connection to his Christian faith. Though his second cousin is a priest and his devout grandmother regularly took him to church, the restless youth spent most of his time in bad company, engaging in delinquent behavior. “Never. I’ll be anything but a priest,” he recalls telling his grandmother when she brought up the priesthood. “Never say never,” adds Subdeacon Ostapyuk with a smile.

He attended a high school for music, specializing in the trombone. Upon graduation, he considered pursuing a career in music and enrolled in a school for music and theology.

“I don’t know how it happened. I entered a school for music and theology and then the Lviv seminary after that, which I took to like a duck to water.”

In his sixth and final year at Holy Spirit, he and a friend, Father Roman Prokopets, founded a spiritual outreach program for orphans within the Mriya Rehabilitation Center in Lviv. The center’s director greeted the young men’s idea with enthusiasm, offering them space for an office and a chapel.

The program now provides spiritual guidance and catechism instruction in three orphanage schools and two orphanages for preschool children in Lviv as well as five orphanage schools in the town and villages of Briukhovychi, Chervonohrad, Livchytsi, Zhovtantsi and Zhuravno. It also publishes a four-page quarterly.

In general, Subdeacon Ostapyuk and Father Prokopets celebrate liturgies for the children and staff in chapels in or near the orphanage schools. If there is no chapel in the vicinity, they improvise. In the summer, they often celebrate the liturgy outdoors. In addition, they explain the meaning of the liturgy to the youngsters as well as teach them lessons from the Bible and about Christian values.

Each summer, the men also help run the Druzhba Camp for orphaned children and youth, some of whom have disabilities, in the village of Svirzh, 39 miles southeast of Lviv. For the rest of the day, they and a group of volunteers oversee a daily agenda of outdoor activities, crafts and games.

“We often do not receive a lot of support from the teachers in the institutions,” says Subdeacon Ostapyuk. “But, the saddest thing is that some orphanages belong to particular parishes, which don’t take any interest in the children.

“Unfortunately,” he sighs, “there are numerous challenges for us.”

Contributors Mariya Tytarenko and Petro Didula are based in Lviv.

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