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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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If You Pray, They Will Come

The faithful seek out Ukraine’s Studite monks who are building community with liturgy

Monks devote their life to seeking God; later the faithful seek out the monks.

This traditional cycle describes today’s emergent Studite order of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and particularly its monastery of St. Joseph the Betrothed and adjoining Church of St. Michael the Archangel in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Father Viktor Mandro (his official title is Hieromonk), priest, Studite monk and associate pastor of St. Michael’s, explained if “a monastery is located near a river, the monks are involved in fishing. It is different if they are by a forest. Their work is flexible.

“However, the ustav, or rule, for liturgical services and personal prayer is generally similar in all monasteries and means that many hours of each day are spent in devotion.”

Eight hours of prayer, eight hours of rest. The newly independent Ukrainian government gave the Studites their church and monastery in 1991 (the mix of structures was built in the 17th century for the Discalced Carmelites, though its most recent occupants had been the K.G.B.).

With a prayer and rest schedule established by the order’s rule, filling eight hours with work was something of an open question in the urban setting of Lviv.

Repair of the neglected church and monastery complex has been a work-in-progress, taking up some of the Studites’ time. But it is the people of Lviv, seeking a good Christian example, who are the monk’s real work. About 1,500 people attend three liturgies at St. Michael’s on Sundays and holy days. Two of the community’s six priests are assigned to parish ministry. The others have special duties in the monastery or the eparchy (diocese). All 26 monks, in varying degrees, are involved in the care of this urban parish in post-Soviet Lviv, a city of 800,000. The parish faithful, in turn, join the monks in prayer and service.

The Studites in Lviv have been at their present location for a decade, but “the modern Studite order,” explained Father Viktor, “is part of the tradition that missionaries to Kievan-Rus’ brought from the Byzantine Empire.” In the 10th century, at the request of Grand Prince Volodymyr, Byzantine priests and monks evangelized his principality, Kievan-Rus’, portions of which make up present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Today, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a church that, while in full communion with Rome, follows the rites and traditions of the Byzantine Church.

Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1901 to 1944, wanted “to unite the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Ukraine, Belarus, even in Russia,” said Father Viktor. The Metropolitan founded the Studites along the lines of the monastic traditions of the Christian East to facilitate the reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

When the Soviets occupied western Ukraine at the end of World War II and drove the church underground for 70 harrowing years, the Studites were scattered. Most of the 60 professed monks at Univ, the primary monastery near Lviv, were sent to Siberian camps, forbidden to return to Ukraine. The rest were imprisoned for a time and then released. They tried to keep in contact, sometimes two or three shared an apartment. Many of the priests served secret liturgies in private homes.

“When Ukraine became independent in 1991,” Father Viktor said, “there were 20 monks left from the underground. These were the first to come to the community in Lviv.” The monks surviving in Siberia returned to Ukraine in 1993. All of them died soon after. There are now 100 Studites throughout Ukraine, with missions in neighboring Poland and Belarus.

Liturgy as community. Reorganizing in Lviv, the Studites made liturgical life a priority. Matins begins at 6 a.m., followed by Divine Liturgy. Liturgical hours are prayed throughout the day, culminating in vespers and compline. A service called litiya, or literally, entreaty, is part of vespers on the eves of Sundays and great feasts. Litiya includes a special blessing of bread, wine and oil. A midnight office is also part of the regular liturgical day. “This common liturgical prayer,” said Father Viktor, “is like sharing the same supper table or working together.”

There is no accurate Ukrainian translation of most of the liturgical books, so only the Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the modern language. Matins, vespers and the hours are prayed in classical Old Church Slavonic.

“This is not on principle,” Father Viktor emphasized. “We hold that prayer should be in the language of the people. Our goal is to have all the services in Ukrainian.”

The language is not a problem for everyone. Solomia Tymo, a teacher of sacred art and the theology of the icon in Lviv, talks of the “beauty” of Slavonic and the authenticity of services at St. Michael’s. “This parish gives much attention to the fullness and beauty of liturgical life,” he said.

Though many Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes shorten the Divine Liturgy for pastoral reasons, the Studites celebrate “in the full form,” Father Viktor explained. A typical Sunday liturgy lasts about two hours.

This liturgical approach is at the heart of the Studite charism. Metropolitan Sheptytsky wrote in the rule that a Studite monk’s life has two aims: first, to attain personal holiness by studying the Bible and the tradition of the Fathers and, second, to strive for unity among the churches.

Having returned to their liturgical roots, the Studites are building bridges to Orthodoxy. The Studites visit local Orthodox monasteries and maintain contacts with their Orthodox counterparts. Traveling Orthodox monks are often guests at the Studite monastery, feeling at home with its routine.

In addition to practicing ecumenism, the Studites’ prayerful spirit is responsible for the return to the church and conversion of many, like Natalia Zhukovska. “Other parishes focus more on devotional services but they have no depth, no heart,” said Ms. Zhukovska, a trained nurse and now a graduate student at the Lviv branch of the Catholic University of Lublin (Poland). “The Studites try to reach the essence of human nature.”

Prayer, wisdom and work. The prayerful spirit of the monks has borne fruit in the numerous activities that go on at the parish. Sacred art and music are important for the Studites. They have set up an icon workshop where monks and laity work together, restoring ancient icons and painting or “writing” new ones. A men’s choir sings on Sundays and holy days and Brother Amvrosii, a student at the Lviv Music Conservatory, directs a boys choir.

A quiet, one-on-one ministry at St. Michael’s is “the good spiritual advice at confession,” said Oleksandra Lasiichuk, a teacher of Christian ethics in Lviv’s public school system. “The monks pray and in response God gives them the wisdom necessary when people burdened by difficulties come to them. Through these prayerful monks, the Holy Spirit gives medicine for the soul.”

Ms. Lasiichuk got involved with the parish because of its Bible study meetings. Educated at the Basilian-run Theological Pedagogical Institute in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ms. Lasiichuk at St. Michael’s “saw how to praise God in a different way. They emphasize prayer of the heart, not how many times you say a prayer; slow prayer, concentrating on every word; reading the Bible as a kind of prayer.”

In addition to its Sunday night Bible lessons, St. Michael’s has four other prayer groups, for young and old alike.

One of these groups Father Viktor said, “prays for the special needs of the members and their families, for the innocent victims of abortion” and for mothers with problem pregnancies. This group also tries to provide material and financial support to these mothers.

Service to those in need is an essential part of ministry at St. Michael’s. Ukraine, in spite of its rich natural resources, is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Unemployment is as high as 50 percent and crime and drug addiction flourish along with poverty and despair. But with the support of donors from abroad, St. Michael’s runs a free pharmacy.

Also, since 1992, the Company of Mary, a parish group, has been running a soup kitchen for orphans and needy children. The group also organizes summer camps for children in the town of Yaremche, which is located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

In this mix of work, prayer and community, rooted in Ukraine’s ancient Byzantine traditions, the 21st-century Studites continue to praise God through liturgy and by service to their people.

The traditional cycle thrives in the city of Lviv. The faithful seek out the monks, and the monks are ready.

Matthew Matuszak is director of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine.

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