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Ukrainian Moses

Andrew Sheptitsky, Archbishop of Lvov and Metropolitan of Kiev-Halych, was indeed a Moses to his people.

The book of Deuteronomy records that the holy patriarch Moses prophesied to the people of Israel, “The Lord Your God will raise up a Prophet from among you like myself, and you shall listen to Him.” (Dt 18:15) Tradition has always interpreted this passage to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, whenever I meditate on this text, I think of the Servant of God, Andrew Sheptitsky, Archbishop of Lvov, Metropolitan of Kiev-Halych.

Those who saw the metropolitan in his old age were immediately reminded of the heroic statue of Moses by Michelangelo in the Church of St. Peter in Chains. Artistic physical resemblance, however, does not prompt my application.

In a deeper, spiritual sense Archbishop Andrew was a Moses to his people. As Moses was an outspoken defender and liberator of his people, blessed Vladyka (bishop) Andrew strove to aid his Ukrainian flock in developing a sense of national identity.

As Moses himself was an “outsider,” raised an Egyptian and exiled among the Midianites, Archbishop Sheptitsky grew up in a family that had become more Polish and Latin Catholic than the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics they were by tradition.

Moses was the great liturgist that decreed the paths of piety, holding what is the Lord’s in honor. Vladyka Andrew preserved the numbers of his secular clergy and increased the religious ministering to his people and waged a life-long battle to purify and ennoble their liturgical life.

Moses led his people in their bitter wandering through the desert. Shiptitsky burned with zeal for the members of his flock scattered throughout the New World in search of another promised land.

Moses brought his flock to the brink of the Holy Land but was not granted to lead them in. Metropolitan Andrew exhausted himself in striving for the unity of the Eastern Churches but was not to see the fruit of this labor in his lifetime.

Moses and Andrew both pointed the way to Christ: of the former Scripture says “There has never yet risen in Israel a prophet like him,” (Dt. 34:10) The faithful prayerfully hope that the last word to be said of their revered Vladyka will be: Saint.

Metropolitan Andrew was born on July 26, 1865 and given the baptismal name Roman. His father’s family, the Counts Sheptitsky, had given several hierarchs to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. However, in recent centuries, the Sheptitsky’s had gradually adopted the culture of the Polish, their language and even their rite. This assimilitation led to contempt for the humble Ukrainian peasant and his presumably inferior Church. Imagine the Sheptitskys’ surprise, even chagrin, when young Roman announced that he wished to become a Greek-Catholic priest. At that time it was all but obligatory for candidates to the diocesan priesthood to marry before their diaconal ordination. The young Count Roman resolved instead to be tonsured a monk according to the rule of St. Basil the Great. First, though, he had to overcome his father’s objections by taking a civil law degree at the university.

Having entered monastic life in 1888, taking the name of Andrew, he was ordained a priest in 1892 and soon distinguished himself as brilliant adornment to the clergy of the Archeparchy of Lvov. Consecrated bishop of Stanislaviv in 1899 at the age of 35 he was the youngest man elected to episcopal office up to that time. He was to remain bishop for little over a year, since the archbishopric of Lvov was vacant once again. Surely, no worthier candidate for the primatial see could be found than Bishop Andrew.

In order to understand the importance of Metroplitan Andrew’s apostolate it is necessary to digress briefly on the history of his see. When the Orthodox Catholic faith penetrated into Eastern Europe via imperial Constantinople, and in Byzantine form, it found fertile soil in the Grand Duchy of Kiev. Thence the gospel spread upward and eastward into territories that one day would be called Russia. At this time the entire area was called Rus’: it included the Russians, the Byelorussians and the “little Russians” or Ukrainians. History has not treated the Ukrainians gently. First, the Tatar invasions destroyed their homeland. Then the political center shifted north and east to Moscow. Finally, the rift that sundered the Eastern and Western halves of Christianity further divided the birthplace of Eastern Slavic Christianity. While Russia remained resolutely Orthodox, the territories of south-western Rus’ under Polish domination chose to preserve communion with the see of Rome, even if it meant a breach with their sister Apostolic sees of the East that remained Orthodox.

In time the only portion of the Ukrainian Church to remain Catholic was the extreme Western tip known as Galicia or Halych. Despite its shrunken size the Ukrainian Catholic Church counted nearly five million souls. Cared for by a numerous and zealous “white” clergy (i.e. married) and the highly-respected “black” or monastic clergy the faithful led simple, honest lives of deep traditional piety.

Metropolitan Andrew began to shepherd his flock at a time of grave crisis not only for his Church but for all Europe. The seeds of nationalism planted a generation or two before now blossomed forth into full-fledged movements for cultural enfranchisement and ethnic independence. The old unities began to crumble. In their zeal for the glory of their own house some ignored the legitimate rights of their cousins. Thus the Poles achieved a free and independent Poland at the expense of the national aspirations of the Ukrainians. The Russians achieved a centralized nation-state but only after sacificing the minorities’ identity. Hungary, newly emancipated, looked down on her Slavic citizens. The scenario was repeated all over Europe: only the cast of characters changed.

Metropolitan Andrew was above all such contention. As much as he loved his humble people and sought the vindication of their national and cultural heritage, he never did this at the expense of other nations, even though they be the oppressor! Quite to the contrary. Imprisoned by the Russian occupying forces during World War I, he immediately began making contacts among the Orthodox hierarchy with a view to reestablishing the bond of communion between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West. He always viewed his Church as destined by God to favor the reunion of the Churches. To further provide a home for Orthodoxy within Catholicism he fostered both the Russian and Byelorussian Catholic Churches. In fact, the last exarch of the Russian Catholics was his own brother, Count Casimir, who accepted monastic tonsure under the name of Clement.

In pursuit of the goal of Christian unity he strove all his life to purify the Ukrainian Church from Western practices that restricted unity with Orthodoxy. This effort cost him heated opposition from some of his fellow hierachs and religious. They saw the Ukrainian Catholic Church as the religious incarnation of Galician ethnicity. As such, it had its own style of worship and piety even as it had its characteristic dialect, social customs, folklore and music. In fact, some contended that there existed a proper Galician rite that ought to be preserved as a precious religious national treasure. To tamper with it was to disturb the deepest waters of the piety of the faithful. And for what? To curry favor with “dissidents,” “schismatics,” “russifiers,” “traditional enemies of our people!” These arguments were often sincere attempts to preserve the certain Catholicism of the Ukrainian Church against the remote possibility of reconciliation between Rome and Orthodoxy.

The saintly metropolitan patiently refuted these specious arguments and endured all manner of machinations, even slander, at the hands of his opponents. Denounced by them (and not just once) to Rome, he easily won the heart of Pius X, and Leo XIII to confirm his powers and approach the delicate question of Church unity.

He had never forgotten that his Church was the Ukrainian Church – not just the Galician Church – that by tradition it included the entire Ukraine, most of whose citizens were Orthodox. He felt a genuine responsibility for their salvation. He saw the Ukrainian people as the fountain, whence sprang the Russian and Byelorussian nations. He keenly desired their fraternal solidarity in a unified East Slavic brotherhood of Eastern Christians – Orthodox in spirit, enjoying full communion with the holy see of Rome. Eastern Catholicism was for him an invitation to authenticity.

Boldly he published an entire series of liturgical books shorn of local peculiarities and invited his clergy to use them. Eventually the Holy See would call a special commission to edit these texts and to vindicate his courageous stance: we must admit nothing that would needlessly alienate us from our Orthodox brothers.

Though Vladyka Andrew was a zealot, he was capable of exquisite balance, as is revealed by the following. He deeply felt the connection between monastic life and genuine renewal. History taught him that whenever monasticism languished the entire body of the church fell ill. And whenever the monks kept alive the flame of contemplation, the Church easily overcame all obstacles. Resolving to aid the return to traditional Eastern monastic life among his faithful he founded (or, rather, recreated the ancient) Studite tradition of religious life. He also resisted the imposition of obligatory celibacy in his Archdiocese as imprudent and unwise. The other two dioceses of his metropolia saw fit to impose it and thereafter suffered a chronic shortage of priests. He often had to supply priests from his diocese to make up their lack. During his archpastorate his flock never lacked for exemplary priests, married and celibate!

As a result of endemic economic pressures,the ravages of the Great War and the ensuing Depression, countless tens and even hundreds of thousands of his people emigrated to the New World. They addressed him pathetic letters begging for a priest to minister to their spiritual poverty amid the relative abundance of material life in the Americas. His patriarchal heart could not remain deaf to their pleas. Dozens of missionaries went with their families to nourish the emigre flock. Despite the opposition of the American hierarchy, he was able to persuade the Holy See that the cause of the gospel would be better served if all the children of the Catholic Church were equally able to rule themselves according to their own traditions. This view became the cornerstone of the Vatican II decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches.

His benevolence extended even to those outside the fold of Christ. During the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine, he saved the lives of thousands of Jews by sheltering them in his churches and monasteries. He threatened the severest penalty to any of his people that would hand over a Jew to the Gestapo. In this, too, he adumbrated the viewpoint of Vatican II.

If all the preceding seems like an arduous path for even the sturdiest stock, then be amazed, for the holy patriarch spent many of the last years of his life as an invalid. Towards the end he was bedridden. Even then he exercized an apostolate that would have daunted hardier souls.

He died on November 1, 1944. His funeral was a religious triumph. Even the Communist government sent representatives. Shortly thereafter they liquidated the Ukrainian hierarchy and many of the clergy, religious and faithful. Once the shepherd was stricken, the wolves scattered the flock. They never dared make a move, though, as long as he lived. Such was the awesome strength of this Ukrainian Moses.

The Byzantine memorial service ends with these words and we make them our own in praying simultaneously for the repose and the glorification of the Servant of God, Andrew Sheptitsky:

May God grant him blessed rest and, by his holy prayers, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Fr. Romanos, a frequent contributor to these pages, lives in New York City where he ministers to newly-arrived immigrants from the Soviet Union.

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