The Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, recently addressed the families of those killed in recent weeks of war. The Ukrainian government last estimated that 1,300 soldiers had died along with 3,360 civilians – the actual figures are significantly higher. “We want to be close to our suffering and injured people. This is one of the ministries that the Church wants to give to its people today, ensuring that we have been, are and will be with you. We want to share your deep pain of loss.
The Archbishop has been the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church since 2011, when he was just 41, and has strongly opposed the Russian invasion of his country. He opened the basement of the Resurrection Cathedral in Kyiv as a bomb shelter. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is in full communion with Rome while maintaining the liturgy and traditions of the East.
The Church’s website reports that the Major Archbishop addressed loved ones of the deceased during an outdoor liturgy on March 17.and. Archbishop Sviatoslav said there are no words of consolation that can easily heal the wounds of war. His words assured the faithful that the Church is close to them. “We as Christians believe in resurrection, so we believe that Ukraine will be resurrected. We believe that our loved ones who died in this war live in the house of our Heavenly Father, so we pray for them. We ask God to forgive their sins. This is the prayer of the Church with faith in the resurrection”
He comforted the grieving families by saying that “God remembers all those who died on the battlefield or under the rubble of his house, or in the aftermath of a bombing. We can forget, but the Lord God never forgets, for his memory is eternal.
As the war continues and attacks target more civilians, the death toll will only increase.
Yesterday Bishop Sviatoslav met His Beatitude Epiphanius, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They discussed how the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches should cooperate in the current situation. “We are ready to do our best to serve our people, support our state and work together for Ukraine’s victory,” the Archbishop said.
During this time, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Moscow openly defended Putin’s invasion of Ukraine causing great tension in the Orthodox world. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Orthodox Churches with around 150 million followers and its Patriarch is the most influential head of the Orthodox Church. Just in 2018, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was established when it split from the Russian Orthodox Church much to the chagrin of Russian Patriarch Kirill. About a third of Russian Orthodox parishes became the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Even though the Patriarch of Constantinople, considered the first among equals of the Orthodox Churches, approved the split, Patriarch Kirill was very unhappy and abandoned the gathering of patriarchs where the split was granted.
This very recent development shows to what extent the current political tension has concrete repercussions on the religious fabric of the region. Greek Catholics still remember how the Soviets closed their parishes in the 1940s and gave them to the Russian Orthodox Church, and how in 1991 the faithful came out of the underground Catholic Church to expel the Russian Orthodox clergy in order to take possession of their churches.
Ukrainians, Catholic or Orthodox, wish to dissociate themselves from the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Cyril’s support for Putin’s war may be influenced by a desire to reabsorb the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and by a worldview in which the Russian Tsar is the legitimate heir to the Orthodox glories of Constantinople. Last week, Pope Francis and Patriarch Cyril had a virtual meeting in which Pope Francis spoke out strongly against viewing this current conflict as some kind of holy war.
Whatever their religious background, the patriotism displayed by Ukrainians unites them deeply and allows them to stand up against the aggressor.
Continued prayers and concrete support are extended to the Ukrainian people. May their pain and loss soon turn into joy and gain.
Photos taken from the Facebook page of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church [Українська Греко-Католицька Церква]