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Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytskyi who was called “the apostle of Ukrainian truth”
Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytskyi in the Documents of the Soviet Secret Security Service, 1939-1944 is the title of the book that was released to mark the 140th anniversary of the metropolitan’s birth. The book that deals with a particularly difficult period in the life of the head of the Greek Catholic Church, was held at the Budynok Vchytelya (Teachers’ House) Culture Centre in Kyiv in the summer of 2005.
Among those present at the presentation were Archbishop of Kyiv and Halitsiya Lyubomyr Huzar, historians, religious studies experts, and political scientists.
The book was edited by Volodymyr SERHIYCHUK, Ph.D. in history, director of the Centre of Ukrainian Studies at Taras Shevchenko National University, who has kindly provided materials for the article that follows for Welcome to Ukraine Magazine.
In the early twentieth century, the revival of the nationalist movement required charismatic personalities that would lead this movement and awaken the national awareness, and there appeared on the scene, as though by Divine Providence, Andrei Sheptytskyi, who as the head of Greek Catholics of Ukraine, aimed to take the Ukrainian nation out of its provincial and rather miserable existence to a wide road that would lead the Ukrainians to independence and new horizons.
Andrei Sheptytskyi was much more than a church leader — he was a public figure of great consequence whose untiring work benefited the whole of the Ukrainian nation. One of the letters to the metropolitan said that the eyes of the nation were set on him.
It was Andrei Sheptytskyi who was the first — after centuries of suppression — to use the Ukrainian language in a religious service in Kyiv when in March 1912 he conducted the memorial service to mark the 51st anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s death. It was a bold move which defied the tsarist ban on the public use of the Ukrainian language. For the patriotic-minded people, who attended the service, Sheptytskyi’s sermon was much more than an act of civilian courage — the sermon was a message of revelatory truth, an encouragement to stand up for things Ukrainian.
Many politicians and public figures with Ukrainian nationalist leanings praised Metropolitan Sheptytskyi for his firm Ukrainian-oriented stance. Among such politicians and public figures were the first president of Ukraine, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, and Serhiy Yefremov, a historian of literature, who compared Metropolitan Sheptytskyi’s appearance in Kyiv to Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s entry into Kyiv almost three centuries earlier. Addressing the meeting of the Tsentralna Rada where he was hailed as a leader of the Ukrainian church, Metropolitan Sheptytskyi said that, “If Ukraine wants to live a free and independent life, it must sever herself from Moscow. She must become fully independent, she must seek allies among other free and independent nations, the nations that would be able to support her demands and help her in her struggle against Moscow’s aggression.”
The soviet secret police knew well that Metropolitan Sheptytskyi had embraced the Ukrainian cause, promoted it among the Ukrainian communities in America, helped Ukrainians get enrolled at Polish and European universities, supported the rights of the Orthodox communities in Western Ukraine, and when the soviet tanks rolled into Western Ukraine in the fall of 1939, they reported that “without doing away with Sheptytskyi, it would be impossible to uproot Ukrainian nationalism.”
Metropolitan Sheptytskyi was well aware what kind of a regime the soviets would bring to Western Ukraine, and as early as in 1931 he warned that “when Bolsheviks come here, they will persecute our church and the faithful. We should be prepared to face all the contingencies, trials and tribulations, we must be prepared to defend our faith and our Church, and for this we will be subjected to great hardships, or even put to death.”
When the potential threat became a horrible reality, Metropolitan Sheptytskyi sent a letter to Nikita Khrushchev who, at that time, was the top communist party boss of Ukraine, in which he wrote, “From many parts of the USSR (Soviet Union) come the groans and cries of people who have been evicted from their homes, exiled or sent to forced labour without any trials or explanations. These desperate people who have lost all the means of support, turn to me for help — they do not have any warm clothes to protect them from sub-zero temperatures, or enough food to keep them alive. In the city of Lviv, the local post-offices refuse to mail any parcels to those ill-starred people exiled to far-away places. We suspect that even letters do not reach them or us, being stopped by censors. I consider it to be my duty to draw your attention to the inhuman treatment these people are subjected to — they are forced to work enormously hard and yet they are given too little food. I beg of you to help these ill-fated people. I do not think it befits such a powerful state as the USSR to use slave labour and send people to almost sure death, making them work and not feeding them…I also categorically protest against the arrests of priests in my diocese, and I ask you to urgently take measures in order to have them released, or to have their cases tried in court so that we know what has been their crime.”
But the soviet harassment and purges instead of slackening were only stepped up, and the danger that Metropolitan Sheptytskyi would be arrested and “liquidated” grew. A lot of pressure was put on him but the soviets failed to undermine Metropolitan Sheptytskyi’s determination or make him swerve away from the line he was pursuing.
Things seemed to change for the better in June 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the People’s Council that gathered in Lviv on June 30 1941 proclaimed the reinstatement of the Ukrainian state. Metropolitan Sheptytskyi issued a statement in which he wrote, “We expect that the new [Ukrainian] government will conduct a wise policy which would meet the requirements of all the people who live in our land, regardless of their faith, ethnicity or social status. May God bless your work, Ukrainian people, and may our leaders be given guidance and wisdom by Heaven.”
The German occupiers soon proved to be oppressors rather than liberators, and oppressors of the worst and most cruel kind. Before the war, it was the soviets that wanted to do away with Metropolitan Sheptytskyi — now it was the Nazis who wanted to do the same. In his pastoral letter to the faithful, Yak buduvaty ridnu khatu (literally — How to build your own house; metaphorically it meant — How to build up our nation — tr.) Metropolitan Sheptytskyi wrote, “ It is as clear as daylight that we will not be able to erect Our House if we are not monolithic as a nation, if Ukrainians, who want independence but who live in different parts of Ukraine, strive to achieve sovereignty separately without merging into one national whole. Ukraine needs unity, and this need obliges us to work for it as the future of our nation depends on it. We must resort to deeds rather than to just words and empty phrases calling for unity… In order to achieve our national goals, we have to be one united nation… That is why we should put aside all our differences and confrontations that separate us, and move ahead towards unity in a concerted effort… Everyone who has love for Ukraine in their heart must consider it their duty to devote their life to achieving unity and to removing differences and strife.”
Among the “differences” were different religious affiliations of the Ukrainians. Most of the people in Eastern Ukraine before the Bolshevik revolution were Orthodox Christians, and many people in Western Ukraine were Greek Catholics. Metropolitan Sheptytskyi advocated the religious unity, and he suggested that one unified, autocephalous church be created which would unite Christians of all denominations. But there was one point in this suggestion that made it virtually unacceptable both for the Orthodox clergy and the faithful — he wanted this new, united church of Ukraine to be under the authority of the Roman Pope.
Metropolitan Sheptytskyi, though he was head of the Greek Catholic Church which united only a part of the Ukrainians, was — and continues to be — a spiritual leader of all the Ukrainians whose messages were directed to all and sundry. Now, sixty-one years after his death, and fourteen years into Ukrainian independence, his call for unity remains topical. This alone makes him a pertinent figure of the recent Ukrainian history.
Photos by Ivan DUDKIN
Andrei (Roman Oleksandr) Sheptytskyi (July 29 1865 — November 1 1944) was born into the family of Ukrainian nobles who were Polonized in the 18th century. He studied law and was awarded a doctoral degree. In 1888, he took the monastic vows, adopting the name of Andrei, and in 1892 he was ordained as priest. He studied philosophy and theology and earned Ph.D.’s in theology and in philosophy. In 1901, he was promoted to Metropolitan of Halitsiya, (Halytchyna, Western Ukraine) which at that time was under the Austrian-Hungarian domination. As member of the Austrian parliament, he did a lot for the population of Halytchyna. Sheptytskyi supported and encouraged educational and cultural development in Western Ukraine; he was a stalwart champion of things Ukrainian. In 1905, he founded a museum of Ukrainian icons which became one of the biggest collections of icons in Europe; in later years he donated to schools and hospitals. The scope of his educational, cultural and promotional work was truly enormous.In September 1914, when Lviv was occupied by Russian troops, Metropolitan Sheptytskyi was arrested by Russian authorities and was first taken to Kyiv and then to Novgorod. The reason for his arrest must have been his active pro-Ukrainian position and his work in promotion of Catholicism in Russia. After the February Revolution of 1917 when the tsarism was overthrown, Sheptytskyi was released. After Ukraine proclaimed its independence, Sheptytskyi established close contacts with the Tsentralna Rada, the then Ukrainian government. In 1918–1919 he was member of the National Council of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic; during the war with Poland, Sheptytskyi was interned by the Polish authorities. In the 1920s, he went to North and South America to visit Ukrainian communities there; his main message was independence of Ukraine — political, cultural and religious. Upon return, he was arrested by the Polish authorities but soon released. After his release he continued his untiring efforts in championing the cause of Halychyna; he stood up in defence of the rights of the Orthodox faithful in the Lands of Volyn, Kholmshcyna, Pidlyashya and Posennya. He turned to the Roman pope for help and Pope IX sent a message to the Polish authorities requesting to stop persecution of the Orthodox faithful. When in September 1939 the soviet troops occupied western Ukraine, massive repression was unleashed against the churches of all denominations — most of the churches and monasteries were closed down or demolished, the faithful were put under strong atheistic pressure. Metropolitan Sheptytskyi, in spite of his advanced age, continued his defence of the rights of the church and of the faithful. Expecting the pressure from the soviet authorities to become ever harsher, he secretly conferred holy orders of bishop on Y. Slipy, rector of the Lviv religious School, whom he appointed his successor. When Ukraine came under Nazi occupation, Sheptytskyi never slackened his efforts to preserve Ukrainian culture and do whatever he could for Ukrainian independence; he wrote letters to H. Himmler, one of the top Nazi leaders, protesting against the massive destruction of the Jewish population. He encouraged the local priests and abbots to hide Jews in churches and monasteries; a number of Jews were hiding even in the metropolitan’s residence. After his death in 1944, Metropolitan Sheptytskyi was buried in the Cathedral of St Yura (George) in Lviv. The Greek Catholic Church was banned by the soviets after the war and the name and deeds of Metropolitan Sheptytskyi became a taboo for many years. It was only after Ukraine became independent in 1991 that the name and legacy of Metropolitan Sheptytskyi were gradually returned the cultural and religious heritage of Ukraine.[Prev][Contents][Next]