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Our Ukrainian Brethren: Fighting on All Fronts

Above: Poltava, Poltava Oblast, Ukraine.

The last days of March brought with it two important anniversaries for the Catholic Churches of Ukraine, Latin and Greek-Catholic, as well as the start of a new battle, not in the traditional theatres of war, but on the moral and religious fronts, sparking a true ecumenism in the face of godlessness.

On March 25, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) spoke about the importance of the anniversary of the Consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary during his homily during the Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv, wrote the Information Department of the UGCC.

“Under the veil of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ukraine is striding towards victory,” stated his Beatitude.  The Patriarch recalled that a year ago, Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This gesture, he added, was conformed to the wishes of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima.

The Latin Rite Church in Ukraine marked the anniversary of the Consecration, together with the feast of the Annunciation, as the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ukraine, under the leadership of their new President, Bishop Vitaliy Skomarovskyy of the Diocese of Lutsk, renewed the Consecration of Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Scapular, run by the Discalced Carmelites in Berdychiv, Ukraine. The Virgin of Berdychiv (Berdyczow) or Our Lady of the Scapular, is a wonder-working Icon, whose miracles have been acknowledged throughout history by the solemn rite of crowning by three popes: Benedict XIV in 1756, then 100 years later by Blessed Pope Pius IX, in 1856 (after the original crowns were stolen circa 1820), and finally with the blessing of Pope Saint John Paul II, the new image of the icon (seen below) was crowned in 1997 after the original was tragically lost in a fire in 1941.

Consecration to the Heart of Mary at the All-Ukrainian Sanctuary (March 25, 2023) ©Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine/Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ukraine.

Also in the news of wonder-working icons this March, the story broke that the UGCC is now in discussions with the Ukrainian Government about gaining state-sanctioned access to the historic Holy Dormition Pochayiv-Lavra, in order to pray before the miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Pochayiv. This Icon of the Theotokos was crowned in honour of its many miracles by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. At that time the monastery belonged to the Order of St. Basil the Great of St. Josaphat (OSBM) and was in Communion with Rome, before being taken over by Tsarist authorities and forcibly changed over to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1831.

Since that time Greek-Catholics have not had open access to the Lavra, with its tombs housing saints like Job of Pochayiv, the stone with the Footprint of the Theotokos or the Icon. The UGCC is hopeful this status quo will be reversed with increased government scrutiny of the hegemony of Russian Orthodox jurisdictions over historic shrines in the country.

This news follows reports that the Ukrainian Government has also refused to renew its lease with the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine (formerly known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate) of the Kyevo-Pechersk Lavra National Reserve in Kyiv, reports the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (RISU). According to State Authorities, continued RISU, the Russian Orthodox Church’s Lavra Brotherhood has been in violation of regulations regarding the sole use of the property for religious purposes for years, as Metropolitan Pavel Lebed, Vicar of the Lavra, allegedly built a personal mansion on the property and several buildings used for commercial purposes.

The second anniversary was marked on March 27, which was the 12th anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Sviatoslav as the head of the world-wide UGCC.

“God is the Head of the Church, I am only His hands,” remarked His Beatitude on the occasion of the anniversary. “I have always felt that I did not appoint myself, I did not volunteer to be the Head of the Church — I was called,” continued the Patriarch, reminiscing on his twelve years as the Head of the largest Byzantine Church in Communion with Rome. Patriarch Sviatoslav was elected when he was only forty years old, making him one of the youngest primates in the Catholic Church to lead a sui iuris Church at that time. Before his election, His Beatitude served as bishop of the Eparchy of the Holy Protection of the Theotokos in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk serving a Divine Liturgy. © Information Department of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.

The final update from Ukraine centres around a new frontline: the family. This fight for the family reached a new pique as news broke that the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (of which Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk and Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyy, RC Diocese of Zhytomyr-Kyiv, are members), issued a joint statement condemning the proposed legislation to amend the Constitution of Ukraine that would allow for Same-Sex Civil Unions. The statement warned:

We can predict that in the case of the adoption of the above bill, the next step of same-sex lobbyists will be to initiate the possibility of adoption of children by same-sex couples, with all the extremely negative consequences for the formation of the personality of such children and with the deprivation of their natural right to upbringing in a full-fledged family – having and father, and mother.

The press briefing from the Council of Churches further read:

Religious figures are convinced that now in Ukraine valuable foundations are being laid both for victory in this war and for its further restoration and development. It is quite obvious that one of these foundations should continue to be a healthy family, which determines the need for the formation and implementation of a state policy focused on supporting families [and] strengthening marital relations…

Banners read “God made Humanity, Men and Women,” (with “Family” beneath a house and protective hand), and “Do not vote for loyalty to LGBT” (with “78% Christian Ukrainians”), held by Pro-Family Protestors outside the Ukrainian Parliament in Kyiv, March 2023. © All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.

Let us continue to pray for our brethren in Ukraine, and for peace.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!


Editor’s note: see also the recent conversation of our contributing editor, Eric Sammons, with Ukrainian Greek Catholic Priest, Fr. Jason Charron

Photo by Margarita Marushevska on Unsplash

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