The Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, recently addressed the families of those killed in these past few weeks of war. The Ukrainian government last estimated that 1,300 soldiers have died along with 3,360 civilians – the actual numbers are significantly higher. “We want to be close to our suffering and hurting people. This is one of the ministries that the Church wants to give to her people today, assuring that we have been, are and will be with you. We want to share in your deep pain of loss.”
The Archbishop has served as the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church since 2011 when he was only forty-one years old, and has spoken strongly in opposition to the Russian invasion of his country. He has opened the basement of Resurrection Cathedral in Kyiv as a bomb shelter. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is in full communion with Rome yet retains the liturgy and traditions of the East.
The website of the Church reports that the Major Archbishop addressed the relatives of the deceased in an open-air liturgy on March 17th. Archbishop Sviatoslav stated that 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 the resurrection, so we believe that Ukraine will be resurrected. We believe that our loved ones who died in this war live in our Heavenly Father’s home, so we pray for them. We ask God to forgive their sins. Such is the prayer of the Church with faith in the resurrection”
He comforted the grieving families stating that “God remembers everyone who died on the battlefield or under the wreckage of his house, or from a bomb blast. We can forget, but the Lord God never forgets, because His memory is eternal.”
As the war continues and the attacks target more civilians, the death toll will only increase.
Yesterday Archbishop Sviatoslav met with His Beatitude Epiphanius, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. They discussed how both the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches should cooperate during the current situation. “We are ready to do our best to serve our people, support our statehood and work together for the victory of Ukraine,” said the Archbishop.
Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Moscow has 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 about 150 million faithful and its Patriarch is the most influential leader of the Orthodox Church. Just in 2018, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was created when it splintered from the Russian Orthodox Church much to the chagrin of Russian Patriarch Kirill. About one third of Russian Orthodox parishes became the newly established Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Even though the Patriarch in Constantinople, considered the first among equals of the Orthodox Churches, approved the split, Patriarch Kirill was greatly displeased and abandoned the gathering of Patriarchs where the split was granted.
This very recent development displays how the current political tension has concrete repercussions in the religious fabric of the region. Greek Catholics still remember how the Soviets shut down their parishes in the 1940s and gave them to the Russian Orthodox Church, and how in 1991 the faithful emerged from the underground Catholic Church to expel Russian Orthodox clergy in order to take possession of their churches.
Ukrainians, Catholic or Orthodox, wish to disassociate with the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill’s support for Putin’s war may be influenced by a desire to reabsorb the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and by a vision of the world where the Russian Czar is the rightful heir to the glories of Orthodox Constantinople. Last week Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill had a virtual meeting where Pope Francis spoke strongly against envisioning this current conflict as a kind of holy war.
Regardless of religious background, the patriotism displayed by Ukrainians deeply unites them and allows them to stand up against the aggressor.
Continued prayers and concrete support are both granted to the Ukrainian people. May their pain and loss be soon turned into joy and gain.
Pictures taken from Facebook Page of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church [Українська Греко-Католицька Церква]