PASTORAL LETTER OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS OF THE MAJOR ARCHIEPISCOPATE OF KYIV-HALYCH OF THE UKRAINIAN GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH
On the 100th Anniversary of the Re-establishment of the Ukrainian State
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Venerable Brothers and Sisters in the monastic life, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
One hundred years ago, on January 22, 1918, Ukrainian statehood was re-established by virtue of the Fourth Universal Declaration of the Central Council of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR). That same year, on October 19, by a “Proclamation of the Ukrainian Central Council,” Ukrainian lands, which till the end of the First World War were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were declared independent, to form what came to be known in our history as the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (WUPR). Next year we will commemorate the unification of these two entities into one state. Together with Carpathian Ukraine, declared in 1938, the UPR and WUPR form the foundation upon which our country, once again independent, was re-established in 1991.
On this occasion we, the bishops of the Major Archiepiscopate of Kyiv-Halych of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, call upon you to join us in offering prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord. It is by His grace that the statehood of our people was restored and preserved even though the powers of the world more than once undermined it and placed it in doubt, seeking to doom our independent state to oblivion and non-existence. We prayerfully honour all the men and women, too numerous to count, who through their tireless labour and struggles contributed towards the present reality in which we enjoy national freedom. We offer special prayers for the souls of those, who in the struggles for independence gave up their lives out of love for their Fatherland and their neighbours, achieving the right to build a life in our own “Native House.” May their memory never be forgotten among our people!
The Church of Christ has proven to be a foundational element of nation-building for the Ukrainian people. Christianity provided the main impulse for the development of our culture, formed our identity, signs of which we continuously rediscover throughout our history. And in times when our people had no other social structures, it was the Ukrainian Church that became the principal environment and centre of community life in the homeland and abroad. Having undergone together with the Ukrainian people diverse and numerous challenges, our Church gained extraordinary experience in being the voice for a stateless nation before the powerful of this world. It is not surprising that the head of our Church, Venerable Andrey Sheptytsky, was informally regarded as the ethnarch of our people, while Patriarch Josyf Slipyj was received by world leaders as the rightful and official representative of the Ukrainian people, deprived of the right to “be itself.” Indeed, these two great men of our Church in the difficult historical circumstances of the past century did everything in order to foster among the Ukrainian people a Christian attitude towards nation building. Today, as foreign aggression and internal reforms present new challenges, we seek to share with you a few thoughts on this most important spiritual element of state-building. Our reflections are pastoral and founded on the Gospel, the teaching of the Church, and the experience of our great predecessors.
“Called to freedom” (Gal 5:13)
The perennial struggle of our people for national independence was necessarily guided by a profound desire to be free from various forms of foreign captivity and to obtain the right to freely decide the fate of our own country, our own people and our own family. This is turn brings to fruition in our own lives the gift of freedom, which a person and nations receive from their Creator. As we see, the concept of freedom consists of two elements: freedom from oppression—captivity, subjugation, exploitation and deprivation of rights; as well as freedom for self-determination—the choice of one’s path of development, the unobstructed fulfilment of the gifts and talents of individual persons and of all society.
However, freedom must not in any way be confused with arbitrariness or lawlessness. Authentic freedom involves responsibility, especially before God, and then, before one’s own conscience and the people that brought us forth and to whom we have a right to belong. We, people of faith, understand and believe that true freedom springs forth from Divine will and is built upon the keeping of Divine law. His Beatitude Lubomyr once justly observed: “The Lord made us free. No one respects our freedom more than God. But we do not have the courage to be free, for to be free means to be responsible.” Therefore, freedom must be learned, it must be established in us each and every day in order that we might not fall into the captivity of sin and passion, which blinds, limits, and imprisons both person and nation. Authentic freedom guarantees the victory and irrepressibility of both person and nation in the face of tyranny and enslavement. Of this again His Beatitude Lubomyr rightly noted: “Government fears the freedom that lies in the heart much more than a hungry revolt. You can pay off someone who is hungry, but a free person can only be killed.”
The twentieth-century with its two world wars which passed through our land like a deadly tornado, and with its two tyrannies—Nazi and communist—took millions of lives of our fellow citizens. At the same time it became a century of unprecedented heroism, of bearing witness to faith and to love towards our beloved homeland on the part of the best sons and daughters of our people, sacrificing even their very lives—not as invaders, but as protectors, not as occupiers, but as defenders of their native land, of the rights and freedoms of their people.
Once again today our people defend their liberty and dignity with great personal sacrifice. However, we should remember that the first battlefield on which we must fight for and establish authentic freedom, is the expanse of the human spirit, open to divine truth and ready to submit to the salvific will of God. For the person of faith, the path to authentic freedom is the path of the Divine Commandments. For this reason, we call out with the Psalmist: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps 40:8). In one’s daily readiness to do the will of God and keep His law in our personal, family, and professional lives we find a guarantee of victory in today’s struggles and of hope in sustained prosperity for our nation.
“Brought to perfection as one” (Jn 17:23)
Throughout the history of establishing its statehood, our people experienced not only the consequences of a disastrous deprivation of freedom and loss of independence, but also the drama of internal discord. These afflictions were often brought about by external circumstances beyond our control, when the world powers decided our fate without us, behind our backs, violently dividing our lands among themselves.
Over the last 150 years we endured a number of massive waves of emigration of our people, dispersed throughout the world, driven by adversity or threatening political and economic situations in our native lands. This is how Ukrainian settlements were established in the various corners of the world: Canada, the United States, Australia, the countries of Western and Eastern Europe, and South America. Today, many of our countrymen also live in Asia and Africa. Maybe this experience of Ukrainians dispersed throughout the world is at the root of that well-known expression: nashoho tsvitu—po vs’omu svitu (of our blossoms the world over). Although these migratory processes frequently brought incredibly great challenges, difficulties, and tragedies for the Ukrainian people, we cannot ignore also the positive moments: our people, finding themselves on foreign soil, experienced a particularly acute longing for their native land, a longing which found expression in concern for the preservation of spiritual, national, and cultural traditions; in the development of the Church of their birth and the fostering of language; in the building of churches and the creation of Ukrainian organizations; in proclaiming before the entire free world the truth about oppression and persecution in the homeland and ongoing efforts towards the restoration of Ukrainian statehood. It is not by chance that the first countries to recognize Ukrainian independence in more recent times were, in fact, those countries where the influence of the Ukrainian community and Church remains influential to this day.
However, our people also experienced the tragic consequences of those divisions, which we ourselves brought about through internal discord, confrontation on various levels, unjust actions, instigation of one against another, giving one’s own (frequently ultra-partisan) interests priority over the needs of the nation as a whole. Already the Venerable Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky with pain in his heart noted:
Unfortunately, even from superficial observations of our national life one can arrive at the undeniable conclusion that in the spirit of every Ukrainian there exists a profound and powerful desire for one’s own state; yet, along with this desire one can find, possibly, an equally powerful and deep desire that this state be necessarily the kind that is wanted by a particular party, clique, group, or even individual. How else does one explain that fatal division among us, disputes, rifts, quarrels, that partisanship which destroys every national initiative?! How else does one explain the mind of many such impetuous patriots, whose work has such a profoundly ruinous character?!
To our great misfortune, these words of Metropolitan Andrey, spoken in the distant year of 1941, have lost none of their relevance, for gazing at the situation today, even the untrained eye can see in the actions of many politician and political forces their “ruinous character.”
The lessons of the past centuries should teach us to cherish and preserve the unity of our people, and not speculate on the natural manifestations of regional, cultural, denominational, or ethnic diversity, which in reality enrich us rather than threaten nation-building. The enemies of Ukrainian statehood seek to divide our people, setting one group against another, while responsible politicians and true patriots should make every effort to ensure cohesion, mutual support, and effective solidarity among all sectors of Ukrainian society. Such efforts to unity flow not only from the national interests of our people. It is inscribed in the very nature of human society, encoded as it is with the desire for integrality, for cohesiveness. Our perennial national ideal of unity-sobornist is reflected in such simple slogans, which are even repeated by our children: “Ukraine is one!”, “East and West together!”
Recalling the precious, largely bitter, centuries-old experience of the past, today we direct our appeal not only to our politicians and community activists, but also to every Ukrainian man and woman, wherever they may be: let us cherish the unity-sobornist of the Ukrainian State, let us foster unity and solidarity among ourselves, not led on a leash by those pseudo-patriots, who sow mistrust, discord, strife, and division among our people. Such “efforts” of theirs inevitably will lead to a weakening of national strength, and, ultimately, to the loss of Ukrainian statehood, acquired and defended today at a great price. We, the Pastors of this people, raise up to the Lord our ancient prayer-supplication: “The strength of the people is in unity. God, grant us unity!”
“Rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17)
Saint Paul exhorts us: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor 16:14). Indeed, love permeates all actions of an authentic Christian. From love as a primary source come forth all noble intentions of a person and people. From love we draw the strength to overcome obstacles and conflicts. Love is the internal impetus that grants us the capacity to labour daily with endurance and sacrifice.
Love is also at the heart of that noble emotion which we call patriotism. Authentic Christians are called to be patriots, that is, to love their Fatherland, their people, their language and culture with the same loving sacrifice that is applied to the Divine commandment of loving our father and mother. In the light of the New Testament we can also affirm that love of the Fatherland is inscribed in human nature and comes from the commandment to love our neighbour. Thus, “…the natural law enjoins us to love devotedly and to defend the country in which we had birth, and in which we were brought up …”.
For every nation, true wealth and glory are found in its sons and daughters, who demonstrate respect and love for the land of their ancestors, who not only defend its borders from invasions by uninvited and insatiable “liberators,” but also preserve its values, who through the ages embody and express the unique spiritual code of a people: its faith and language, its freedom-loving spirit and own sense of dignity, its aspiration for justice and truth in interpersonal and social relations. Such individuals show their love not through empty words, but through their own good works, and, therefore, are the bearers and models of authentic patriotism. Indeed, love of the Fatherland, in the words of the righteous Metropolitan Andrey, “depends on action, and not on words. Those who in their own situation, conscientiously performing their duties, work for the good of their people, are better patriots that those who speak much, but do little.” 
We are proud of and thank God for the numerous ways in which our compatriots demonstrate their love for their native land, for their concern, their compassions and solidarity, for their wisdom in the circumstances of this insidious hybrid war. We refer to those who on the Maidan defended their dignity and freedom, those who went to the front and at the cost of their health and life defended or continue to defend not merely the territorial integrity of the country, but also a place of freedom and spirit, who rescue refugees and support displaced persons, who share their modest means and savings with the needy; and finally, we speak of all, who conscientiously and responsibly perform their professional and public duties. They all embody the fulfilment of the greatest commandment that Christ our Lord left us as a signpost and testament: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13).
The nature of human love is to expand—beginning in the home and family, embracing one’s village-town-city (one’s “small fatherland”), on to one’s entire native land, and then all people and all nations. Authentic Christian love is recognized in its universal and inclusive character. If genuine love abides in a human heart then such a heart excludes no one: neither those who are near, nor those who are distant; neither those who are gracious, nor those who stand in aggression. Such a person strives to embrace all with his or her benevolence, desires the fullness of life for all, is ready to show compassion and mercy to all.
We Ukrainians sense, especially in these last years, the friendship and solidarity of many countries, of millions of people of good will throughout the world, of many nationalities and religious beliefs. They sympathize with us in our trials, support us in our need, protect us before the hate of the aggressor and demonstrate their readiness to stand with us as time passes. Such solidarity is a great gift, but also a duty. It obliges us to open and expand our heart to the needs of those nations that today endure injustice, aggression, trials, and various forms of suffering.
“Watch and pray!” (Mt 26:41)
Reflecting of the virtue of authentic love towards one’s native land, we cannot ignore a number of false attitudes towards patriotism, which undermine this noble sentiment and can be a cause of shame for a people or even pose a grave danger for our still young statehood.
We are convinced that a person who does not engage his or her own people in truth, but feeds them passionate slogans and deceitful promises, is not a sincere patriot. We especially wish to caution against cheap political populism, which does not have the good of the people as its objective, but rather one’s own comfort and victory in the next elections. How can we not bring to mind the words of Ivan Franko, who cautioned against such false patriotism, which appears in “festive garments,” but finds hard work “an unstoppable fever”—unfamiliar and repulsive.
Authentic patriotism has nothing in common with an ideology that places the nation “above everything,” including the Lord our God. Such a view of nation and state, in the words of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, is not founded on love, but rather, on egoism or even idolatry. . We, as disciples of Christ, cannot condone or accept such forms of extreme or integral nationalism, racism or chauvinism, which make everything, especially the Church and the state itself, subservient to the idea of nation, deny the freedom and rights of individuals, but most importantly, their personal dignity, which comes from God, treat representatives of other nationalities, races and religions with disdain, promote hate and animosity, inspire blind and crude violence in the pursuit of political goals.
Saint Pope John Paul II, speaking to his co-nationals in 1978, emphasized: “Love of our country unites us and must unite us above all divergences. It has nothing in common with narrow nationalism or chauvinism, but springs from the law of the human heart. It is a measure of man’s nobility.” . In a similar spirit our own Soviet camp prisoner Patriarch Josyf, who laid his whole life upon the altar of service to his own people, expressed the following: “Let our patriotism be a love for our people, ready for any sacrifice, however, let it not be falsely understood as a nationalism that bases love of Fatherland on hatred.”. Written in complex times at the start of the second Soviet occupation, this letter of a confessor of faith has not lost its pastoral intuition and once again brings us back to the priority of love.
In our beloved prayer for Ukraine we sing: “In a pure love for the land, You, O God, nurture us.” Love must become a litmus test for all our personal aspirations, for all national plans and projects. The ability to distinguish between love and its false forms requires a mature mind, a pure heart, and a sensitive conscience.
The Lord God today calls us to watch over our conscience, over the future of our people and state. Let us ask ourselves: are our attitudes, opinions, judgments, and actions guided by a pure love for our people? Are we ourselves, as architects of our country, guided by it? Does it guide our political and community leaders? Responding honestly to these questions will help us rediscover the path to a successful development of our nation and the ongoing building of the state.
Finally we invite all to fervent prayer: in thanksgiving—for the gift of liberty and statehood; in repentance—for the sins by which each one of us and our entire people throughout its history may have offended God and His holy law; in petition—for divine blessings upon our people, for wisdom to our leaders, for courage and health to the faithful builders of our nation, and especially for her dedicated defenders on the front lines. Prayer is, from the perspective of faith, the greatest expression of love for one’s neighbour and country, for through it we express our conviction that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps 127:1).
Therefore, surveying the last century in thought and prayer, let us face the coming day with faith in our heart, placing our hopes and expectation in the hands of the Lord and Master of heaven and earth. We do not fear the darkness that may appear before our eyes, for the light of faith dispels the nightfall of anxiety and fear, and grants us certainty that “the Lord will give strength to his people, the Lord will bless his people with peace” (Ps 29:11).
May the eternal mercy and powerful grace of the Almighty spread out over our entire people, may they heal the spiritual and bodily wounds of its sons and daughters, may God’s wisdom guide all of us on the path of truth, and may God’s love inspire all to genuine daily labour towards the continuous confirmation of a united Ukrainian State—for the glory of God and for the temporal and eternal good of our nation
The blessing of the Lord be upon you!
On behalf of the Synod of Bishops
of the Kyivan-Halych Major Archepiscopate