04-06-2019

We lack heart to heart communication – Metropolitan Borys Gudziak

Interviewer: Lilia Kovalyk-Vasiuta

Today [4 June 2019] the enthronement of the new metropolitan of Philadelphia, the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the USA, His Eminence Borys Gudziak, is being held. On this occasion, the festival “From Heart to Heart“is happening in Philadelphia throughout the week. Daily there will be liturgical services and performances by artistic groups. There will be a youth day, scholarly meetings, and social dialogue. The day before the enthronement, RISU asked Archbishop Borys to explain the motto: “From Heart to Heart.”

Владика Борис (Ґудзяк)

— Communication is foundational in spiritual life. Communication exists in God himself: there are three persons who share their divine life in a perfect manner. God is love. And this doesn’t mean some nirvana or some “energy.” God is the relationship of three Persons. These are the divine relations in the Holy Trinity. Because we are created in the image of divine persons, communication is necessary for us. Like water for a fish and air for each of us. We flourish in good relations. But when our relations in the family, at work, in society, in politics, or among nations become aggressive, when there is alienation, conflict – this damages our being.  If there is too much negative in communication, we die.

So it is important to take a look at how we communicate. We fulfill functions, we have roles which are necessary in life. They have certain norms. These norms maintain a certain order. We organize our mutual expectations, that is, it is impossible to omit either roles or norms. But sometimes we can become functionaries in these roles. We can even perfectly carry out various acts but not meet the person in the essence of his or her existence. For the heart is a metaphor. It is the core, our soul. It is the spirit of God which the Lord sent into this clay that became a human being.

And today more than ever there is a lack of that communication of souls: from soul to soul, from heart to heart. It is sometimes absent in the Church, when system and fear rule. There are gaps between generations, between waves of immigration, between men and women, clergy and laity, between people who hold various ideological opinions. The question here arises: Can we speak “from heart to heart”? And children help us here. For Christ says: “Be like children in order to receive the kingdom.” And the kingdom is sincere, direct communication, which helps us accept our God-given dignity. My hope is that we can develop this communication in the life of the Church.

— What challenges do you see before the UGCC in the USA?

— I think the Church has standard challenges – to live according to the Gospel. To be a community that believes in God, that lives with God, that prays and teaches others to pray, that deeply expresses solidarity with the needy. Our Church carried a heavy cross of persecution in Ukraine; it was unrecognized, marginalized. We struggled for our dignity: ecclesiastical, ethical, cultural. Sometimes this struggle can separate us from the foundational points of Christian life. In this struggle, we often fought with each other. There were great battles in Philadelphia, even in this cathedral.

Today our Church needs to go out into the “deep water” of spiritual life. We need to return to the riches of our Liturgy. This week, with matins and vespers we are striving to behold the internal beauty of spiritual life, divine beauty. And the UCU choir is helping us in this. We need to be open, to unite various waves of immigration and be open to our neighbors, to Americans of various backgrounds, various races, so that we can share this gift of God. 

— You believe that such an idea will be successful?

— This is the essence of Christianity. We can’t live only in an ethnic ghetto, or preserve the museum of one culture. We are bearers of salvation. We received it in order to share it with all people of good will. How to do this in a world that has its own informational, cultural, and ideological bubbles is a great challenge today.

— The work of government leaders and their administrations is evaluated in the first 100 days. What will be your steps in the first 100 days as head of the UGCC in the USA?

— For my first steps, 100 days are not enough [laughs]. I don’t think that right now the need is for quality special projects. It’s necessary to pray, to listen to God’s voice, and come to know one another. The infrastructure exists here. Church life is regulated. The question is how we can preserve the spirit.

— Was this also a question when you began your episcopal ministry in France?

— It was different in France. There were no structures there. In certain areas, everything was starting from the beginning. The first year was a year of getting acquainted, a year of diagnosis. And then everything was filled in, but in a synodal way: through communication, some vision was expressed, a common pastoral plan.

— So, right now there is no strategy for the UGCC in the USA?

— No. Certain efforts have been made this week. Liturgical prayer is an academic moment, the interaction of priests, a small council of the religious. In Washington there will be an academic moment and a meeting with politicians. In Philadelphia there will also be a youth day.

This all, I hope, will help open us to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are close to Pentecost. I hope that I am open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we all are open in a new way to the comforting Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who is everywhere and fills all things.

— In conversation with the faithful here, we see that they have great hope.

— I’m a little worried, because their expectations are too high [laughs].

— In an age of secularism, how do people return to the Church?

— I think that strategies that seek above all to bring you to where I am are, perhaps, doomed. First it’s necessary to simply be. The growth of the Church is God’s work. It’s important that we don’t interfere with Him. I don’t want to return people to a Church that, let’s say, is not life-giving, to a Church that can be xenophobic, that rejects someone, to a Church that is marked by some unhealthy phenomena. It’s important that we in the Church shine with peace and joy. And then people will come to us.

— Where do you see the UGCC in the USA in five years?

— Right now I have no such prognosis. I hope that we will grow in peaceful interaction and in joy at the level “from heart to heart.” 

— How do you see the relation of the spiritual and the national, so that the Church will be alive but with an active Ukrainian character?

— For us Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, these things are paired. There can never be an authentic spirituality to the detriment of national identity. National identity is healthy when it is built on spiritual principles. However, it is possible to build essentially on national or nationalistic bases, remaining without the Gospel. I don’t need, I think, to explain my Ukrainian character. I was born in America but always fostered the Ukrainian language, became a professional in Ukrainian studies, and moved to Ukraine. But in 1980 I became a seminarian of the Lviv Archeparchy, which at that time it was possible to compare with becoming a seminarian on Mars. But I strive in my spirituality to be a Christian, to be open to each person, because my preaching is not above all Ukrainian: it is human, Christian preaching.

For Ukrainians, to foster their national and cultural-ethnic dignity is a way to be a human being. And it’s necessary to defend this dignity. We are doing this today. Blood is being shed for this today. But we will be fully human and Ukrainians when we are open to all the beautiful nations, cultures, and races that God created with no less love than for us.

I don’t think that we have an aggressive Ukrainian people. On the contrary, often there were aggressive and invasive acts against us. But sometimes we are afraid. We hold a defensive position, we make barricades. I wouldn’t want barricades around our churches. I hope that all who search for truth and God and want to live with Christ will be able to come freely to our Church.

— And what can Ukraine give the world today?

— Much. Our way of worshipping God, the warmth of communication, our Liturgy, iconography, symbolism, sung prayer. We have interesting relations among our ethnos and confession. Our church was socially involved in the fate of our people. We have married priests and in the priesthood the interaction of the clergy with the laity is manifested. We have the experience of martyrdom. Our fathers and mothers in the faith faced the greatest challenge of the 20th century – godless totalitarianism, which in a genocidal manner wanted to destroy the Church. And this still shows us certain perspectives. It gives an intuition as to a methodology by which to encounter the challenges of the 21st century, how to face today’s challenges. I think that there will be much to share.

— What kind of president does Ukraine need today and what’s necessary in order to end our war?

— Ukraine needs a president who will serve in a sacrificial manner, a president who will be close to the people, who will lift people up and bless them, who will not separate people.

And the war will end when the one who started it does not remain.

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