With what shall we evangelise? Ukrainian Greek Catholics and their role in the Universal Church

4 June 2013, 12:00 | James Siemens' column | 7 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Fr James Siemens

siemens.pngThere can be no doubt that it is when the Church acts as one body, she is most effective at making the beauty and truth of the Gospel known among the nations. As such, it is important for Ukrainian Greek Catholics to examine themselves, and to ask what role they have if they are to faithfully take up their part in the Great Commission – that is, the duty of going out into the world and baptising all people in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Greek Catholics are, after all, called to be the ‘other lung’ of the Church: to represent the ancient, Byzantine tradition alongside the Roman, or Latin, tradition. Yet, at least in some places, this is not well understood. Instead, we succumb to the temptation of acting in an insular way: of behaving more like an ethnic chaplaincy rather than the scintillating and beautiful Church of the East. What then, we must ask, is our purpose, and how should we be going about our work?

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, firmly rooted as it is in the tradition of Kyiv – a tradition that began when Prince Wolodymyr sent his courtiers to seek out a religion fit for his emerging nation – is a Church whose most significant treasure must surely be her Liturgy. As legend reminds us, when Wolodymyr’s courtiers returned, they reported that the prince should choose for his people the Byzantine (Christian) religion, as, when they visited Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, they ‘…knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth,’ such was the beauty of the Liturgy they experienced there. Indeed, there are many today who would acknowledge the transcendent, mysterious nature of our Eastern traditions as the thing that drew them into the Church and saw them make a Christian commitment; so it is clear that the Byzantine religion – whether in its Greek or Slavic form – retains the power it once exercised over the court of the great prince of Kyiv.

That being the case, Ukrainians do neither themselves nor the Gospel any service when they coyly assume that the Church as they know it will be of no interest to the non-Ukrainian world. The Church is the Church, rather, and the Church as Ukrainians know her is a splendid jewel – a treasure that should inspire generosity. So how can the Ukrainian Church be generous? What response can her members make to their inheritance that is faithful to their calling as Christians – as disciples of Christ – to make Him known?

Since we have established that, before anything else, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an beneficiary of the same Liturgy that first converted the Ukrainian people, I would argue that she can, above all, seek to celebrate that Liturgy in fidelity and love. This means, of course, seeking to know and observe her Byzantine liturgical traditions to the most faithful possible extent, in the knowledge that as she does so, she is making manifest the fullness of the Gospel – the living image of Christ.

You see, the Liturgy as understood in Eastern tradition is not just the order given to our weekly assembly, nor is it a mere repository of our communal memory. To be precise, the Liturgy is a re-presentation of Christ. In the Liturgy, Christ offers Himself to all the faithful and, by extension, to all the world. In the Liturgy, Christ is encountered by us, and in being encountered, transforms us into something more like himself and less like ourselves. In the Liturgy, what is inherently material and earthly becomes something spiritual and heavenly. In the Liturgy, Christ becomes really and truly known.

But to know what we have to offer – that is, the Liturgy – is one thing. The evangelistic task set for us by our Lord, however, is one that requires an understanding of one’s context. Who, for example, is going believe a message about the Prince of Peace in a land that has been at war forever? Likewise, who is going to accept the idea of the forgiveness of sins in a culture that no longer believes in the existence of sin? To preach these things is obviously vital, but to make them understood, they need to be cast in terms that are appropriate to the audience. Well, if I consider what Ukrainian Greek Catholics have to share, and the context in which they are called to share it – both in Ukraine and beyond – I would say that there is a fortunate correspondence. The world in which we find ourselves today is a world downright hungry for a sense of the numinous. The popularity of the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight; the emergence in the last generation of everything from fantasy role-play games to the New Age movement: these things together serve as reminders that as materialistic as our world has become, people still crave a sense of the mystical, of that which lies beyond.

And wonderfully, as we have seen, the Eastern liturgical tradition offers just that. From the aesthetic sense created by our vestments, our chant, our incense, and our flickering candles, to the awesome chord struck by our proclamation that the Incarnate Logos, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is here present, there is no other place in this world where people can encounter such a thing so boldly and honestly held.

Both now and in the future, if Ukrainian Greek Catholics are to take seriously their role in the world to make known Christ and to baptise all nations; if they are to take up their part in the Universal Church and do what they can to contribute to the transfiguration of the human race, then they will hardly do better than to reflect on their holy traditions and celebrate them with fidelity, joy, and love. For Ukrainian Christians have something the world wants, and by its faithful celebration, will set fire to the light that draws all people unto God. Then the world may say as they encounter it, as did St Wolodymyr’s courtiers, that they ‘…knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth’.

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  • Paul Ewasko | 28 June 2013, 23:05
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    Be careful of the above scam!

  • Eva Reinhardt | 10 June 2013, 14:48
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    I'm very happy that Father John sent this out..I'm glad that he brought the attention to the EASTERN RITE Catholic Church..I'm very proud of our tradition,where some Ukraine people that the Byzantine Church belongs only to them and reject other Rites in joining.

  • Subdeacon Timothy Woods | 10 June 2013, 02:22
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    Beautiful. But it isn't enough to only celebrate our liturgies properly. We must go out to the highways and byways and urge people to "come and see". At the risk of being accused of "stealing parishioners", we must even approach our Roman brothers and sisters and let them know what they are missing. But the town, city and world at large needs to be actively invited because , in many cases, they don't even know that our churches exist. For us to sit and wait for them to figure this out is no longer an option for us.

    • carson lauffer | 15 June 2013, 19:59
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      Quite so. I don't know how to get past our stubborn resistance to so doing.

  • Subdeacon John Reves | 7 June 2013, 23:54
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    Dear Fr. James, great article! I think that these questions are very urgent and important for us as Greek Catholics living beyond Ukraine and are also important for the whole Catholic Church. Once again as I did in my essay, I would like to quote Karl Rahner: "The Eastern Catholic churches must first demonstrate that they have will and strength for mission activities of their own initiative, and the Latin Church must first demonstrate that it does not treat and judge these churches as some sort of venerable museum relic from the past." Rahner wrote said this just a few days after the end of the Council. Among those present was the UGCC Exarch of Germany. Mission-- to share the saving messege of Jesus in the midst of a starving world. This is it. Are we ready? I hope. I believe that we have the strength, through the prayers of the Martyrs and beauty and truth of the tradition. But we must be ready to communicate it, that means openness to other languages and cultures. Thanks for your enthusiasm and your messege! God bless.

  • Fr Jason Charron | 4 June 2013, 14:55
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    Fr James, This is inspired! Myself and others have fallen in love with the Kyiv tradition of God's Holy Church and seek to spread it at every opportunity. There are a surprising number of "converts" (ecclesial and ritual) in certain of our UGCC parishes. If we all met together it would be powerful to hear how God is working through us to evangelize the world. Keep up the good work!

    • Ms.Therese Oniel | 28 June 2013, 20:36
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      Beloved one in Christ Jesus I am the person named above Kuwait. I am married to Mr.Eng phill oniel, who worked with the Embassy of Kuwait in Ivory coast and nine years before he died in 2004. We were married for eleven years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only four days. Before his death we were both again born Christian. Since his death I decided never to marry or have a child out of my marital home which the Bible is against. When my husband was alive he deposited the sum of $2. 5 million (two million five hundred thousand United States.)UU. Dollars) on the Bank here in Abidjan in a temporary account. Today, the Fund continues in the Bank. Recently, my doctor told me I have disease seriouly which is cancer problem. That bothers me most is my illness str oke. Knowing my condition I decided to donate this Fund to a church or individual duo that will utilize this money the way I am going to send Deputy. I want a church to use this Fund for orphanages, widows, p ropagating the word of God and strive to keep the House of God. The Bible made us to understand that blessed is the hand that gives. I took this decision because I don't have any child that will inherit this money and my husband family are not Christians and I don't want that my husband to be used by unbelievers. I don't want a situation where this money will be used in an unholy manner. Therefore, that I am taking this decision. I am not afraid of death so that I know where I am going. I know that you I will be in the chest of the Lord. Exodus 14 vs 14 says that the Lord will fight my cas e and I will hold my peace. Do not need any communication in this regard because of my health phone therefore the presence of relatives of my husband around me always is I don't want you to know of this development. With God everything is possible. As soon as I receive your reply will give you the contact of the Bank here in Abidjan. I want you and the Church to always pray for me because the Lord is my shepherd. My happiness is that I lived a life worthy of a Christian. Whoever that wants to serve the Lord must serve him in spirit and in truth. Beg please always throughout his life. Contact me through my email address for more information, any delay in your reply give me room in sourcing another church or individual for this same purpose. If say me that you act on it as I have said here. Hoping to receive your reply. Remain blessed in the Lord. Yours in Christ, Ms.Therese Oniel

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Last comments

  • velovs@ukr.net | 15 September 2019, 07:30

    Може, якийсь "святейший" і дійсно (де-факто) буде проти. Але ж на то є чітка й однозначна БОЖА ВОЛЯ і ПЛАН-ЗАДУМ. Й тому ХТО, врешті-решт, здатен і направду зможе завадити і не допустити їх

  • barni | 15 September 2019, 05:27

    Взагалі то, є три ОСНОВНІ гілки християнства це католики, православні і протестанти і говорити про визнання т.зв "угкц", ну на край смішно. А щодо об"єднання - хто ж проти, але

  • enzian | 14 September 2019, 18:38

    Мішка, не примазуйся до католиків. Ти загальновизнаний агент Москви.

  • Михаил | 14 September 2019, 01:41

    1.УГКЦ всегда стояла и стоит на патриотических началах, а т.н. "пцу" только примазывается к патриотизму, потому, что ей так выгодней. 2. УГКЦ общепризнанная каноническая восточная

  • velovs@ukr.net | 12 September 2019, 16:56

    А тут можемо побачити дуже конкретну і активну - різнопланову богонатхненну практичну діяльність об'єднаних (різноликих) українських християн-волонтерів заради досягнення такої

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