Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Prayers for the Head of State

In the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Liturgical Tradition

Published in Ukrainian in Патріярхат (2016) no. 1 (453), p. 15–17.

Canada is a monarchy where the Monarch often goes unnoticed. In the United Kingdom, however, it is impossible not to notice the monarchy, for even in the churches, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Protestants all pray for the Queen during their holy services. One exception appears to be the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Following the current translation in our liturgical books, we merely pray for “our nation under God, our civil authorities and all the armed forces.” In this article, I intend to provide a brief historical sketch about the prayers for the monarch in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, and discuss why the Ukrainian Church altered them in the last century and what could be done with them in future.

The prayers for the nation and the civil authorities in current-day Ukrainian liturgical services are a modern rewording of the traditional prayers for the head of state, based on the injunction of the Apostle Paul in his First Letter to Timothy:

I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men [...] for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. (2:14)


Even today, some of our faithful remember when the prayers for the sovereign were still being said in the Liturgy. Until about 1970, Ukrainian Catholic services were prayed in Church Slavonic, a book language (not a vernacular) used by various Slavic peoples in the liturgical services. In the liturgical books used at the turn of the twentieth century, the prayer in the Great Ektene read as follows (in translation):

For our most faithful and God-protected Emperor (Francis Joseph), for all his palaces and armies, that the Lord would aide him in all things, hasten to grant him all his desires and place under his feet every enemy and adversary.


This form was used by Western Ukrainians (then referred to as Ruthenians) in their Galician homeland, when it was part of Austria-Hungary and was ruled by the Habsburg emperor. Previously, when under Russia, the Ruthenians had prayed for the tsar, and when under Poland they had prayed for the king. The monarch was also mentioned in other prayers, such as in the Ambonal Prayer and in the troparion to the Holy Cross:

Save Your people, O God, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory to Your most faithful Emperor over his enemies and protect Your people by Your Cross.


The prayer for the monarch in the anaphora contained (and still contains) a direct citation from First Timothy:

Remember our most faithful Emperor (Francis Joseph) and all his palaces and armies. Grant him, O Lord, a peaceful reign, so that by his tranquility, “we may lead quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and purity.”


This prayer is itself a truncation of the older and much more beautiful form, full of quotations from the Old Testament books of Chronicles and the Psalms, found in the Liturgy of St. Basil:

Remember, O Lord, our most devout and faithful Emperor (Francis Joseph), whom you have set to rule on the earth. Crown him with a weapon of truth, a weapon of good will; let your shadow fall upon his head in the day of war; strengthen his arm, exalt his right-hand, establish his empire; subdue beneath him all barbarous nations that desire to make war; grant him deep and enduring peace; speak good things to his heart for your Church and for all your people; so that by his tranquility we may lead quiet and peaceful lives, in all piety and purity.


The reference to the barbarous nations reminds us that this prayer was first intended for the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor, whose duty it was to care for the earthly welfare of the Church. It is revealing (particularly in our day) to note that the monarch’s victory in battle was intended for the purpose of maintaining peace (Pax Romana) against those who fomented war.


The roots of the removal of references to the monarch in the Ukrainian Catholic Liturgy may be traced back to the political philosophies of national movements within multiethnic empires. These movements tended to be republican, since the fall of the ruling dynasties represented a vital step towards the political autonomy of the subject nations. So too, the Ukrainian movements were generally, though not exclusively, republican. Notable exceptions were found in Austrian Galicia, where Ruthenian notables envisioned the formation of an autonomous state within a confederation ruled by the Habsburg Monarch. Metropolitan Sheptytsky even proposed a plan for the creation of an (eastern) Ukrainian kingdom, ruled by a Habsburg prince. Also, in Eastern Ukraine, the monarchist Hetman regime was sustained by the German and Austrian Empires. However, the defeat and subsequent disintegration of the continental European monarchies, at the end of 1918, ended any practical hopes for any Ukrainian monarchy. At that point, Galician politicians and churchmen gave their full support to the creation of a Western Ukrainian Republic (1 November 1918), which brought about the first change to the prayer for the sovereign in the Greek-Catholic liturgies.

Further research is required to ascertain exactly when, in practice, the prayer for the emperor was changed. While still under Austrian rule, the Ukrainian Bishops Conference of 19 February 1918 censured demands by certain nationalists for the inclusion of a prayer for the president of the (eastern) Ukrainian Republic. Considering the pro-Habsburg sympathies of the hierarchy and general conservatism of the clergy, it is likely that some Greek-Catholic priests continued to say the prayer for their dethroned Emperor Karl, as found in the printed liturgical texts. Very quickly, though, if not immediately upon independence, the name of the monarch was replaced by the word nation: “o blahovirnim i bokhranymim narodi nashem / for our most faithful God-protected nation.”

This ostensibly auspicious, seamless textual substitution would not suffice after Eastern Galicia was annexed to the Polish Republic. The separatist feelings of the Ukrainian population induced the Polish Government to be all the more insistent that the Greek-Catholic clergy pray for the Polish head of state. What appears to be a compromise solution was achieved. An ambiguous addition to the prayer made it possible to pray for the nation (Ukrainian?) and the state without specifically mentioning Poland or its president. The new wording, which is still basically in use today, began to appear in printed prayer books: “For our most faithful and God-protected nation, the government and all the armed forces.” (later versions omitted the morally descriptive blahovirnyj [most faithful]). Ukrainians who had already emigrated to the Dominions of the British Empire continued to use the old text of the prayer, substituting the word emperor for king.

The first official change in the liturgical texts, in the twentieth century, occurred at the end of the 1920’s with the publication of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky’s revised liturgikon (missal) and trebnyk (ritual). In these books, the prayer for the monarch was replaced by the prayer for the nation and government, which had been in in use within the Polish Republic. These new editions represented an attempt by Sheptytsky to remove the major Latinizations from the liturgical texts and rubrics. These new books, however, were generally rejected by the other Greek-Catholic bishops, who did not share Sheptytsky’s views on liturgical reform, and the old editions printed at the turn of the century remained in use outside of Sheptytsky’s Archeparchy of Lviv. Since the Ukrainian bishops could not agree on liturgical reform, they ceded responsibility for revising their liturgical books to the Apostolic See.

It was in the 1930’s, then, that a commission for the revision of the Slavonic liturgical texts was formed under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church (subsequently renamed the Congregation for the Oriental Churches). The brainchild of this project was a Frenchman turned Byzantine-rite priest, Cyrille Korolevskij. This eccentric scholar was a friend of several illustrious church leaders, including Metropolitan Sheptytsky, Cardinal Tisserant (the head of the Oriental Congregation), and Pope Pius XI himself, under whom Korolevskij had worked when the Pope (then Monsignor Achille Ratti) was prefect of the Vatican Library. The commission produced two sets of liturgical books, one for the Churches following the Ruthenian Edition, and the so-called Typical Edition for those following the Russian texts and rubrics. The first book in the series was the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which was released in 1940, followed by the complete liturgikon the following year.

The Roman editions were given full approval, promulgated on the authority of the Roman Pontiff and made mandatory on all the Slavic Eastern Catholic Churches. However, despite the high quality of the research and redaction, these editions contained several controversial points. Among these was the large number of changes in the rubrics, which were restored to their sixteenth-century forms, mercilessly eliminating any Greek or Slavic accretions. In addition, some of the terminology used in the Ruthenian Edition appeared to betray the Russophile proclivities of both Korolevskij and Tisserant. For instance, in the Cherubic Hymn, the Ruthenian-slavonic pechal’ was replaced with the Russian variant popechennije (let us now lay aside all earthly cares). The greatest changes appeared in the 1947 trebnyk, with its completely restructured order of the celebration of the Sacraments. Notably, besides linguistic and ceremonial restoration, the Roman editions also restored the prayers for the monarch to their ancient form, introducing, however, the option of commemorating an emperor, a king or simply the civil authorities. Notably, the beautiful prayer in the anaphora of the Liturgy of St. Basil was retained, word for word.

The return to extremely conservative texts, in this instance, is interesting, especially since no Eastern Catholics were then living under the rule of a reigning emperor (perhaps there were some in Japan or India?). The inclusion of the emperor might represent the commission taking into account the possibility of a Habsburg restoration, which was much hoped for in certain European church and democratic circles of the period. On the other hand, it could simply be the result of Liturgical conservatism. Indeed, the prayer for the emperor was not removed from the Latin Rite liturgical books until the 1955 reform of the Holy Week.

Both the textual and rubrical alterations of the Roman Slavonic liturgical books made these editions difficult to accept for a significant number of the Latinized Ukrainian Catholic clergy. Foremost among the opponents of the new version was the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat, which defiantly reprinted and continued to use the old books. Despite efforts to enforce the use of the new books (even by canonical sanctions), in practice earlier editions continued to be used by many of the clergy, even well beyond the introduction of the vernacular editions. Even after the issuing of the Roman edition of the Slavonic arkhieratykon (pontifical) in 1973, some bishops continued to use the late-nineteenth-century Lviv edition well into the 1990’s; for example, Cardinal Lubachivsky. And even today, English translations of the Baptism and Marriage services not based on the Roman orders of service are widely used in Canada.

The decrees of the Second Vatican Council permitted the introduction of the Ukrainian vernacular into Ukrainian Catholic Church services (the Orthodox had introduced modern Ukrainian in 1917). At first, this was done piecemeal, especially through the printed of Liturgy books for the faithful. In 1968, the first all-Ukrainian liturgikon/sluzhebnyk was issued with the text of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Faithful to the official Roman Slavonic edition, the vernacular sluzhebnyk did make some small alternations in the text, including the return to the Ruthenian term pechal’ in the Cherubic hymn (no modern vernacular equivalent was deemed acceptable) and to the prayer for the narod as in the 1920’s books, omitting the option to pray for a monarch. Following upon other vernacular versions of the Liturgy of St. Basil, the 1980 Ukrainian edition totally revised the ancient prayer for the emperor, truncating it and jettisoning the beautiful scriptural verses which had hitherto been applied to the sovereign.

Replacing the monarch in the liturgical texts posed certain problems. For example, the first translations of the troparia to the Cross replaced the person of the sovereign with the Church, creating a rather ultramontane image of the Church Militant:

Save Your people, O God, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory to Your Church over its enemies and protect Your people by your Cross.


Subsequent Ukrainian editions of these troparia returned to praying for the narod, and English translations followed suit: “grant victory to Your people”. In the Chrysostom anaphora, nation replaced monarch but the phrase “Grant them, O Lord, a peaceful reign” (myrne tsarstvo) was retained but now applied to the nation, the government and the armed forces. Actually, reign and rule (or govern) are not the same thing. The Queen, for instance, reigns but does not rule; the government, on the other hand, can be said to rule but certainly does not reign. The official English translation, however, rendered-away the “offensive” term:

Remember, O Lord, our nation under God, our government and all the military. Grant them a peaceful government, so that in their tranquility, we may lead quiet and peaceful lives in all piety and dignity.


Another problem in replacing the head of state with the nation is that it can obscure the meaning of the prayer, as in Ukrainian versions of the Liturgy of St. Basil:

Remember, O Lord, our God-protected nation, the government and all the military. Grant them deep and enduring peace; incline their hearts with consideration for your Church and all your people; so that in their tranquility we may lead quiet and peaceful lives, in all piety and purity.

How can the nation incline its’ heart with consideration for the people who constitute it (except according to certain nation-worshiping philosophies)? Here, the restoration of the head of state, followed the by government and military, would solve the problem.

In the next part of the prayer, the Ukrainian editions have left untouched the sentence: “for our brothers in the palace”. However, English translations were changed to read: “for those in the service of our country”. Presumably, a presidential palace or parliament (the British Houses of Parliament are the Palace of Westminster) would be excluded by the original term, considered perhaps too reminiscent of the imperial and royal courts.

The partial rejection of the Ukrainian Synod’s 1988 liturgikon and 1991 arkhieratykon can be compared to the reluctant reception of the Roman editions, albeit for entirely different motivations: the synodal texts were rejected principally due to the patriarchal movement’s veneration for the texts issued by Cardinal Slipyj, and also because they had printed numerous prayer books using Slipyj’s translation, in which the term Major-Archbishop was substituted with Patriarch. With the founding of numerous printing presses in Ukraine, a host of unofficial, revised translations of the liturgical books have already appeared.

As the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod prepares to re-issue standardized, official liturgical translations, the responsible commission needs to decide how to treat the prayer for the head of state. I suggest that it restores the older texts of prayers for the monarch, including however, as did the Roman editions, the option to pray for the head of state and civil authorities. Some of the reasons to do so would be:

The prayers for the emperor/king date back to the Roman/Byzantine Empire. The version in the Anaphora of St. Basil is in keeping with the rhetorical beauty of that Liturgy, which should not be cheapened by commonplace translations or redactions. After all, if we are looking for a shortened version, that’s what the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is all about.

The authority and responsibility to rule, whether in the temporal or spiritual realms, lies in the person who holds the office. This is the reason why we pray for the Pope and other members of the Chrurch hierarchy by name. The same was and should be true for earthly rulers, especially the head of state. Historical Ukrainian Orthodox liturgikons remembered princes, hetmans and other rulers of the past, in the prayer of the Great Entrance.

The Ukrainian Catholic faithful are present in many countries which have a monarch as their head of state, such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Holland, Japan, many Middle-Eastern countries, the Scandinavian kingdoms, and the United Kingdom. Even when the country is a republic, it is appropriate to pray specifically and separately for the head of state, such as the President of the United States, of Italy, of Ukraine, or of Russia, who often play a delicate role, distinct from that of the government. The present-day Ukrainian political system provides a perfect example of this distinction. In the United States, the powers of the president are considerable and his person is held in great veneration, almost comparable with that of an elected monarch. Praying separately for the head of state (emperor/king/president), can also act as a counterbalance to exaggerated nationalism and nation-worship, a sentiment at least partially responsible for inserting narod in the post-1918 Ukrainian redactions.

The restoration of the head of state to these prayers, followed by the government and armed forces, would solve the various grammatical and conceptual problems outlined above.

3 comments:

Josephus Flavius said...

Very informative reading. Thanks for the post.

Protodeacon David said...

Rev. and Dear Fr. Athanasius,

Thanks so much for a very well written and informative article.

At St. Elias in Brampton, Ontario we have adapted the petition in the following manner: "For our Queen Elizabeth, for our nation under God,..." We usually end Divine Liturgy, Vespers and Matins with "Many Years" sung only by the assembly, without any intonation by the priest. In this "Many Years" following acclamations for the hierarchy, the Queen of Canada is mentioned.

Rev. Dr. Athanasius D. McVay, HED said...

‎"... the abolition of the prayer for the Sovereign is not justifiable in the territory of this [Canadian] Ordinariate, where the King of England exercises sovereignty. The oriental rites admit the liturgical prayer for the supreme civil authority and therefore in Canada the Catholics of the Oriental Rite in Canada do not have a motive to make changes in this matter."-Cardinal Tisserant to Bishop Ladyka, 25.I.1939