Saturday 8 November 2008

Reforms of the Basilian Order

"When reform is dissociated from the hard work of repentance, and seeks salvation merely by changing others, by creating ever fresh forms, and by accommodation to the times, then despite many useful innovations it will be a caricature of itself. Such reform can touch only things of secondary importance in the Church. No wonder, then, that in the end it sees the Church itself as of secondary importance."
(Josef Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Presentation to the Catholic Academy in Bavaria on the question of Church Renewal, 1971).

In the history of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, of all religious communities, the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat maintains the pride of place as the most significant religious and cultural contributor. Over the centuries, the Order has undergone several reforms which have changed its identity and mission. In this article, I will present an outline of these reforms together with a reflection as to their significance for the Basilians’ historical and contemporary mission within the Church.

Before addressing the subject of recent reforms of the Basilian Order, we should have an idea about what the term “reform” meant in the past and what it means today. Today, reform is understood to mean discarding what is old and no longer useful and adopting what is new and fresh. In modern philosophies, new is considered to be better than old, and change for the sake of change is considered a sign of life. In former times, change was perceived as a sign of decay, as it is in nature. The past was considered a model for the present and changes, improvements, indeed reforms, were meant to bring a thing back to a pristine form which, ideally, was supposed to be better. This is the etymological meaning of the word re-formatio itself, to bring a thing back to its original form, not to give it a new one. Even though the intention was to bring things back to a former state, in hindsight, we can say that change indeed did occur, old realities ceased and new ones came into being.

The idea of bringing things back to an original state was the mindset behind the first Basilian “reform”, if we can call it that. Byzantine Christian monasteries generally followed the Rules Saint Basil the Great (329-379) developed by Saint Theodore Studite (760-826). The name “Basilian” was first used by Latin Catholics as a generic name for Greek monks in Southern Italy. In the sixteenth century, monastic life in present day Ukraine and Belarus was undergoing a period of laxity and decline. Immediately following the Union of Brest, two monks of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Vilnius, Josyf Veliamyn Rutsky and St. Josaphat Kuntsevych, intended to bring what they understood as an already existing “Basilian Order” back to its pristine state. In a formal sense, no such unified religious order existed. Monasteries that followed the Basilian or Basilian-Studite rules were independent of one another and fell under the jurisdiction of the local bishop. Rutsky and Josaphat’s 1617 reform actually created a new religious order along the lines of the semi-monastics of the west (the mendicants), such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Carmelites.

Taking its name from its first Vilnius monastery, the new Congregation of the Holy Trinity of the Order of St. Basil the Great spread and flourished across modern day Belarus and Ukraine and played a key role in the education both of laity and clergy helping preserve the distinctiveness of the Ruthenian-Ukrainian culture. Being the only religious order in the Kyivan Church, all Ruthenian bishops were chosen from among its ranks. The Basilian order was considered to be the backbone of the Uniate Church but it was virtually suppressed by outside political interference, after Russia and Austria partitioned Ukrainian lands at the end of the eighteenth century.

If we count the 1617 foundation as a reform, then the second major reform would be that of Dobromyl, began in 1882 (although several smaller reforms had taken place in the 18th and 19th centuries). We might call this the first recent Basilian reform, one that had direct consequences for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the homeland and abroad. Austrian state interference in Church affairs, known as Josephism, proved beneficial in revitalizing the Greek-Catholic Church as a whole, but also led to the decay of monastic communities such as the Basilians. By the 1870’s, both government and Church officials had become alarmed at the growing influence of Russophilism in Ruthenian society, but it was the liquidation of the Kholm Eparchy by the Russian Empire, in 1874, that proved to be the catalyst that sparked the reform. Polish Jesuits from Austrian Galicia were secretly sent into the Kholm region to assess the situation. As a result and as a remedy to the Kholm situation, Jesuit superior Father Henryk Jackowski devised a plan to reform and revitalize the Basilian Order, virtually re-organizing it from its foundations. The Basilian provincial superior (protohegumen) Klymenti Sarnytsky sent a letter to Rome, asking for the Jesuits to enact this reform, and Pope Leo XIII confirmed the request with his apostolic letter Singulare Praesidium of 12 May 1882. Named after the site of the first reformed monastery, the Dobromyl Reform lasted until 1904, when the governance of the Order was given over to the newly reformed Basilians.

The Dobromyl reform had been designed to strengthen the Greek-Catholic Church for two main reasons: as a defense against the Russophile movement (political and religious) and to prepare dedicated celibate missionaries for work among the Orthodox populations, especially in the Russian Empire. As its mission was intended to go above and beyond Galician concerns, the Pope exempted the Order from the jurisdiction of the local bishops and substantially released the Basilians from a sedentary monastic schedule. The latter shift originated during of the Jesuits' drafting of the post-reform constitutions. The change was tolerated despite warnings by Vatican experts who foresaw that too many exceptions would endanger the order's original monastic identity.

Contrary to initial Ukrainian apprehensions, the reformed Basilians became staunch allies of the national movement. Perhaps Dobromyl’s most notable consequence was the formation of zealous missionaries and leaders for Greek-Catholic communities in the homeland and the Diaspora; among these were the great figures of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Blessed Bishop Josaphat Kotsylovsky, Blessed Bishop Pavel Gojdych and other priest-martyrs and confessors of the Faith. Another positive consequence was that their semi-monastic regimen made the Basilians ideal for working among the Ukrainian peasants and in Ukrainian national and scholarly fields. This reform has been described by the prominent historian John-Paul Himka as “the most far-reaching response to the national movement from a Christian perspective.”

The Dobromyl Reform needs to be judged historically and by what it intended to accomplish. It did not intend nor could it resolve all of the needs of the Greek-Catholic Church nor the needs of religious life. It met a particular need of a particular situation during a particular historical period. Despite the fact that it was the only male religious congregation in the Ruthenian-Ukrainian Church, and a small fledgling one at that, the reformed Basilian Order was able to establish missions among the Ukrainian immigrants in Brazil (1897), Canada (1902) and other parts of Europe. In order to improve the quality and discipline of the secular clergy, promote celibacy and combat Russophile tendencies, the Ukrainian Bishops turned over to the Order’s direction the Greek-Catholic major seminaries in Rome (1904), Stanislaviv (1906), the wartime seminary of Kroměříž in Moravia (1915), and Lviv (1920).

The reformed Basilians were essentially instruments of Leo XIII's unionistic policy, which promoted respect for and return to the traditions of the Christian East in order to bring the Orthodox into communion with Rome. This policy was generally in force until the 1940's. Dobromyl did not intend to revive traditional oriental monasticism, something which one of the reformed Basilians, Metropolitan Sheptytsky, would address in creating the Studite communities. Indeed, Sheptytsky’s ever-deepening appreciation of his Church’s oriental heritage brought him into conflict with his fellow bishops and with the Basilians, who agreed with the generally-held hybrid model which Cyrille Korolevskij referred to as “liturgical uniatism”.

The character which the Dobromyl Reform had imprinted upon the thoroughly revamped Basilian communities can be said to have lasted, more or less intact, until the Second Vatican Council and beyond. However, imperceptible changes were taking place that would lead to a third (albeit minor) reform in the 1950's. Dobromyl achieved a major shift in attitude or in emphasis from an identity based on community to one based on mission. At first, this was hardly perceptible because the reformed constitutions were implemented in the large, older Basilian monasteries in Galicia. The missionary and other active work of individual members of the community did not affect the day-to-day monastic regimen, although the full Divine Office was only maintained in the novitiate monastery. However, a shift had occurred and the mindset had changed. The Order began to establish a large number of small mission-like communities that made even a semi-monastic regimen difficult if not impossible. Although their roots were monastic, in practice, the Basilians began move towards a lifestyle closer to that of the purely active congregations (like their mentors, the Jesuits) and away from that of the semi-monastic mendicants. With the liquidation of its original foundations in the Communist-bloc countries, the model for the Order's future essentially became the tiny missionary communities of the Diaspora, which were almost entirely orientated around parish apostolates.

The third reform codified this shift-in-emphasis into a new set of constitutions approved by the Apostolic See in 1955. These constitutions took into account both changes in Church legislation and in the growth of the Order. For instance, according to new requirements of the 1950’s, the profession of temporary vows for a minimum of three years was introduced before one was eligible to profess solemn, permanent vows. Also, since 1932, the Order had a new name, the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat, and had been divided into several provinces headed by a General Curia in Rome. The new constitutions gave the ancient title of protoarchimandrite to the superior general, a title that had been abolished by the Russian Tsar in 1804. Despite the return to nomenclature of an earlier period, a further shift in mindset-identity is apparent in the 1955 constitutions. For example, the term monasterium, used in the former constitutions to designate large, established communities, was changed to domus, as in the Jesuit Constitutions. Similarly, smaller outposts followed the Jesuit designation of residentia. According to the canonical classifications of the time, the Basilians fell under the heading of clerices regulares, a very general term meaning clerics (priests) who followed a religious rule. One could say that, at least from the 1950's, the clerices component was emphasized over the regulares one. Basilians were trained to be monks during their initial formation but, once they left the novitiate, they spent much of their mission engaged in the work of secular priests. Another example of a change in mindset revealed in terminology may be found in the fact that, in Basilian Diaspora parishes, the monastery is often referred to as a rectory, the term for residences of eparchial priests.

The Constitutions of 1955 were the last to have been formally approved by the Apostolic See. Not ten years later, the decrees of the Second Vatican Council necessitated another major reform. Each member of the Order received questionnaires and, based on the feedback received, an extraordinary Basilian General Chapter, held in 1969, issued experimental constitutions. With minor modifications in 1977, 1993 and 2002, these same constitutions basically have remained in force until today. Following along the lines of Latin religious Orders, the post-Vatican II reforms saw a significant change in the external formalities and obligations of religious life: external penances and the obligation to wear religious garb were relaxed. Despite the visible differences, the changes in the constitutions can be said to have been essentially cosmetic. As with the 1882 reforms, the most significant change after Vatican II was one of attitude. Immediately after the Council, Protoarchimandrite Athanasius Welykyj, especially through his annual letters to the whole order, inaugurated a new spiritual attitude of dialogue as opposed to blind obedience. An emphasis was placed upon personal responsibility, as opposed to external controls. Welykyj's wide, spiritual vision, however, was not always understood nor accepted by the local superiors, and his spiritual and scholarly inheritance remains largely unclaimed by the Order.

The principal task given to each religious community, by the Second Vatican Council’s decree Perfectae Caritatis, was to search for and to return to the charism of its founder. Essentially, the Council was asking for religious to more carefully define their identity and base their mission on it. This seemingly straightforward task was not so simple for the Basilians, as they had undergone several reforms and major shifts in identity. Postconciliar soul-searching revealed some cracks in the reality of the Order, which reflected unrefined seams still present from past reforms. Even the question of their founder’s identity proved to be difficult to answer: should the Basilians look for their original charism in the monastic communities of St. Basil, whose rules continued to be their spiritual guide? Were their origins not with the mendicant-style Order founded by Rutsky and St. Josaphat? Or should they retain the missionary and very clerical character imprinted on them by the late-nineteenth-century Jesuit reform?

The post-Vatican II Basilian constitutions also reflected the changed attitude of the Order’s superiors regarding liturgical matters. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Ukrainian hierarchy and clergy were divided down-the-middle as to whether or not the latinizations which had crept into their worship should be purged. The Basilians had generally opposed such reforms until a conflict occurred over the de-latinized liturgical books issued by the Apostolic See, beginning in 1940. This conflict resulted in the removal of the Order's interim vicar general and the suspension of priests who refused to use the new Roman editions. As a consequence, all post-1955 constitutions included stipulations for superiors to be diligent that only the approved liturgical books are used, although resistance has continued even until the present, particularly in the order of celebration for the Sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony.

The post-1969 constitutions were experimental, in order to allow Basilian communities throughout the world to put them to the test. After twenty-five years, the Order should have presented a definitive edition for approval to the Apostolic See. However, two key contemporary events prevented this from happening. In 1990, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Code of Canons for the Oriental Catholic Churches and, the same year, the Order was resurrected in Eastern Europe. The fall of communism allowed the underground Basilian communities to re-emerge and for the Order to re-establish its European provinces. These re-activated provinces, together with Ukraine, now held the majority of the Order's members but they had not lived through the turbulent experimental post-conciliar years. The period of experimentation had to be prolonged another ten years, in order that the European communities could integrate their experience of community life into the Basilian rules, and that these rules be made to conform to the stipulations of the new Oriental Code.

By far, the most significant change in the Basilian constitutions since 1969 has been the change in the selection process of their superiors. The Basilian electoral system was based on the highly centralized Jesuit model whereby all offices were appointed from above, rather than elected from below. A notable exception was the choice of the first reformed Basilian provincial, Father Platonid Filas, in 1904, who was selected by popular vote. Nevertheless, from the 1896 constitutions through to 1931, minor superiors were appointed by the Galician provincial superior (who acted as general superior) and his curia. These superiors automatically became members of the electoral chapters. This meant that that the collective membership of the Order had little say in the selection of their superiors, a fact which gave rise to concern among the Ukrainian Church hierarchy at the turn of the twentieth century. Metropolitan Sheptytsky drew attention to the fact that that a small group, made up of the major superior and his appointees, who numerically dominated each electoral chapter, had become a self-perpetuating ruling caste. As a result, Sheptytsky suggested that the electoral system be reformed in a way that would grant more authority to the members of the Order at large.

Little was done to reform this system until 1931, when the Order was divided into seperate provinces and the power to appoint minor superiors was given to the individual provincial superiors. After Vatican II, an indicative vote was introduced, granting consultation rights to the general membership of each province as pertaining to the selection of their provincial superiors. Nevertheless, the provincial chapters (made up largely of unelected Fathers) continued to select candidates without being bound to heed the indicative voice. These chapters then presented a ternary of candidates to the General Curia, which retained the power to appoint the Provincial superior and his counsellors. At the general chapter of 1996, a compromise formula was agreed upon in which the provincial chapters received the power to directly elect their curias, although those elected still require confirmation by the general curia. This current system gives more power to the largely unelected provincial chapters, but still fails to give adequate heed to the voice of the membership at large, as Sheptytsky had proposed. As an order of pontifical (that is papal) rite, however, the election of the general superior and his curia continues to require confirmation by the Apostolic See.

Basilian General Chapters of 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 have all struggled to agree on a definitive version of the constitutions to present for approval to the Apostolic See. Consistent with the norms and guidelines in place for such documents, the new constitutions are made-up of a permanent, general section for the whole order (called the pravyla or constitution) and a more specific section that can be amended from time to time called the pravylnyk or directory. This distinction had already been introduced in the earlier experimental constitutions. A novelty, which is to be introduced, is that each province will have its own directory, adapted to the local culture. Also, the new constitutions will be less wordy and rhetorical than previous versions.

The process of producing a definitive text revealed diverging tendencies within the Order as to which of its past reforms should be taken as the basis for its present identity and charism. Even the term and concept of charism was hotly debated, revealing that even the more educated among the chapter Fathers could be out of touch with contemporary Church Magisterium concerning religious life. In addition, a cultural, geographical and even an age divide was revealed in the Order: the older North and South American delegates being generally orientated to the Dobromyl/mission model while the younger European Fathers looked back to the Order's foundation of Rutsky-Josaphat as the basis for their identity.

Another point of debate was over the Basilian’s traditional five vows. In addition to the standard vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, post-1882 constitutions had added the Jesuit vows, one of obedience and submission to the Roman Pontiff and another not to aspire to higher offices or honours. The experimental constitutions of 1969 had reworded the vow to the Pope into a promise and discarded the vow to shun honours, although the latter was re-inserted in the 1993 text. Despite pressure based on spurious theological and canonical arguments, the General Chapter of 2004 voted to retain the oath of obedience to the Roman Pontiff in the original form of a vow, as in the last approved constitutions of 1955. Unfortunately, subsequent chapters have allowed it to be “linguistically rendered-away” into a promise.

One matter that appears to have been left untreated in the reforms of the Basilian rules is the question of the Order’s parishes. Before the First World War, with the rarest exceptions, Basilian churches did not enjoy the status of parishes. At first, in Diaspora mission territories, the Basilian mission acted as surrogate to eparchial structures. Later, due to jurisdictional and legal conflicts, the Order negotiated contracts with individual dioceses whereby their principal churches were given to the Order’s care in spiritualibus et in temporalibus, according to the canonical nomenclature of the time. This meant that the spiritual mission as well as the church property and all revenues (including collections) fell under the jurisdiction and ownership of the Order alone. The Second Vatican Council gave greater emphasis to the universal mission of the diocesan bishop and did away with the temporal-spiritual jurisdiction of religious orders in matters pertaining to the faithful. Therefore, all contracts negotiated with the Basilians lack their former canonical vigor, and yet, hitherto, neither the Basilian superiors nor the eparchial bishops have taken the initiative to renegotiate such agreements in the light of current Church law.

Another difficult question that remains unresolved concerns that of the Basilian‘s material assets and their relation to their own mission and to that of the Church. Over the centuries, through the bequests of benefactors and through a frugal and laborious life of communal religious poverty, the Order amassed large landholdings both in the Europe and in the New World. In the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, these properties and questions connected with them led to conflicts with the church hierarchy and to internal difficulties in the congregation itself. For instance, not ten years after the completion of the austere Dobromyl Reform, Metropolitan Shepytsky and his suffragens (two of them were themselves Basilians) had noticed that the Order’s superiors were already being appointed for their administrative skills and financial savvy rather than according to the spiritual and human qualities neccessary to be genuine religious leaders. They opined that the Basilians were spending too much time on oiling their worldly machinery, which distracted them from their Order’s rightful purpose and induced them to look after their own interests at the expense of those of the Church. The bishops further lamented that although Pope Leo XIII had decreed the Basilians were supposed to help the hierarchy, instead, the Order had become a competing parallel structure; in their words, “a church within a church”.

Returning to the latest Basilian reforms: based once again on feedback from the worldwide membership of the Order, the 2000 general chapter established a commission to produce a draft project of the definitive constitutions. This project was presented, voted upon, and modified by the 2004 general chapter, but later was rejected by the canonical commission which that chapter had created. The project commission had made the error of failing to take the last constitutions to have been approved by the Apostolic See (1955) as their starting point. A further complicating factor was the fact that the canonical commission and the project commissions represented the two juxtaposed outlooks of the Order; the former being composed generally of Europeans while the latter was led by canonists from the Americas. At the chapters of 2006 and 2008, the first project was largely reworked into a new text, which also incorporated the work of the canonical commission. This new draft was then amended and approved by the 2008 general chapter and was then presented to the Apostolic See for final approbation. For the first time in its history, the official text of the Basilian Constitutions is written in Italian as opposed to Latin. Official translations in Ukrainian, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian and Polish was also submitted for approval.  After examination by ecclesiastical consultants, what were to be definitive constitutions have again been approved only ad experimentum.
Although this article has described at length the various constitutions, these texts should not be equated with the reforms themselves; they are merely external and very partial reflections of the Basilian Order’s internal reality. If, in reading any given edition of the Basilians’ rules, we hope to find an accurate reflection of the Order’s lifestyle and mission, we will be dissapointed. To take only one example, the 1858 constitutions were very strict and very monastic but visitations revealed that the inidividual monks were leading decadent lifestyles and were entirely engaged by the bishops in parish work. Consistently, throughout its history, successful and lasting reforms of the Basilian Order have never emerged from the altering of their written rules. Instead, these rules were altered to conform to a shift in attitude, imparted by charismatic leaders such as Rustky, St. Josaphat, Jackowski and Welykyj. In contrast, Basilian zeal waned during periods when the Order was administered by pencil-pushers.

With vocations ever dwindling in the Americas, the future of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat lies in Europe, especially in Ukraine. The main questions that the Order needs to confront, and which will determine its fate, were already expressed by the Ukrainian hierarchy at the turn of the twentieth century. These are: What is the role of the Order in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church? What should be the Order's contribution to the religious life of our Church? What should be relationship of the Order’s churches to the eparchies? What human and spiritual qualities should be considered in choosing men as religious superiors? Should the Order reform its electoral system, allowing all the members an equal voice, to avoid the possibility of one caste perpetuating itself? How can the Order manage it’s wealth so as not to be managed by it? The final question which the Basilians need to address comes from the unfortunate reality of post-communist culture, but is also found in the decadence of the West, and that is: what is the Order’s attitude towards corruption in secular society and, where it occurs, even within its own ranks? This last issue will largely determine the place of the Basilians in the current life of the Ukrainian Church and also history's verdict as to its moral and spiritual contribution in the twenty-first century.
EVOLUTIO: On 14 July 2009, the Vatican office in charge of Latin-Rite religious communities issued instructions for the inspection of women's religous communities. The principal questions which each member of the community is called to answer are identical to those put forth in this post. Besides the fundamental questions about charism/identity and mission, the instruction clearly forsees the profession of additional vows (not merely promises), like the Basilian's (former?) vow of particular submission to the Roman Pontiff.