Monday 24 August 2009

A Witness of Faith - A Gift to Ukraine

The Greek word martyrios means witness. According to a Christian understanding, martyrs and confessors are not witnesses to anything else except to Christian Faith, Hope and Love. Although Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky did not suffer immediate death at the hands of his persecutors (he came very close), he did indeed suffer physical torture inflicted by those who opposed Christ’s Love. Sheptytsky bore witness before all people of good will, among them non-Catholics and even non-Christians. Yet, his actions were the result of a deep faith in the unique Mediation of the Saviour of mankind and of His Body the Church.

In order to reach out to all people, the metropolitan attempted to proclaim Gospel values in words that all could understand. Many times he was successful but sometimes he failed, more due to the fact that his hearers were not listening or did not understand. Foremost, Kyr Andrei's duty was to his Ukrainian Catholic flock. He understood that virtue and vice are two sides of the same coin; that the Ukrainian People had been given the gift of national awakening but sometimes, instead of being used for good, this virtue turned into chauvinistic nationalism, the typical vice of the age.

One of Sheptytsky's greatest achievements was his progress with Ukrainian national leaders and cultural notables. His patient efforts were directed, not towards their goals, but to making Christ's Teaching the inspiration for their achievements. His challenge was to draw them away from nation-worship to the worship of the God who loves all mankind.

Metropolitan Andrei's intelligent, moderate and virtuous approach was often misunderstood by nationalists of all colours. After his death, Ukrainian nationalists turned him into a mythical hero even though, during his lifetime, they sometimes clashed with him when he spoke the truth about hatred and selfishness. His opponents made him into a mythical foe but it was his own people's exaggerations that did him the most harm.

Beatification and canonization are proclamations about Christian-Catholic values found in the lives of individuals. By these two processes the Church, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, presents a person as a contemporary model, and discerns their ability to intercede for us before God. Canonization is not the same as creating a sports hero, a community hero, a mythical hero, freedom fighter or political dissident (Robin Hood, Dovbush, Shevchenko). It is about speaking the highest Truth (Istyna) which the World cannot give and often does not understand.

Like every human being, even the saints, Sheptytsky made his share of mistakes. However, speaking as someone who has performed extensive research in the various archives of the Apostolic See, I can only say that my impression, from the relative primary sources, is that he was a man of great virtue, of holiness of life, and of ecclesial (and ecclesiastical) wisdom.

It is true that Andrei Sheptytsky’s beatification has been much delayed. This delay has prompted Ukrainians worldwide to ask questions about the state of the Sheptytsky cause, but are they asking the right questions? Sometimes, it appears the metropolitan's message has not been understood by the very people that are attempting to honor his memory.

In the past, the reasons for the delay appeared to be extrinsic. Today, some question whether those now involved with Sheptytsky’s cause are being careful and diligent in their historical research? What is the quality of the sources they are presenting and, more importantly, are they addressing objections sufficiently and convincingly? Have the historical problems raised many years ago been historically resolved and have they been resolved on the level of Faith and Church teaching? These questions are simply the standard ones asked in all beatifications ad canonizations.

Some have chosen to resort to lobbying. On 13 March 2008, the Lviv Gazette launched an initiative called “Send a letter to the Pope” in an effort to prompt the beatification of Metropolitan Andrei. During a press conference held six days later, the vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Myroslav Marynovych, stated that his institution actively supports the Lviv Gazette’s initiative. He explained that such letters should be written “for one’s self, for one’s historical memory”. He also suggested that this petition represents not “a narrowly denominational act” but an ecumenical one, "the glorification of a person who belongs to Ukraine and the whole world." He also noted that that several Orthodox intellectuals were among the first to send such letters. Marynovych added that many of Sheptytsky's contemporaries, even non-Christians, regarded him as a living saint.

Few would argue with Marynovych’s sentiments which are praiseworthy in themselves. However, if we look a little below the surface, we quickly realize that the Lviv initiative and the university's explanations bypass the principle issues involved in beatification. In reality, the Supreme Authority of the Catholic Church does not beatify someone because of our subjective historical memories, nor for ecumenical reasons (at least the latter is a Christian value), nor for their philanthropic deeds. It is not enough that we consider Sheptytsky an earthly hero; the Apostolic See must also consider him a supernatural one.

Returning to the natural order, some of the reasons which the Lviv Gazette suggested to the Pope for beatifying the metropolitan include: that he founded Ukrainian national and cultural organizations and that he defended the Ukrainian nation from its enemies (that is, from fellow Polish and Russian Christians). In welcoming papal Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone to Lviv, on 24 May 2009, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi made the following declaration alluding to Sheptytsky’s beatification: "for Ukraine the creation of the state is very closely interlaced with the establishment of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the activity of Metropolitan Andrei.”

Such statements and other facts suggest that segments of Ukrainian society could be leaning towards the very nation-worship that Sheptytsky spent his life to remedy. While wholeheartedly supporting every Ukrainian cultural and national aspiration, Kyr Andrei warned his people not to instrumentalize religion for secular motives or, worse still, attempt to use it as a weapon against others. Ukrainians today need to recognize that, just as in Sheptytsky's own lifetime, lobbying for him, when not rooted and grounded in Catholic Christian values, will do harm instead of good.

So what should be done to promote Sheptytsky’s beatification? Should we stop talking about his national and cultural activities? Certainly not, for continuing to examine his life and work from an historical perspective, organizing conferences, calling for articles and books, all these are all helpful to his cause. What is more urgent, however, is a miracle attributed to the Servant of God’s intervention. Instead of sending letters to the Pope about Sheptytsky's civic achievements, a prayer crusade should be launched. For without the required miracle, all of the signatures, petitions and even the historical analyses will be useless. Beatification is about God’s Grace touching our lives through the example and intercession of an individual, and Grace comes only through prayer. This is why Metropolitan Andrei’s glorification will only result from a consensus of prayer and of righteous deeds.

Let all Ukrainians, including churchmen, artists, intellectuals, professionals, civic leaders and politicians set an example by praying humbly before the Almighty Lord of Lords, and publicly before our people, promising to strive to acquire the virtues and moral integrity that correspond to the abundant cultural riches which God has bestowed upon our Nation spread accross the globe. Let us ask these things through the intercession of the great Servant of God Andrei Roman Aleksander Marya Sheptytsky, that the Lord would glorify his person so that we might follow his teaching.