Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Blessed Nykyta and Saint Nicholas

St. Nicholas side altar in Budka's home parish,
Dobromirka, Zbarazh District, Ukraine
Providential Coincidences in the Life of Nykyta Budka

The life of Blessed Martyr Nykyta Budka is characterized by several interesting coincidences. Some of these have to do with coinciding dates of key events in his life.  Another coincidence is his connection with the person of Saint Nicholas, who is called the Wonderworker in the Byzantine tradition. 

Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycea, is a very popular saint in the Byzantine Churches.  Virtually every icon screen includes his image.  In Ukraine, many churches and monasteries have him as their patron and the Church celebrates him with two important feast days: December 6/19, known popularly as "winter Nicholas," and May 9/22, known as "summer Nicholas." The second commemoration was introduced by the Slavic Churches to commemorate the "transfer" of his relics by the Crusaders to Bari, Italy, where they are venerated until the present day.

Although he is known by the title of Myra in Lycea (Мир Ликійський), Saint Nicholas did not originate in Myra.  He was born in nearby Patara (Παταρευς), named after Apollo's son, Patarus, who was said to have founded the city. Patara is mentioned once in the Holy Scriptures, in the Acts of the Apostles, in a account of a sea journey to Tyre by Saint Paul the Apostle (Acts 21:1–3).

In August 1912 the Apostolic See of Rome designated the city of Patara as the titular (honourary) seat of Bishop Budka's bishopric.  The reason for this was that Budka had not been appointed bishop over a territory per se, since there were no Byzantine-Rite eparchies in Canada, only Latin dioceses. Budka was given personal jurisdiction over all Ruthenian Greek-Catholics in Canada and his diocese was called an "ordinariate" (later re-named apostolic exarchate in accord with Eastern Christian nomenclature).

Titular sees were bishoprics that had ceased to function as real dioceses.  Many of them were ancient Christian centres located in territories which had since fallen under Islamic Rule.  Often, as in the case of Patara in Anatolian Turkey inside the Ottoman Empire, there were no Christians living there at all.  Titular sees were given to curial bishops and auxiliary bishops who were not appointed to govern dioceses of their own, or to bishops such as Budka who held jurisdiction over certain faithful but not over a territory per se.

The possibility of creating a territorial diocese for Nykyta Budka had been discussed. This would have involved subtracting territory from an existing Roman-Rite diocese, perhaps where there was a large Ukrainian population, and giving it to Budka.  The reason why this option was rejected was that, in order to minister to Greek-Catholics outside that small territory, Budka would have still required additional, delegated jurisdiction from every Roman Catholic bishop in whose dioceses those faithful resided.  Instead, the Apostolic See of Rome, with its the universal jurisdiction, placed all Ruthenian Greek-Catholics in Canada under his spiritual care and assigned Budka a dormant titular see, designating the city of Winnipeg as his real seat.

Titular sees were a kind of legal fiction so, when composing the papal bull, the Apostolic Chancery used the following technical wording to have Pope Pius X nominate Budka: "because the church of Patara is numbered among the merely titular sees, We grant that you are in no way obligated to go to it nor personally reside there."
Saint Nicholas of Myra, the Wonderworker
St. Nicholas Church, Winnipeg

While not obligated to reside in Patara, Bishop Budka was indeed bound to take formal possession of his ordinariate at Winnipeg.  In doing so, three coincidences occurred:  The new bishop arrived in Canada on 6 December, the feast of Saint Nicholas according to the Gregorian Calendar.  He arrived in his de facto episcopal seat, Winnipeg, on 19 December, Saint Nicholas Day in the Julian Calendar.  Finally, Bishop Nykyta was enthroned in the parish church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker on 22 December 1912.  It is also interesting to note that, from 1922 to 1928 drawn-out negotiations were taking place that would likely have made Saint Nicholas, the first Ukrainian church in Winnipeg, Bishop Budka's cathedral church. 

Two other key dates in the bishop's life of service were 28 September and 14 October.  Budka was ordained a deacon on 28 December 1905.  We now know that this was also the date of his birthday into heaven, the date that his Soviet captors in Kazakhstan recorded on his death certificate in 1949.  Further Blessed Nykyta was ordained a priest on the feast day of the Protection (Patronage) of the Mother of God, 14 October (Julian Calendar). This was the same date that he had chosen to receive the episcopal consecration in 1912.  Kazakhstani records also indicate that he was admitted to a military hospital on this day in 1947, his thirty-fifth episcopal anniversary.  It is not clear whether he ever left this facility before his death two years later.

From an historical point of view, these dates are simply interesting coincidences, From a Christian perspective, which sees God's hand working the human history, we can rightly refer to these dates a signs of Divine Providence in the life of Blessed Martyr Nykyta of Patara in Lycea, bishop of the Ruthenian-Ukrainian Catholics of Canada.

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