The Speech by Archbishop Fisher, OP


Photos by Giovanni Portelli

Thank you very much for those kind words of introduction. It is a great pleasure to be asked to speak a few words at the launch of the English translation of the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, produced by the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, following upon the legacy of the late pope St John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s fortuitous that a Dominican bishop has been given that task as Dominicans have a long history with catechisms: many of those in the 13th and 14th centuries that preceded the famous Roman Catechism were Dominican commentaries on the catechetical instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas; the famous Roman catechism or Catechism of the Council of Trent was in turn commissioned by the Dominican pope-saint Pius V; many other catechisms were prepared by the friars in the centuries between Trent and the Second Vatican Council; the famous or infamous Dutch Catechism of 1966 was largely written by the influential Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx; Herbert McCabe and other great Dominican theologians also produced post-Conciliar catechisms; and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church was edited by the Dominican theologian and archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

Archbishop Fisher, OP

Archbishop Fisher, OP

Of course, the history of catechesis goes back long before the Dominican friars were invented. The word ‘catechism’ comes from the Greek word  κατηχέω, meaning ‘to teach by word of mouth’, or more generally to ‘instruct’. In the New Testament it is used by St. Luke the Evangelist and the Holy Apostle Paul specifically to refer to religious instruction (cf. 1 Cor 14:19; Lk 1:4; Acts 18:25), an association it maintained with the catechetical lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Augustine of Hippo and many other Church Fathers of both East and West, often aimed at newcomers to the Church. By the Middle Ages in the West, the word catechesis had come to mean oral commentary on the symbol of faith (the Apostle’s Creed), on the great prayers especially the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria, and on the Sacraments, and aimed at a mixed but largely adult, already-Christian audience. Some of these commentaries sought to be comprehensive and systematic. One was published in 1281 at the direction of Archbishop John Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who for his sins was a Franciscan rather than a Dominican! In the period leading up to the Reformation and thereafter, the word catechism came to be used for an authoritative summary of the faith positions of Catholics, Lutherans or others, and these were aimed at a general readership and sometimes simple enough to be learnt by rote by the illiterate and children.

During the period of catechetical confusion, even chaos, of the 1960s to 1980s, some new catechisms were devised but the very idea of an authoritative summary of the faith to aid schoolteachers or those instructing newcomers to the Church became unfashionable in some circles. Catechisms were often dismissed as too simplistic or inflexible, as a block to creativity in language and forms, or as too authoritative, even authoritarian. Following the work of Paul VI and John Paul II on the new evangelisation and their efforts to help the clergy and faithful recover their confidence in the ability to grasp and communicate the Catholic faith in today’s world, the bishops of the world gathered in Synod requested and the Church prepared and promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992. This was intended to be a comprehensive and systematic synthesis of the Church’s teachings on faith and morals up to that time, and especially as restated in the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, a resource to which clergy, catechists and laity could turn for instruction on very many matters.

Having received this document and, in due course, the summary known as the Compendium of the Catechism, one might wonder why the Ukrainian Church would go to the trouble of preparing its own catechism? Surely, one is enough, especially when that one is already so long and thorough? Well, in his letter promulgating the Catechism, John Paul II stated that it was ‘not intended to replace local catechisms’, but rather was meant to ‘encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms’, which take into account the various situations and cultures of the world. Such local catechisms complement the universal catechism by articulating the faith for a particular culture, language group, rite or demographic. Thus, since the publication of the universal catechism, there have been approved the United States Catechism for Adults, the Catechism for Filipino Catholics, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and YouCat, the catechism designed for youth. Each of these local catechisms contributes to and acknowledges diverse gifts and needs in different parts of the Church which invite different approaches, sources and expressions of the one Catholic faith.

A number of bishops, theologians, catechists and lay faithful have thought it a weakness that there has not till now been a catechism which builds on and complements the universal catechism but also approaches the teachings of the Church through the lens of Eastern Catholic theological tradition and liturgical practice – such as the works of the eastern Doctors of the Church, the Anaphora of St Basil the Great, or the catechism of St Josaphat. But who would be first and give a lead to the rest of the Catholics of Oriental rite? Well, the Ukrainians are the largest or amongst the largest both in membership and geographic reach; theirs is also one of the most ancient churches, tracing its origins to the days when the faith “first resounded in the lands of Rus-Ukraine through the preaching of St Andrew the First-Called” and was echoed “through the mission of the holy apostles to the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius”. Like all Christians, Ukrainian Catholics face the challenges of globalisation, assimilation and secularisation in today’s world, and the need for authoritative touchstones of identity and beliefs. The stated goal of this catechism is therefore to help Ukrainian Catholics “to better understand, and more profoundly embody within their own lives, the Christian faith handed down to them by the Fathers of our Church – the hierarchs, martyrs, confessors, and venerables – and to nurture our Kyivan-Christian tradition, finding it the light needed to respond to today’s challenges”.

Christ Our Pascha, the 2011 Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, now available in English, will for these and other reasons be welcomed by all Catholics of the Oriental rites and indeed many an interested Catholic of the Latin rite. Already in its second edition, it has appeared in Ukrainian, Portuguese, Russian and now English language versions. The English translation allows Anglophone members of the Ukrainian Church to feel a part of the universal church without losing touch with the charism of their particular Church with its great theological, liturgical and devotional traditions. Simplifying the four-part structure of the universal Catechism, Christ Our Pascha is divided into three sections: The Faith of the Church, The Prayer of the Church, and The Life of the Church, corresponding to the theological, liturgical, and moral aspects of our Christian faith. While remaining faithful to universal Catholic faith and mores, it approaches each of these dimensions in a manner particular to Catholics of Oriental rite, and quotes important sources with which Latin Catholics would mostly be unfamiliar.

As I’ve intimated, this new book will therefore be of interest and indeed benefit not just for members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church but anyone interested in the many sided gem that is the Catholic faith. I, for one, have found the many Byzantine theological texts and practices cited very instructive and enriching. The Anaphora of St Basil the Great opens with a rhetorical question:

O Master, the One-Who-Is, Lord God, Father Almighty, who deserve worship: it is truly right and proper, and fitting the majesty of your Holiness to praise you, to hymn you, to bless you, to worship you, to thank you, to glorify you, who alone are truly God; and to offer you with a contrite heart and spirit of humility this our rational worship. For it is you who have granted us the knowledge of your truth and who can tell of all your acts of power, make all your praises heard, or account all your wonders at every moment?

Well, you might say that the answer of this Catechism to the who question is: the Synod of Ukrainian Catholics. I commend the hard work of all those who prepared, revised and authorised the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, those who translated it into English, and those now publishing it for all to see. Congratulations to Bishop Peter Stasiuk CSsR, eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of St Peter and St Paul in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, and the other members of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the clergy, monks and nuns and laity on this excellent new production!


The Speech by Bishop Peter Stasiuk, C.Ss.R

The recently published Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has for its title the words, Christ Our Pascha. Pascha in Eastern Churches is commonly used to refer to the Paschal or Easter celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and by extension to the paschal event in salvation history. This is in part the rationale that went into choosing the title of this catechism: Christ Our Pascha or Christ our Easter our resurrection. The catechism itself explains this more fully when it says:

By its very name, Christ – Our Pascha, our Catechism already points to the Paschal foundations of faith: Christ has “trampled death by death,” and by his Resurrection “has granted life eternal.” Faith in the Resurrection of Christ leads us to faith in God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; for Christ, the Son of God, “one in the Holy Trinity,” in the Holy Spirit has revealed God the Father to us.[1]

Bishop Peter Stasiuk, C.Ss.R

Bishop Peter Stasiuk, C.Ss.R

Christ Our Pascha: the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has been a long time in the making The Catechism project started in the year 2000. The Ukrainian edition was published in 2011; and now it has now been translated into English in this year, 2016. The project team consisted of 250 Bishops, priests, catechists and theologians. In order to supervise this work in my official capacity as chair of the patriarchal catechetical commission and chair of the editorial board of the catechism, I travelled to Ukraine about 30 times in the course of sixteen years. The final review was made by 8 theologians from around the world, each from different backgrounds: the underground church, the diaspora, the new Ukraine and the Patriarch himself was included. The Ukrainian bishops, as a body, reviewed it four times and consulted widely with the clergy, catechists and lay people. In 2010 the Synod of Bishops passed it unanimously whereas at the beginning of the process many questioned writing a catechism.

English is the fifth language into which the catechism has been translated. As well as the original Ukrainian text it has now been translated into Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish. There are plans to proceed with translations into French, German, Italian, Polish and Slovak. An Australian connection is that I and Fr Brian Kelty were given responsibility by the Patriarch to make some final amendments to the English text and to re-edit the index.

This catechism is an original work. The challenge was in the struggle to find agreement on divergent liturgical and other pious practices. This is understandable if we consider the emigration patterns of the Ukrainian church. Emigration to some parts of the world took place over 250 years ago, as for example in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whereas emigration to Australia was a little less than 80 years ago. This is not a textbook in apologetics. It does not adopt a position in opposition to anyone. It is in its style discursive rather than dialectical. What is does is to plainly set out the religious beliefs of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Those beliefs accord with the apostolic faith as found in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith which is in fact the faith of the Universal Church. What is specific to Eastern Catholic Churches is the theological explanation and interpretation of the faith. In the case of this catechism the theology of St Basil the Great as laid out in his anaphora. The anaphora or Eucharistic prayer of St Basil is used ten times a year in the calendar of all the Churches of the Byzantine tradition.

The idea that there are different theologies operating in the Church is not new. Famously St John XXIII in his speech on 11th October 1962, opening the second Vatican Council said: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”[2] I suggest that the catechism is an example of what he meant. Nonetheless, the most significant figure in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Metropolitan Sheptytsky, in the early twentieth century spoke of the particularity of the Eastern Churches in relation to the Universal Church as follows:

Catholic Doctrine, being the teaching of Christ’s Gospel and of the universal Church, is worldwide, given to all peoples for all times. Preachers of that doctrine perhaps more so in the East than in any other part of the world, must be on guard not to limit Christ’s teaching by any national or ritual principles.[3]


The particularity of our Church does not stop short by simply existing, but rather the theological principle of universality implies that we are also a Church driven by a missionary spirit.

This is the only official catechism produced by any Eastern Catholic Church. When Pope St John Paul II published the Roman Catechism it was envisioned that the local churches would produce catechisms of their own which took the cultural circumstances of various regions into account.

This catechism (i.e. the Roman Catechism) is not meant as a substitute for the various local catechisms that are better equipped to take into account the unique nuances of particular cultures, while at the same time remaining diligently faithful to the unity of faith and Catholic teaching.[4]

Even more so would it be appropriate that the Eastern Churches with distinctive theologies, liturgical practices, spiritualties and governance, might write their own catechisms. It might also be claimed that it is a sign that the Ukrainian Catholic Church has achieved a greater maturity in the post-Soviet era when it emerged from the underground and re-established itself as a fully established Church with the normal structures of parish, eparchies and patriarchal offices. The catechism is a sign of the maturity achieved by our Church over the last twenty-five years.

His Beatitude Lubomyr expressed his confidence that “in due time, our Church will also provide her faithful with theological explanations based on the foundation of her own tradition.”[5] The reader should not be put off by unfamiliar liturgical or theological terms or expressions. In this work they will be entering a world different to their own where the unfamiliar will be explained and they will consequently find their Christian faith enriched. This is what St John Paul pointed to when he spoke of the need to breathe with both lungs. The Vatican Council also drew attention to the theological particularity of the Eastern Churches: “In the study of revelation, East and West have followed different methods . . . these various theological formulations are often to be considered mutually complimentary rather than conflicting.”[6] Patriarch Lubomyr expressed this same thought:

Christ’s teaching is one and the same for everyone. Faith in Christ is also the same for everyone. Faith in Christ is also the same for all Catholics, regardless of which Rite or Particular Church they belong to. However, the theological understanding of divinely revealed Truths can be different in various cultures, just as liturgical Rites are different.[7]

There are some aspects of this catechism that are rather unique. It recognises the special importance of the environment in a final chapter entitled: Transfiguration of the Universe. The theology of the catechism is specifically Eastern in so far as it quotes extensively from the Eastern Fathers as its point of departure for each topic. It also contains a comprehensive index.

Not everything will be found in this catechism. It is simply an authoritative source book for clergy, catechist and the laity. Future catechetical texts will find it to be a reliable source book. Everyone will find something in it. It will enrich the Western Church because it will open up a theological mindscape that is scarcely known in the West. It is my hope that the reading of this book will enrich other Catholics; it will enable them to know what Eastern Catholics believe and how they pray and how they live. The Catechism describes the cultural identity of a Ukrainian Catholic. We try not to talk about our faith but describe it as we live it. The reader is invited to walk the journey towards the search for Jesus in the Church. One reason why it took so long to produce the catechism was the need to check the many Patristic sources against the available English translation of the eastern fathers. So far no critical reviews have been published.

In conclusion, it is my hope that this catechism will enrich the entire Church. In the case of Ukrainian Catholics may it help them to truly know that their traditions are the way into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. For Roman Catholics may it lead to greater knowledge of the East and tolerance of religious practices not necessarily known and understood by them. This book should become an authoritative resource book for all wish to know Eastern Catholicism better. New catechetical texts are already emanating from the catechism in Ukraine. There are signs that texts for the catechumenate and pre-sacramental catechesis will also be produced in the Ukrainian Church of the English speaking world too. May the effort which went into this catechism produce good fruit.

Thank you to the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher;

To the Editor of the Catholic Weekly, Peter Rosengren;

To the Mustard Seed Bookshop;

To Fr Simon who organised this book launch

And to all of you for your attendance.



[1] Christ Our Pascha  # 3
[2] John XXIII, Gaudet Mater Ecclesiae, p. 715 in Austin Flannery, The Documents of Vatican II, Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1966.
[3] On Ritual Matters, 1931. Cited in Antoine Arjakovsky, Conversations with Lubomyr Cardinal Husar: Towards a Post-Confessional Christianity. Lviv: Ukrainian Catholic University Press, 2007,125.
[4] John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Depositum fidei [The Deposit of Faith].
[5] Patriarch Lubomyr Husar, Introduction to the Ukrainian translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
[6] Vatican Council II, Decree unitatis Redintegratio [The Restoration of Unity], 1964, 17.
[7] Patriarch Lubomyr Husar, Introduction to the Ukrainian translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.