Dr Andrew Thomas Kania
Published in Church and Life (1820) 28.07.11 – 24.08.11 No12 Pg 2
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘miracle’ as a “Marvellous event not ascribable to human or natural agency, and therefore attributed to the intervention of a supernatural agent.”
The recent publication of the Ukrainian Catholic Catechism, the first of its kind for the second largest sui juris church of the Catholic Church, does not readily meet the requirements of the definition provided; for quite surely the guiding hands of many human agents can be seen. Perhaps however, it is the limitation of the definition provided, rather than a lack of Divinity in the production of the text itself that sees us preclude the use of the word ‘miracle’ for the Catechism’s launch. In any case, for an event to be considered miraculous and later to be verified as such, one must have an understanding of the conditions that existed prior to the proposed miracle occurring. So let us examine the background to the Catechism, before opening up the text itself.
At the end of World War II, the ‘liberating’ Red Army, drew, along with its advance across the ravaged, war-torn lands, and the tormented and wearied eyes of the peoples of Eastern Europe – an Iron Curtain. So forged was this dictatorial and atheistic shroud, that the light of personal freedom, and the Light of un-politicized Religion could hardly permeate. In Galicia, the geographic heart of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, a period of fifty years of intense religious persecution was to begin. It is difficult for us in the West to fathom, that for a period of half a century, to be a member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was a capital offence under the Soviet Regime. During most of the second half of the twentieth century, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was the largest underground church in the world. The magnitude of the spiritual passion that took place; the number of martyrs, and the horrific deaths of both clergy and laity, can never be understated, or for that matter forgotten. The Soviet government used every means ‘inhumanely’ possible to destroy the Ukrainian Catholic Church – and ultimately, the force of one of the history’s most powerful and ruthless empires – failed. A soulless regime had attempted to crucify a spiritual force, and in the end the regime immolated within the pyre of its own evil; “the intervention of a supernatural agent”, must surely have occurred.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 2001, Blessed John Paul II, beatified twenty five martyrs of the Ukrainian Catholic Church; men and women who had died the most shocking of deaths: crucified (Bl. Zynovii Kovalyk); bricked alive (Bl. Roman Lysko); fed to Siberian tigers (Bl. Hryhorij Lakota) – all because they refused to deny, not only Christ, but their Catholic Faith. The numerical loss to the Ukrainian Church of clergy, ran into the thousands; of the laity, millions. Yet astonishingly, or more correctly, miraculously, on the very first Sunday after the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the legalization of the Church in Ukraine, an estimated five million people went back to the rubble and ruins that were once glorious churches, to sing loudly in public, what they had hereto only whispered in their homes and barns for generations. These people had come back to praise, they had come back to re-build. These people had kept the Faith – now the Ukrainian Church needed to re-establish its identity. An integral component of this re-discovery of identity was the Catechism.
On the 24th of June, 2011, the first ever Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, with the title, Christ Our Pascha was launched in L’viv, Ukraine. The Catechism is a vital document for the Ukrainian Catholic Church – for it is a treasure-trove of how the Church identifies Herself as a Catholic Christian community; as well as a blue-print containing the way by which the Church will seek to evangelize in the future, according to Her Eastern Catholic charism. The Catechism was spurred on by the call of Blessed Pope John Paul II that each of the sui juris churches clearly establish their spiritual identities.
In lieu of there currently being no English language translation of the Ukrainian Catholic Catechism – perhaps a brief overview can best introduce the non-Ukrainian speaker to the spiritual flavour of the text.
The Structure of the Catechism:
The title of the Catechism is echoed in the first words of the text; that is, the source and fountain of our Faith is founded in our Faith in the Risen Christ. (§1). The opening paragraph establishes the context – that the Catechism has at its skeletal structure: the Nicene Creed, and the Anaphora and Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. (§1). Ironically, in a world where so many disgruntled Christians and Catholics are seeking to re-write creeds, the Ukrainian Catechism is unequivocal in its calling the Nicene Creed, a mirror that looks at you, and you at it – something at once external, but something simultaneously deeply personal; that is, if you allow it to become so. (§5).
The Catechism is divided into three parts: the Faith of the Church; the manner in which the Church prays; and finally, the Life of the Church. (§9). In essence these categories refer to: the tenets of the Creed; the Liturgical life; and the life of the People of God, the latter who are said to be transfigured by Grace to participate in the world. (§10 & §11).
Part One – The Faith of the Church:
With regard the Faith of the Church, there are some beautiful passages alerting the Faithful to read and listen daily to the Word of God. (§13). The Faithful are reminded that it is in God’s plan of salvation that He has made through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Universal Church; a Church that is: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These marques are seen in the local and national churches, of which the Ukrainian Catholic Church is one example. (§17, cf. §60, §62). Moreover the Faithful are called to respond to God who was made clearly visible through the Son. Using exquisite phrasing the Catechism calls on the Faithful to mutually illuminate one another. (§19). Such a phrase clearly alludes to Moses’ glowing demeanour after speaking with God. Our life in the Risen Christ, should also see us reflecting the Light of Faith from person to person.
The Catechism speaks of Holy Tradition – and in doing so it emphasizes that Tradition helps unify the Faithful in their common goal to share in the Divine Life. (§31). We are successors to the teaching of the Apostles, and the Church of Pentecost – and this inheritance has been bequeathed to us in order to reach God. (§37).
The importance of Holy Scripture is spoken of by use of the words of St. Jerome; that a failure to know Scripture is in effect a failure to know Christ. (§46). The reading of Scripture should be a tradition established in the family home. (§46). To authentically understand Scripture one must listen to the words of the Magisterium, who exist so as to safe-guard the teaching of the Church. (§52).
The family is vital for the preservation of the Church; and the Church is vital for the sanctity of the family. The family should establish a culture of prayer; a prayer life that supports the teaching of the Church. (§67). For a child to reach a mature Faith – a network of prayerful people are needed. (§68). Prayer should involve contemplation. (§71). Contemplation helps us see the world in a deeper manner – looking below the material in order to see what is truly spoken by God through creation. (§108). The Eastern tradition of an icon corner in the house can assist in developing within the family home, contemplative prayer. (§657).
The Catechism stresses that in Christ we have a God Who shares our human condition, Who is immersed in our human traits, immersed in the full life of humanity with the exception of personal sin. (§75). For our part we are not our own masters but God shares intimately in our lives, through the life-giving Spirit. (§93). Our lives hold an inherent dignity that equates to our being made in the image of God. (§120). Our goal is to achieve in our lives the likeness of God to its maximum potential. (§123). Male or female; we are equal – but complementary. (§133).
It is sin that has darkened our minds and has hurt our relationship not only with God (§151), but also with one another. (§154). Through sin, brothers begin to alienate one another, and the brotherhood of humanity fractures. (§156). Thus God became man, so that man could become God; therefore putting death to death, and giving us a sure path away from sin. (§178). One can only reach this pinnacle of life, if one is open to God. (§213).
With regard the local church – each church has its own sources of Christian tradition; its own theology, spirituality, piety, liturgy; its martyrs and saints. The fullest development of a particular church lies in its being recognized as a Patriarchate; for then She is visibly seen as a mature and powerful factor not only in the life of the Universal Church, but in the life of the nation from which She arises. (§303). Interestingly in the first hundred days of his role as the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Schewchuk has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the Vatican elevating to Patriarchal status the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The Catechism stresses the Ukrainian Church’s devotion to the Holy Mother, and discusses the many famous icons and places of pilgrimage. (§314). In a later section of the Catechism, the usage of icons in the prayer life of Eastern Christians is explained. Icons are used to look deeper into the Holy Mystery. This concentration and meditation leads to an inner silence. (§592).
Part Two – The Prayer of the Church:
One of the most important factors with regard prayer is the notion of time and space. In the Eastern Tradition prayer is inextricably intertwined with the rhythm of nature, feasts, and daily and weekly celebrations. (§329). The Prayer of the Church always takes place to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. (§335). Christ taught His followers to pray as a community (§336), and it is through the Liturgy that we pray together. (§337). When we worship as a Church, we see that the kingdom of God is already among us. (§338).
Following from this introduction, the Catechism discusses in great detail, the various Liturgies and the Liturgical formulae for the celebration of the seven Holy Mysteries, as well as explanations of church architecture. (§338 – §558). We are reminded that liturgical singing is not a concert performance, or about entertainment, but a way by which the community is drawn into a communal prayer life. (§624).
Part Three – The Life of the Church:
A number of beautiful passages are contained in this final part of the Catechism. Essentially this section is a discussion of moral theology as seen in the light of the Eastern Church. The ultimate goal of living is seen to be, a vocation that leads to eternal life in the Holy Trinity. (§738). Following from this is a discussion of the major vices and virtues.
The Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is indeed a miraculous event in the life of the Universal Church, not so much for what the text contains, which is beautiful and True in itself, but for the fact that the Church survived to be able to publish such a work. The Catechism should find an immediate home on the bookshelves of Ukrainian Catholics who speak Ukrainian. In time, with the forthcoming English translation, the Catechism should find Herself in the diaspora as a lightning rod for questions regarding spiritual identity. In fact it is in the diaspora where the Catechism is most vitally needed; for within Ukraine, on the geographic territory of the martyrs, it is probably far easier to understand and commit oneself to a Church that is so immediate. In Australia, and in the diaspora, where tensions and temptations pull the Faithful from materialism through to secularism – the necessity of such a text is paramount. Perhaps when the Catechism is re-launched in Australia, in an English language translation, it may come with the further discussion as to whether Ukrainian Catholics throughout the diaspora consider themselves as Ukrainians in a foreign land who are Ukrainian Catholics – or as Australians, Canadians, and Americans who belong to the Ukrainian Catholic Church. This is an important distinction – and vitally important in how the Catechism will be read and received – by Ukrainian nationals in Ukraine, and those in the diaspora who struggle not only with religious identity, but with cultural and national identity.
The English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote that any institution seeking to print books about moral laws must be “aware that until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust”. (Shelley, 1994, p. 228). Shelley, the atheist, may indeed hold some good words of advice for the release of the Ukrainian Catechism. In Ukraine, where people had to hold on to their Faith for dear life – the triumph of the Spirit over the power of Hell, will make the reception of the Catechism a far different prospect than in countries where apathy to the Faith prevails. In the Catechism there exists a spiritual jewel – but no matter how priceless the gem, the true worth is not comprehended until the individual knows something of its value. The challenge for the Ukrainian Catholic Church now is greater than the labour that brought the Catechism into being. The challenge is in how the Catechism will be communicated. If people purchase the text, with the belief that the Catechism is a good book, but leave it unread on the bookshelf, the Church will have failed. For a great book that goes unread – may just as well be a stone. The Church will succeed if parents sit down and read the text, and then consciously try to establish in the home a culture of Eastern Catholicism in the Kyivian Tradition. The Catechism will then come to life, and like the sewer in the fields, the Church will eventually reap a harvest.
Perhaps the words of Paul J. Philibert O.P. writing generations ago, in introducing the thought of Marie Dominique Chenu to the world, are most true with regard the launch of the Ukrainian Catechism today: “The point of the Church is not maintenance of creeds and formulas of faith, but mission that will engage the whole of society”. (Chenu, 2002, p viii). The Catechism should never be seen as an end in itself – but only a beginning, a process of becoming for the Church; a genesis. The test of the modern-day miracle of the Ukrainian Catechism will be in the proof, if and how, the Catechism can inspire a Church that was once very much alive in the catacombs to flourish yet even more, under the bright light of freedom.
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