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from issue no. 11 - 2003

EASTERN CHURCHES.The senior Archbishop of the Greek Catholics speaks

Our “mission with a deadline”

«To re-establish communion, all the Eastern Churches must only open themselves to full communion with the successor of Peter. Everything else must remain intact. And at that point, we Eastern Catholic Churches will have concluded our historic function». Interview with Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who is about to transfer to Kiev.

by Gianni Valente

The communion of the apostles, a mosaic in the church of Saint Sofia in Kiev, Ukraine

The communion of the apostles, a mosaic in the church of Saint Sofia in Kiev, Ukraine

The Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the most considerable Church of Eastern rite in communion with the Pope, is a courteous and patient person. For a long time he has responded unperturbed to the same questions and the same polemics. For almost fifteen years his Church, which reemerged with vigor from its tormented life in hiding during the Soviet period, has consolidated its own ecclesiastical structures throughout Ukrainian territory. A “rebirth” which many see as the stumbling block to all the good ideas for reconciliation between the Church of Rome and the Patriarchate of Moscow.
It takes little to imagine that the senior Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Ukranians was not enthused by the recent interview given to 30Days by the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk. An interview in which the man in charge of the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow thundered against the “expansionist plans” of the Greek Catholics in the Ukraine and denied every historic foundation for their “pretensions” of seeing the rank of Patriarchate recognized to their Church. But more basically, the label “spoiler” of ecumenical dialogue which is usually applied to Ukranian Catholics of the Eastern rite upsets Husar. In his heart, he’s convinced of the exact opposite.

Your Eminence, you are constructing the new Cathedral of the Holy Resurrection in Kiev. When will you transfer to the capital? And does this “move” have to do with the prospect of your elevation to Patriarch?
LUBOMYR HUSAR: The two things are not connected. I will go to Kyiv [Kiev in Ukranian, ed], even if I am still a “senior Archbishop”, according to Ecclesiastic terminology, whether our Patriarchate is recognized or not, either today, tomorrow or in ten years time. Kyiv will become my principal residence from December on. It will still take several months to complete the construction of the Cathedral, while another couple of years will perhaps be necessary for the construction of residences and offices linked to it.
John Paul II and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in Kiev in June 2001

John Paul II and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in Kiev in June 2001

What justifies this transfer?
HUSAR: First of all pastoral and historical reasons. It’s true that for more than two hundred years the presence of Catholics of the Eastern rite and also the ecclesiastical structures of our Church were wiped out in Eastern Ukraine by the Czarist empire. But during last century there was a renewed presence of our faithful in those parts, thanks to Stalin of all people. Through his deportations, he became an involuntary apostle of Catholicism in various parts of the Soviet union. Now, for pastoral reasons, it is more advantageous for us to establish our central seat in Kyiv, because that way we are closer to the community which is now spread throughout the country. Further, being in Kyiv means avoiding long journeys every time the State Council of the Churches or the offices of the state summons u for some reason. And in fact all the heads of the Churches and of the religious confessions recognized by the State reside in the capital.
The faithful of your Church, however, remain concentrated in the regions of western Ukraine. What are the “historical reasons” for the transfer?
HUSAR: We were driven out of Kyiv. Leopolis was never, so to speak, our home, it was never at the center of the history of our Church. Modern events, also, in which eight of the ten bishops of the territory of the Ukraine confirmed their communion with the Bishop of Rome, in the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596, had Kyiv as their center. Paradoxically the only ones who on that occasion did not sign the act of union with Rome were the bishops of Leopolis and of Przemysl, both in the western part of present-day Ukraine. When at the beginning of the nineteeth century the Czar liquidated the structures of our Church in Kyiv, these structures were re-established in Leopolis with the consent of the Holy See. And from then the presence of our faithful was concentrated in western Ukraine solely because those lands were not under the Czar, but under the Hapsburg Empire and Poland. But as I have already said, our communities are again reflourishing throughout the whole country. So now we are in practice returning to Kyiv.
Ukrainian faithful greet the Pope festively on his arrival at Chayka airport, near Kiev, where he presided over a Eucharistic celebration in the Roman rite, 24 June 2001

Ukrainian faithful greet the Pope festively on his arrival at Chayka airport, near Kiev, where he presided over a Eucharistic celebration in the Roman rite, 24 June 2001

In recent times you have once again brought up the recurrent request that your Church be recognized as a Patriarchate. Why such insistence on this point?
HUSAR: In our Eastern tradition the Patriarchate is a point of natural arrival in the normal process of the growth of a Church. When in its historical development a local Church of Eastern tradition reaches a state of maturity in the various aspects of its ecclesial life – spirituality, liturgy, theology, canonical discipline, hierarchichal structure, organization – the recognition of the Patriarchate does not represent a “leap”, a moment of discontinuity, but the simple taking into account of a development which has already happened, of a passage already completed. In his recent post-synodal exhortation Pastores gregis the Pope also repeated that, where required by the conditions, Patriarchates should be instituted. Last year, we reached complete unanimity among the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops on the fact that our Church is already a Patriarchate. Fortified by this internal consensus, and with the support of our faithful, we also asked the supreme authority of the Catholic Church to recognize and bless this reality.
Does the faculty of instituting Patriarchates belong to the Bishop of Rome?
HUSAR: Things have changed in the course of history. The first five Patriarchates were recognized by Ecumenical Councils celebrated by the undivided Church. Those of more recent origin were often created by the temporal powers, by the emperors and kings of different nations, to be then progressively recognized by the other Churches. The Patriarchate of Moscow itself waited a century and a half before being recognized by all the other orthodox Churches. Now, for us, in the modern age, different ways are opening up …
It is said that the Ukrainian state could also support the institution of your Patriarchate …
HUSAR: We don’t want the Patriarchate to be instituted by the State, so as not to undergo forms of subjection to the civil powers. In that way the Patriarchate would end up by being a State institution. We want to follow the ecclesiastical way. Classical custom requires new Patriarchates to be recognized by the Ecumenical Council gathered in session. But between Vatican Council I and Vatican Council II almost a hundred years passed …
A girl receives the Eucharist during the mass presided by the Pope at Chayka airport

A girl receives the Eucharist during the mass presided by the Pope at Chayka airport

And a Vatican III doesn’t seem to be in sight?
HUSAR: No, on the contrary … But in the Catholic Church we have another possibility, sanctioned also by the Codes of Canon Law, and which unfortunately the Orthodox don’t have. The institution of new Patriarchates can also be ratified by the Pope.
In 30Days Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk defined the eventual creation of Patriarchates by the Pope as «an attempt to reanimate the ecclesiology of the time of the Crusades, when, as is known, Catholic Patriarchates parallel to the Orthodox ones» were instituted in the East.
HUSAR: But it is not the Pope who creates the Patriarchate. A Patriarchate is a Church of the people which already exists, with its spirituality, its theology, its hierarchy, which has only to be recognized. And the Pope, giving his assent, limits himself to recognizing it. And then, all the Patriarchates, whether Ortodox or Catholic emerged from history in their own different ways, each one following its own particular path. There is no unique obligatory model.
It’s inevitable that the institution of your Patriarchate would have repercussions on the dialogue with the Orthodox. Who consider themselves the legitimate heirs of “the baptism of Rus” which occurred in Kiev in 988. A case of contested inheritance would be opened.
HUSAR: But the roots of our tree are also sunk there. We are an autochthonous Church: our reality is not born of a “posthumous”grafting in those lands. Different from the Latin Church, for example, which in both Russia and the Ukraine is not a Church of the people, and remains a non-indigenous reality. We too are children of the first baptism of the Rus’. And after the break in unity, in 1054, our Church did not “line up” either with one side or the other …
But the Metropolitans of Kiev were then sent by Constantinople.
HUSAR: For some centuries, yes. Our bishops however went to the Councils which were held in the West, such as that of Lyons or that of Florence, where our Metropolitan Isidore of Kyiv was among the protagonists of the temporary reunion of the Eastern Churches with the Church of Rome. At the end of the sixteenth century our bishops recognized that our Church, in order to survive, had to confess clearly its communion with the Bishop of Rome, a communion which had never been officially denied by us. So that step was only the final one in a process which had been initiated at the Council of Florence. And in any case, all our problems arise from the fact of being an indigenous Church …
Which means?
HUSAR: Under the Czar and even during the more difficult times of the Soviet period, the presence of the Latin Church, even if minimal, was tolerated, in that it was considered a “foreign” presence. But we, being Ukrainians and of Byzantine tradition, recognizing the Bishop of Rome, broke the rigid codes of identification between national citizenship and religious confession. Our communion with the Pope was punished as a form of betrayal of the nation, more than for religious reasons.
Blessing of the food for the Easter meal in a Greek Catholic parish in Leopolis

Blessing of the food for the Easter meal in a Greek Catholic parish in Leopolis

The Ortodox say that in the past fifteen years the theology of sister Churches expressed by Vatican Council II has been buried. Your “re-emergence” after years of persecution is said to have been used as an instrument for the absorption of all the Eastern Churches into the single Roman Catholic “empire” of Latin leadership …
HUSAR: But ours is also a “sister Church” to the Church of Rome. The universal Church does not exist in an amorphous way, as a Platonic idea. It exists in determined, concrete circumstances, conditioned by local culture. We are a Church sui iuris, that is one that expresses itself and grows in forms and traditions which are of human origin, not divine. But we are a Church in the full sense, equal to the Latin Church. In this sense we form a communion of sister Churches, which on the ecclesiological level have the same dignity and value, leaving size apart. It isn’t that there is more “universal Church” in the gatherings of a hundred thousand people in the Vatican, as compared to what there is in any of our parishes where the Eucharist is celebrated.
There has been no lack of problems historically in relations between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Church of Rome.
HUSAR: Sometimes in the Church of Latin rite there still appears this superiority complex, deriving from its size, to the point of considering the Eastern Catholic Churches as appendices or museum pieces. That is now changing, not least because of ecumenism, and as a result it’s beginning to be understood in the West that the Church of Latin tradition is not the only one.
Let’s return to relations with the Orthodox. An eventual Greek Catholic Patriarchate in Kiev, which affirms its own continuity with the Prima Sedes of Christianity in the lands east of the Dnieper, would be seen by the Russian Orthodox hierarchy as a delegitimisation of its own canonical authority and a “demotion” of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
HUSAR: But we don’t claim our inheritance in an exclusive way. We recognize that the Russian Orthodox Church also has the roots of its own valid apostolic succession in the first plantatio Ecclesiae which occurred in the Rus’ of Kyiv. We are not the ones fomenting the division. On the contrary. A large part of our being and doing is so as to return closer to original unity .
How do you see that unity?
HUSAR: To re-establish communion, all the Eastern Orthodox Churches that faithfully follow their apostolic tradition must change nothing in their inheritance, they must only open themselves to full communion with the successor of Peter. All the rest must remain intact. We must not ask any more than that. As is written in the Acts of the Apostles: “Why do you tempt God, imposing on the necks of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers, nor we could bear?” At that point, having taken to the same path together, we Eastern Catholic Churches would have concluded our historical function and would be able re-enter into full kinship with the Orthodox sister Churches, which was our situation before the divisions.
Do you really acknowledge that you have a “mission with a deadline” which could finish from one moment to the next?
HUSAR: After centuries of divisions and hostilities, many customs have also become diversified. At a practical level an adequate period of gradual adaptation would be required, hopefully keeping in the meantime a certain parallelism in ecclesial institutions. A time of reciprocal “familiarization”, for two or three generations, before complete unification.
According to you, to restore unity it would be enough for the Orthodox to open themselves to communion with the Pope. But in the course of the centuries the forms of the exercise of the Petrine primacy have changed.
HUSAR: In its essential content, the Petrine primacy is first of all a service to unity. In the communion between Churches we have need of a center. A little like when the flag is raised in war, and thus all the soldiers belonging to an army have a visible point around which to rally. It is not the Pope who makes the Church. The head of the Church is Christ. The Bishop of Rome is the successor of the apostle chosen by Christ to be the visible center around which we acknowledge that we are in communion. The communion is manifested around these two realities, the divine Eucharist and the Pope.
In your opinion, can the present configuration of the Papacy be accepted by the Orthodox Churches?
HUSAR: One has to recognize that, by the will of Christ who founded it, the Primacy of Peter and of his successors has objective characteristics and qualities. Otherwise the unity around Peter becomes generic and fades in time. Further the Pope, in the exercise of his ministry, also needs concrete practical instruments. Now there is a Curia, there are many Cardinals who were formerly concentrated in Rome, and are now spread throughout the world … These instruments, as with everything that is human, may be developed too much or too little. This changes in the course of history. At times these instruments of the exercise of the Petrine primacy become too clumsy, and something must be corrected.
In the past, the Eastern Catholic Churches have also suffered from such excesses ….
HUSAR: When the Roman Catholic Church wanted to change something in the genuine tradition of the Eastern Churches, and that has sometimes happened in the past, it made the reintegration of communion impossible.
Tensions still occur on some points. One is the nomination of Bishops. In the Eastern tradition this is the province of the Synod of the single Church, whereas in the Latin Catholic Church, with few exceptions, the procedure is reserved to the Pope, with a preponderant role played by the Roman Curia.
HUSAR: The bishop becomes bishop not because of the nomination received from the Pope, but on the strength of the sacrament. The essential thing, which must be preserved, is that the bishop declare his own communion with the Bishop of Rome. Then the procedure is a secondary matter, and can vary according to times and circumstances. For example in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Emperor had much to say, something that does not happen today.
Recently there have also been problems for your married priests who operate in Western Europe. The doctrine of “canonical territory” for which the Orthodox are being reprimanded, has surfaced in the requests of some European episcopates …
HUSAR: The Spanish and Italian bishops have written to us asking us not to send married priests to their countries for the pastoral care of our communities. But we don’t have enough celibate priests to send for pastoral service, now that the faithful of our Church are spread throughout the world. I understand the reasons of our brother bishops in the West. They are afraid of what appears to them perhaps as a bad example, given that in their Churches there is debate on this point. The attachment to cultural forms must be taken into consideration, but these must not be absolutized. One can calmly explain that married men are ordained priests not only in the Orthodox Church, but also in the Catholic Church. I come from a family of priests. My grandfather was a priest, many of my relatives are married priests. Some wonderful, others less so. At the same time, I know exemplary celibate priests, and others who are not indeed so. The quality of a priest does not depend on being married or not. In some cases, for one who tries to live his vocation, having a family may also be an advantage. But I don’t wish to be discourteous to my Latin brothers. I only wish our priests be treated in the West also with the respect that is shown to our brother Orthodox priests.

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