Metropolitan Sheptytsky, Apostle of Church Unity

November 1st has meant All Saints Day to us for centuries, but Byzantine Rite Catholics are hoping that it will become the feast day of Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, a priest of their rite, whose life was spent seeking uni­ty between the Catholics and the Orthodox. He was chosen by God for a task that, at this very moment, is making headlines in religious and secular papers.

What was this momentous job God had in store for Count Roman Alexander Maria Sheptytsky, born of nobility, and though of Ukrainian descent, brought up in the Latin Rite of the Church? His goal was Church unity, especially between the Orthodox and Catholics. He died November 1, 1944, after years of touring Russia and the world in search of peace and unity in God’s kingdom.

Early in life Roman Alexander decided to become a priest, and he chose the Basilian Order. He did not enter until he had completed four years of law at the request of his father. He had visited Rome many times with his family, and on one of his trips, in 1887, Pope Leo XIII encouraged him to join the Basilian monks, an an­cient Eastern order, which Leo intended to reinvigorate. In 1889 Roman entered the Monastery at Dobomil and received the name of Andrew. He had a very special talent for languages. Along with Latin and Greek, Polish and Ukrainian, he was conversant in German, French, English, and Hebrew. Upon request, his first assignment was to the country of Bulgaria because he felt this country was the most amenable of all the Orthodox East to the teachings of the Catholic Church. On one of his trips to Russia he made friends with the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, a strong advocate of the union of the Eastern Orthodox Church with Rome.

After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Andrew chose two appropriate patrons to guide him, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Josaphat. Saint Catherine was known for her efforts to restore prestige to the papacy at a time when Europe was torn by religious and political turmoil. Saint Josaphat, the martyred Archbishop of Polotsk, (1582-1623), whose relics are honored in Saint Peter’s Basilica, was the Church’s patron saint of unity.

In 1898 Father Sheptytsky was made bishop of Stanislav. While he was bishop there, he visited his entire diocese and he built a seminary. Everywhere he went he preached retreats for the faithful. Later, he became Archbishop and Metropolitan of Lviv, Ukraine. His first attention again was to revitalize the seminary, to which he assigned his best priests. He sent his students to Rome, Inns­bruck, Frieburg and Vienna. A little known fact today is that there are Eastern-Rite branches to Western Orders, as we see in the Eastern branch of the Redemptorists, one of which was founded by our holy Metro­politan. The sons of Saint Alphon­sus had already proven themselves by helping out in Canada when there was a shor­tage of Ukrainian priests in that country.

In reading biographies of the popes, from Pius IX to the present day, one observes that each of them stressed the importance of the Eastern Rites in the conver­sion of Eastern Europe. Many Eastern-Rite seminaries were built in Rome. As students and monks walked around Rome, with their long beards and unusual headgear, people would comment: “Are they really Catholics?” The pope knew how this hurt these young men. Sad to say, this same misunderstanding of Byzantine Catholics prevails today in our own country. Their rite ought to be better appreciated by Latin-Rite Catholics.

In 1907, Metropolitan Sheptyt­sky had an audience with Pope Saint Pius X and explained his plan for ordaining Eastern-Rite priests for Russia. The Holy Father gladly approved the project. Soon after, Metropolitan Sheptytsky traveled incognito into Russia, and met with several Orthodox bishops known to be favorable to reunion. Here he was calumniated and accused of political activity detri­mental to Russia. Thus falsely accused, he was arrested and spent three years in prison. In 1917, the year of the fall of the Tsarist government, he journeyed to St. Petersburg, convoked a synod of Russian Catholic clergy, presenting official proofs of jurisdiction given him by Rome over the whole of Russia, and publicized the appointments he had made before his imprison­ment. His appointment for Russia was Father Leonid Feodorov, as well as two other exarchs for the greater Ukraine and Bielorussia.

Metropolitan Andrew then set out for Rome in order to give Pope Benedict XV an account of all that had happened, including his clerical appointments and his imprisonment. Again he stressed the necessity of creating Eastern-Rite sections within the religious orders of the West. A great author comes to mind, Father Walter Ciezek, a Jesuit of the Eastern-Rite, who wrote With God in Russia.

Upon his return to Lviv he was welcomed as the good shepherd who had suffered for his flock. One special care he had was for the orphans and those suffering persecution from the terrible con­flict then raging in this period of political ferment. Attacks increased after his return from Russian imprisonment, and he was put under house arrest dur­ing the Polish-Ukrainian war and forbidden to enter his cathedral. Many tried to discredit him in the eyes of Rome and to get him out of the Metropolitan See of Lviv. In 1920 he again went to Rome as the guest of the General Curia of the Redemptorist Fathers. Some of the Redemptorists had changed from the Latin to the Eastern Rite to help out in Canada, where there were many settlements of Ukrainian refugees. Pope Benedict, when hearing of the slanderous reports made against Metropolitan Shep­tytsky, immediately cleared his name.

When the holy prelate was plan­ning to return home, he learned that the ever-cautious Polish government again planned to arrest him, so instead he traveled through Europe, the United States and Canada, giving lec­tures on the unity between the Orthodox and Catholic Eastern Churches. People listened to Metropolitan Andrew. He was seven feet tall, had a full beard, and the manners of a born nobleman, which he was indeed. Pope Benedict even sent him to the Ukrainians in Brazil and other countries in South America. But on his way home in 1923, the Poles waited for him and he was stopped on the Polish border and taken into police custody.

Pope Pius XI had had enough. Poland was a traditionally Catholic country; it was bound by special ties with the Holy See; and he would not permit such a gross mistreatment of a Catholic archbishop of such renown. To go back a few centuries to the Union of Brest (1596), the greatest hindrance then was not from the Orthodox, but from the Latin-Rite Polish bishops. The Metropolitan at that time, Joseph Rutsky, wept over the treatment he received from the Polish hierarchy. Does it not seem providential today that we have a Polish pope who has been so solicitous for the Ukrainians, who visited the Ukrainian Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia on his visit to our own country, and who reminded these people of their destiny to convert the East. Pope John Paul has convoked a synod of Ukrainian bishops; he has named a successor to Cardinal Slipyj; and in general is beloved by the Ukrainians.

When World War II broke out, the Metropolitan was seventy-four years old, and, suffering from paralysis, was confined to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he continued to direct the affairs of the diocese, especially furthering the cause of Church unity. He made Father Joseph Slipyj his coadjutor bishop with right of succession. After the Communist govern­ment stopped the printing of pastoral letters, he gathered his priests together each week to dic­tate letters of guidance and advice.

In 1941 the Communist occupa­tion ended in his country, which came under the domination of the Nazis. At that time, Metropolitan Sheptytsky sent an open letter to Archbishop Dionysius, Orthodox Metropolitan of Warsaw, asking him to give consideration to the idea of union with the Holy See. The letter met with a mixed response from the bishops, but Metropolitan Andrew himself never deviated from his one goal in life, Church Unity.

Christianity was introduced into Eastern Europe by Saint Prince Vladimir (988). Never has the Latin Rite flourished there. Sts. Cyril and Methodius (9th cen­tury), who brought Christianity to the Slavs of Moravia and sur­rounding area, were from Con­stantinople. The Byzantine Rite of the Greeks will be the prevail­ing Liturgy when Russia returns to the Holy See.

Metropolitan Andrew died on November 1, 1944. After a night of prayer and preparation he spoke to those around him, fore­telling the complete destruction of the Eastern Catholic Rite in Ukraine. This was realized shortly after his death, and is in effect today. But he added that in the future the Eastern Rite would blossom anew and spread throughout the entire East. Our Lady of Fatima said: “Russia will be converted and there will be an era of peace.”

At the beatification process of St. Josaphat, whom we must remember is the Church’s official patron saint of unity, Pope Urban VIII uttered these prophetic words: “Oh my Ukrainians, I look to you to convert the East.”

There are meetings and discus­sions going on at this very moment for the reunion of the Orthodox with Rome. Metropolitan Sheptytsky never lived to see his dream realized; but he sowed the seeds of unity, and the flowers may just be budding today. Let us ask God that we may further this cause of unity by prayers and sacrifices, and let us ask Metropolitan Shep­tytsky to guide us. His beatifica­tion process is now in process in the Vatican-now’s the time to ask for many favors, especially spiritual ones, and do report these to Rev. Father Postulator, 250 Jefferson Ave., Winnipeg, 17, Manitoba, Canada.