A patriarchate for the UGCC is not only a title. Above all, it’s a way of existing, — His Beatitude Sviatoslav
Recently, there was information that Pope Francis is preparing a surprise for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. The pontiff wants to meet with the UGCC leadership to discuss a number of themes in ecclesiastical and social life. According to the Head of the UGCC, His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk), whom RISU had the opportunity to interview, such a meeting is truly very important.
— Pope Francis is inviting the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to meet. What questions will you discuss there?
— The methodology of a meeting is a practice of the structure of the Holy See to develop its position regarding certain circumstances, situations. For me, it is particularly important that the Roman See is now working on its position regarding Ukraine and has invited us to take part in this. Because we once stated that they were talking about us without us.
And for us, it is also clear that certain expert circles of the Apostolic See understand that it is the UGCC which is the key to understanding the situation in Ukraine. So we will try to discuss a whole bloc of questions that relate to the sociopolitical and humanitarian situation of Ukraine and cooperation with other churches and religious organizations.
Clearly, we will discuss our Church on a global scale, because all our metropolitans have been invited to the meeting, not only from Ukraine, but from Brazil, Canada, the USA, Poland… So this will be an opportunity to discuss our Church in the world.
We also want to present to the Pope what our Church looks like, our needs, and also the pastoral challenges that we now face. I do not think this type of expert meeting has happened before. Inasmuch as this is a new methodology, with a format of work and interaction, I expect that there will be new and good fruits.
— Many now talk about the question of granting the UGCC a patriarchate, about the beatification of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, and other no less important aspects. Will questions like this be considered?
— Without question, we will talk “without taboo.” We received a surprise, that is, interaction at the highest level. This will be a sincere discussion about all important questions. Earlier I had asked the Holy Father that on his part we would receive a signal of his support of our Church, in particular institutional support.
In general, we feel absolutely confident in our relations with the Pope. However, we want not only to communicate in the usual way, but to have the opportunity so that all will be heard. There is a wider network of communication, because some of the bishops themselves will be able to speak to heads of Roman structures.
— You know that Pope Francis is to meet with the head of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. People suppose that, during their meeting, the Ukrainian question will be discussed. Do you suppose that the Pope can help resolve this problem?
— This will not be the first time the Holy Father has met with the president of Russia and discussed Ukraine. As far as I recall, this is their third meeting. Last time, one of the topics of discussion was Ukraine and the Pope insisted that Russia do everything to stop aggression against Ukraine. (The Minsk Accords were discussed at that time.) We will see what will be discussed this time.
— At what stage is the beatification of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky? Are we close to the completion?
— I expect that we are. This process has a few stages. The first stage is the most important and hardest, because this is the historical process. At first it was necessary to gather and work on all the documents and respond to all accusations made against Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. This process has now concluded. Even more so, a few years ago a separate document was published regarding the announcement of the metropolitan’s heroic virtues. Then he received a separate title in the beatification process, no longer “servant of God” but “venerable.”
There are now investigating a miracle and a miraculous healing that happened through prayers to Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. When the expert evaluation has been done according to all requirements, then the next stage will begin. We expect that the beatification will then occur.
— More and more often now, people say that the UGCC should be a patriarchate, especially against the background of the OCU [Orthodox Church of Ukraine] receiving the tomos [of autocephaly]. Is a patriarchate truly so important for the Church? And is it possible to expect that this will happen soon?
— For us a patriarchate is not only some title or name, but, above all, a way of existing. Not long ago we had the enthronement of a new metropolitan for the USA. He was elected by the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC, and the Pope blessed this choice. The Head of the Church traveled to place him in his position according to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and to show that we function like a patriarchal church.
Our way of ordering pastoral life corresponds to the way patriarchal structures exist. And we ourselves are learning how to live this way. For example, many people in the USA do not understand that their episcopate and metropolia belong to a Church whose center is in Kyiv.
Obviously, we are in communion with the Apostolic See, but the center of global unity of our Church happens through the Head. So our bishops from the whole world are responsible not only for their own eparchies but for our whole Church in the whole world.
That is, when it is necessary to choose a new bishop for Australia, then our bishops from the whole world look for the best candidate and announce this choice. This also is the way a patriarchal church exists.
Even more so, the Head of our Church every year consecrates chrism for the whole Church. We don’t take chrism from the Vatican or anywhere else. The Head of the Church consecrates chrism in Kyiv, and then it is distributed throughout the world. And all the children who are baptized in any corner of the world are anointed with the chrism oil that was consecrated at the Patriarchal Cathedral of Christ’s Resurrection in Kyiv.
This was not always so, for there were various circumstances, though this is part of our particular canon law.
So we say that the patriarchate will happen, because it is not given, but they will recognize it. On our part, we are doing everything to function as a patriarchal church. And the question of recognition (not creation or announcement) is a question that depends on the decision of the ecumenical hierarch [pope], and we respect the freedom of his decision.
— But will you ask him to do this? Or are you waiting?
— We ask him to do this at every meeting, particularly when we talk about how we live today.
— Does Rome have any problems with using the title of “patriarch” in certain documents and during the Liturgy?
— This is already our tradition, because the people have the right to pray for the patriarch. And no one can take this right away from them. In addition, this type of terminology corresponds to our glorious Church Slavonic tradition, because the terminology of “major archbishop” comes from the Greek world and, finally, it does not correspond to our realities.
For example, the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church has the title “archbishop,” but he is the head of a church and leads a whole number of metropolitans.
But for us the title of archbishop, in our understanding, is slightly lower than a metropolitan, who heads a whole ecclesiastical province. So people pray in this way, because they understand who their Head is, and this also cannot be forbidden them.
— You recently met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. What are your impressions?
— We will do everything so that our Church will continue to carry out its role as a leader in civic thought, as a church that throughout its history has always supported and understood the state-building process as it happened. For this is the right of each people, to have its own state, which would provide for its free, full-blooded development, so that this people would not be a “stranger,” subject to foreign governments.
Clearly, we will continue this work. Finally, we don’t know how the new president will operate, because we don’t know him as a politician. We will observe and get to know him by steps and the acts that he will perform.
Of course, we will support and cooperate with everything that will be good for confirming the Ukrainian state, good for strengthening its sovereignty, and also for the European vector of development which Grand Prince Volodymyr chose in our baptism. We are constructively disposed. We expect that the new president also will feel these deepest expectations that the people have expressed, demonstrating their trust in him, and will not turn back.
— Parliamentary elections will soon be held. As one of the nation’s moral leaders, can you give our citizens some advice? What should guide their decisions?
— Previously in the context of presidential elections, our Church and the UGCC Synod of Bishops approved and published a guidebook for the voter and one for the Christian politician. These postulates highlight key points of the social teaching of the Catholic Church.
Without a doubt, any governmental or political force that is not based on God’s law, natural law, cannot be supported by Christians. This is the main message which we want to send to our voters and to those who will be candidates in the parliamentary elections.
— As a citizen, what will guide you in your voting?
— Above all, I feel my responsibility for the government. So we say that it’s necessary to vote responsibly. I am sorry that sometimes our people absolutely do not analyze what one or another politician is proposing. They vote for someone who proposes absolutely nothing, perhaps because he or she speaks eloquently to them. It’s necessary to analyze very seriously what type of political force you are voting for, because each political force is similar to a certain pull which goes in a certain direction. But when we are at the train station and look at the schedule of various trains, we find out where the train is going, where it will bring us, in particular, through which stations.
It’s necessary to know where our parliamentarians want to lead us, what is the final goal of one or another political force which we want to join or support with our vote. For if we have an irresponsible attitude towards this, we will support an irresponsible government.
Who then will regret, and who will be responsible? Clearly, we will. So if we will not approach elections seriously, we will support an unserious government and not the kind we would like.
— What is necessary to end the war?
— We talk much about the war. Without a doubt, the war cannot be ended by “peace at all costs.” We have already paid much for our freedom, for our right to be ourselves. If peace means losing everything, then that will not be peace, that will be capitulation. So peace is absolutely impossible without justice. We speak about a just peace, in particular for those who have lost their lives, who are innocent victims, who have lost their children on the front… Peace should be based on respect for the other person’s pain. Without peace like this, based on truth, a source of justice, we cannot talk about some ending of the war. I think that everyone should realize this. If they now understand by the word “peace” something at any cost, agreeing with the aggressor’s conditions, then we will falsify the understanding of “peace” as such.