UGCC Nun and UCU graduate becomes the first Ukrainian woman to defend a doctorate thesis in theology in the Middle East
Sister Alphonsa Karapata (Missionary Sisters of the Holy Redeemer) at the University of the Holy Spirit (Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik), located 20 km from Beirut (Lebanon), on April 24, defended her doctoral thesis themed “Ecclesiology of Cyril Korolevsky and its influence on the formation of the identity of the Melchite and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Churches” and was granted a doctorate in theology.
A panel of reviewers and examiners, some of whom were present online through quarantine restrictions, gave nuns from Ukraine the highest score — 100/100, which is a uniquely high score for the University, and this was the first time this happened at the department of theology.
Sister Alphonsa worked under the scientific guidance of Father Prof. Gabriel Gashem. The reviewers of the dissertation were: Bishop Theodore Martynyuk (UGCC), Bishop Paul Roukhana, Prof. Karam Rizk, Elly Azzi (Maronite Church) and Fr. Nicolas Bustros (Melchite Church).
"This brilliant 500-page paper, written in French, is a real event in Ukrainian theological, ecclesiastical and cultural life. The author of the dissertation thesis is a person who gave herself to God and radiates true free Christ's joy;” said Metropolitan of Philadelphia, Archbishop Borys Gudziak. Sister Alphonsq graduated from the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv in 2006, when Bishop Borys was its rector, and it was on his advice that she continued her studies in Lebanon.
The University of the Holy Spirit is a Maronite University, one of the six Catholic universities in Lebanon, and the only one with a faculty of theology.
"Students of various Christian traditions of the Middle East-Melchites, Maronites, Chaldeans, representatives of Orthodox and so-called Monophysite churches, were studying together with me. Only I and a colleague from India did not belong to the Near-Eastern tradition,” says sister Alphonsa.
“In the beginning, she had to pass various tests without even knowing either Arabic or French. She did not have a network of “her people”, but she was fully involved in “other people's things” while remaining herself. And you can see the results!" Bishop Borys comments.
Sister Alphonsa says that the experience of humanity in the Middle East was a real discovery and gift for her. "I have experienced real humanity. The Lebanese people are nice, open, and ready to help, despite the difficulties. But before that, it was necessary to adapt and accept the Eastern mentality, not becoming an opposition, but learning to be a part of it,” says sister Alphonse. She spent 10 years in the Middle East, and after her defense, when she returned to Ukraine, she plans to maintain her friendship and joint projects with the Churches and monasteries she met there.
No less interesting than the Near-Eastern experience is the topic that the sister explored. Cyril Korolovsky is a Frenchman who became a Catholic of the Eastern rite through the Melchite Church, about which he wrote a monumental three-volume history. But finally, this pilgrim found his spiritual home through traditions and cultures in the Slavic Rite.
“In the Slavic world, Metropolitan Sheptytsky has become the highest authority for this brilliant theologian-historian, who studied Slavic and Semitic languages, and he devoted most of his life to working for the benefit of the Church in Ukraine, in particular, as a representative of Metropolitan Andrew in Rome," Archbishop Gudziak said.
In her thesis, which focused on the evolution of Uniate ecclesiology and the formation of the identity of these Churches, Sister Alphonsa also touched on the issue of French Church culture, creative and avant-garde thinking of Eastern Catholics in the Middle East, the challenges of political and ecclesiastical confrontation between Ukraine and Russia, and the Church-diplomatic activities of the Holy See.
By Mariana Karapinka