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Learning about the Ukranian Catholic Church

"Conversations with Lubomyr Cardinal Husar."
by Rev. Dr. Bernard J. O’Connor, | Source: Vatican’s Congregation for Eas

Book Title: Conversations with Lubomyr Cardinal Husar
Author: Antoine Arjakovsky
Publisher: Ukranian Catholic University Press (Lviv, Ukraine: 2007)
ISBN: 966-8197-22-4
Reviewer: Rev. Dr. Bernard J. O’Connor, Official - Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches


In 2007, Antoine Arjakovsky published, Conversations with Lubomyr Cardinal Husar.  As the title indicates, the core of the 160 page edition consists of a series of questions posed to the Cardinal who is head of the Ukranian Catholic Church, together with his responses.  They cover an extensive range: from comment about his family background, to his early history (e.g. during the Soviet and German occupations), his steps toward priesthood, his election as Major Archbishop on January 26, 2001, and his nomination to the College of Cardinals on February 21st of the same year.  Attention is next directed to consideration of “The Greek-Catholic Church and the Orange Revolution,” followed by an assessment of the controversial issue of “The Ukranian Greek-Church and the Patriarchate.”  This initial section of the book concludes with an analysis of “The Gift of Faith.”  It treats the significance of crucial theological themes; for example, Mariology (e.g. difference of perspective about Mary’s “conception as Immaculate”); the role of St. Joseph in the economy of salvation; Divine Wisdom; Pneumatology; Hagiography, and the issue of the Apostle Peter’s ministry (with ecclesiological implications for the doctrine of Petrine primacy).

The text also contains a Postscript, a reflection by Arjakovsky entitled; “A Few Words of Love.”  The interviewer/editor, the “founder of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukranian Catholic University in Lviv,” is a French scholar and an “Orthodox Christian of Russian origin.”  Reasonably then, he is primarily interested in Cardinal Husar’s approach to ecumenism.  The Cardinal is said to reject the “two faces of confessionalism” which dominate many Christian contexts.  Unity requires that we step beyond “minimalism and doctrinal relativism on the one hand, and traditionalistic rigorism and a one-sided identity on the other.”  Thus we may recognize that unity is primarily “given by God;”at the summit of our “hierarchy of truths.”  Unity “must be experienced, even if disagreements between Christians stand in the way of perfect communion, clear thinking and absolute trust.”  This is a vision entirely different from the reductionist model by which we simply “want the faithful of another Church joined to us.”  By contrast, Cardinal Husar’s ecumenical vision never becomes analogous to “a peace treaty or an architectural design.”  For he insists that “ecumenism is not a pact, but an act, a gesture of love, which bears witness to the limitless love of God.”

Conversations next proceeds to “Texts by Cardinal Husar.”  Eight are presented which discuss “the ecumenical mission of the Eastern Catholic Churches” according to the thought of the revered Metropolitan Sheptytsky (d. 1944).  Features which distinguish the respective positions of East and West are detailed, especially as these pertain to the Union of Brest (1596) which enabled “Union with the Roman Apostolic See.”  Husar interprets Sheptytsky as offering a refutation of the prevalent accusation that the signatories “betrayed their flock;” namely, by “forsaking their rite.”  Instead, Sheptytsky maintained and Husar concurs, that the bishops saw themselves as “having rectified the misstep of Cerularius in 1054.”  Moreover, what the Union accomplished was to grant to “the Ukranian Church a period of religious vitality in the face of all adversities.”  Negatively; however, those who entered the Union faced “a progressive alienation from their Eastern stock,” and became subject to steady Latinization.  With characteristic intensity, Sheptytsky habitually “struggled for a re-Orientalisation of his Church.”  He likewise advocated that “a proper understanding of the universality of the Church as growing out of the will of her Divine Founder” would prove “a corrective useful” to deficiencies recurring on “both sides.”

This latter insight was furthered by His Beatitude Husar in a 2004 discourse commemorating “the return of the Metropolitan See to Kyiv.”  In his, “The Unique People of God,” Husar stressed that “the past” is a reality “which we leave to God.”  He realized that human energies are not best expended by becoming fixated upon unresolvable historical controversies.  At some point, we must reach beyond these so as to embrace “the present, which is our time for action.”  Believers are thereby invited to replace tendencies toward an “equalizing exclusivism” with a praxis of “communion-based complementarity.”  For Husar, an “ecumenism of ultimatums” must similarly recede before the more imperative interests of a  “dialogue in partnership.”  The sheer force of intellectual and moral integrity requires that one acknowledge the degree to which the combination of “polemical forms of theologising” and “proselytising methods of pastoral ministry” has yielded nothing other than a contradictory and counterproductive “trauma to Christians’ sensitivities.”

At the same time, fidelity to integrity necessitates that the reply to ‘good faith’ disagreement with ecclesial polity should be framed with candor, compassion, honesty and humility.  This is precisely the style adopted by Cardinal Husar when confronted by the various “challenges” posed by those who objected to the proposal of “establishing the UGCC (Ukranian Greek-Catholic Church) patriarchate.”  In a Pastoral Message dated September 6, 2004, he critiqued the premises underlying dissenters’ protest.  Here is an instance when the inner mindset of the man is made readily apparent.  He does not bludgeon those who oppose him.  Nor does he resort to degrading either themselves or their stance.  Instead, Cardinal Husar asserts and clarifies, always calmly and always respectfully.  And while he expresses appropriate regret owing to the adverse “reaction of the Orthodox Churches,” he seeks to encourage the involved parties to transcend the inevitable “emotional response” in favor of discovering yet another opportunity for an enhanced and enriched “understanding of our situation.”  He persuasively contends that no “threat or intrigue against the Orthodox Churches” was ever intended, much less the enlisting “of hatred for non-Ukranians.”  Such could never be the case, because “where Christian virtues are fostered, (one) cannot indulge in chauvinism.”  Rather, the overall goal is that of openly and generously “serving God and one’s neighbor.”  There is no hidden or malevolent agenda.  The sole hope is that what emerges is a “transformed life of the people of God,” and a renewed acceptance of “their new duties and responsibilities.”

The final Address in Conversations is that of the Synod of Bishops (March 7, 2006) “on the occasion of the 60th. Anniversary of the Lviv Pseudo-sobor of 1946.”  Cardinal Husar’s name is fittingly affixed to the document.  Mention is made of yet “another miracle of unity” - the “ecumenism of the Gulag.”  For those who endured the relentless persecution of the Soviets, what arose among them was a pervasive and extraordinary “spiritual bonding.” Their “solidarity came from their common suffering.”  Still, the bishops were acutely aware that as these shackles of oppression were removed, a “deplorable” danger loomed.  These same “brothers and sisters” might well be “plunged into a whirl of dissension and discord,” marred by antagonistic “rivalry and opposition.”  Words written by Borys Gudziak in Conversations’ Forward become prophetic.  “At the beginning of the twenty-first century,” the world does not yearn for embattled ideologies.  Its profound hope is to behold “spiritual guides who can teach us personally.”  Cardinal Husar, “nourished” by a legacy of “unusually rich experience and personal trials,” qualifies as a beacon endowed “with an exemplary lightness and a singular grace.”  His is a legacy which is cause for our profound admiration and gratitude.

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