ugcc.org.ua - (Toronto) - A little over two years ago we were gathered here in this very Canada Room to support the Sheptytsky Institute, while reflecting together on the still fresh events of the Revolution of Dignity in which the various faith communities of Ukraine worked together to support a nation in its struggle for civil society, rule of law and effective justice and true freedom. Ukrainian Greco-Catholics stood shoulder to shoulder with Roman Catholics, Protestants, the various Orthodox Churches of Ukraine, as well as Jews and Muslims. As the nights grew dark and the security troops gathered together with hired thugs to attack the peaceful people of the Maidan, we huddled together and we prayed. This prayer was accompanied by spontaneous acts of incredible love and generosity. While the news outlets focused on the bloodshed and its aftermath, what we saw at the maidan in Kyiv was humanity returned briefly to innocence after decades, even centuries, of brutality: people served each other, warmed each other, fed each other, donated food, clothing and various necessities without question as to who could ever reimburse them. People sang, some in tune, and others not so musically, but with enthusiasm. Young and old danced, musicians, poets and artists warmed the hearts of the freezing crowds with the fervor of beauty, channeled together not for destruction, but for the building of a more just society. What was the Church’s role in those amazing moments? Precisely to focus attention on the dignity of the children of God, to support them in their struggle, to keep them hopeful in the face of daunting odds, to encourage the noblest efforts and to restrain impassioned impulses. The Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church was proud to stand with the people in their legitimate aspirations. And thus we have stood, through the ravages of foreign occupation by an aggressive neighbor that wages hybrid war and cynically “manages” information for brutal gain. This is done in an effort to destabilize Ukraine and to maintain the lie that the democratic values and human decency for which this Revolution of Dignity has stood from the beginning are nothing more than some sort of “Jewish-Fascist-American plot” to marginalize the ascending power of the so-called “Russian World.”
For standing with the people of Ukraine —people of various religions and various ethnicities—our Church has been singled out by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine as some sort of ultranationalist force bent on sowing hatred towards the Orthodox culture of Russia, and the single greatest impediment to worldwide Orthodox-Catholic reconciliation.
That is why I find it important to be able to stand before you today at this great university and state the following in the most unequivocal terms. The Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches is not in any way opposed to the Orthodox Churches. We are an Orthodox Church, with Orthodox theology, liturgy, spirituality and canonical tradition that chooses to manifest this Orthodoxy in the spirit of the first Christian millennium, in communion with Rome. We are witnesses to the fact that Christian East and West not only have an obligation to seek some vague rapprochement, but are called by our Savior Himself to actually live the unity of one Body of Christ, not in the subjugation of one to another, but in the loving union of the Three Divine Persons who live not three lives parallel to each other, but one life: a life of self-emptying love, that gives life rather than take it. It is our mission, as a Church that experienced great persecution and martyrdom in the twentieth century, to stand up for those who experience such persecution today: our brothers and sisters the Copts of Egypt, the Melkites, Chaldeans, Syrian Orthodox, Assyrians, and others in the Middle East. It is our duty to help them tell their stories in this, one of the most respected forums of the world.
That is why I wish to express my own thanks and the profound gratitude of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church to President David Mulroney and Dean James Ginther of the University of Saint Michael’s College and the Collegium for making it possible for the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies to find a home within St. Michael’s College, the Toronto School of Theology, and the broader University of Toronto community. This is one of the leading academic centers of the world, and in welcoming the Sheptytsky Institute you make it possible for the Institute to complete its mission of furthering the intellectual life of the Church of Kyiv. At the same time, you also make it possible for the Institute to offer other Eastern Churches, Orthodox, Pre-Chalcedonian, and Catholic the chance to study, with pastoral solicitude and academic rigor, all that our ancestors in the faith have left us. They have given us a living legacy, a legacy that we believe can bring healing and hope to a world increasingly polarized, fundamentalized, radicalized and set against “the other”. We can only do this by not only talking about how Eastern and Western Christianity need and complete each other, but by actually living this. We can and tonight we are breathing together like two lungs of one body, in the beloved phrase of St. John Paul II, and thinking together in the metaphor of the Sheptytsky Institute’s founder, Fr. Andriy Chirovsky, like two hemispheres of one brain. This is possible because the University of St. Michael’s College has made a home for the Sheptytsky Institute, and through it, for the whole Christian East, so that we can think and breathe and live and struggle together for the truth.
To all those who have stood by the Sheptytsky Institute through the last three decades, believing that its promises were not hollow, I say “Thank you.” To those who have tirelessly worked to support this institute, especially the Officers and the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institiute Foundation, I say “Thank you.” To the professors and staff of the Sheptytsky Institute, who have have given the better part of their adult lives so that we could be here to celebrate this day, I say “God bless you!” To St. Michael’s College I say: “Brothers and Sisters, with you here today we are home!” Let us ever honor the plans of Divine Providence that have brought us together. At this third founding of the Sheptytsky Institute, I wait with impatience for the day when students from Ukraine, among many others, can earn their doctorates here and continue to do for the Ukrainian Catholic University and other institutions in Ukraine what the Sheptytsky Institute has done from the time that our Church came out of the underground: shine light into every dark corner, allowing the Lord to make all things new. As I have said before, and I will never tire of saying: in Ukraine we have the Ukrainian Catholic University, but in the diaspora we have the Sheptytsky Institute. Support it, please! .
Thank you to Fr. Peter Galadza and the organizers of this celebration, to the Sheptytsky Institute Choir for bringing beauty to bear on it, to the negotiating teams that worked so long and so hard to make the agreement between St. Michael’s and the Sheptytsky Institute possible. Thank you to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and Saint Paul University in Ottawa for giving a home to the Sheptytsky Institute until now. Тhank you to all of you present and to all the benefactors for your support.
May our merciful God and Savior Jesus Christ be always in our midst, uniting our hearts and minds in order together to serve His people with joy.
Thank you! Glory to Jesus Christ!