By Brother Stavros
Tragically, there are many crisis zones simmering or flaring around the globe. Ukraine at the moment is simmering: a young country, as nation-states go, with many centuries of border shifts and what we now term occupation. It has a proud history uncomfortably shared with Russia. Both nations emerged from 12th and 13th century Rus’ as a fusion of South Slavic and North Viking tribes. Kiev (Kyiv) is its capital on the banks of the Dnieper River.
The penetration of Christianity was a momentous pivot in European history. Kievan Rus’ quickly became a commonwealth of culture and commerce as well as a citadel of education and monastic spirituality. Western Europe, by comparison, was just emerging from the Dark Ages.
Some weeks ago at Pentecost this bruised nation mourned the passing of the “spiritual father of today’s Ukraine.”
We ourselves remember him. His Beatitude (also known as Cardinal Husar) was born in Lviv. It is important to remember him in this context. He lived as an exile in Austria and then in the United States. When he was appointed Major Archbishop, he was able to bring a democratic breeze to a country stricken by about 40 years of Soviet propaganda. When Cardinal Husar spoke, he was able to speak with the authority of those who have experience in the world. Everyone recognized it, whether they were believers or non-believers, Roman Catholics or Orthodox.
Taxi drivers, hipsters, the young and old, business persons and artists, practicing parishioners and those who were not members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church listened to Husar’s audio and video broadcasts. The cardinal contributed to rapprochement between Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews. He dreamed of the end of the war and peace with Russia.
But above all, he was a man of prayer, a monk thirsting for communion with God. As a priest, archimandrite, and hierarch, he prayed ceaselessly to be in union with the Lord and to lead others toward this communion. His prayer gave him the fortitude and peace necessary to endure many physical ailments. He was functionally blind for the last 12 years of his life. Most people were not fully aware of his handicap. He never complained.
He communicated with ease with the everyman, in many different languages, in different countries and continents. His conversation was embellished with pearls of self-effacing humor. Lubomyr knew how to laugh—and to laugh at himself. This humor reflected his intimacy with God, for humor and mystery are cousins of the sacred and the sacramental. His humor often carried a strong social and moral message. Asked how the oligarchs of Ukraine could be reformed, Husar replied, “They should attend more funerals.”
Thanks to his irenic spirit, the confrontation on the Kiev’s Euromaidan through the winter of 2013-2014, which gathered as many as 100,000 protesters, a spontaneous buffer between the people and government soldiers was established by Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Latin Rite clergy, and even Protestant ministers all leading the people in prayer. Without their witness there might have been a bloodbath.
There is no space to sketch his biography, which traces the arc of the slow-motion martyrdom of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the mid-20th century and its resurrection in the 21st. I should, however briefly, note the highlights of his life in service to the Church, and a personal note of how our paths crossed.
From 1958 to 1969 he served as teacher and prefect at Saint Basil’s Seminary in Stamford, Connecticut, and ministered in Kerhonkson, New York, as the pastor of the Soyuzivka youth camp in Ellenville, New York. I spent the academic year of 1962-1963 at the Stamford seminary.
He returned to Europe in 1972, entering the Monastery of Saint Theodore (Studite monks) in Grottaferrata, Italy. A few years later he became Archimandrite.
On April 2, 1977, he was ordained a bishop, but in camera because of the adverse situation in the Soviet Union. On January 26, 2001, at an extraordinary Synod of Bishops, he was elected Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and the diaspora; a month later, he was appointed by Pope John Paul II a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He transferred his primatial cathedral from Lviv in Western Ukraine to Kyiv on August 21, 2005.
On February 10, 2011, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted his resignation as head of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church because of his blindness and his desire to hand over leadership to a younger man.
I had Father Husar (as he was then) as a professor and a volley-ball coach for my time at St. Basil’s. Brother Marc and the late Brother Elias also knew Vladyka from the seminary. I had great respect and fondness for him. In fact, he was the one priest on the faculty with whom all the students felt a special rapport.
He served the offices and Divine Liturgy with exceptional grace and attention and had an amazing baritone voice. His speaking voice sounded like a more mellow Henry Kissinger. He made recordings of the special music for Presanctified Liturgy in Lent that helped revive its use in parishes throughout the States.
At St. Basil’s Seminary, I was in my second year of college and my first away from home. I am not Ukrainian and had no connection to Slavs except for a year of Russian at Georgetown’s School of Languages and Linguistics. This proved more of a handicap, given the general hard feelings between Russians and Ukrainians culturally, politically, and ecclesially. Father Lubomyr helped me fit in, often with his characteristic good humor. When we had a volley-ball match, we had to make all the calls in Ukrainian. I had enough trouble concentrating on the ball; in addition, I am short at 5′5″. Once I meant to call out zminyti to indicate a change of serve, but cried zmiya instead: snake! to the merriment of my teammates and a beaming grin from Father Lubomyr.
|Father Lubomyr and some of Brother Stavros' classmates|
|Patriarch Lobomyr and his successor Archbishop Svyatoslav,|
Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč
Eight or nine years ago, by now Metropolitan Lubomyr (generally called “patriarch” in Eastern Europe and “cardinal” in the West) made one of his pastoral visits and was also raising funds to build a new cathedral in Kiev (where he is now buried in its crypt) and made a stop nearby at St. Nicholas in Watervliet, a 100-year-old parish on the west bank of the Hudson River. Brother Elias and I decided to attend the occasion. After the liturgical service of welcome for His Beatitude, there was a traditional program in the church auditorium. We happened to be seated just two rows behind him, so when the time came for refreshments, we went up and introduced ourselves and received his blessing. We were wearing our monastic riasa and skoufja; the Metropolitan was in a simple gray tunic, leather belt, and black skoufja. Naturally he would not recognize our monastic names, so he asked what our names were at Saint Basil’s, and I said “Harry.” “Oh yes, Haaary,” he repeated with a chuckle. We presented him with our edition of the Psalter and yielded to the crowd forming behind us waiting to greet the archbishop.
Thanks to the internet, our community was able to watch portions of the patriarch’s state funeral, starting in the medieval city of Lviv, with its narrow streets, then to the much larger boulevards of Kiev. It was very moving to hear again the funeral chants I had learned nearly 60 years ago.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine is fractured into three divisions: one subject to the Moscow Patriarchate, an autocephalous group, and the self-styled Kievan Patriachate, which is seeking recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul. The latter was represented at the funeral rites in the new Resurrection Cathedral by Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko).
As we pray for eternal memory for this humble and courageous man, may his example strengthen his country by Christian example, pastoral devotion, and personal integrity that blazed a way into the momentous uncertainty of the 21st century. And may the small steps in bridging the often bitter gaps confounding a shared history embolden us to make longer strides to love one another as Christ loves us.