On the eve of the celebrations, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s leader His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk emphasized that UGCC remains faithful to Kyiv tradition to celebrate the anniversary of baptism on August 14 – on the day of the so-called August Water Baptism. On Saturday one could see flows of people wearing national costumes near Livoberezhna subway station. Special west Ukrainian accent indicated that many were not local residents. The UGCC announced that on August 17-18 nearly 10,000 believers from all over the world would join the International Multidimensional Pilgrimage to the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ. According to preliminary estimates, no less than 15,000 Greek Catholics from Ukraine, Argentine, Brazil, Canada, the US, Kazakhstan, and European countries gathered near the cathedral on Sunday morning.
Today UGCC is the largest Eastern Catholic Church in the world. It unites nearly six million believers. And somewhat over 20 years ago it was a clandestine church. It was Josyf Slipyj who started to “gather” the eparchies scattered around the world into a single church organism. But namely this weekend can be called the apogee of unification of Ukrainian Greek Catholics.
And the thing is not only about the fact that so many people from different corners took part in the International Pilgrimage to the Patriarchal Cathedral. The word “unity” was a key word used by the head of UGCC during his communication with believers, and the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ became a symbol of this unity.
“Having experienced renewal in the Sacrament of Baptism, various Slavic tribes merged into single Christian people. Like Jerusalem was once the center of the Church of Apostles, Kyiv – the mother of Rus’ cities – became the spiritual center of our church and the cradle of Kyiv Christianity. Current Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the direct successor to the Church of Volodymyr’s Baptism, the heritage of which we share with others. This cathedral must stand as a remembrance about the unity of our Church in Ukraine and far beyond it,” His Beatitude Sviatoslav mentioned in his sermon, “We built it together thanks to the donation ‘bricks’ that arrived from all over the world. This is your cathedral.”
The official website of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ has a “Bricks” section. It puts on record the names of every purchaser a symbolical brick, who bought it for 100 or 10 hryvnias and donated it for construction of the church. The result is 119,662 bricks for the sum of nearly 10 million hryvnias. Moreover, the UGCC managed to accumulate around the construction the energy and efforts of believers of other churches. In 2009, under the aegis of His Beatitude Liubomyr (Huzar) opera and rock charity tours “With Faith and Love” were held. Of all the participants of both tours probably only members of Pikkardiiska tertsia band and brothers Pryimak are UGCC believers. The rest included Orthodox believers, such as opera diva Viktoria Lukianets, soloist of the National Opera of Ukraine and Bolshoi Theater Taras Shtonda, participants of rock bands S.K.A.I., Druha rika, Foma from Mandry.
The ability to unite various people around a common cause, as well as the fact that Greek Catholic clergy is not afraid to exceed the limits of church fences, turns UGCC into a powerful Ukrainian force. And by bringing the Patriarchal Altar back to Kyiv Liubomyr Huzar made everyone understand: the UGCC has long ago ceased to be a local church.
“Three hundred eighty years ago, we like a Uniate church lost our cathedral in Kyiv,” His Beatitude Sviatoslav mentioned during a press conference. Bringing the world’s central cathedral of UGCC specifically to Kyiv hills has a symbolic meaning. In such a way Greek Catholics, referring to historical tradition, state that they are not a church of Ukrainian disapora or Halychyna – but an all-Ukrainian church. Thanking the “builder” of the Patriarchate Cathedral His Beatitude Liubomyr, the head of UGCC mentioned that “laying the foundation of this church, Liubomyr Huzar dared to do an impossible thing, but he looked farther and deeper than any of us.”
Replying to the questions of journalists concerning the further development of UGCC, His Beatitude Sviatoslav said: “Every Eastern Church, especially Catholic Church, in its development aims to Patriarchate. We have the Patriarchal Cathedral on our territory, so we hope that proclaiming a Patriarchate will be our next step.” Incidentally, the meeting with Synod of UGCC bishops and Pope Francis in Rome is scheduled for November 25 and it will be dedicated to the 50th anniversary of transferring the relics of Bishop Josaphat Kuntsevych to St. Peter Basilica. His Beatitude Sviatoslav noted that during the meeting he might discuss with the Pope the visit of His Holiness to Ukraine.
During the Sunday Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Cathedral I had a strong feeling that the entire world was celebrating the 1,025th anniversary of Baptism of Rus’, which is quite logical, as the divine service was attended by the Papal legate: Vilnius archbishop emeritus, Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis; President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan; Apostle Nuncio in Ukraine, Archbishop Thomas Edward Gullickson; President of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Richard Smith; representative of German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop of Magdeburg Gerhard Feige, and other high-ranking clergymen from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Italy. Moreover, there were representatives of Greek Catholic Churches of Greece and Belarus, Apostolic Delegate for Ukrainians in Kazakhstan Father Vasyl Hovera, and Bishop of Transfiguration Diocese in Russia, Grace Joseph Werth from Novosibirsk.
His Beatitude Sviatoslav greeted many of the guests in their native language, which is proof of integration of the UGCC into the world context and even of its authority in the religious world, for according to the head of the church, 90 percent of all invitees arrived in Kyiv. Only Ukrainian Orthodox churches refused to take part in the celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of baptism of Rus’ together with Greek Catholics, in spite of the invitation. However, Archishop of Armenian Apostolic Church, Grigoris Buniatian was present.
Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis brought the first message to Ukrainian people from the Pope Francis. “My participation as a special envoy of the Bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter, St. Andrew’s brother, in celebration of the 1,025th anniversary of Baptism of Kyivan Rus’ and consecration of Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ is a tangible sign of closeness, care, and love of Pope Francis to Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church,” he mentioned. “The fact that Papal legate came to Ukraine namely from Vilnius is very symbolical,” His Beatitude Sviatoslav is sure, for Ukrainians’ eyes will for the next few months be turned to Lithuania. This might be another good sign for us.”
However, on Sunday few if any thought of geopolitical context near the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ. People simply shared their joy. “This is a very special day,” Uliana from Ternopil shared her impressions. “I could feel the spirit of unity in prayer, the spirit of faith and change. Perhaps, something will take place. Like the holy fathers said, it is truly a historical moment.” Ms. Stefania came from Sweden. She emigrated there from Poland, to which she was deported during the Vistula action. “The celebration has lived up to our expectations,” the woman said, “The elevated spirituality, many people – this is a unique experience God has given to us.” The rest of my interviewees replied to my question, what this day meant for them, in a simple manner: “A holiday.” And some added that, taking into consideration current life circumstances, “a holiday is quite a lot.”