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The Soviet Persecution of the Uniate Church

CATHOLICS of the Eastern Rites in Rome celebrated at Christmas the 350th anniversary of the return to the Church of the most important body of schismatics ever to be lastingly reconciled, the Ruthenian Uniates living in the territories comprehensively designated as "the Western Ukraine," of which before the war the major parts were in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rumania, but which is now wholly within the confines of the Soviet Union. On December 23rd, 1595, two Ruthenian Orthodox Bishops, acting on behalf of the Bishops of the Greek-Ruthenian Church of the Polish-Lithuanian State, formally recognized Pope Clement VIII as Head of the Church. The Pope, accepting the submission, not only permitted the Bishops to retain their Greek Rite, but made representations to Sigismund III of Poland on behalf of the political desires of their people, to secure their equality of treatment with their Latin brethren. In the following year, 1596, a Synod at Brest-Litovsk confirmed the union. The endeavours of the Soviet Government are today directed towards breaking it down, as in the eighteenth century were the endeavours of the Government of the Tsars.

The situation is being closely and anxiously watched in Rome, where the anniversary of the union has been kept with considerable circumstance. A liturgy in thanksgiving was celebrated in the Greek Church, where Mgr. Terzariol, of the Congregation for the Eastern Church, preached on the confidence for the future which consideration of the history of the Uniates gives. The Osservatore Romano gave much space to the event; the Italian news agency even reported that the Pope would be issuing an Encyclical Letter to mark it, an expectation not fulfilled; and the Vatican wireless told much of the story of the changing fortunes of the Uniates during recent years which we have already told in this journal. Father Wilhelm de Fries, S.J., of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, whose broadcasts from the Vatican about the Orthodox Churches and the question of reunion were of such great interest a year ago, began on December 17th a new series, of which he devoted the first to the Ruthenian Uniates, telling, after an historical survey, how the attitude of the Soviet Government took a sharp turn for the worse about a year ago:

"When in 1939 the Russians entered Galicia, there immediately began a severe though cleverly camouflaged persecution, of Catholics in general and of Ruthenians in particular. In 1944, when the Red Army re-conquered Galicia, the Russians at first assumed a completely changed attitude towards the Church. Churches and seminaries stayed open, monasteries were unmolested, crosses and ikons were allowed even in public hospitals. In contrast to 1939, there was little open atheistic propaganda, though Catholic publications were not admitted. 1

"At Christmas, 1944, however, there was a profound change in the Russian attitude to the Catholic Church in Galicia. The Pope's Christmas message concerning True Democracy was twisted to make it seem as though the Pope wanted to support the tottering Hitler regime. The newly-elected Russian Patriarch Alexius appealed to the Catholics of the Oriental Rite to join the Orthodox Church... The Patriarch's appeal had practically no success. An infinitesimal number of priests and laymen renounced the Catholic Church to join the Orthodox. Since the friendly invitation to join the Orthodox Church, supported by the Russian Government, remained ineffective, they soon resorted to compulsion. On April 11th all Catholic Bishops of the Oriental Rite were arrested,* seminaries were closed, and the police conducted house-to-house searches and interrogated many members of the clergy. Numerous priests were deported, and a Russian Orthodox Bishop was installed at Lwow. The Ruthenian Orthodox Church was declared to be legally non-existent.

"The main charge against the Uniate Ruthehians is their unwillingness to sever their link with the Pope, whom Russian propaganda represents as the friend of Fascism. Their loyalty to Rome is, therefore, the reason for their persecution. Once again the Ruthenian Catholic Church is living through a time of most arduous trials. Its sufferings call for great patience, lest the great work of the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596 may perish."

Some ten million Catholics lived before the war in territories low annexed by the Soviet Union. Of these, a certain number of Polish race are being transferred West of the Curzon Line; but in numbers certainly, at least as large Uniate Catholics of Ukrainian or Ruthenian race are being transferred eastwards, to bring them within the Soviet borders. Some 50,000 Ukrainian Uniates have been transported in this manner from Central Poland, together with the Uniates among the Ruthenians in the Bialystock area. It is the intention of the Soviet Government that no centre of Ukrainian or Ruthenian nationality shall exist outside the Soviet frontiers, and that within the Soviet frontiers those races shall be subjected to the standardising process. A principal part of that process is carried out through the agency of the Orthodox Church. We have described in the past year much of what is being done in this way. In its crudest form it consists simply in the physical seizure of Uniate churches and other buildings, which are handed over to the Orthodox clergy sent to receive them. At least seventy Catholic churches, with their property, have been thus transferred in the formerly Czechoslovak diocese of Mukacevo alone. The Uniate clergy are invited to repudiate the Apostolic See, while knowing full well that to do so is, as we shall shortly see, to invite deportation or martyrdom. All this process was well described in the Rome Catholic Quotidiano of October 31st. The intervention of the Russian Patriarch referred to by Father de Fries, which was made about the end of April or early in May last year, 8 has not, we think, been previously quoted in this country. It runs as follows:

To the Pastors and Faithful of the Greek Catholic Church in the Western Ukraine.

Very dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ. On February 2nd of this year the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church raised me to the dignity of Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia. In this capacity I cannot refrain from making the voice of my fatherly affection heard to you. Since ancient times you have been tied to Russia and to her people by language and by your ancestral customs. Now Divine Providence has restored to Russia her ancient frontiers; you are henceforward with us for ever.

It would be an inexpressible happiness for me and for all the Russian Orthodox Church if we were able to live this historic time with you not only in the same spirit but in the same common prayer in our holy churches, wherein, with one mouth and with one heart we would praise and give thanks to the Lord, the source of all good. Unhappily, we are unable to recite this common prayer with you. During the period when they were detached from Russian soil, your ancestors were also detached from their Mother, the Russian Orthodox Church, and, under foreign influence, your ancestor, and you, their descendants, accepted the spiritual guidance of the Pope of Rome and adhered to Catholic dogmas, which degrade the primitive purity of Greek Orthodoxy. The Orthodox rites which you retain in the liturgy bear eloquent testimony of your ancient attachment to the Orthodox Church, but they have no longer her spirit and they no longer nourish the faithful with divine grace; for, as a leaf broken from its branch cannot live, so a spiritual community of the Church which is detached from the unity of Orthodoxy loses contact with the apostles and with the transmission of grace.

As your Father, I can only lament over such a situation. See, dear Fathers and Brothers, where this spiritual direction has led you in the historic time in which you are living. Hitler preaching hatred among men, according to his Fascist doctrine, and cherishing the senseless desire to exterminate the Slav peoples and all the other peopled of inferior race, as he calls them according to the Fascist theoryHitler dreams of conquering the world. All that is best in mankind, all honest men and friends of progress, rose up against this bloodthirsty madman. God visibly blesses the arms of those who fight against Hitler and Fascism in the defence of the liberty, peace and prosperity of mankind. The finger of God points for the world, to see to the imminent and final end of this cannibal.

"Now, to what have the [late] Metropolitan Szepticky and his colleagues exhorted you? They have invited you to submit yourselves to the yoke of Hitler and to bow your heads before him. Where is the Vatican leading you at this present time, the Popes addresses at Chrismass and the New Year? To complicity with the abetters of Fascism and to mercy towards Hitler, the greatest scoundrel which the history of the world has ever seen.

"The Holy Apostle John says: 'I have no greater grace "than this, to hear that my children walk in truth' (III Jno. 1, 4). I repeat these words to you and say, as your Father and your Patriarch, that I could not have a more holy consolation than to see you, remembering your ancestors, turn your hearts from the Vatican so as to turn them towards your Mother, the Orthodox Church, who awaits you with outstretched arms, that we may all, the sons of Great Russia and of Galician Russia, feel ourselves to be truly brothers in Jesus Christ, and may advance, in the bosom of the Orthodox Church, towards eternal salvation.

"You have doubtless learned from the Press that two Eastern Patriarchs, two representatives of the other two Patriarchates, and representatives of the Serbian, Georgian and Rumanian Churches took part in the Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church which was held in Moscow in February. Despite the Vatican, the whole Orthodox Church, through these representatives, condemned Hitler; the bloodthirsty one, and sent its blessing to all progressive humanity and to its illustrious leaders who are struggling to destroy Fascism, and to cause peace, liberty and prosperity to reign on earth. I conjure you, my brothers, to keep with us the unity of spirit with the union of peace. Break, tear the bonds which bind you to the Vatican; by its habitual ways it is leading you into the darkness and into spiritual ruin ; at this time it wishes to make you turn your backs on the whole world, in arming you against freedom-loving men. Hasten to return to your Mother's embrace, to the Russian Orthodox Church. We shall soon celebrate the liberation of the world from Fascism, the source of aggressions and evils. It is necessary that at the same time we shall celebrate your return to the faith of your ancestors, to the House of the Father, to union with us, to the Glory of the Triune God to Whom be honour and glory for ever and ever.”

ALEXIS, Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia.

The next document in the sequence is that which we printed in this journal on November 17th, and which appeared also in the Osservatore Romano the letter sent to M. Molotov by the Uniate clergy of the Lwow diocese on July 1st. Most of its signatories, r. some five hundred in number, have since been arrested, and many have suffered a death which can only be described as martyrdom. After that comes, a document, which again we print for the first time in English, in which the representative of the Bolshevik regime addresses himself to, and shows the subservience of, the ^^three apostate priests forming the "Committee of Initiative for the Transference of the Greek Catholics to Orthodoxy" of which the letter to M. Molotov spoke. Their chairman, Dr. H. F. Kostelnik, is ah apostate Uniate theologian of some distinction, although elsewhere similar functions are performed by men who are avowedly atheistic Communists, like Professor Lintur, who is in charge of ecclesiastical affairs in what was formerly Czechoslovak Ruthenia. This document, of which we have italicized the most sinister paragraph, runs as follows:

"To the members of the Committee of Initiative for the Transference of the Greek Catholic Church to Orthodoxy, Dr. Kostelnik, Dr.Melnik and Dr. Pelvetsky:

In reply to your declarations of May 28th, 1945, and conforming to the instructions of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian S.S.R., I communicate the following to you:

"(1). The Committee of Initiative for the Reunion [sic] of the Greek. Catholic Church with the Russian Orthodox Church is 'recognized officially as the sole juridico-ecclesiastical body having the right to control without reservation the Greek-Catholic parishes of the Western Ukraine and to promote their reunion with the Orthodox Church.,

"(2). This Committee of Initiative has the right to direct these parishes in agreement with the representative of the Council of People's Commissars for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian S.S.R., and, as the case may be, in the districts, in agreement with local representatives.

"(3). As the registration of Greek Catholic deaneries, parishes and religious houses proceeds, the Committee of Initiative must send to the representative of the Council of People's Commissars for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian S.S.R., the list of deans, priests and superiors of religious houses who refuse to submit themselves to the Committee of Initiative for the transference of the Greek Catholic Church to the Orthodox Church.

"[Signed by] The representative of the Council of People's Commissars for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian S.S.R.,

November 18th, 1945.                  P. KHOTCHANKO."


Catholics will approach the Church Unity Octave next week in this melancholy setting.

1 See THE TABLET of April 14th and May 26th last, pp. 176 and 246-7, for illustrations of this phase.
The successive phases are not reflected in a passage about Father V. Durbak, an alumnus of the College of Propaganda at Rome, whose martyrdom was reported on page 294 of THE TABLET of December 22nd, which we read in the Brooklyn Tablet :
"Father Durbak once wrote to a classmate: 'My church was taxed to such an extent during the first Soviet occupation [of the Polish Ukraine in 1939-41] that I was unable even to pay half of the tax levied. As a result of my inability to pay, the church was closed, under the pretext of insubordination to tax regulations. 1 then wrote directly to Stalin, and the church was re-opened, but not for long. It was closed again, and finally.'
"When the Soviet armies re-occupied the territory, after ousting the Nazi conquerors in 1944, Father Durbak was seized and murdered by the Reds, who, no doubt, remembered his conduct during the first Soviet occupation.
2. It is confirmed that, the Bishop of Przemysl was arrested, with his Auxiliary, making we believe (although the nature of our sources of information makes it impossible to be entirely, certain) a total in prison of no fewer than ten Bishops: the Metropolitan of Lwow and his Auxiliary, the Bishop of Stanislawow and his Auxiliary, the Bishop of Przemysl and his Auxiliary, the Apostolic Exarchs of Lemkov and Volhynia and the Bishops of Mukacevo and Presov. Of these, the first two have died martyrs' deaths in the Soviet prison at Bielaia Tzerkov, near Kiev.
3. Father de Fries erroneously attributed it to February, when the Sobor was held.

(The Tablet, London, Jan. 12, 1946, Vol. 187, No. 5514)


LAC, Horoshko Fonds,
MG 31-F15, Vol. 8, File 10

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