Greek-Catholics in North-Western Russia.
During the long Soviet
period of Russian history, Christianity suffered
under many persecutions.
They were very hard times for the Catholic Church in Russia as
well. Many church buildings were closed
and destroyed, and a lot of priests, religious and laymen were
placed in Soviet concentration camps. It was only
ten years ago when the official church structures were restored in Russia.
There are now four Apostolic Administrations for Latin Catholics
in Russia, under four different bishops. Although Latin Catholics
have their own Hierarchy now in Russia, they are still faced with a lot
of problems, but those can hardly be compared to
the problems of Eastern Rite Russian Catholics, who are
practically forced underground in the western part of the country.
During the long history of the Church,
many unions were made between Catholic Church and
Eastern Churches separated from Rome. Most of these unions gave
birth to today's Eastern Catholic Churches. The main idea of
the Eastern Catholics is the idea of the twofold fidelity - fidelity to
the Universal Church with its centre in Rome, and fidelity to
their own Eastern Christian heritage,
including liturgical tradition and customs,
spirituality, church discipline etc. At the beginning of
the 20th century, a strong movement started in Russia among
orthodox Christians to this kind of union. By the efforts of
famous Metropolitan Sheptitsky, the Eastern Catholic Exarchate was set up
in Russia for those Eastern Catholics who wanted to follow their
Byzantine- Slavonic heritage in communion
with Rome. Fr. Leonid Feodorov, who was, at
that time, appointed as an Exarch of Russian Greek-Catholics and the head
of this Exarchate, was beatified by Pope John Paul II during
his visit to Ukraine on June 27th 2001. But the work started in
Russia by Fr. Leonid was completely destroyed during the time of Communist
Today in Russia there are many Greek-Catholic
communities in Siberia. Many of these communities are of Ukrainian
origin, others were formed because of the
contacts with Ukrainian Greek-Catholics. Some
Greek-Catholic priests are working in Siberia, including Fr.
Sergij Golovanov, Fr. Alexey Barannikov and others. These
Greek- Catholics are under jurisdiction of the Latin Ordinary of Western
The situation in North-Western Russia is different and
much harder for those demanding to
remain Greek-Catholics. According to the
information collected by Fr. Sergij Golovanov and by
the author of this article, there are separated
Greek-Catholics everywhere in Russia, and also
some small groups. None of them have legal civil status, and
most of them don't have any pastoral support according to their rite.
They're forced to attend Latin Rite Churches or, in other cases, Russian
Orthodox Churches not in communion with Rome.
The only Greek-Catholic community in the
Western part of Russia that
has its own Eastern Rite pastor is the small community of the Apostles Peter and Andrew in Moskow, lead by Russian Greek-Catholic (former orthodox) priest Fr. Andrey Udovenko. Father Andrey is the only active Greek-Catholic priest in the region. This community, placed under jurisdiction of the Latin Archbishop, has many difficulties. They have no chapel or church buildings, and their Liturgy takes place in the Latin Chapel of the Sisters, Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa's Sisters) far from the center of the city. It's very hard to get to the place where it's located. This community doesn't have a registration under civil law, so it can't have its own buildings, nor can it run any activities besides worship and religious education of its members. Any religious community desiring to be registered in order to have full privileges, must exist for 15 years before it can get registration or be included in the previously registered centralized religious organization. According to the information provided by Keston News Service, Latin Ordinary of North of Russia doesn't want the community mentioned, to be registered.
Unfortunately this situation contradicts both justice and Catholic Canon Law. Most of the Russian Byzantine Catholics in Russia are not Catholics by origin. Some of them were formerly members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Others were atheists before they came to the Catholic faith. Nobody forced these people to become Catholics, but once they decided to do it, they have a fundamental right to live their faith in accordance with their own tradition. If they need, they should be allowed to form a community and receive proper pastoral support in accordance with their traditions. Some Greek-Catholics, who were orthodox before, are in very difficult situations. They are Catholic by faith, convinced that communion with Rome is an essential part of true orthodoxy. But they have deep roots in Byzantine-Slavonic tradition, heritage and spirituality. They consciously chose this way of twofold fidelity - to be Eastern and to be Catholic - and they clearly have the right to follow it and to receive the support of the Church on it. Nobody can force them to lose their roots and their way of living, once the Catholic Church recognizes their rite as a respectable and true way to live their faith.
Canon Law states clearly that those
who come in full communion with the Catholic Church from Eastern Orthodox
Churches, have the right and the duty to save and to follow their
own rite (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, 35).
According to the same canon, only Apostolic Seed can grant those, coming
to full Catholic communion, permission to change their rite. So, formally
all baptized orthodox Christians, who came into communion with
Catholic Church (there are a lot of them in Catholic parishes
in Russia) are Byzantine-Slavonic rite Catholics under
canon law. Usually they're not informed about it. At the same
time, those who are trying to live as
Greek-Catholics, meet great difficulties. It's clear often that
Latin clergy and even the bishop in Moskow don't want them to
exist. It contradicts canon law as well because Can. 383 of the Code of Canon
Law says that a diocesan bishop, "if he has faithful of
different rite within his diocese, ... is to provide for
their spiritual needs either by means of priests
parishes of that rite or by means of an episcopal vicar."
Some Latin Rite priests believe that the open existence of Russian Eastern Catholics in Russia can lead to some new problems in relationships with the Russian Orthodox Church. It's very dubious an argument, because in the existing situation, Orthodox Christians see that their Eastern Catholic fellows don't have enough respect, and it can hardly lead them to restoring full communion of their Churches with the Latin Church. But even if the argument was completely true, it cannot justify the situation when really existing Eastern Catholics in Russia are forced to live practically underground or without pastoral care according to their heritage, and nothing can justify this situation, when political aspects are given more attention by the Church Hierarchy than the real spiritual needs of God's People.
Greek-Catholics in Russia need your
prayers. Please ask our Lord and His Mother to give
grace and support to our Russian Greek-Catholic fellows in
their difficulties as well as to give enough wisdom and love
which are so necessary for the Church authorities in Russia in this
Feodor Petrov , Russia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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