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 persecutions.

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 Siberia.

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 or
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 situation.

July, 2001
Feodor Petrov , Russia (easthcath@mail.ru)

 

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