Greek-Catholics in Moskow

This  time my visit to the Moskow Greek-Catholic Community of the Holy Apostles  Peter and Andrew had a special aim - to provide those people who  are  interested  in information and news about it, with some more accurate  information.  In  order  to  do  this,  I visited the Sunday Liturgy  of  the  Community  and  talked with their pastor, Fr. Andrey Udovenko and his wife, in their home.

This   Community   is  the  only  known  Greek-Catholic  Community  in North-Western  Russia (regarded in Latin Curia not as a parish, but as a   pastoral   point),  at  least  the  only  one  that  has  its  own Greek-Catholic  pastor,  who  is  Fr.  Andrey.  Though it's located in Moskow,  Capital  city  of  Russia,  only  a few people know about its existence.

Priest

Fr. Andrey Udovenko was born in 1961 and lived in Mordovia (one of the regions of Russia). He was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and an  orthodox  priest  from  1987.  He  received his priestly formation during  the period when the ecumenical activity of the Orthodox Church in  Russia was high and the ecumenical relationships with the Catholic Church  were  good.  As many other priests formed in that time, he was inclined  to  Catholicity.  (The situation in today's Russian Orthodox Church  is  quite  different.  It's  usual now that Orthodox clergy in Russia regard the Catholic Church as spoilt and even heretical, though official statements are much softer.)

During the time of his service as an Orthodox priest, the KGB tried to force  Fr.  Andrey  to  work  for them. It wasn't unusual during those times  for  many  Orthodox  priests  and  bishops  to  work  for  this
frightening  organisation.  The  local government official, called the Representative in the Religious Affairs, demanded that he work for the KGB,  but  he  refused  and  his  own  bishop made his life conditions impossible,  especially  financially.  He  was  also threatened by his bishop that he would be forbidden from performing his priestly duties.

While  many  Orthodox priests of that time desired to be in union with Rome,  they  were  awaiting the final reunification, being faithful to their  Russian  Orthodox  people. But under these circumstances it was impossible  for  Fr. Andrey to wait any longer. That's why he asked to be received into the Catholic Church as an Eastern Catholic priest. As the  Catholic  Church regards Orthodox sacraments as completely valid, he  was  received  as an already ordained priest in 1991. Since March, 1992, he was taken under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Lviv, head  of  the  Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, and as a priest of the Eparchy of Lviv.

During  the  difficult  period  before  he became Catholic de Jure, he called  his  Orthodox bishop's office often to ask if he was forbidden to  serve or not. The bishop's response always confirmed that he could continue  to  perform his priestly duties. But when he became Catholic in  March, 1991, he learned to his astonishment, that he was forbidden to  serve  since  August,  1990. The only explanation he could find is that his bishop back-dated the decree about it. That was the last step of the Fr. Andrey's official relationships with his former bishop.

Fr.  Andrey  insists  that he didn't change his faith, nor give up his orthodoxy.  In  this  he follows the thoughts of Vladimir Soloviev, as well  as  of  his  predecessors,  Russian  Eastern  Catholics  at  the beginning  of  the 20th century. They preferred to call themselves not eastern  Catholics,  but  rather  Orthodox  in Communion with Rome. It means  they are completely Orthodox (in their liturgical heritage, way of  thinking,  spirituality  etc.)  and  at  the  same time completely Catholic  (recognizing  the  primacy  of  the Pope of Rome and all the catholic  faith, infallibly taught by the Catholic Church, - though in the  Catholic  East  they  can  be  sometimes expressed in the terms a little bit different from those of the Catholic West).

As  a  Greek-Catholic  priest he started to serve in Moskow and formed his  new  community. Now he lives in Moskow with his wife Helena. They haven't children. He serves his community as its pastor. He said, that it  is the only community he works for at the moment. He's temporarily incardinated  as  a  priest into the Latin Apostolic Administration of the North of Russia, under the jurisdiction of its Latin Ordinary. All the  Greek-Catholics  of Moskow are formally placed under his pastoral care,  though  only  a  few know about it. He lives with his wife in a one-room  apartment  in  Moskow  and has a comparatively small income. It's  interesting  that he has formed friendly bonds with some priests of  the  Russian  Orthodox Church. This indicates that not all of them feel hostility towards the Russian Eastern Catholics.

Fr.   Andrey  has  written  several  books,  including  an  unofficial Greek-Catholic  catechism,  a  very interesting book on worship in the Byzantine Catholic tradition called Mystagoggia (Greek "Explanation of the  Sacraments"),  a  book  about Christian Egypt and a Dictionary of Christianity.  All  these  books,  except  the  dictionary, are as yet unpublished and Fr. Andrey hopes he will some day be able to raise the money  to  have them printed. Taking into consideration that there are very  few  serious  Greek-Catholic  books in Russian available, we can sincerely share his hope.

Community

The  community  is  completely  <Russian>  in  its  origin. It was not started  by  foreign  missionaries  -  it appeared and grew on Russian ground  from  Russian  roots.  Fr.  Andrey  and  his faithful consider themselves  a  Russian Orthodox Community in communion with Rome. They prefer the name Orthodox-Catholic community of the Holy Apostles Peter and  Andrew,  although  they're called the Greek-Catholic community in their  official papers. The name Orthodox-Catholic has deep historical roots  in  Russia. When in the beginning of the 20th century the first Eastern   Catholic  groups  started  in  Russia,  under  the  recently beatified   Fr.   Leonid   Feodorov,   their  exarch,  St.  Petersburg Greek-Catholics  used  the  name  Orthodox-Catholic  for  their  first house-churches  as  well  as  for  their  magazine - Orthodox-Catholic magazine,  "Word  of  Truth".  Fr. Andrey and his wife are fond of the Russian  people  to  whom they belong, and of Russian history, culture and  Church  heritage.  Orthodox-Catholics  are  the  same  as Eastern Catholics  (Orthodox  Christians  with  the fidelity to Rome), but the last term was not used historically and is a little bit artificial for the Russian language.

The name of the community is very symbolic, since the Apostle Peter is a  source  of  church  unity  and  represents the See of Rome, and the Apostle  Andrew  (after  whom  Fr.  Andrey  was  named,) traditionally represents  the  See of Constantinople and Byzantine Tradition. He was also,  according to legend, the Apostle who preached the Gospel in the lands that would one day become the Ukraine and Russia.

The  community  itself is not big. There are about 15-20 people at the usual  Sunday  Vespers  (on  Saturday  evenings  as the liturgical day starts  after  sunset on the preceding day), about 30-40 people at the usual  Sunday  Liturgy,  and  about 25-30 participants at their weekly meeting  outside  the  Liturgy,  which will be explained later. During Easter,  which  is  the  most  important feast of Christian tradition, there  were about 80 attendants this year. Since there are not so many members, the life of the community is very family-like.

All  the  members  of  the  community came during Fr. Andrey's work as Greek-Catholic  priest.  Most  of  them were not believers before they came  to  the  community, only a few of them are former members of the Russian  Orthodox  Church.  Some of the members are very active in the life of the Community and help Fr. Andrey a great deal in his work.


History

 

The Community history started in 1991. Since March, 1992 the Community was   taken  under  the  jurisdiction  of  the  Metropolitan  of  Lviv (Ukrainian  Greek-Catholic  Church).  The  history  of  the  community started  with  simple  prayer  meetings. The Liturgical Services began much  later. During the first period of Community history, its Liturgy and  meetings  took  place  in the state school. But this later became impossible.   From   1999,   the  community  was  transferred  to  the jurisdiction of the local Latin Ordinary. About this time the Sisters, Missionaries  of Charity, who have a hospital for mentally handicapped children  in  Moskow,  let  Fr.  Andrey  and  his community hold their Liturgical  service (Vespers and Sunday Liturgy) in their Latin Chapel there.  At  the moment the community continues to gather there for the Liturgy.  It  exists  as a <pastoral point> for the Greek-Catholics of Moskow under the jurisdiction of local Latin Ordinary. Under the civil law  it's  an unregistered religious group. This means they can't have any buildings or other property as a community. The only rights such a group  has  is  to  worship  and  to  give  religious education to its members.


Liturgy

The  Community  gathers  for the worship in the Chapel of the Sisters, Missionaires  of Charity (MC). Its address is: Moskow, ul. Chechulina, 13b. Each Saturday the Vespers takes place at 6 p.m. and each Sunday - the  Liturgy at 9 a.m. The community is Russian Orthodox liturgically, that  means  it  uses  the  same Liturgy (including the old liturgical calendar,  fasts  according  to  the  Russian Orthodox traditions, and Church-Slavonic  as  the  liturgical  language),  which is used by the Russian Orthodox Church. Of course the Pope and its Latin Ordinary are mentioned  during the liturgical prayers, not the Moskow Patriarch. No latinisation  is  admitted in the Liturgy, which is very important for Fr.  Andrey as well as for any Eastern Christian, especially orthodox, attending  the Liturgy. There are some small changes in the Rite the Gospel   is   read  in  Russian,  not  in  Church  Slavonic,  and  the congregation  can sit during the sermon. But it was made in accordance with  old  and  respectable eastern traditions, that are simply not in use now in the Russian Orthodox Church.

To  attend  the  community Sunday Liturgy is a very moving experience. You  can feel a very strong unity between the participants, their deep faith  and  profound  devotion,  that are quite typical of the Eastern Christians.  At  the same time, the feeling is much more personal than during  the  usual Russian Orthodox Church Liturgy - maybe because the community  is  rather  small.  The  liturgical  chants used during the Liturgy  are  very traditional. They are simple enough but sung by the whole  congregation  -  this  isn't  as  common  in  most of the usual Orthodox  parishes.  Of  course  the  Communion is received under both species,  as  practically  all  the Christian East (including Orthodox Christians) does.

Life of the Community outside the Liturgy

The  prayer  meetings  that started the community's history, are still held.  At  the  moment  they take place on Sunday evenings. They start with  guitar  songs,  sung by the members of the community and guests. After  that,  four  members  of  the community offer their thoughts in turn,  in  the form of sermons. Fr. Andrey said that, according to the Slavonic  church traditions, only men having a good reputation (not in manifest  sin,  taking  part  in community life, not smoking etc.) are given  the  right to make such sermons publicly during these meetings. Then  the  New Testament is read aloud. Each meeting, one chapter from the  New  Testament  is read and discussed, so the whole New Testament should  be  read  during  seven  years.  After the reading each person present  at  the meeting can share his thoughts and feelings about the chapter  read.  Then the participants pray in their own words. After a small meal, the more traditional prayers take place.

Besides  these  meetings, there are other activities in the community. They prepared some audio tapes and CDs with the music performed by the community  members  (including  guitar  songs,  psalms etc.). Also the community  makes a retreat each year under Fr. Andrey's guidance. It's usually a five day retreat or, in other words, spiritual exercises. Of course it's done completely in the Eastern tradition.

There's  no  organised charity work or social service in the community (that's  traditional for the Orthodox mentality too). But some members are  helping  other people in their need as best they can. For example some  of  the  women  wash  the  children's laundry for the MC Sisters regularly.

Life conditions

Fr.  Andrey himself has a comparatively small income, the main part of which  is  the  financial  support  from  the German Foundation called Kirche  in  Not. He said that he and his community don't get any other support  from  the  church  officials. <Some families of the Community have  many children and a small income, but our Administration Caritas doesn't  want  to  help them>, said Fr. Andrey. He doesn't receive any financial or moral support from the local Latin clergy. He's sure that they're simply not interested in the existence of his community.

The  community  doesn't  have  any church building or chapel, so their only   means   of  gathering  for  Liturgy  depends  on  the  Sisters, Missionaries  of  Charity, who let them use their Chapel. "If we could have our own church building" - says Fr. Andrey - "there would be many more  people than now". At the same time, according to Fr. Andrey, the local Church Authorities to whom the community is subject, look on the Greek-  Catholics  as  the  barrier  and  problem  in their ecumenical relationships  with the Orthodox Church. Fr. Andrey doesn't agree with this  point  of  view.  He believes that if orthodox priests and laity would  see  attention, love and respect given to the Eastern Catholics from  the  local  Latin  Church  authorities,  it  would  lead  to the reunification  much  faster,  but  it's  clear  that  the local Church authorities  pay  respect  to  the eastern heritage in word only, with their deeds quite opposite to their words.


Prayer request

The  Greek-Catholic  Community  of  the Holy Apostles Peter and Andrew urgently  needs your prayer support in its needs. It's a necessity for all  the  Greek-Catholics  in  Western Russia. Most of them don't even exist  officially,  and  have no priests who can provide them with the proper  pastoral  care  according to their respectable Rite. Your love and prayers are very important in this crucial situation.

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

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