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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
Feodor Petrov , Russia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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