Unofficial translation for informational purposes only.
This year’s Holy Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was held in Rome on September 3-13, 2023. The venue of the Holy Synod was chosen in connection with the fact that the war waged by the Russian aggressor is ongoing in Ukraine, as well as in view of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of the holy martyr St. Josaphat, whose relics rest in St. Peter’s Basilica. In addition, the bishops of the UGCC wanted to testify their communion with the successor of the Apostle Peter, the Pope, to express gratitude to the Catholic Church for the support of the UGCC and the Ukrainian people, as well as to bring to the attention of the Holy Father and his collaborators the current pains and sufferings of Ukrainian society.
The 2023 Holy Synod of Bishops officially began on September 3 in the Basilica of Saint Sophia with the Divine Liturgy presided over by His Beatitude Sviatoslav, concelebrating with 44 bishops of the UGCC from different countries of the world and visiting clergy. The head of the UGCC called this year’s synod meeting the “Synod of Hope,” stressing that a record number of young bishops in various senses are participating in it. Thanks to the new appointments, the number of bishops of our Church has reached 55 today, and later – after the consecration of the bishop-nominee, Very Rev. Michael Kwiatkowski, the newly appointed bishop of New Westminster – there will be 56 of them.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, addressed the participants of the Synod and all those present in the church, who at the end of his speech called: “Lord, stop the hand of the aggressor! Stop the hand of Cain, who was jealous of his brother that his sacrifice was accepted by You!”. Archbishop Gugerotti was also a guest at one of the working sessions of the Synod of Bishops, discussing with the bishops of the UGCC a number of important issues of church service and the relationship between the UGCC and the Roman Apostolic See.
On the same day, in the evening, the participants of the Synod held a prayer service, invoking the light and accompaniment of the Holy Spirit for the Synod meetings and, according to custom, took an oath to observe the secret.
During the first working days, the bishops listened to the program report of the Father and Head of the UGCC, in which the speaker brought up for discussion by the Synod Fathers several important, topical issues of the life and ministry of the Church in the conditions of Russian military aggression against Ukraine.
The bishops devoted considerable attention and a long time to the consideration of the main theme of this year’s Holy Synod — “Pastoral accompaniment of war victims.” Its preparation was coordinated by Bishop Arkadiusz Trochanowski, who delivered the main speech – “Healing of Wounds.” He was accompanied by co-speakers who presented the following topics for consideration by the synod fathers: Prof. Dr. Oksana Mikheyeva — “Internal and external forced migration of residents of Ukraine in the context of a full-scale Russian invasion”; Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh — “Ukrainian refugees in the countries of Western Europe: actual situation, needs and expectations, the response of the Church”; Fr. Mykola Motruk — “Church communication of the UGCC in the conditions of war”; Dr. Lidia Zablotska-Zhytka – “Psychological assistance to refugees – current needs and the possibility of assistance in the Church.” The conclusion of the consideration of the main topic was important synodal decisions and a post-synodal message, with which the bishops will address the faithful of the UGCC and all people of good will in Ukraine and the world.
Among other topics considered by the Synod Fathers were the following: the new edition of the service book of the Liturgies of St. John the Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great and the updated UGCC’s Calendar; The Synodal Path (Synod on Synodality) and the UGCC; the state of the beatification process of the righteous Metropolitan Andrey; social service of the UGCC during the war at the level of dioceses, parishes and through the network of “Caritas” charity centres. The Patriarchal Economist of the UGCC presented the state of the finances of the UGCC and the activities of the “Wise Deed” (Мудра справа) Foundation, and the head of the Canonical Department, Bishop Eugeniusz Popowicz, together with the colleagues of the department, presented for consideration by the synod fathers 10 successive sections of the future Code of Canons of the UGCC.
In addition to the above, the Synod heard the Report of the Pastoral Council of the Patriarchal Curia, the summaries of the reports of commissions and departments of the patriarchal level for the past year, and reports on the activities of various funds of the general church level, which have the task of ensuring the missionary, social and pastoral service of the UGCC.
The Synod working days were intertwined with liturgical services and the daily Liturgy, during which Fr. Robert Lyseiko, Protoarchimandrite of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat. Fr. Lyseiko also lead a retreat for the bishops. On Thursday, September 7, during the fraternal dinner, the Synod Fathers congratulated this year’s anniversaries, and on Saturday, September 9, under the leadership of the Head of the UGCC, they prayed for the eternal rest of their brothers in the episcopal ministry.
This year’s synod meetings were attended by dignitaries of the Roman Curia and the Italian Episcopal Conference. In addition to the already mentioned Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Cardinal Kurt Koch, the head of the Dicastery for Christian Unity, who had already publicly described the ideology of the “Russian World” as heretical, told the bishops of the UGCC about the current state of the ecumenical dialogue. He emphasized that the war in Ukraine revealed a deep crisis in the ecumenical dialogue caused by the role and position of the official representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Therefore, the State Secretary of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, mentioned the thousand-year history of relations between Kyiv and Rome, which were not interrupted even after the split in 1054, and highly appreciated the fact that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church considers the connection with the successor of the Apostle Peter “constitutive dimension” of one’s existence. Cardinal Parolin noted the pastoral care of the UGCC over Ukrainian soldiers: “You supported them spiritually with your prayers and taught that, while protecting the sovereignty and freedom of their national territory, Ukrainians should also guard their hearts so as not to succumb to hatred, which they can easily become prey to in the face of so many atrocities.”
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, head of the Italian Episcopal Conference, became the representative and spokesman of the Italian episcopate before the Synod Fathers. He emphasized the value of the testimony of Ukrainian women in Italy, who set an example of deep piety and sincere and merciful love, citing a specific example: “Two of my priests, in whose parish Ukrainian women work, confessed to me that under the influence of these Ukrainian women, they themselves began to pray more.” Cardinal Zuppi emphasized that peace in Ukraine must be “not only just and lasting, but also one that guarantees security.” Being a special envoy of the Pope in the matter of finding ways to peace, he talked about the meetings and initiatives so far and answered the questions of the bishops present.
A special moment in the program of this year’s Synod was the audience of the bishops of the UGCC with the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis on Wednesday, September 6. The meeting, which lasted almost two hours, became a space for sincere communication about pains and disappointments, hopes and expectations of the Ukrainian people. At the suggestion of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the event began with a prayer for the suffering Ukrainian people. Therefore, those present shared with the Holy Father their thoughts about the genocidal consequences of Russian imperialism and the destructive ideologies associated with it, such as the “Russian World.” They also told the Pope about the pastoral service in the motherland and in the settlements during the war. The Supreme Pontiff carefully listened to the bishops’ stories, giving some comments and clarifications on particularly resonant and important topics. Responding to the testimony of one of the speakers about the war crimes of Russia, which have recently been described by the term “racism,” the Holy Father emphasized the destructive role of ideologies that instrumentalize the culture and religious feelings of peoples: “… the real pain is when the cultural heritage of a people undergoes “distillation ” and is subject to manipulation by certain state authorities, as a result of which it turns into an ideology that destroys and kills. It is a great tragedy when such an ideology breaks into the Church and replaces the Gospel of Christ.”
Accepting as a symbolic gift from the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC the personal sacred objects of the imprisoned hieromonks Ivan Levytskyi and Bohdan Geleta, C.Ss.R., Pope Francis assured the bishop of further efforts for their liberation, as well as for the rescue of all captured and forcibly deported Ukrainians, including children. The Holy Father favourably accepted the proposal of the Synod Fathers to devote October to special prayers for peace in Ukraine, and on the same day, during the general audience, he called on his listeners to entrust “tortured Ukraine” to the motherly intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos.
On Sunday, September 10, in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter, the Father and Head of the UGCC led the Divine Liturgy on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Josaphat, Archbishop of Polotsk. Members of the Synod of Bishops, guests and numerous clergy from Italy, Ukraine and other countries of Europe and the world co-served with the Primate of the Church. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the honored prefect of the Dicastery of the Eastern Churches, was the guest of honour and concelebrant, who in his address assured the audience of the all-round support of the Ukrainian people. His Beatitude Sviatoslav, during his homily, emphasized the value of the unity of the Ukrainian Church with the Roman Apostolic See and expressed his gratitude to the Holy Father Francis, the bishops’ conferences, the international community and all people of good will for their solidarity with Ukraine, for accepting millions of Ukrainian refugees, for the comprehensive support of our people, which prevented the humanitarian crisis caused by Russian military aggression from turning into a humanitarian catastrophe. “Let’s tell the truth and thank the Holy Father and the entire Catholic episcopate of the world for the fact that today Ukraine is not left alone, for the fact that we can say here, from the tomb of St. Peter, to Rome, Ukraine and the world: Ukraine stands! Ukraine is fighting! Ukraine is praying!” – urged the Head and Father of the UGCC.
His Beatitude Sviatoslav also addressed the Ukrainians present at the Liturgy, in particular refugees and forced emigrants, with a call to prepare to return to their native land: “I look at you and cry, because your Ukraine is crying for you! But I know that God loves us and one day we will all return home. With the power of love for our Motherland and native people, we will win… Ivan Franko said: “It’s time for us to live for Ukraine!”. Human and Christian conscience calls us to this.”
At the end of the synodal meetings, the bishops of the UGCC determined the date of the next Holy Synod of Bishops and expressed the hope that the circumstances will allow it to be held in Ukraine freed from the aggressor. This year’s Holy Synod of Bishops of the UGCC ended with a prayer of gratitude to the Mother of God, with which the bishops placed the Church and the Ukrainian people under Her maternal protection.