Pastoral Letter of the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church To the Clergy, Religious, and all the Faithful of the UGCC
Monday, 08 November 2021
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Eph 1:16-18).
Beloved in Christ!
In listening together to the Word of God and discerning the beating of the heart of our Church on the various continents of the world in the midst of a pandemic, we, the members of the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, united in our synodal deliberations in the 2021st year of our Lord with you, beloved sons and daughters of our Mother Church, through this letter wish to reflect on how we are to be a vibrant and authentic Church of Christ, a community of the Lord’s disciples, in the midst of the challenges of the present world—in peace and joy! The answer to this question must be sought with profound faith in Jesus Christ, with the hope that is given us, with an awareness of the parental love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit who acts in us. Looking towards the decade that lies before us, we wish to reflect on our common future together with you.
1. Ongoing Implementation of the Pastoral Plan “The Vibrant Parish – a Place to Encounter the Living Christ.” First of all, we would like to remind you of the foundations of our common program, “The Vibrant Parish – a Place to Encounter the Living Christ.” The implementation of this pastoral plan, which we launched in 2011, helped us keep focus on three questions: How are we to grow in faith? How are we to grow in holiness? How are we to grow in service and love? In particular, we focused on the first three elements of the “Vibrant Parish” program, which are: The Word of God and Catechesis, The Holy Mysteries and Prayer, Serving One’s Neighbour (Diakonia). These are points which express the internal nature of the Church, characterized her life from apostolic times, and remain fundamental to this day for every generation of Christ’s disciples. In these elements, we encounter Christ the Teacher, Christ the High Priest, Christ the Good Shepherd and Physician of soul and body.
In implementing the churchwide “Vibrant Parish” pastoral plan, we directed our attention primarily on the parish community as the place where the faithful most frequently encounter Christ through Christian teaching, common prayer, and service to neighbour. By fostering and invigorating our parishes, we hoped to renew our entire Church.
We should mention that the “Vibrant Parish” included other important elements: Leadership-Stewardship, Communion-Unity and a Missionary Spirit (see Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to the Faithful of the UGCC, “The Vibrant Parish – a Place to Encounter the Living Christ, December 2, 2011). And so, this program continues, and we must work on its implementation and development in every parish community.
At the same time, the “Vibrant Parish” elements should be applied not only to parishes, but also to every Christian community, both great and small, especially to the family. After all, the Christian family is called to be a place of teaching the faith, a school for personal and community prayer, as well as a centre for sacrificial service to one’s neighbour. Indeed, this vocation applies to every Christian—deacon, priest and bishop, man and woman, the child and young person, religious, and layperson.
2. Pastoral Conversion. Any initiative requires a certain awareness of one’s weaknesses. This should surprise no one. At the beginning of our Christian life, before we were brought to the cleansing waters of Baptism, it was necessary that we (as expressed for most of us as through our godparents) renounce Satan and all his works. The symbolism of the Baptismal service reminds us that we cannot follow Christ if we do not purify ourselves from all that leads us away from Him. This renunciation of the world of evil is not a one-time act, but continuous, and lasts throughout our life. There is no Christian in this world who does not need conversion and repentance: bishops, clergy, religious, the faithful, from the youngest to the oldest… We are all created in the image and likeness of our Lord. The image of God is always present in us, but the restoration of divine likeness requires our effort because the restoration of our fallen human nature involves persistent spiritual struggle, a regular examination of conscience, a continual openness to restorative divine grace. It is for this reason that in our liturgical tradition we constantly beseech the Lord: “That we may spend the rest of our lives in peace and repentance.”
At the heart of spiritual warfare is the constant effort to overcome our tendency to egoism through self-denial, following Christ’s example. The Apostle to the Gentiles in his Epistle to the Philippians writes: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:5-7).
This applies, first, to labourers in Christ’s vineyard—to us, bishops, and to our immediate co-workers, the priests, who today are called to a genuine pastoral conversion. What does this involve? At this time, we must speak seriously about our readiness to change for the better, to utilize new means of communication between individuals, between the Church and a society that is rapidly transforming, and to constantly search for the most effective methods of being together and serving one another. We must reflect on reforming church structures, on a new dynamism and creativity in ministry, on introducing the kind of pastoral approaches that grant our laity the possibility to apply their talents in fulfilling the mission of the Church, on the ability to provide answers to real spiritual needs of the People of God, on being able to read “the signs of the times,” on the way we engage with others with a sense of shared responsibility (sobornist) and a spirit of cooperation, on overcoming the fear that stands in the way of establishing a renewed evangelical manner to be a shepherd of souls according to the heart of Christ in the 21st century.
Renunciation of evil, understanding historical errors and self-denial are not goals in and of themselves. These efforts should lead us to openness and accountability, to authentic spiritual accompaniment and Christian closeness. Therefore, we must constantly purify our intentions so that our actions reflect not our will but God’s will. In this way, we will follow the example of our Lord, the Christ, who said of Himself: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38).
Conversion is not a simple denial of something, but a joining to someone—Jesus Christ, as St. Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Conversion makes us free to become, in Christ, a vibrant community of children of God. It brings a person closer to God, the Only Holy One. And this divine closeness—with us and to us—makes us fruitful in our spiritual life and pastoral ministry and makes the mission of the Church successful in all times and among all peoples.