Three Years Leading to the Lithuanian Christianity Jubilee (March 3, 1985 - ApriI 3, 1987)
Preliminary Plan of the Jubilee Corrrnission submitted to the Lithuanian Conference of Bishops, February, 1985.
I. Overview of the Triennial Celebration
1.The program set forth in the first letter of the Bishops and Administrators of Lithuanian Dioceses should set the tone for the activities of all Lithuanian Church leaders, especially on visits to parishes and shrines, deanery visitations and accountings, conferences to seminarians, retreats to priests and laity, sermon themes and pastoral work as a whole, as well as restoration of churches.
2.Schedule for the First Year of the Triennial Celebration: a. On March 3, 1985, on the Eve of the Feast of Saint Casimir, the first pastoral letter is to be read, beginning the Year of the Good News.
b. During Lenten sermons of 1985, attention is to be called to the value of Baptismal grace and the gift of Faith.
c. On April 14, 1985, Low Sunday, the pastoral letter is to be read again and sermons are to continue throughout 1985 and the beginning of 1986 on themes connected with the Year of the Good News: the divine origin of Christianity, the fact of Baptism of Lithuania and its fruits in human relations, education, social welfare and redemption, the past of the CathoIic Church in Lithuania, the hardships it has met and leading personalities developed; the Intimate bond between our nation's spiritual and material culture on the one hand, and Catholicism on the other.
3. The program for the Second Year of the Jubilee Triennial Celebrat ion:
a. March 2, 1986, the Third Sunday of Lent, when we commemorate Saint Casimir, the second pastoral letter is to be read, beginning the Year of Conscious Faith.
b. In 1986, during Lenten sermons, attention is to be called to the value and vitality of the Christian life; in the Way of the Cross, Graudūs verksmai (Traditional Lithuanian Lenten services centering on the Passion and Death of Christ -- Trans. Note) and other Lenten practices, reparation is to be made for transgression against Christian hope.
LITHUANIA'S BISHOPS AND APOSTOLIC ADMINISTRATORS WRITE TO PRIESTS AND BELIEVERS
(This communication is reproduced in its original state. Italics indicate those words, sentences and even paragraphs that were censored by the Office of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs.)
For almost two thousand years, humanity has been living under the sign of Christ's blessing. Beginning with Palestine, where Christ was born, taught, suffered and rose from the dead, the Apostles and their disciples, and later their successors, carried the light and grace of Christ to all nations: First to their closest neighbors, easier to reach, later, to the distant and most distant.
Six hundred years ago, Divine Providence granted this grace to the land of our fathers and forefathers, Lithuania. By baptism in 1387, she joined the great Christian family, and became an heiress and participant in its blessings. For six centuries, supported by the grace of Christ, countless Lithuanian Catholics have honorably walked the path of virtue and attained salvat ion.
We, the bishops and administrators of dioceses in Lithuania, rejoicing in the blessings of Christianity, cordially invite our brother priests and all the faithful to mark the baptism of Lithuania with a three-year period of renewal.
Let 1985 be for us the Year of the Good News. By listening to sermons and immersing ourselves in the history of our culture, we shall, this year, become acquainted with and appreciate what Christianity has given our nation, and still gives it.
Let 1986 be the Year of Conscious Faith. During that year we wi11 try to deepen our knowledge of our Faith, and learn to see ourselves, the world, and life's purpose in the light of the Gospel of Christ. 1987 --the jubilee year itself -- we wi 11 celebrate as the Year of the Living Spirit of Christianity, in the realization that for us Christianity is not dry theory, but a blessed, enlightened way of life.
The road of Christianity into Lithuania was not an easy one. Our forebears lived far from the trade routes of old, so for a long time they were little known. The first missionaries who tried to reach the Baltic nations were Czech and German bishops and religious. In 997, the Bishop of Prague, Saint Adalbert, came to the land of the Prussians with two priests and tried to spread Christianity, but he was not understood and was killed. Eleven years later, (1008) the same fate overtook Saint Boniface the Bishop, who tried to spread the Gospel in the land the Yotvingians. (One of the tribes which later made up the Lithuanian nation. -- Tran. Note)
A couple of hundred years later, our forebears once again encountered the Christians to their west, to their east and to their south -- mostly in battle. Frequently under attack from the war-like Prussians and
From Left: Bishop Antanas Vaičius, Archbishop Liudvikas Povilonis, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius and Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, in 1982.
Lithuanians, the Mozurians, around 1200, asked the Knights of the Cross, a mi I i tary order, to protect their borders. German colonists who had sett led in and around Riga established the Order of the Knights of the Sword. Over a long period, these military orders evolved from defensive to offensive forces and great wrongs befell the Prussian and Latvian tribes, Lithuania and Poland. The Lithuanians refused to accept the Cross from their hands.
To the east and southeast, the Christian Byelorussian and Ukrainian lands submitted easily to Lithuanian rulers, since the latter were strong enough to protect them from the cruel yoke of the Tartar Mongolians. However, eastern Christianity did not demonstrate any significant missionary activity, and did not christianize Lithuania.
The great unifier of Lithuania, Mindaugas, a foresighted statesman, understood well that it was a painful and detrimental anachronism not to be Christian in Europe, and so in 1251 (or the end of 1250), inviting missionaries from Riga, he had himself baptized, together with his family and a group of nobles. At the same time, he arranged for the Diocese of Lithuania to be established, responsible directly to the Apostolic See of Rome.
Pope Innocent IV, in appreciation of Mindaugas' determination to christianize Lithuania, sent him a royal crown in 1253. This was not only the coronation of the ruler personally, but also in effect the ratification of Lithuania's statehood. Ten years later, however, (1263) Mindaugas perished, a victim of political intrigue. The helm of state was once again taken over by proponents of paganism, and the spread of Christianity was checked. This was a decisive mistake.
The history of the State of Lithuania would have taken a completely different turn if its crowned head had not been murdered. Following in the footsteps of Mindaugas and publicly supporting Christianity, his successors would have been able to preserve the royal crown for Lithuania for all time. In that case, crusades against the Lithuanians would no longer have been proclaimed. Relations with the military order, (Knights of the Cross -- Trans.Note) and later with neighboring Poland, would have developed differently, and the fruits of Christian culture would have reached Lithuania much earlier. (See 2. Ivinskis: Selected Writings, Vol 1, Rome, 1978, p.195).
The eniightened Grand Princes, Vytenis and Gediminas, and their successors saw clearly that it was historically imperative for Lithuania to become Christian, and they followed unswervingly in the footsteps of Mindaugas, opting for Christianity, but sought a suitable approach. Such an approach unexpectedly turned up when the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Jogaila, after receiving Baptism, became King of Poland. Thus, early in 1387, Jogaila arrived in Lithuania together with a group of clergy and nobility, and with his cousin, Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania, promoted baptism and erected churches in Vilnius and other major locations. It is said that in the absence of Lithuanian-speaking clergy, the rulers themselves catechized the people, and translated the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer into Lithuanian.
The baptism of the nation, begun in 1387 in the capital of Lithuania, and the establishment of a diocese meant the official renunciation of paganism by all Lithuanians. Hence the year 1387 is rightly considered the date of the baptism of Lithuania in general. The process of baptizing took longer in various regions. Between 1413 and 1417 it was completed with the baptism of the majority of the Samogitians, with which Jogaila and Vytautas were jointly concerned, a few years after crushing the power of the Knights of the Cross in a joint effort. After a couple of hundred years of staunchly resisting Christianity proffered at sword's point, the ancient Lithuanians easily accepted it at the urging of their rulers, when it was disseminated peacefully.
The ancient religion of the Lithuanians had not been mere nature worship: in it are found traces of belief in a Supreme Eternal Being --God and its moral code was of a high calibre. Christianity enhanced the beautiful elements of the ancient Lithuanian religion: faithfulness, respect for chastity and motherhood, and trust in Providence. It softened harsh customs, and threw new light on the view of life after death. Where the sacred fire had burned, the sacrifice of the redemption of mankind --Holy Mass -- began to be offered. Finally, Christian customs formed, and the Lithuanian learned to sense God no longer in the rolling thunder or in the rustling oak, but in all of life, and especially on the altar.
Baptism incorporated our nation into the family of Christian European nations, opened for us the doors to the treasures of their science, art and culture. As with other nations, the Church in Lithuania spread
Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis, in a detail from a 17th Century painting at St. Mark's, Cracow.
education: Beside churches and monasteries, schools sprang up., and later an academy-university. The country adorned itself with beautiful churches, and folk art received refreshing new inspiration. Christianity developed many of our nation's most attractive personalities: the Prince-Saint Casimir, the Blessed Religious Mykolas Giedrai t is, the Venerable Servant of God, Jurgis Matulaitis, the great educators Merkelis Giedraitis and Motiejus Valančius, the famous poets Bishop Antanas Baranauskas and Monsignor Maironis; the noble priests Ambroziejus Pabrėža and Alfonsas Llpniūnas; the noble laity: the benefactress of the poor, Barbora žagarietė; the writer and educator, Marija Pečkauskaitė; the philospher Stasys Šalkauskis and many, many others. The light of Christ and His love inspires priests and laity in our day also to work in self-sacrifice, to try for nobility in all ways, to sacrifice and to forgive...
We could spend a long time counting the blessings of Christianity for our people, without telling even a tenth of it, even if we only named the temporal, ter res t i a I evidence. The basic and direct task of Christianity is the supernatural sancti fication of people, leading them to eternal salvation. With the grace of Baptism and the other sacraments, with all the values of Christian education and life, the road to eternal life has been much easier for our ancesters and for us.
Brothers and sisters, dear faithful, dear priests! Let us daily thank the Lord God for the blessing of Baptism bestowed upon us and promised to coming generations. Let us appreciate what Sacred Scripture, under the inspiration of God, says about Baptism:
"Baptism makes us children of God, members of the Mystical Body of Christ, members of the Church, and heirs of heaven," (cf. Rom. 8,16; 1 Cor. 12,12). "Baptism unites us wi th Christ, makes us partakers of the merits of his death and of the hope of his resurrection." (Rom. 6,3-4). Through Baptism we have become "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works of the One who called you from darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Pet. 2,9).
In grateful appreciation of this gift of Baptism, let us eagerly live up to the obligations imposed by it -- to renounce evil seductions and ignoble deeds, to be "that new man created in God's image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth." (Eph. 4,24)
Bishops and Apostolic Administrators of Lithuania
Kaunas, January 16, 1985
Postscr ipt to pr iests:
The Reverend Fathers will read this letter of ours in place of all the usual sermons on the Eve of the Feast of Saint Casimir, Patron of Lithuania, the Second Sunday of Lent, March 3, 1985, and April 14.
During the Year of the Good News, priests through sermons and conferences will better acquaint the faithful with the dignity of Christianity and of Catholism and its blessed influence on the life of our nation. The Commission for the Jubilee of the Baptism of Lithuania will try to prepare material for such sermons and disseminate it via the chancery and deans.
Let Lent of 1985, 1986 and 1987 be experienced as a time of penance for the disloyalty of all of us to baptismal grace.
On Sundays and other suitable occasions, it is recommended that one of the prayers for the Year of the Good News here enclosed should be read at the end of Mass (before Benediction):
Lord God, Creator of Nations, Father of all human kind!
We sincerely thank you for your Fatherly love, which six centuries ago, through the baptism of our honorable forbears, invited our nation also into the Church of your Son, Jesus Christ -- the holy kingdom of freedom, Peace and Love.
We pray you, Lord -- help our nation to value this great gift, and always to be faithful to our Christian vocation, to spread the Good News of Christ by noble example and the word of truth in our surroundings.
Lord God, by the grace of Baptism making us your children, cover with your grace also our younger generation, to whom it is given to take their places in the front lines in the seventh century of Christian Lithuania, In the Twenty-first Century of world Christianity, this we ask through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
The statue of Jesus of Nazareth, bearing the chains of the captive and the symbol of the Trinitarian Order.