The Commemoration of the Millenium of the the Baptism of the Kievan Rus'
In 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev received baptism in the Eastern Rite from Constantinople and Kievan Rusia, from the viewpoint of the Church, became directly dependent on the Patriarch of Constantinople. When, in 1054, Patriarch Cerularius split with Rome, Kievan Rusia did not break off ties right away with the Successor of Peter in Rome.
As late as 1458, Metropolitan Grigori of Kiev received ordination as a bishop in Rome. It was much later that orthodoxy began to spread among the Christians of Kievan Rusia, especially with the rise of Moscow and its attempt to keep the inhabitants of the Russian lands within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at least in its ecclesiatical jurisdiction.
In resistance to this foreign influence, and in the desire to remain loyal to the Successor of the Apostle Peter, most of the bishops of the Eastern Church, within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, proclaimed in 1596 in Brest, Lithuania, that they were returning to unity with the Apostolic See and retaining only the Eastern Rite and the Slavonic language therein.
For almost four hundred years, this idea of union remained alive in the hearts of Eastern Rite Catholic Ukrainians and Byelorussians. For their union with Rome, many martyrs poured out their blood, gave their life (Archbishop Josephat Kincevičius of Polock, the Jesuit priest Andrew Bobola). Especially great sacrifices of blood and life were offered up during the most difficult years when the union was banned, 1839-1905, and 1946. The difficulties endure to this day. Histories like the Kražiai in Kestaičiai, Lithuania, repeated themselves almost annually in those days.
This year, as the milenium of the Baptism of the Rus' is being celebrated, the Orthodox church of Western Ukraine and Transcarpathia, supported by the Soviet government, is trying to celebrate this jubilee as a celebration of the consolidation of orthodoxy. In these regions, inhabited by Catholics of the Eastern Rite, alongside every church taken away from the uniate Catholics, a great orthodox cross of oak is being erected, even though till now, even the orthodox here used to erect only Latin crosses (e.g., in the cemeteries).
Catholic Ukraine is marking the milenium of its baptism, received in unity with the Church of Rome, by walking the difficult road of the catacombs. Their difficult plight at the time of this jubilee, is revealed by a statement of the faithful from the Village of Bubnisha, recently sent to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:
"We, the believing Catholics of the Eastern Rite (regardless of what they call us: uniates or members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church), fervently desire that restructuring and openness touch us too, that you, honorable General Secretary, and others of our society, would finally understand that we are Soviet people, the same as everybody else.
"To this day, much is written about us in books and spoken about us over radio and television; only regrettably in a distorted, untrue fashion, incom-patibvle with the spirit of openness. Just during the past year, when in other regions inhabited by our society, openness is acquiring ever-greater rights, falsehood is spoken about us. As proof we suggest a look at the report of Orest Michaliuk, printed in Isvestia, 1987, No. 357:
'"Their service rendered to the Hitlerite occupation and their criminal alliance with bandits finally opened the eyes of the faithful to the true face of the uniate hierarchy. Hence, the efforts of patriotically disposed clergy and believers to distance themselves from the pro-Fascist uniate hierarchy and have done once and for all with the union of Brest, is are understandable. In 1946, in Lvov, with the noted Church activist Gavril Kostelnik -- later killed by bandits -- presiding, a well-attended synod of the uniates (Greek-rite Catholics) took place, which decided to annul the decisions of the meeting at Brest in 1596, to terminate the union, to separate from the Vatican, and to return to the holy Orthodox faith of our forefathers, and to join the Russuan Orthodox Church.'
"After reading these words, the question arises, 'Who knows about us better than we do ourselves?' Hence, we decided to write about ourselves so that others would also understand us better.
"First of all, we believing Catholics of the Eastern Rite, are conscien-cious Soviet citizens, and not enemies. We work for the good of all the members of our society and we desire world peace. We do not raise any political demands, but only ask that we Eastern Rite Catholics be treated as required by Soviet laws for cults, and the Constitution of the U.S.S.R.
"Secondly, everyone should understand that it is not so easy or simple to change religions. A massive conversion to another faith is never a matter of free-will, since constraint at conscience is worse than death. When the Christians of the first centuries were being pressured to renounce their faith, they chose death. So with regard to the Lvov Synod of 1946: its requirement that we change from the Catholic faith to the Orthodox cannot be effectuated for us Catholics. We cannot go against our conscience. The Constitution and international law guarantee us the right to profess that faithf which we wish to profess. And so, the participants in the Synod of Lvov could decide only for themselves whether to exchange the Catholic religion for the Orthodox, or not. If a Catholic freely wishes to change to Orthodoxy, that is a matter for his conscience. No one has the right to forbid him.
"If the Lvov Synod of 1946 had decided to convert to the Protestant or Muslim religion, or to some sect, would we then have to obey it against our own conscience? Besides, in the Lvov Synod of 1946, not a single Catholic bishop of the Eastern Rite took part. But even if at least one bishop had participated in the aforesaid meeting, and defected from the Catholic Church, we who remain Catholics do not have to obey him.
"Hence, justice demands that along with Orthodox churches, Catholic churches and parishes of the Eastern Rite also be opened, that we might be able to pray according to our own conscience, give the people themselves the opportunity to decide what religion they will follow! Neither the Synod of Lvov, nor the Pope of Rome, nor Patriarch Piman can order us by force to keep to this or that religion. Religion by force is not real religion.
"Orest Michaliuk writes that the uniate hierarchy cooperated with the Hitlerites, and therefore the faithful decied to change their religion and to split with the Vatican. Michaliuk apparently does not understand that the behavior of people filling high posts is one thing, and religion is quite something else.
Religion is judged not by the behavior of individuals, but according to what that religion teaches. Among the apostles of Jesus was Judas, a traitor. But to conclude from this fact that the religion of Christ teaches treason would not be logical.
"When should understand that the Catholics of Eastern Rite and Roman Catholics profess the same truths of religion, receive the same sacraments instituted by Christ and obey the same Pope of Rome. Their views of the Soviet government are the same as those of Roman Catholics. The only difference is in the liturgy and the language used there. And this is an internal matter, within the Church. By law, the Soviet government does not interfere in such matters.
"If, during the war, high-ranking clergy or rank-and-file believers did not act as they should have, this does not mean that it is necessary to renounce one's religion. That was their personal failure, and the Church or the Vatican had nothing to do with it. We know that there were soldiers, officers and teachers who collaborated with the Germans. There were also Orthodox clergy who collaborated with them. But is does not occur to anyone on that basis that the army must be disbanded, schools abolished, or the Orthodox religion banned.
"We look not at what individuals did, but at what the religion of Christ teaches. And it teaches us to keep the commandments of God and the just laws of the state, to maintain love among nations, states and races.
"Therefore, we the residents of the Village of Bubnishcha (Region of Ivan Frankovsk, Rayon of Dolina, Ukrainian S.S.R.) were, and remain, Catholics as we did before also after the Lvov Synod of 1946. Up until 1983, we could attend the Greek-Rite Catholic Church in our village. In October 1983, the militia closed our church, smashed our iconostasis, and took away our banners and other church inventory. In this way, they offended us as believers. In 1983, a whole list of other neighboring Greek Catholic parishes were similarly dealt with. According to Soviet law, twenty believers are enough to have a parish register. In our village, there are more than three hundred Catholics. We ask you urgently to give the order to open the Greek Catholic church in the Village of Bubnishcha, and to allow a Catholic priest of the Eastern Rite to come. The priest will have no ties with the Hitlerites, the Hitlerite Fascists, nor will he be a bourgeoise nationalist.
"This would be a great contribution to the further democratization of our society. We would be very grateful, and would work with even greater dedication for the good of the fatherland. Today, we have not heard that an affirmative answer had been received.
"Catholics of Lithuania support the Eastern-rite Catholic Church of the Ukraine by their prayer and solidarity in its noble struggle for fundamental human rights."
NOTE: According to information available, a group of individuals liberally inclined deceitfully hiding behind the support of authoritative persons, is trying to "retract" the introduction to Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, number 75. The author of the article accuses us of narrow minded-ness, intolerance toward non-Catholics, and for this they call us anti-Soviet. Entering into the concept of intolerance is the freedom to see by just means that the entire society agrees with ideas defended by this or that group. Hence, we once again declare it is our deepest conviction that it is not slides, banners or crying out, "Freedom for Lithuania!" which will bring true and copmplete freedom for the nation. History knows of more than one instance when an indigenous government was no better than an occupation government. For freedom, it is necessary to become mature and to be its slaves. Hence, we first of all urge all our fellow countrymen in our home and in our world to turn back to God, and to keep in all seriousness the commitment God has given to mankind. Sin is the greatest slavery of nations.
Only the Chronicle has the right to retract articles which it has carried. Please consider apologies of this nature, and even attempts to retract, coming from elsewhere, invalid.
Lithuanian, remember that:
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas
Father Sigitas Tamkevičius
and others are wearing the chains of imprisonment so that you might be able to live and believe in freedom.