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Orientales Ecclesias (On The Persecuted Eastern Church)

by Pope Pius XII

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    Encyclical of Pope Pius XII Orientales Ecclesias (On The Persecuted Eastern Church) promulgated on December 15, 1952.
  • Larger Work:
    The Papal Encyclicals 1740-1981
  • Publisher & Date:
    Pierian Press, December 15, 1952

To the Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops and other local Ordinaries of the Oriental Churches having Peace and Communion with the Holy See. The Oriental Churches, rendered illustrious by the doctrine of the Holy Fathers and in ancient times bathed by the blood of martyrs, in more recent ages, and also in our own day, have always formed in a special manner the object of Our solicitude, a fact which is known to all.

2. Indeed, as soon as We without any merit of Our own, but through the inscrutable design of God, were raised to the Chair of the Prince of the Apostles, We turned Our mind and heart to you, and to those also who "find themselves outside the Catholic Church" (Cf. Radio Message, March 3, 1939: A.A.S. XXXI, Ser. II, Vol. VI, p. 86), and whom We ardently desire may return as soon as possible to the fold of the Common Father, the abode of their ancestors (Cf. Encyclical Summi Pontificatus: A.A.S. XXXI, Ser. II, Vol. VI, pp. 418-419; and Encyclical Mystici Corporis: A.A.S. XXXV, Ser. II, Vol. X, pp. 242-243).

3. We have given you other proofs of Our paternal benevolence during the course of Our Pontificate. As is known to you, We have conferred the dignity of the Roman purple on another of your Bishops. the Patriarch of the Armenians of Cilicia, and We are providing for the codification of the Canonical Laws which affect you: a work of the greatest importance, and one which is already in part completed.

4. But it is not necessary to speak at length of matters without doubt already well known to you; as for the rest, We have followed in the footsteps of Our predecessors (Cf. Encyclical Rerum Orientalium: A.A.S. XX, Vol. XX, p. 277 ff), who from the very first days of Christianity not only surrounded your ancestors with a particular affection, but were accustomed besides to grant them all possible aid on every occasion when they were besieged by heresy or groaned under the terror and persecutions of enemies.

5. Thus it was that through the Apostolic Authority entrusted to the Prince of the Apostles and to His Successors by the Divine Redeemer the Roman Pontiffs defended the integrity of Catholic doctrine in the First and Second Councils of Nicea, in the First, Second and Third of Constantinople, and in those of Ephesus and Chalcedon; and when a lamentable dissension separated a great part of the Oriental Churches from Rome, they not only condemned it through their Legates in the Fourth Council of Constantinople, but they exerted themselves in every manner possible in order that, in the common interest, the situation might be happily resolved. After numerous, praiseworthy and difficult efforts, they were able to do this in the Council of Florence, although against the hopes of all good men the deliberations taken were not afterwards put into practice.

6. Again when the Eastern regions were invaded by new peoples who devastated even the sacred places of Palestine, consecrated by the Divine Blood of Jesus Christ, the Roman Pontiffs then urged the Christian Princes to the great undertaking of the defense of religion. Nor has this eager solicitude and this benevolence of Our Predecessors towards your fellow- countrymen become less in intensity or diminished in Our day, but rather appear to be ever increasing.

7. As you in fact know, many were sent among you to explain Catholic doctrine and to convince all to return to the highly desired unity of faith and of rule. Here, too, at the See of Peter, there was founded a Sacred Congregation with the express purpose of regulating the interests and rites of the Oriental Church. Thus also there was founded an Institute for Oriental Studies with the object of cultivating and promoting with every care a suitable knowledge of all matters concerning you.

8. At the present time, unfortunately, other reasons require Our care and solicitude. In many regions where the Oriental Rite particularly flourishes, there has been unleashed a new tempest, which seeks to overthrow, devastate and destroy in misery flourishing Christian communities.

9. If in past centuries some particular dogma of Catholic doctrine was impugned, today, on the contrary, as you well see, [the enemies of the Church] rashly go even further. They seek to banish from public life and the domestic scene, from the universities, from the schools and from the life of whole populations, sacred rights, institutions and laws, indeed all that is divine or that has relation to divinity, almost as if they were dealing with matters of mythology and evil-omen.

10. Therefore, however greater the accumulation of evils which oppresses a most elect part of Christianity, in that degree, Venerable Brothers, is Our benevolence towards you increased, that much the more ardent is the paternal love which We cherish for you all.

11. And in the first place We wish that it be most clearly manifested to you that We consider your sorrows and your grief as Our own, and that there is nothing We desire more ardently than to bring some relief to your sufferings, above all by means of Our prayers and those of every Christian for all those who are being persecuted for having defended, as was necessary, the Catholic religion and its sacred rights.

12. We know that today there are multitudes of the faithful in Oriental regions who weep bitterly as they see their Bishops put to death or dispersed, or so impeded that they are unable freely to address their flocks and, as they rightfully should, exercise over them their authority; as they behold so many of their Churches destined to profane uses or left in squalid abandon; as they realize that no longer in these churches can they now raise up to heaven in prayerful union their voices harmonized in the wonderful modulations that are prescribed in your Liturgy, to call down the dew of heavenly graces that minds be elevated, hearts consoled and remedy found for such great evils.

13. We know that many from among you have been sent to prisons and concentration camps, or if they are living in their homes, are unable to exercise those sacrosanct rights which are theirs; that is, not only the right to profess their faith in the intimate sanctuary of their own consciences, but also to be able to teach it openly, to defend and propagate it in the family circle for the proper education of the children, and in the school, for the proper training of the pupils.

14. On the other hand We also are aware that the faithful of the Oriental Churches, in fraternal union with their brethren of the Latin Rite, are together bearing with fortitude the sorrowful burdens of these persecutions, and in like manner are together sharing in the martyrdom, the triumph and the glory that are resulting therefrom. Indeed, they are persevering with heroic courage in their faith. They are resisting the enemies of Christianity with the same unconquerable fortitude with which your forebears did in times past. They are raising their supplications to Heaven, if not publicly, at least in private. They are remaining faithfully attached in closest union to the Roman Pontiff and to their pastors. So also are they continuing to revere, beseech and love in a very special way the Blessed Virgin Mary, most loving and powerful Queen of Heaven and of earth, to Whose Immaculate Heart they have all been consecrated by Us.

15. All this is unquestionably the augury of most certain victory in the future, of that victory, however, which flows not from the blood of men in conflict among themselves, nor is nourished by unbridled desire for earthly power, but which is founded on just and legitimate liberty; on justice practiced not only with words, but also with facts, justice to citizens, peoples and nations; on peace and fraternal charity, which unites all in the bonds of friendship; on religion, above all, which rightly orders customs, moderates private aspirations by placing them at the service of the public welfare, raises up minds to heaven, and, in fine, protects civil society and the peace of all.

16. This is the object of Our most ardent hopes. In the meantime, however, the information that reaches Us is such as to render more bitter Our sorrow.

17. By day and by night We turn with paternal solicitude Our mind and Our heart to those who have been confided to Us by divine mandate (Cf. John 21: 15-1l), and who We know are treated in so unworthy a manner as to be the object of calumnies for their firm attachment to the Catholic Faith, and as to be deprived of their legitimate rights, not excluding at times even those so innate to human nature that whenever they are trampled upon by violence, fear or other means, the very dignity of man is lessened and subjected to injury as a result.

18. Among these saddening communications brought to Our notice, there is one which in these latest days has afflicted more than any other not only Us, not only all Christians, but also all those who hold in honor the dignity and liberty of citizens.

19. We would refer to Bulgaria, where there existed a small but flourishing community of Catholics, and where a terrible catastrophe has caused profound mourning in the Church. With the usual method of accusations, public crimes were imputed to the ministers of God. Among these, Our Venerable Brother, Eugene Bossilkoff, Bishop of Nikopol, was condemned to death, together with three other of his priest collaborators in the pastoral ministry. Furthermore, many others already are imprisoned or impeded by the restraint of public authority, and to these are added a not inconsiderable number of Catholics punished in various ways, and thus invested with the same distinction and honor.

20. As a duty of conscience, We raise Our protest against all of this, while to the whole of Christendom We denounce the injury inflicted upon the Church.

21. These victims, in fact, have been condemned as enemies of the State not only because of having professed, but also for having striven openly and strenuously to defend, the Catholic religion, when in truth they are second to none in their love of country, respect for public authority and their observance of law, provided these be not contrary to the natural, divine or ecclesiastical law. What indeed has happened, especially in more recent times, in Bulgaria, unfortunately has been happening already for some time amongst other peoples where the Church of the Oriental Rite flourishes, namely, amongst the peoples of Rumania, of the Ukraine and among many other peoples also.

22. As far as the first nation is concerned, by an Apostolic Letter of last March (Cf. A.A.S., XLIV, Ser. II, Vol. XIX, p. 249 ff), We have already protested vehemently against the many afflictions by which the faithful of your own and the Latin Rite are oppressed, and with fatherly sympathy We have exhorted them all to persevere, with that indomitable steadfastness by which they are distinguished, in the religion of their forefathers.

23. For the present, however, We sadly turn our thoughts and affection to another people, truly dear to Us, namely, to the people of the Ukraine, among whom are not a few of the faithful who look towards Rome with immense desire and earnest love, and venerate this Apostolic See as the center of the Christian religion and as the infallible teacher of Christian truth by reason of the mandate of Jesus Christ (Cf. Matt. 16: 18-19; John 11: 15-17; Luke 22: 32).

24. This people, nevertheless, as We have learned with overwhelming grief, are oppressed in no smaller degree with persecution and find themselves already for some time in a situation no less grave than the other peoples, of whom We have spoken to you, Venerable Brothers, in this letter.

25. In a special way We would recall the memory of those Bishops of the Oriental Rite who were among the first in the defense of their religion to endure hardship, affliction and outrage; who, transported to the city of Kiev, were there tried and condemned to various punishments--in the city of Kiev, We say, whence once shone forth throughout all those regions the light of Christian doctrine, and whence Christian worship was propagated.

26. Some of these have already met a glorious death, and so, as one may hope, from the abode of heavenly blessedness, which they enjoy, lovingly look down upon their sons and their companions in their unarmed struggle, and implore for them the all-powerful protection of God.

27. Besides, We cannot pass over in silence those faithful of the Latin and Oriental Rite who, after being driven from homeland and hearth, and deported into unknown and distant lands, are now there deprived of their rightful priests, who could console, help and direct them, and extend to them the heavenly comforts of religion.

28. All this is for Us a cause of grief so heartrending that We cannot restrain Our tears. Meanwhile We beseech the all-compassionate God and Father of Mercy that He would deign graciously to enlighten those who are responsible for such a sad state of affairs, and that He would deign likewise to put an end as soon as possible to the accumulation of so many evils.

29. Nevertheless, Venerable Brothers, in the midst of so many and such great calamities, on account of which Our soul and yours are overwhelmed with grief, We have reason to derive some consolation from news We have received. For it is made known to Us that those who are reduced to such a lamentable and critical situation remain steadfast in their faith with such intrepid constancy as to excite Our admiration and the admiration of every honest person.

30. Let all these receive from Us this merited recognition of Our paternal praise, and may it serve to increase and strengthen more and more their fortitude. And let them know for certain that We, as the Common Father Whom "the care for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11: 28) urges and the "love of Christ impels" (ibid. 5: 14), raise up each day ardent supplication that the reign of Jesus Christ, bearer of peace to souls, to peoples and to nations, may everywhere triumph.

31. Before the sad spectacle of these afflictions which have stricken not only Our sons among the laity, but more especially those who, raised to the priestly dignity, are for that very reason afflicted, that the words of Sacred Scripture may be verified: "I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered" (Matt. 26: 31; Cf. Mark 14: 27; Zach. 13: 7)--We feel obliged to recall to the mind of all that throughout the course of the centuries, not only among civilized but also among barbaric peoples, the ministers of religion have always been treated, in so far as they are intermediaries between God and men, with due honor and veneration.

32. When, moreover, the Divine Redeemer, after the dispelling of the darkness of error, taught to us heavenly truth and through His profound condescension wished to make us partakers in His eternal priesthood, this showing of honor and veneration was then greatly increased, so much so that Bishops and priests were regarded as most loving Fathers, desirous of nothing else than the common good of the people entrusted to their care.

33. Yet the Divine Redeemer has said Himself: "No disciple is above his teacher" (Matt. 10: 24); "If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15: 20); "Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and speaking falsely, say all manner of evil against you, for my sake. Rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in heaven" (Matt. 5: 11-12).

34. We should not wonder, therefore, if in Our days, and perhaps more than in past centuries, the Church of Christ, and in a particular way its ministers, is made to suffer from persecution, falsehoods, calumnies and afflictions of every kind; but rather place Our secure trust in Him Who, if He has already foretold these future calamities, wished also to forewarn us with these words: "In the world you will have affliction. But take courage, I have overcome the world" (John 16: 33).

35. Do not be downhearted, therefore, Venerable Brothers. Just as your forebears overcame so many difficulties, wiles and dangers by fighting with heroic fortitude even unto martyrdom, so also you who belong to the Oriental Church, together with the faithful of the Latin Rite, trust in the aid of heavenly grace and be not afraid. Supplicate together the Lord and His Most Loving Mother, praying especially for those who are today in greatest danger, that they may be endowed with Christian fortitude.

36. Pray too that all may finally understand certain truths, which are, in fact, clearer than the light of the sun, namely, that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but powerful before God" (2 Cor. 10: 4), that the Church does not seek temporal power but the eternal salvation of souls, that she does not intrigue against governing authorities, but, by means of the Gospel teachings which are capable of forming first-class citizens, she strengthens the very foundations of human society.

37. If, therefore, she is allowed to enjoy the liberty given her by God, if she is allowed to display her strength publicly and carry on her activities openly in the midst of the people, she can undoubtedly contribute much towards promoting the common good, towards bringing the various classes of citizens closer together in justice and in concord, and towards leading all nations to that true peace and tranquillity which, just as it is desired by all, must also be willed by all.

38. In order to obtain these things, We desire, Venerable Brothers, that you have public prayers said and that you exhort the faithful entrusted to you to perform also works of penance, so that the Divine Majesty, outraged by so many and so grave offenses, may be appeased.

39. Let all remember the words of Sacred Scripture: "Pray for those who persecute and calumniate you" (Matt. 5: 44); "Let the members have care for one another. And if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with it" (1 Cor. 12: 25-26). It is necessary, furthermore, to imitate the example of the Divine Redeemer Who, in the midst of terrible pain, cried out from the Cross: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23: 34). It is necessary likewise to fill up in our flesh that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His Body, which is the Church (Cf. Col. 1: 24). Wherefore, not only must we pray to God for our distressed sons and brothers, but we must willingly offer up to Him our sufferings, our voluntary penances and afflictions.

40. If, towards the numberless persons in those regions who are suffering infirmity, sorrows and anxieties, or who are in prison, We cannot put into practice the words of Jesus, "I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me" (Matt. 25: 36), there is, nevertheless, some way in which we can accomplish the same thing: namely, by our prayers and works of penance we can beseech the Most Merciful God to send His comforting angels to these our suffering brothers and sons, and to grant them most copious gifts from on high which will console and fortify their minds and elevate them to heavenly things.

41. In a particular manner, however, We desire that all priests who are able daily to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice should make a remembrance of those Bishops and priests who, far from their churches and their faithful, have not the possibility of ascending the altar to offer the Divine Sacrifice and nourish themselves and their faithful with that divine food from which our souls attain a sweetness surpassing all desire, and receive that strength which leads to victory. And, united together in fraternal union, let the faithful who approach the same holy table and partake of the same sacrifice do likewise, with the result that in every part of the world and in all the rites which constitute the ornament of the Church, there shall be raised to God and His Heavenly Mother unanimous voices imploring the divine mercy on behalf of these afflicted communities of Christians.

42. Since there will be celebrated next January as usual in many places the octave of prayers for the unity of the Church, it seems to Us particularly opportune that, especially on that occasion, earnest supplications should be made to God, not only that there be verified as soon as possible the desire of the Redeemer: "Holy Father, keep in thy name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one even as we are" (John 17: 11); but also that the prisons may be opened and the chains unlocked which today pitifully afflict so many for heroically having tried to defend the rights and institutions of religion; and also that Christian truth, justice, concord and peace, which are the greatest gifts of all, may triumph everywhere.

43. As an earnest of that and as a pledge of Our paternal benevolence, We impart from Our heart to you, Venerable Brothers, to the flocks entrusted to your care, and in a particular manner to those living in these difficult conditions, the Apostolic Benediction. Given at Rome, from St. Peter's, on the fifteenth day of December, 1952, in the fourteenth year of Our Pontificate.

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