Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Courageous Defender of Ukrainian Values

by Giovanni Scarabelli


In this article Giovanni Scarabelli reflects upon the life and work of The Servant of God, Andriy Sheptytsky, known especially for his endless devotion to the religious and civil advancement of Greek Catholics.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano



Publisher & Date

Vatican, January 24, 2001

His vast interests, reflected in his achievements in every field which mark the pastoral service of the Servant of God Andriy Sheptytsky led Pope Pius XII to say only a year after his death: "... dedicating himself to 45 years of tireless activity, not for one cause alone or only for spiritual benefits, he bore beautiful witness to the flock entrusted to his care" (Orientales omnes, 23 December 1945).

Roman (Andriy) was born on 29 July 1865 to Jan and Sofia (nee Fedroy) of the noble Sheptytsky family. After studying at Lviv and Krakow, he received a law degree in 1888. On 28 May that same year, he entered the monastery of the Ukrainian Basilians in Dobromyl, and four years later (1892) made his solemn vows, taking the name of Andriy, and was ordained a priest on 22 August. At the same time he completed his theological and philosophical studies in Krakow, receiving the respective degrees. In 1896 he was appointed hegumen (superior) of the Basilian Monastery of St Onuphrius in Lviv. Here he developed the direction that would always mark him: to serve and advance the Ukrainian people by making the most of their rite, tradition and culture. On 17 June 1899, at the age of 34, he was appointed Bishop of Stanislaviv (today Ivano-Frankivsk) by Leo XIII who had known him personally.

He spent only a year and a half there before being transferred to the metropolitan see of Halich based in Lviv: thus he became the Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It is worth remembering some aspects of his 45 years of tireless episcopal service.

He immediately realized that the advancement of his people and their fidelity to the Ukrainian rite also depended on the quality of the clergy. To ensure that his future priests would receive adequate formation, he built a seminary and equipped it with sufficient means for its maintenance. Once it was established, he founded the Theological Academy, a university institution, to offer a higher level of education and to encourage intellectual development, calling on Fr Josyf Slypyj to direct it. He would later help him as Coadjutor Bishop and also become his successor in the see of Lviv.

He was equally interested in the renewal of religious life. Only one order existed at the time (the Order of St Basil, with male and female branches), which was difficult to enter, and the Servants of Mary Immaculate were just at the beginning of their foundation. So, noting that various groups were being spontaneously formed by devout people who were dedicated to a deep spiritual and religious life, he founded the Order of Studites, entrusting it to the care of his brother Kliment (who died in the Gulag in 1952), and later the female Studites and the women's Congregations of the Sacred Family, St Josaphat and St Joseph. He also received approval in 1910 to establish an Eastern-rite branch of Redemptorists, organized into an autonomous Province.

While relying on these new communities for pastoral care, he certainly did not lack direct personal involvement. It is significant that during his long episcopate, Metropolitan Andriy wrote over 100 pastoral letters of varying length and importance on the most diverse subjects; all were addressed to the people in an accessible language. In addition, he wrote about a dozen popular religious books. He never missed an occasion to instruct the communities, which he frequently visited, giving them homilies and catechesis. At the same time he devoted special attention to the Ukrainian communities of the diaspora, for whom he saw to the erection of many Eparchies. He took great pains to visit them all throughout the world, making various journeys that were both difficult and exciting.

Another aspect should also be mentioned: his ecumenical activity, although it was obviously marked by the limits of the time. To him we owe the initiative of the famous scholarly conferences on Christian unity held in Velehrad. At these conferences, Metropolitan Andriy gave wise lectures on new methods for the apostolate, which were based on Christian charity and dialogue. To restore unity, it was necessary to know and love one another; hence the need to pray and study.

We will not linger on his active promotion of Ukrainian culture, although we must at least say that he organized such highly significant initiatives that he belongs in the forefront of the Ukrainian revival which occurred in the first half of the 20th century.

All this exceptional activity passed through the crucible of suffering. On 18 September 1914 he was arrested by the Russians and deported to Russia for three years. In 1919, after the Polish-Ukrainian War, he was imprisoned and owed his release to the vigorous intervention of Archbishop Achille Ratti, Apostolic Nuncio in Warsaw and later Pope Pius XI. All this suffering started to affect his health. First he had to use crutches and later, in 1930, a wheelchair until his death. Yet his spirit remained alert and indomitable, and his activity continued with abundant divine blessings. He eventually faced a final painful trial: the Second World War, with the subsequent Nazi and Soviet invasions and occupations. The indomitable "Giant of St George" also knew how to prove his valour on this occasion. But the end of his earthly life was now imminent. He died on 1 November 1944. His funeral, which was also attended by senior Soviet Ukrainian authorities, was the last public appearance of Greek Catholics, since a few days later the "Iron Curtain" fell heavily on them. But "his name", Pius XII said, "will remain forever blessed in the Church of God, which will remember his ardent zeal for the souls entrusted to him and his manly courage in also defending his people's civil values".

© L'Osservatore Romano, Editorial and Management Offices, Via del Pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.

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