Metropolitan Andrew count Sheptytcsky — in memoriam

November 1, 1974 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Andrew Count Sheptytsky. The following personal recollection about him was broadcasted on November 2, 1974 over WIBF’s “Voice of the Ukrainian Community,” the Ukrainian Radio Program serving the Greater Philadelphia area.

The year was 1943; the place was Lviv, Western Ukraine. The War was still going well for the Germans, and everywhere in the city one could see members of the Wehrmacht in their elegant uniforms making their presence felt among the natives. People appeared to be confused and disappointed. The Germans, after all, had come as liberators, but they behaved more and more as conquerors. In listening to the conversations of adults, I was able to pick up contradictory information which made little or no sense to me, an 8-year old boy. I knew of the war, of course. After all, my family and I had survived the initial attacks of the Luftwaffe on the city; we had seen the Russians retreat; we had watched the Germans come; we had suffered from the food shortage, although perhaps not too intensely, and now we were living in a constant state of vacillation between anxiety and hope, that state of mind, which is typical for civilians in a war-torn country. And yet to a child, the situation was almost normal, despite the fears and worries of the adults. I went to school every day; I did my homework; I played my usual children’s games in our spacious apartment and every Sunday the entire family went to Mass. In addition, three times a week, my mother and I would attend the vesper service at the Cathedral of St. George, which extended its magnificent cupolas proudly into the blue Ukrainian sky a walking distance from our home.

I loved to go to Church, but the reason for my doing so was not necessarily piety or devotion. It was nice to get out of the house and escape the strict supervision of the governess who always told me what to do and what not to do. In addition, St. George had a special attraction to me; I, as every other Ukrainian child in Lviv, knew, that St. George was the residence of Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, the head of our Church, a great man and a living Saint. Everybody knew: he had defied the Russian Czar and survived exile in Sibera: he had withstood the threats of the Bolsheviks, and now it was rumored, he was defying the Germans by hiding Jews from their would-be captors and by refusing to yield to any German demands.

I had never seen Metropolitan Sheptytsky with my own eyes, but I had certainly heard enough about this legendary figure to have my own image of him. I knew he was a giant in stature, taller than anyone else, fair to look at and powerful in built. Count Sheptytsky was to me just like all those other heroes from our Ukrainian past of whom I had read in my history books and in the fairy tales: courageous beyond belief, strong and powerful and invincible. His presence at St. George was an assurance to me that neither the Germans nor the Russians nor any other invader of our land could pose a serious threat to our existence. I was convinced, that if things really got rough, Count Sheptytsky would leave his castle, the Cathedral of St. George, and cast the invaders out of our land, in the manner of the heroes of old. After all, how did the Germans and Russians differ from the Polovtsians and the Tartars? And they, of course, were long gone and almost forgotten, defeated by such brave Ukrainian warriors as Count Andrew Sheptytsky.

It was this kind of thoughts that went through my mind as I, together with my mother, was attending vespers at St. George one beautiful summer evening. The service was just about over, as I noticed a commotion at the left entrance to the Church. Throngs of churchgoers suddenly surged toward that wing of the Cathedral and engulfed a man who had unexpectedly appeared there sitting in a wheelchair. The commotion was really something to behold. The people moved vigorously, but also not without respect. They surrounded the man, knelt at his feet and bowed their heads. Some tried to kiss his hand, others just knelt there with tears in their eyes, still others brought their children for him to bless, and he, sitting up straight, gave his blessing to all. He was old, very old. His hair was white and his long beard shone silvery in the candle light. He was frail in built and almost diaphanous in appearance. His face was gentle and serene, and his eyes reflected a depth and intensity of love which only suffering and privation can give. My mother and I had also come near to him and we knelt down with all the others. And suddenly I discovered, that tears were streaming down my cheeks. “Who is this man?” I whispered to my mother, although I already knew the answer. “That is He, our Metropolitan,” my mother replied. Tears continued to stream down my cheeks, dissolving the heroic image created by the dreams of childhood innocence. The clash between the real and the imaginary world was almost too much to’ bear, and I don’t even remember how we left St. George and returned home that night.

Yet war and emigration age a child faster than peace and prosperity. One year and a few months later, I cried once more, but this time for the real Metropolitan Andrew Count Sheptytsky. He died on November 1, 1944, the most symbolic and memorable of all the days of the year for all Ukrainians. And in mourning him, I at the “mature” age of nine, knew, that strength of character and courage must not necessarily reside in a strong body of heroic proportions. At that stage of my development, I had already realized that the greatness and glory of a man ought not be measured by his great deeds and by his physical appearance and prowess. The real value of a man of God lies in his manly acceptance of suffering and misfortune and in his quiet devotion to God and his people. Thus the real image and the real importance of the “Giant from the Cathedral of St. George” was now clear in my mind: the warrior of Childhood dreams had yielded to the Servant of God, to the Saint, whom all Ukrainians love and venerate Metropolitan Andrew Count Sheptytsky. 

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