When at the end of World War II the iron curtain fell over the whole of Eastern Europe and the forces of darkness began their Infamous rule, darkness seemed to reign everywhere. Our hearts were heavy with grief and saddened by unhappy news which from time to time pierced the curtain: the death of the Primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andreas Sheptytskyj (1944), incarceration of his successor Metropolitan of Galicia (Western Ukraine) and Archbishop of Lviv Josyf Slipyj, together with the entire hierarchy, most of the clergy and thousands of the faithful, and finally the officially sanctioned and unshamefully proclaimed liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church (1946). The enemy of God and of mankind had his day and would not stop short of anything, but a complete destruction of the work of God and of His faithful followers. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was destined to suffer the same kind of persecution and destruction as did two decades earlier the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
As the years passed by, the Ukrainians at home and abroad learned about, and registered one death after another of their beloved bishops, priests, monks and sisters. Ten bishops perished in prisons and concentration camps of cold Siberia and in distant provinces of Asian part of the USSR. Not a single one of them chose the way of an apostate; not a single one of them betrayed his faith and the Holy Church. All of them had shown, with the help of the Almighty, an extraordinary fortitude of faith, and strength of spirit and willpower. They all died a death of martyrs, a death that was so much cherished by early Christians, a death that is considered by the Church a special grace of God accorded to the chosen ones since it is a crown of sanctity. They sacrificed their lives for freedom and the holy faith. In the last, agonizing moments of their life they must have remembered the words of St. Paul, who said:
«In all things we suffer tribulation, but we are not distressed; we are sore pressed, but we are not destitute; we endure persecution but we are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we do not perish.»
«For we the living are constantly being handed over to death of Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh,» (2 Cor, 8-11)
In the late fifties only one out of eleven imprisoned bishops remained alive – Metropolitan Slipyj, Primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, already an old man with frail health, but with unbroken spirit and faith. His perseverance filled our hearts with Joy and pride. He become for all of us a living symbol of the dedication to our religion, and a symbol of the national aspiration of our people. But not much was heard of him over the years. And when ten years ago the Ukrainian diaspora honored His seventieth Birthday with solemn celebrations, our hopes for his survival and liberation at the same time were waning. Not too many of us could believe at that time that an almost miraculous deliverance of our supreme Pastor, and a resurrection of our Church at home, albeit slow, was possible. The life in this modern world of ours makes it difficult for the man of today to believe in things supernatural, – in miracles. Lazarus resurrection seems incomprehensible today, even to the Christians, despite the fact that Christ himself and his apostles bear witness to it. Therefore, the news of February 10, 1963, about the arrival of Venerable Father Slipyj at Rome, broken to the world by the Holy Memory Pope John XXIII, filled our hearts with the inexpressible joy; but it also reminded us that God’s ways are not always known to man; that the Impossible things might and do happen with His permission, and that miracles have to be believed because they are the proof of the existence of God and because they confirm the divinity of the Church. The whole Christian world received this news with relief. Prayers of gratitude were said by the Holy Father, late John XXIII who asked all the Christians to join him in his prayer of thanksgiving.
In recognition of his perseverance in faith despite great and cruel sufferings and humiliations to which he was subjected during the long 17 years of imprisonment, several high honors have been bestowed upon the Venerable Father Josyf Slipyj (1960, including the honor of the Prince of Church, that of a Cardinal.
Today we offer in all the due solemnity our sincere thanks to the Almighty (unworthy as we are) for the preservation and liberation of his worthy servant, His Beatitude Josyf Cardinal Slipyj. We pay our filial tribute to him, our spiritual Father, the Archbishop Major of the Ukrainian Catholic Church on the occasion of his eighth lest birthday. No better occasion can be thought of. But let us not be deceived by it. It was not for the sake of praise and honor that Providence almost miraculously preserved the broken health and extended the life span of his Beatitude and made it possible for him to participate in the last Ecumenical Council. The Almighty must have had other reasons and aims; possible, to enable him to bring to us, i.e. to the modern man of today’s world in general, and to us Ukrainians in particular, good tidings to transmit a message. A message about the power, of faith, the value of truth, the benevolence of unity and about the significance of tradition – both Christian and national.
The whole life of His Beatitude seems to confirm our suppositions. He often wrote, spoke, and preached about the cardinal Christian virtues, constantly stressing their significance for a true life of a Christian,
1. Message concerning the power of the Virtus Fidel.
«I believed, and so I spoke,»
(2 Cor, 4:13)
«I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept my faith,»
Faith must often be upheld by prayer; faith pre-supposes on one’s part the readiness to suffer and to die for it. Many times since his liberation His Beatitude spoke on the virtue of faith and its most expressive acts – those of prayer and suffering.
«And most of all I pray that God grants you salvation for your prayers for me. Since it were your prayers, most probably which broke the shackles, chains, аnd fetters,»
On another occasion he spoke:
«Let us look forward to our future in peace since God might want me and you to suffer for some time… But let us be assured that all that /suffering will end in Glory, in the resurrection of Christ…» (Sermon on Easter Sunday, 1963.)
He chose «to carry disgrace for the name of Jesus» said late Pope Pius XII of him in his letter to Father Josyf Slipyj in 1957 (25. XII, on the occasion of 40th Anniversary of Cardinal’s Priesthood), and let us add on our part that the disgrace ended in Glory because of the fortitude of faith. His faith and his glory are shared by his people in whom he puts his great hopes and his trust when he says:
«With the gladness of a brother, with the happiness of an old father who in tranquility notices the growth of his sons, I must say: The faith of Christ remains with our people till the present day. And we ourselves hope and we tell you that nobody is able to tear away the holy faith from the hearts of our people.» (Sermon on Easter Sunday, 1963)
Let us take this good news, this message of His Beatitude and keep it in our hearts as the most cherished possession.
2. Message concerning the value of the Virtus Verltatls. «Learn the truth and truth will deliver you into freedom.»
Complete and objective truth – in theology and history, truth аnd beauty in arts have been pursued by His Beatitude throughout his long life and work as a pastor, distinguished scholar and exceptionally-gifted educator. Once he said that «Nothing, but a complete and objective truth can satisfy disturbed human mind.» And in the preface to his major scholarly treatise On the Dogma of Holy Sacraments he wrote: «Let the light of heaven illuminate the way of truth.» But in his life he not only wrote about and preached the virtue of truth, he lived it and suffered for it.
In his message to us he wants us to follow this major Christian virtue in the personal, social, national and international aspects of our life.
3. Message concerning the benevolence of the Virtus Unіtatіs.
«That all be one. In Christ.»
«Ubi concordia, ibi victoria.»
Every Christian must be disturbed by the fact of the division of the Holy Church of Christ. How much more must this fact be painful to a theologian and bishop. It was for this reason that His Beatitude Cardinal Josyf, dedicated much of his time to the study of this problem, because active in unionіstіc movement, participated in learned congresses and organized himself conferences dealing with the problem of the division of the Church prior to World War II. Long time ago, and prior to Vatican II, Cardinal Josyf came to the conclusion that as far as the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church are concerned, there existed always mutual influence in their theological thinking, and that differences were less essential and less numerous than It was generally assumed. His views on the reasons for division of Churches and suggestions for the future unity he had made known in his various writings which are highly regarded by the specialists.
On his return from exile, His Beatitude stated that:
«The strategy of today’s religious soul demands first of all – unity.»
It is, however, not only the disunity of the Church that disturbs the mind and the saul of his Beatitude. It is also the disunity of the present world and of our nation that causes him a great pain. In an address to his Holiness Pope Paul VI, His Beautitude Cardinal Josyf said:
«When we, in our modesty and humility, take a look at the arena of world affairs, we see how the gigantic efforts of Your Holiness to unite and to preserve all mankind from disagreements and war come to the fore.»
«Political circumstances of the past centuries and the location of our nation at the cross roads between East and West with their often conflicting aspirations exercised most harmful influence upon our unity. They often divided our religious, state and national life.»
His Beatitude’s suggestions for unity in all aspects of our life are more than timely now.
Message concerning the( significance of tradition.
«Breaking of the new ways for the truth could be done only when the old ways are known». (J. Slipyj, 1933б Nyva)
A diligent student himself of the cultural heritage of East and West, His Beatitude Josyf, Cardinal Slipyj encouraged his students and co-workers to dedicate their time and energies to the study of the Christian cultural heritage, and the study of the history of Ukrainian culture which is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition of the East. For that reason he became the co-founder and patron of the Ukrainian National Museum in Lviv, organizer of the Ukrainian Theological Society, and supported many scholarly projects in this field of study, participating himself in several of them. War and the subsequent imprisonment interrupted this noble work of His Beatitude for a quarter of a century.
But soon after his arrival in Rome, His Beatitude resumed his interrupted work on many previous projects and started new ones with no less vigor and dedication as if wanting to make up for the bygone years. Institutions which he headed before the war, such as the Catholic Theological Academy and the Ukrainian Theological Society renewed their activities under his leadership and guidance. Their publications, which had ceased, began to appear again and new ones were started. Already in 1963. St. Clement Ukrainian Catholic University was founded and chartered in Rome.
It is in the founding charter of the said University that his Beatitude gives expression of his understanding and of his appreciation of tradition:
«The aim of this University is first of all to study the /cultural/ past of the Ukrainian people, their Christian world view as well as the world view of the entire East, to which we dо belong; to gather and preserve such knowledge in books; to reveal the scholarly endeavor… of the Ukrainian genius of learning and study, inspired by the Holy Ghost.» (Blahovisnyk, an. II, lib. 1, 1966.)
Let us all share in these endeavors of His Beatitude.
Let us assure him today that we have heard and understood his message, that we have accepted it and that we are his faithful followers.
Let us pray to the Almighty that He extends His Grace and heavenly blessings to His Beatitude during this happy Anniversary year, and during the many years to come. That the Almighty in His omnipotence preserves his life, accords him strength and gives him peace of mind year after year – for the glory of the Holy Christian Church, for the well-being of our Ukrainian Catholic Church, for our nation and for the eternal salvation of all of us. Let us pray so that he can continue his noble work among us and remind us of our obligations toward our persecuted Church and our oppressed people remind all of us – the mighty and the humble ones. In our praise of him and In our pledge to him today, on the day of this unique Anniversary – let us exclaim in unity of tongue? and heart – Na mnohyji lita Vladyko; Ad multos Annos, your Beatitude !