Ukraine’s Greek Catholic heroes

Ever since then Maidan revolution of dignity erupted in Kyiv in November 2013, Russian propaganda has been pumped into the world in a steady stream of bilge reminiscent of what spewed out of Germany in the 1930s. That propaganda has come through governmental and putatively independent channels, through senior Kremlin officials, TV outlets like “Russia Today,” and Russian internet trolls. Most unfortunately, it has come from senior officials of the Russian Orthodox Church, who have too often misrepresented what the Kremlin is up to in Ukraine while slandering Ukraine’s Greek Catholic leaders with false accusations of  Russophobia.

This mendacity is bad enough in itself.  Its distortion of international public life is intensified, however, when ignorant, naïve, or duplicitous western reporters and commentators take these lies at face value and repeat them in their own work. One outrageous example of this unhappy phenomenon appeared in a recent issue of the Tablet, the London-based Catholic weekly that reaches a global audience. There, in an otherwise insightful article, writer Jonathan Luxmoore recycled Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion’s demonstrably false charge that Greek Catholic leaders in Ukraine has “used openly Russophobic rhetoric,” thus making it harder to heal historical wounds. Then Mr. Luxmoore proceeded to make matters worse:

“The Moscow Patriarchate has a point. The Greek Catholic Church’s youthful, inexperienced leaders undoubtedly helped stoke the 2013-14 uprising against Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, with one bishop in particular, the US-born Borys Gudziak, coming close to inciting conflict. None of this can justify Russia’s land-grab in Crimea and backing for the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. But it may help to explain why Pope Francis has held back in his statements on the conflict, much to the frustration of Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, the Greek Catholic Church’s 45-yar old leader.”

Rarely has so much disinformation been packed into four sentences.

It is libelous to suggest that Bishop Gudziak “incited conflict,” when the truth of the matter is that he, and other Greek Catholic Church leaders, risked their lives to sustain nonviolent resistance and maintain calm on the Maidan, amidst an assault by murderous internal security forces who killed over one hundred innocent, nonviolent democratic activists.

Ukraine’s Greek Catholic leaders did not “stoke…an uprising” in Ukraine; they supported their people in the people’s insistence that the promise of Ukraine’s democratic future within Europe be redeemed, when it was being betrayed by a corrupt, kleptocratic government under pressure from Vladimir Putin.

As for the alleged “youthful inexperience” of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic leadership, the retired leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, eighty year old Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, was present on the Maiden, supporting his younger colleagues – and as the most respected man in the country, Cardinal Husar helped give the Maidan revolution of dignity its striking moral depth.

Cardinal Husar, Major-Archbishop Shevchuk, and Bishop Gudziak are friends of mine, so some may consider me a suspect witness. But I know these men well, and the suggestion that Major-Archbishop Shevchuk and Bishop Gudziak are callow, inexperienced naïfs is literally incredible to anyone familiar with the heroic roles they have played over the past two and a half years, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They have acted as bishops ought to act, and as Pope Francis has asked bishops to act, most recently in Mexico: standing with the flock as true shepherds, risking their own lives in the process. Their witness undoubtedly inspired many conversions on the Maidan; their service since then continues to do so; they are true heroes of the faith, as is their inspiration, Lubomyr Husar.

Misrepresenting the Ukrainian Greek Catholic leadership in such a manifestly false way invites the concern that the author of these calumnies has made himself into a tool of propagandists – unwittingly, one hopes. That the editors who handled his material saw fit to pass it through invites the further concern that an important Catholic publication has lost its critical edge.

The hoped-for rapprochement between Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy is not advanced when Catholic publications swallow and then regurgitate toxic falsehoods emanating from Russian Orthodox leaders, who are themselves recycling lies from the masters of Kremlin propaganda. The unity we seek can only be unity in truth.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.