Introduction by Reader Matfey Shaheen:
We are happy to present this interview which unveils the history of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and the role the Vatican and the Uniates have played.
Hieromonk Constantine (Simon) is perhaps one of the most qualified native English-speaking experts on these subjects, and I am very grateful to Father Doctor Constantine for not only his pastoral wisdom, but also his near saintly patience in waiting for me to publish this interview. Around the time this was recorded, I had recently moved to Moscow to continue to pursue theological studies, and I was completely honored that Father Constantine took the time to speak with me on these important matters.
His credentials made him quite literally the perfect expert to approach for these questions on the history of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and its interactions with Catholicism.
Why is that? Because before Father Constantine completed his dream to become an Orthodox Priest, and move to Russia—he was a Jesuit Professor in a Papal Institute in Rome!
Hieromonk Constantine (Simon) Ph.D. was born in 1955, to a Ukrainian mother and a Hungarian father, and was raised Roman Catholic, and eventually joined the Jesuit Order, becoming a Roman Catholic Priest in 1980. Father Constantine is an expert on numerous Slavic and Balkan languages, and the history of the Russian and Slavic Churches, and after completing his doctorate, eventually rose to become the Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, effectively placing him just under the top of one of the Vatican’s highest universities, and one specializing in Eastern Christian Studies.
Always feeling a love and desire to become Orthodox, which was the religion of his mother’s tradition, Father Constantine was received into Orthodoxy in Russia on June 7, 2014 under Archbishop Ambrose, then-Rector of Saint Petersburg Theological Academy (currently Rector of Sretensky Theological Seminary in Moscow and Vicar of that monastery).
In September of that year, with the blessing of His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow himself, he was added to the brethren of Vysoko-Petrovsky Monastery in Moscow.
This is the first part of the interview which was recorded in late 2019. Throughout the interview, we discuss the history of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and the involvement of the Jesuits there.
We also discuss the Uniates and the rise of nationalism and even neo-Nazism among them and the Ukrainian nationalists, which still fuels the religious conflict in Ukraine.
In addition, we discuss how the Roman Catholic Church has changed since the Second Vatican Council, the dangers of liturgical renovationism, the doublespeak present in the Vatican, and Father Constantine’s amazing and inspiring coming home to Orthodoxy—the faith of his glorious and pious ancestors—The Ruthenians.
—We’re here in Vysoko-Petrovsky Monastery with Hieromonk Constantine (Simon). We are very grateful for your time and patience in giving us this interview. It’s always an honor speaking to a clergyman and a professor of such renown.
I must say, when I heard of your conversion to Orthodoxy, several years back, I was extremely excited and always hoped that we might meet sometime. First of all, because I believe that Orthodoxy is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, and so I feel any Christian who receives Orthodoxy is already “coming home”.
But also, when I heard of your background and connection to what is now Galician and Carpathian Rus’, Western Ukraine and Hungary, I was excited, as these lands are very close to me personally, and to my academic work, and studies in seminary—those connections alone are remarkable to me, and you are most certainly a remarkable person. You were a member of the Jesuit Order, a Doctor of Philosophy, and a Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in the Vatican in Rome. I also understand that you were not just a professor there but you were the Vice Rector?
—For a time yes. For a time, I was a member of the Belgium Province Jesuit Order. I joined the Jesuit Order in Belgium, after which I was sent to Germany, to Munich, where I studied Balkan Philology for approximately nine years. That was after I completed my first doctorate at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and later I taught at the Pontifical Oriental Institute for about thirty years.
—Brilliant! So, this is your academic background. It’s wonderful to hear, and if I may say, given your considerable credentials: I’m very glad you are on our side!
—Yes, I spoke with you before in many conversations, I always wanted to be Orthodox because I had Orthodox ancestors on my mother’s side. But the difficulty was, that I had very few contacts with Orthodox clergy, and these contacts only started to happen after the Pontificate of John Paul II, when Orthodox students, especially from Russia, were being sent to Rome. They were completing their doctorates with me, and it was through them that I became better acquainted with the Moscow Patriarchate, especially with the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate.
—I can say, personally speaking, concerning your background that I was delighted when I heard in one of your previous interviews, which took place in the small medieval cathedral of Saint Peter, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’ in the monastery he founded, that your father was Hungarian and your mother was Ukrainian.
—So, she was from what region of—in that time—Poland?
—Yes, it was Poland.
—So, she was a Ukrainian from what I assume was Volhynia or Red Ruthenia?
—Yes, Red Ruthenia.
Red Ruthenia, the western extreme of Rus’, now corresponds mostly to the border region between Poland and the Lviv (Lwow/Lvov) province of modern Ukraine. Red Ruthenia was centered around especially Przemyśl, Chełm, Rzeszów, and Zamość in Poland today. This map shows how close the region overlaps with Galicia and the northern tips of Transcarpathia. St. Alexis Toth as well as Metropolitan Laurus (Skurla) and a sizable amount of the early Orthodox or Uniate Slav immigrants to the U.S. were from nearby Preszow (Presov) in Slovakia (Słowacja). —So please tell us anything about your parents, how they met, and how you became Orthodox.
—Well, my parents, as I’ve told you on another occasion, my mother was originally Orthodox, and my father a Protestant Calvinist. And when they married, they decided they would become Roman Catholic, so they sent me to Roman Catholic school for thirteen years, and that’s how I became a Roman Catholic, who was always still very much interested in my Orthodox background.
—So then, we can say Roman Catholicism wasn’t really your family’s old tradition.
—No, it isn’t and I always loved the old Tridentine Mass, it’s true, but I never felt completely at home in the Roman Catholic Church.
—I understand. So as someone who dedicated a large part of my academic and theological studies to the history of the church and peoples of Carpathian Rus’, Galicia and Volhynia, its quite an honor to speak to someone from those God-preserved and long-suffering lands. For a long time, those lands were under Catholic rule, but eventually in time, many of their saints, such as St. Alexis Toth, in connection to whom you wrote extensive academic work on, felt the call to come home to Orthodoxy, as you did.
—Yes, I must say, in Germany for instance, when I was among the Jesuits in Rome, and in Belgium as well, I never felt completely at home, and it is not until I came to Russia, and to this monastery, that I finally feel myself at home and at ease—in Orthodoxy.
—Some of the greatest Saints in the Russian tradition came from those lands of Western Rus’. Among Orthodox converts from more traditional church backgrounds, such as for example, the Uniate converts, or even people like Jaroslav Pelikan, a common thing I hear, is that they feel they were not exactly converting to something new, but rather, coming home to something they always in a way believed, but never quite had the words for it. So, can you tell us a little more specifically about your—Nostos—as the Greeks would call it, your journey home to Orthodoxy? How a Jesuit Professor in the Vatican became an Orthodox Hieromonk?
—Well, I was always interested in Orthodoxy, in particular, in Russian Orthodoxy, because of my background. I began to learn Russian when I was nine or ten. We spoke Ukrainian in the family with my grandmother, after that, I have to say the interest in Russia continued and only grew.
In Rome, after having studied in Germany the Slavic and Balkan languages, I taught Russian Church History and Slavic Church History.
And of course, in Rome, we had the Russicum, where we were able to celebrate—although as Roman Catholics—more or less I say—in the Russian tradition. And that was why I did not have a great problem when I came to Moscow, to acclimate myself to the liturgical side of Orthodoxy.
I knew already Church Slavonic, I knew already Russian more or less, and the services were, except for the very monastic services, very familiar to me. So, I did not have any problems with the liturgical life, which an ordinary Roman Catholic would have, in coming to the Russian Orthodox Church. And it was of course the liturgical life which particularly attracted me.
Hieromonk Constantine (Simon) Ph.D. delivering a sermon after liturgy. Father Constantine is known for his strict adherence to, and love for the Russian Orthodox liturgical tradition, on which he is a noted expert.
—So, I was wondering, in this context, how was the reaction, from the Roman Catholic side, when it became clear to them that you were joining the Orthodox Church.
—The reaction of the Jesuit Order was, minimal, if I might say so. They knew about my intention for two years, and still allowed me to continue to live at the Oriental Institute. When I finally met with, what is called the Delegate, which would be the superior of those Jesuits who are studying in the international houses in Rome, the Delegate was not against my conversion to Orthodoxy.
—That’s surprising! At least from our point of view!
—Yes! Yes! But no, the Roman Catholic Church has changed very very much! And, I’m afraid we are living today, in a period—in the Roman church—of religious indifference. All religions, for many of them, seem to be alike. Well anyway, the Jesuit Superior said to me:
“Well, you’re not going to the Satanists. So, if you are content, well—we’ll be all in heaven together, so there really is no difference.” And he was quite amenable to the change, I must say.
The Jesuit superiors did not put up any opposition; they allowed me to live in the community for two years, knowing full well, that I intended to become Orthodox!
—Of course, this is also a particular atmosphere of the Oriental Institute in Rome, which has its own set of problems, but was always very open to Orthodoxy. The whole time I was there, I never heard a bad word about Orthodoxy.
—And it’s interesting to me. At least from the perspective of what’s happening today, especially with regards to ecumenism, many Orthodox believe—and particularly if we look at Western Ukrainian or Carpathian history—that this openness, and the Unia in general—was a cunning trick, to welcome the Orthodox, and then slowly lean them into accepting heretical theology or forms of worship, or accepting the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff.
In your opinion, is this openness a result of the Catholic Church trying to slowly herd the Orthodox into the Latin or Uniate heresy, or do you think they are just so indifferent, that they don’t care at all these days?
—Well, let’s not speak now about the Uniate problem, because the Uniate problem is a separate issue, and their view of Orthodoxy is not the view on Orthodoxy of the average Roman Catholic priest of the Latin rite whom you might meet in Rome, or the average Jesuit of the Latin rite. Most of the Jesuits today are actually quite open to Orthodoxy.
—I understand, it’s just that in Ukraine and Orthodoxy today, as you know, many people feel that this “openness”, and ecumenism, was sort of a Jesuit plot. [i.e. to herd Orthodox people to Rome. Many Orthodox felt the Unia was always intended by Rome to simply be a stepping stone towards a transition to the standard Latin rite and/or assimilation by western empires like Austro-Hungary—O.C.]
—Yes, it was.
—It was a Jesuit plot?
—It was. It was until the Vatican council, let’s say. Yes, all of that did exist. And the Russicum1 was founded—as was the Oriental Institute—to convert Russia to Catholicism.
—The Russicum was founded to convert Russia to Catholicism?
—It was. And the Jesuits who founded the Russicum at the end of the 1920s wanted very much to convert all of Russia to Catholicism.
Monsignor d'Herbigny, who was really the founder of the Russicum behind the scenes, had the view that the communists would probably completely destroy the Orthodox Church in Russia, and then the Catholics would simply move in.
—So, this was Monsignor d'Herbigny?
—D'Herbigny, yes, Michel d'Herbigny.2
—Would destroy! Would completely destroy the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Catholics would simply move in and convert the people.
And that was the reason why, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, the Catholic Church would sponsor crusades against communism, etc.—they were trying to move in! It is a myth that many of them made it to Russia and were acting as spies; there were very few that actually did that, and their exposure to Russia was minimal since they were arrested within days. But that was the idea.
Everything changed with the Vatican Council, and with the promotion of let us say “ecumenism”. Now there are two ways to understand “ecumenism” in the Roman Catholic Church. The first way is that, well, Roman Catholic Christians should dialog and be open to other Christian faiths, or even other religions; then there is a perverted type of ecumenism, which officially the Roman Catholic Church does not subscribe to, and that is that all religions are alike. Although there are some extreme ecumenists, who might view things that way, but that is a perversion of ecumenism. But otherwise, why does the Roman Catholic Church today invite Orthodox students for instance, to study in Roman Catholic institutions? I would not say it is to convert them. And in fact, their influence does quite the opposite, and Catholics become enamored of Orthodoxy usually through their presence.
The idea is to make them more friendly towards Catholicism, and not view Catholicism as enemy number one. To make them more amenable, but not to accept the Catholic dogmas. In the oriental institute the Orthodox dogmas were taught also. And the library is specialized in Orthodox Theology; there are very few books which really deal with Roman Catholic theology.
There were, until the Vatican Council, apologetic courses, but they ceased in recent years, and today I cannot say that when I was a professor there, I ever heard, except for one professor—an old Greek who became a Roman Catholic and who still wished to impress upon his students the validity of the filioque—I have never heard the filioque was discussed together with the Orthodox beliefs. Yes, the primacy was taught, but together with the Orthodox position on the primacy—so I can say that there was no indoctrination of Orthodox students.
—Okay. And so, you did bring up that the goal was to make the Orthodox…
—To make Orthodox a bit more amenable.
—More amenable? So, in this context, many Orthodox think, to carry this to its logical conclusion, that if they become more “amenable”, then slowly they’ll start to say, “Ok, now we can pray with Catholics, and now we can vest with Catholics, and serve in the altar together.”
For instance, in Ukraine, there was a Catholic priest serving with schismatics, or at least wearing an alb and stole, and standing in the altar.
So, in this context (this is what I was getting at when I said ecumenism) from an Orthodox perspective, certain saints saw this as a cunning change of strategy.
So, if at first in the old times, the plan was through fearsome apologetics and/or violence, now the plan is to sort of slowly guide, to herd the Orthodox in with this openness, and once they feel so amenable, they won’t see such deep differences, even if they still have different theological views.
But the Canons and Holy Fathers say, if you pray with non-Orthodox clergy, you are entering into schism.
—Yes, there is that; yes, I agree. But let us look at your example of the Uniates. Uniates do not practice religious ecumenism. Ukrainian Uniates practice nationalistic ecumenism, in other words, good relations on a nationalistic basis with Orthodox schismatic groups. But they do not practice religious ecumenism—which would be the dialog with Orthodoxy as such.
—Oh, certainly we don’t see much intellectual dialog, but we do see them serving together in Ukraine.
—But why are they doing that? They’re doing that for nationalistic reasons, because these are ultranationalist Orthodox groups, and the Uniates also, their very raison d'être3 is Ukrainian nationalism, otherwise they would not exist.
—So, for nationalist, not religious reasons, they’re serving together in Ukraine?
—Though in a sense, at least from the perspective of both faiths, wouldn’t it be heretical to serve with clergy of different confessions?
—Roman Catholics, and Roman Catholicism has changed very much since the Vatican Council. Roman Catholics at the beginning of the twentieth century, and almost throughout the twentieth century, until the Vatican Council, could not pray in non-Catholic churches.
If they attended any services in a non-Catholic church, they were instructed not to pray or even to kneel.
This changed with the Vatican Council, when Catholics were encouraged to pray with other Christian denominations, and even to pray with the Jews, in some sense.
—Roman Catholics were encouraged to pray with other Christian denominations and even with the Jews in some contexts?
—Yes! Well the Pope prayed with Jews!
—This is from the Catholic perspective, but what about from the Orthodox side? We know that schismatics and Uniates aren’t Orthodox. We know the Ukrainian schismatics aren’t Orthodox.
But in the UOC of North America (Ecumenical Patriarchate), where they occasionally invite Uniate bishops to serve, vested at least in the omophorion, and they serve a panikhida, for example, for victims of the Holodomor, in an Orthodox context, isn’t that still serving with schismatics? In our Orthodox Faith, wouldn’t that be canonically prohibited?
—From the Orthodox point of view? Well of course it would!
—One of the most pressing issues in Orthodoxy today, and certainly one that is very painful to me, is the Crisis in Ukraine. I feel one of the most important ways to understand the Ukrainian situation is to go back to history.
The Jesuit order had deep ties to the religious conflicts in Western Ukraine, and to the Kievan Metropolia of the seventeenth century. Concerning this, I thought, who better to ask than a Ukrainian, former Jesuit professor, who became an Orthodox priest?
The Kievan Metropolia (in Green) in the seventeenth century imposed over modern borders. We see the territory of the Metropolia included a large portion of what is today Belarus, as well as parts of Poland, and included less then half of modern Ukraine.
Firstly, could you speak to us about the history of the Jesuit Order in Ukraine, what role did it play, what were its interactions with Orthodoxy, and especially, what do we need to know, to better understand the historical roots of this crisis today.
—Well, actually the Jesuits were of the Latin rite. The primary enemy for the Jesuit order, and one of the reasons why the Jesuit order was founded, was not the fight against Orthodoxy, but the fight against Protestantism, in the western countries.
They were introduced into Poland only during the reign of Sigismund Vasa, who was known as “the Jesuit King”. Before that, Poland was quite open to religious minorities. In fact, Catholics called Poland “the Asylum of Heretics”. Because, for example, during the reign of Sigismund Augustus, Protestants and Orthodox were not persecuted. They began to be persecuted under Sigismund Vasa, when the Jesuits entered Poland. But the Jesuits were doing that not especially against Orthodoxy. They were doing that against all religious non-Catholic minorities in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth imposed over modern borders. A large portion of the commonwealth, in the east, was Orthodox; Orthodoxy was actually a major religion in Poland at the time. Photo: Stratfor.com
Now that was preaching against what would be called “religious tolerance” today, but religious tolerance at the time—we have to remember—was not preached by anyone. Not by any Christian group. No Christian group was tolerant of other faiths.
Now the Catholics, of course, made it into a principle: “Error has no rights”, but in Poland Lithuania I cannot say that there was... well, yes, there was Peter Skarga, who wrote the book about the Catholic Church, and the different rites of the Catholic Church, and about the Union, and there were three Jesuits who were involved with creating the Union movement, among what later became the Uniate Church. But the Jesuits were not the direct cause of the Union of Brest.
The direct cause of the Union of Brest were the—excuse me—the Orthodox bishops in Poland Lithuania4 themselves, who were dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Constantineople. They wished to gain political rights, and seats in the Senate through the Union. That was not given them, and they were disappointed. They also wished to receive educational privileges, which they also really did not receive after they became Uniates.
The important thing to realize I think is where the Jesuits were working, and where the Uniates were. You know today, the Ukrainian Uniates always speak about the Union of Brest as being their origin, but in reality, it’s a well-known fact among historians, that the Bishops who today would be considered Ukrainian, rejected the Union of Brest!
And the Union of Brest was promulgated and accepted by those Bishops who would have been active in what is today Belorussia, in the north.
That was the area where the Uniate churches were very poor, where the altars were turned to the wall like in Latin churches, where wealthier churches even had organs, where preaching was done in Polish, etc. The services were very Latinized. But that was all in Belorussia.
The Ukrainian Bishops as such [who resisted the Unia], who today would be considered Ukrainian, although that was not the Ukraine at that time, [they were from] what was called the Russian Palatinate, Województwo Ruskie, which is not the same thing.
The Internal Provinces, also called Voivodeships or Palatinates of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Russian Palatinate or Województwo Ruskie, also called the Ruthenian Voivodeship with its capital Lvov is highlighted in red (Rus Voivodeship). The Belarusian territories incorporated into the Lithuanian portion of the Commonwealth such as Novohrudek and Brest are noted above in red text. The Capital Krakow is on the far left. The modern capitals of Poland and Ukraine, Warsaw and Kiev respectively are also noted. Father Constantine notes the Unia was initially stronger in Brest, Novohrudek, and the northern territories, whereas Lvov and Volhynia were known for strong Orthodox brotherhoods.
And they rejected the Union! They rejected in Lvov—in Lvov they rejected the Union until 1700, which is around 105 years after the Union was declared. So, the Ukrainian Uniates today really don’t have, I think, the right to consider that they really stemmed from the Union of Brest.
The Union of Brest and the Uniate movement was much more active in the north than it was in the Ukrainian south, where Bishops and Priests were very much allied with, or otherwise afraid of the Cossacks.
—So, could it be said that these Orthodox bishops who were willing to receive Catholicism or join the Unia were doing it really more for their political reasons, or for their own benefit, to receive education and benefits from the Polish Crown.
—Well yes, it was for political and cultural reasons, which moved them to accept the Union. Also, the fact that, as you well know, culture in Poland Lithuania even among the Orthodox, was extremely Polonized and Latinized, and you know also that, even the Orthodox who polemicized against the Union, wrote in Polish. It was the language of the time, in Poland-Lithuania.
Konstanty Wasyl Ostrogski, one of the great champions of Orthodoxy in Poland-Lithuania depicted in extremely Polonized dress. His fathers’ depictions also show the strong influence of Sarmatianism. —Of course, Saint Peter Mohyla, Metropolitan of Kiev, Galicia, and All Rus’ wrote many journals and monumental works against the Uniates in Polish—and in Latin.
While I do understand that it’s an incredibly complicated subject for people who know very little about Ukraine, the Jesuits, or the Uniates, how would you briefly summarize their interaction? We have said that the Jesuits were against any other religion, Protestantism primarily, but what can we take away from this period? What was happening then?
—Well, by the time of the nineteenth century, I must say, when the Jesuit order was restored in Poland, the Uniates did not particularly like the Jesuits very much—except for Metropolitan Sheptytsky, who was really of Polish origin, and who had Jesuit teachers.
But aside from that, there was a sort of resentment towards the Jesuits from the Uniates, since they felt that by attending Jesuit schools, their youth left the Greek rite and joined the Latin rite, and became Poles. So, there was a certain resentment against the Jesuits among the Uniates at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century; I cannot say that their feelings were exactly positive.
That was not the case earlier, let’s say, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially in Belorussia, where I would say the relations were better.
—So, would it be right to say that the Uniates were always a nationalistic group, and therefore much of this resentment existed because they perceived the Jesuits as damaging the culture of the region?
—No. The Uniates were not a nationalistic group, in origin, and we can see that very well in those Uniates who remained Uniate until the nineteenth century, in Belorussia. They did not consider themselves Russians, they did not consider themselves Belorussians, they considered themselves Poles—Poles of the Greek faith [rite].
And to a certain extent that even extended into Galicia, because the sermons that were given in the beginning of the nineteenth century, even in Galicia, were given in Polish! Not in Church Slavonic, only later did they begin to use Church Slavonic as a medium of communication, and then it was found defective, because it was difficult to compose sermons in Church Slavonic, and so they tried to compose sermons in a language which was more similar to the Russian of the day than it would be to modern Ukrainian. That was in the nineteenth century.
But… If we read for instance, the poetry of Shevchenko, who is viewed as one of the greatest Ukrainian writers, we see that the Uniates are considered enemies of Ukrainian nationalism!
—The Uniates were enemies of Ukrainian nationalism, they were persecuted by the Cossacks, who defended the nationalism that existed at that time—we can call it a very primitive form of today’s Ukrainian nationalism. But the Uniates were the enemy, they were allied with Poland, and they were viewed as traitors to the Orthodox-Russian-Ukrainian Cause.
—I often cite a poem from Shevchenko when he said: ще як були ми козаками, а унії не чуть було (Sze jak buly my kozakamy, a unijii nie czut’ bulo)
—For our readers, this means “Oh for the bygone years when we were Cossacks still, and not a word was heard of the Uniate swill.”5
—Yes! And I’m sure you remember there is also another poem, much longer, Haidamaki, in which Shevchenko views with considerably… I would say… positive emotions, the massacre of the Uniates and the Catholics at Humań6!
The massacre of Uniates, Jews, and Poles at Humań, with some of Shevchenko’s poem “Haidamaki” included. Shevchenko, a complex historical figure, though rather anti-Uniate, is glorified among Uniates today, as he is undoubtably a Ukrainian national figure—and modern Ukrainian Uniates are quite nationalistic. Photo: 112.ua
And that is why I can not—in any way at all—understand the declaration of the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Uniates, Shevchuk, when he advised his faithful to read two books—the Bible, and Shevchenko’s Kobzar. I cannot understand that, when the Kobzar is full of anti-Uniate sentiments.
—I completely agree. One thing I could never understand about Shevchenko, and the Uniates in modern Ukraine, is that some of them believe Shevchenko is a saint. And it makes me wonder—have they ever actually read his works?
—Which I would assume they have. And it really makes me wonder, what are their intellectual capacities.
Uniates in front of a statue of Shevchenko, from an article7 on their website entitled: “In relations with God, Taras Shevchenko walked not by the path of [his letters], but by the path of the heart and soul.” Photo: http://news.ugcc.ua
—Yes! Another question has to do with the language of the liturgy. The Uniates preserved Church Slavonic—with their own pronunciation of course—which differs from the accepted Russian pronunciation of today.
They used Church Slavonic until the Vatican Council, until the time when Rome allowed the vernacular to be used in the Latin rite; but until that time, they rejected the use of modern Ukrainian in the liturgy, and it is only after the Vatican council that they began to translate parts of the bible and the liturgy and serve the liturgy in modern Ukrainian. And this was even Cardinal Slipyj, a very enigmatic figure in the Uniate church, who did not much favor those modern Ukrainian translations; he viewed them as too secular. It was those Ukrainian “orthodox” schismatics who [first] used Ukrainian in the liturgy, but not the Ukrainian Uniates.
—This is quite interesting to me; it seems that Vatican II was the source of a lot of extremely liberal and destructive liturgical, theological, things for everyone involved in it. It seems it destroyed the traditional roots of any church whichever touched it, whether it was the Uniates or just the Latin rite.
—Well it did. Liturgically Vatican II was a complete and utter disaster. It deformed the liturgy rather than reform it, which it wanted and set out to do. Actually, today, I cannot say that aside from traditional groups in the Roman Catholic Church, there is even a Latin liturgy. Now there’s a problem here, because it is exactly those traditional groups, who exist in the Latin church, who do not appreciate Orthodoxy, and view the Orthodox as schismatic. In the liberal church of Rome, you can see with this very liberal Pope today that he has very good relations with the Orthodox, even with the Moscow Patriarchate. And he has not proclaimed a Ukrainian Patriarchate, for which we must be very grateful.
—Yes, that is an interesting subject that I think we’ll continue discussing shortly. So just to summarize, in speaking again about the seventeenth century, would it be still accurate to say that the Jesuits and the Vatican persecuted Orthodoxy in what is called Ukraine today?
—As I said, the Jesuits, in the person of Peter Skarga, preached against tolerance. And in that sense, yes, we can say that they had an indirect role in the persecution of the Orthodox. But their thrust was much more against Protestants than it was against the Orthodox.
—As I’ve mentioned, there are many great figures from what is now Western Ukraine among the saints of the Russian Church, including the Holy Hierarch Peter, considered the first Metropolitan of Moscow, though more properly, was the Metropolitan of Kiev and Wonder-Worker of All Rus’. He was a native of Volhynia and founder of this very monastery where we are speaking.
I also highly venerate another St. Peter, deeply connected to these themes—the Holy Hierarch Peter Mohyla, Metropolitan of Kiev, Galicia, and All Rus’, who was canonized in several local Orthodox churches, including our own Moscow Patriarchate.
—He was canonized first in 1996 in Ukraine, and later recognized for Churchwide veneration under Patriarch Alexiy II in 2005. Despite this, Metropolitan St. Peter is seen by some as a bit controversial figure.
I would emphasize that he was highly appreciated by Saint John of Shanghai, as recorded in books about him, and attested by those who personally knew this, such as Fr. Seraphim Rose. Likewise, Metropolitan of Moscow Macarius Bulgakov, the famous historian of the Russian Church, goes on to praise him, saying that “the name of Peter Mohyla is one of the greatest adornments”—ukrashenie—“of the Russian Church”, and that he “surpassed all of his contemporaries”.8 Metropolitan Makary also notes that Pope Urban VIII called St. Peter in a letter his “honorable brother”—such respect was never given from Rome to any other Metropolitan of Kiev—and invited him to send his well-educated monks to Rome.9
He notes a particularly monumental achievement was the establishment of the Kiev-Mohyla Collegium, which later became the Kiev Theological Academy. It was the first Orthodox seminary not only in Rus’, but in the entire world. So even Jesuit professors, even Peter Skarga, noted at the time that the Mohyla Collegium had surpassed their own schools in not only Kiev, but in the Rusyn or Ruthenian Palatinate.
So, do you have any thoughts on the role of Metropolitan Peter, his educational programs, and his battle for an Orthodox educational system?
—I believe very much that the animus in Orthodoxy today against Peter Mohyla stems from the book by Florovsky, Puty Russkogo Bogoslovija (The Ways of Russian Theology), in which he views these things, the introduction of certain elements from the Latin church as aberrations, especially the use of the term Transsubstantiatio, and other things which were introduced during the times, let’s say the whole Trebnik (Book of Needs) of Peter Mohyla, even the vow at the marriage ceremony, and other things which were introduced from the Latin rite.
Let’s say that Peter Mohyla copied very much the Jesuit form of education that was in Poland at that time. But it was not only Peter Mohyla.
You do know that seminaries in Russia—in Imperial Russia—taught in Latin until the 1820s and the 1830s, and they used many Latin text books in which the filioque was simply crossed out, along with other things regarding the papacy and other dogmas that do not concur with Orthodox tradition? They were simply crossed out.
But they used these Latin books for lessons. And they taught in Latin. That was a very controversial point in Russian theology. Was that necessary? Was it necessary for a priest to have a background in the Latin classics in Imperial Russia? You know, there was a Bishop Nyl, for instance, who when travelling in Siberia saw various phenomena of nature, and quoted Horace. A Latin poet. He quoted Horace!
—I also remember reading that under St. Peter Mohyla, included in that Teratourgema, were quotations from the Odes of Horace.10
—But Horas is difficult, you know, people today can’t read that. Only the best Latin scholars can read that. It’s difficult to understand. And he was able to quote it. He knew Latin literature so well from the seminary that he was able to quote Latin authors. A Russian Bishop! Now was this knowledge really useful or practical, that’s another question. Would mathematics or the sciences have been more useful, that’s another question. I don’t know.
—I believe at least speaking about the Mohyla Academy, that mathematics was also taught. I seem to recall a big reason for the focus was that Peter Mohyla felt that the church should be the center of peoples’ education, and that it wasn’t enough to just live in caves like the ancient monastics, but that the issues which the Orthodox Church was facing required deep spirituality, but also an educated mind and a powerful system of education, that could properly present the Orthodox Theology using new technologies such as the printing press.
He was among the first Orthodox, together with the kindred brotherhoods in Ostrog, under his contemporary St. Job of Pochaev, to use the printing press. He felt that western scholars were very educated, and he felt that there was a deficiency in Eastern education. Not theology, not the teachings themselves, but the method for conveying them. Pedagogy and the educational system and ability to learn and disseminate information.
—Well that is also the question of why Latin is important to learn even today, because Latin, you know, is not important solely to read the Latin classics; you can read them in translation if you want. Latin is important because it forms the mind in a certain way, and makes the mind more amenable to the study of languages, especially to the study of grammar and syntax; that is why Latin is so important.
—I completely agree. I think both Latin and Greek are important, though I quite regret a certain almost pietistic allergic reaction some Orthodox have to the Latin language itself, which many Orthodox saints such as St. Gregory of Rome the Dialogist, spoke. I studied both languages for a few years, but I quite regret I didn’t have an opportunity to study them even more extensively.
—And I quite regret that today among the Jesuits, the younger Jesuits know almost no Latin or Greek, because unless they had gone to school in Italy, where Latin and Greek are still taught, all of that education in other countries of Europe has gone by the wayside. And during the Jesuit Novitiate no, absolutely no attempt is made to teach Latin or Greek, which was something unheard of before the Vatican Council, when the Jesuits were forced to even converse during their novitiate amongst themselves in Latin. All those things do not exist anymore.
—It is very tragic that intellectualism and scholarship, and those who engage in it are becoming dying breeds in the modern world. It’s a sort of intellectual and spiritual poshlost’, that’s the Russian word. Terrible taste, a complete lack of taste really, and a sort of self-satisfaction with vulgarity and simplicity.
—Well the Jesuits are very much interested in today, instead of Latin and Greek, in sociological problems, especially those concerning Latin America.
—Ah, I see. Many tend to think that liberation theology came up from the Jesuits.
—Yes, yes. There is liberation theology, and that is very much let’s say stressed in the novitiate, the situation of the poverty in Latin America, the situation of chomage, which means the lack of work opportunities, labor opportunities in Western Europe, etc. All these things are problems which are stressed continuously throughout the Jesuit novitiate.
—So, continuing with the topic of Russian Saints who received Orthodoxy, I bring to mind St. Alexis Toth, who was originally a Uniate Priest from what is now Slovakia, and we actually estimate that almost the majority of what are now OCA parishes are a result of his apostolic labors. Maxim Sandovich is another good example, as well as the Rusyn priest Ivan Naumovich; there are many great luminaries of the Russian Faith in Volhynian, Galician, and Carpathian Rus’, which is now mostly in Western Ukraine, who returned to the mother Church from the Uniate yoke.
So, an interesting thing to me is the similarities in their stories—how they all came to Orthodoxy. It was often the hostility towards the Byzantine Rite and Greek Catholics prior to Vatican II, from the side of the Latins, for example, Bishop Ireland, which sparked their return to Orthodoxy. [Look at their experience in North America which sparked the mass conversion—O.C.]
Now on the subject of Ukraine, and regarding the Unia, which many view as a political tool, more interestingly from an ecclesiastical point of view, those aforementioned saints often describe how they viewed the Unia as a sort of stepping stone from Eastern Orthodoxy to eventually end up in Latin rite Roman Catholicism. In other words, that the Latin rulers never really cared for the Greek rite, that their ultimate plan was to sort of gradually herd them into the Latin rite under Catholic empires, and this was the opinion of many those saints who left the Unia for Orthodoxy.
From your point of view, do you ever feel there was a sort of time period of condescending attitude from the Latin hierarchs towards the Greek rite?
—In the nineteenth century, certainly, there was a principle of “praestantia ritus latini”, which means that the Latin rite is the queen of all rites, since it is the rite of the Pope. And the other rites are more or less vassals of the Latin rite. We have to remember how the Uniates were viewed in Poland—at that time, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were viewed as bydło, which means just a herd.
The original idea was conceived by a Jesuit, Antonio Possevino,11 who visited Moscow, and visited the court of Ivan the Terrible.
Polish King Stephen Báthory at the siege of Pskov by painter Jan Matejko. Jesuit Antonio Possevino (center in black robe) is blessing offerings from Russians on their knees to the Polish King. Note, the Russians eventually successfully defended Pskov, which never actually fell in the siege. Photo: Wikipedia
His idea was that gradually—but remember he was referring to Russia, not so much to the Uniates in Poland, but to Russia-proper—the use of the Greek rite could be granted, but temporarily.
And eventually, things would have to be put into order, and that when the church would mature to a certain point, then the Latin rite could be introduced amongst them. This was done in Ethiopia by the Jesuits.
—So, to use our Greek terminology, they saw the Eastern rite—the Orthodox Liturgy—as a form of Economia, sort of: “We’ll let you do this for now, after we conquer and convert you, but eventually you’ll have to use the ‘proper’ rite.”
—Yes, that was the idea. But later, I don’t think that the Poles, the Polish Kings really wanted the Uniates to accept the Latin rite. I think they were content to have them in an inferior capacity—as, well, serfs.
—Yes, Bydło. They were surfs, and I believe they were, in that sense, useful. It was like in the Ottoman Empire, where they did not always wish the conversion of all Christiansl; they preferred that they pay their “Christian taxes”.
—That is a very good point. So, from the point of view of the Galician and Carpathian Russophiles, who came to understand what their culture truly was and received Orthodoxy, they came to see Russia as ultimately their super-culture, the super-ethnos to which they all belong. Obviously, we are not talking about the Russian Federation, or the Muscovites as being equivalent to this “Mother Russia”; rather they are a co-sister in this sense. We are talking about Rus’. Holy Rus’ to which we all belong. In this context, which Galicia-Volhynia was an intricate part of. It was the glorious Western kingdom.
So Galician Russophiles on the one hand sought union with Moscow, but also on the other hand wanted to preserve their unique Ruthenian tradition. To these Russophiles, their Uniate compatriots were not enemies, but lost and deceived brothers, who they felt were manipulated by foreign powers. These were their relatives! You can’t simply hate your brother because he was born a Uniate—that’s not Christian. They wanted them to receive Orthodoxy and come home as they did.
Your ancestors hailed from these Orthodox lands, on your mothers’ side, or even from your father’s side, if we consider that Uhor-Rus’ or Hungarian Rus’ at one point, a very long time ago, was technically Orthodox before the Great Schism. It is the ancient Dniester-Tysa-Danube Carpathian cradle.
So, in the sense that Orthodoxy is the home of all, especially in Carpathia, what words to you have for these people and lands which used to be Orthodox, especially people in Zakarpatia today, as someone who came home to the faith of your fathers. What words do you have for your kinsmen about what their true faith really is?
—Well, we should remember that the Ukrainian idea today, more or less, is to rewrite history. And in the rewriting of history, by the modern Ukrainian school of historiography, they conveniently forget about the Russophile movement which was dominant not only in Carpathia, but even in Galicia—they conveniently forgot about that. Almost all of the priests were Russophile there during the nineteenth century, for the greater part of it.
Ivan Naumovich, a famous Galician Russophile, who advocated the unity of the entire Russian world—that is to say, Galician Rus’ with Kievan and Muscovite Rus—in his article [a] Glimpse into the future. He spoke about how they could not build a “wall of China” between different Rus’ peoples, be they Galician Ruthenians or South Russian Cossacks or even Muscovites. He was from the region of today’s Lviv, which is now a fortress of Ukrainian nationalism, contrary to its Russophile history.
Ukrainianism was a socialist movement. It came from the East, but was always associated with socialism, and was suspect to the Church. We recall the writer Franko, who was an atheist.
—Or Lesya Ukrayinka, who translated the Communist Manifesto into Ukrainian. There is a statue of her not far from the Hotel Ukraine in Dorogomilovo in the heart of Moscow. She is now popular among Ukrainian nationalists—but they forget that the Soviets loved her!
—Yes, she also was an atheist. And they were the ones who embraced the Ukrainian movement. On the contrary, the clergy were mostly Russophile, but we conveniently forget about that. And the Russophiles? They were divided.
Some, the greater part, wished to remain in Austria Hungary; but they wanted to, let’s say, introduce elements of the Orthodox rite into the very Latinized ritual which they were practicing in Austria. Another minority wished actual union with the Russian Empire, and the adoption of Orthodoxy. All of this is forgotten today.
—What is interesting to me today, from a monarchist perspective, is that Ukrainianism that we see today often idealizes the Cossacks as free and rebellious people, whereas the Galician Russophiles looked to the ancient kingdom of Ruthenian Galicia—Volhynia, prior to the Cossacks. So, considering what you said about Ukrainianism being a socialist, Eastern movement, many of the Cossacks leaned more to the East, even Turkic culture, like Phylyp Orlyk, than the West—unlike those in Galicia, which was a very Westernized Kingdom.
King Leo of Galicia, the namesake of the city of Lvov or Leopolis behind him. Note the title Princeps Russiae, and his dress, which although is anachronistic, reflects the Westernized trend in Galicia; whereas some Cossack dress was very influenced by Sarmatianism or even more outright local Turkic customs.
—The Cossacks were also, at least at the beginning, sort of irreligious. There was no chapel there. Only later did they have a chapel, but at the beginning there was no chapel, and there were Muslims amongst them. They were mostly areligious as a movement; they were a military movement more than anything.
—Yes, whereas the Galicians were always more European, Central-European, sort of “ancient Christian” in alignment.
—Well, there was a sort of tradition of fearing the Cossacks, especially after the Cossacks with Khmelnitsky laid siege to Lvov; but of course at that time, Lvov was a Polish city.