To safeguard its ecclesial identity, the Kievan Church turned to the Church of Rome, which allowed the Kievan Church to maintain its Byzantine rites, traditions and disciplines. However, by entering into union with Rome, the Kievan bishops effectively split the country by confessional allegiance: those who followed the bishops Greek Catholics and those who did not the Orthodox. This confessional division continues to the present day.
The Polish king did not accept the provisions of the Council of Brest.
Polish Roman Catholics did not understand the union and preferred to see it as a tool of conversion to Roman Catholicism, comments Ukrainian historian Vasyl Markus.
The Poles looked down on the Ukrainian Greek Catholics as heretics. They suppressed the activities of the Ukrainian intelligentsia and imposed Latinizations on the liturgical and spiritual life of the Greek Catholic faithful.
For the next three centuries, the Greek Catholic Church took on the role of the repository of a Ukrainian identity. In Lviv and the rest of western Ukraine, being Ukrainian now meant being Greek Catholic.
The 20th century began with promise. Andrey Sheptytsky, a young bishop from an aristocratic family, was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Lviv in 1901. Against great odds he skillfully guided the Greek Catholic faithful through the labyrinths of Austrian, Russian, Polish, Nazi and Soviet rule.
Archbishop Sheptytsky was an ecumenical pioneer. He was one of the few religious leaders who openly spoke out against the Nazi atrocities. Risking his own life, he harbored hundreds of Jews in his own residence and in Greek Catholic monasteries during World War II.
A man of extraordinary charisms, the Archbishop developed modern methods of ministry, founded the Studite and Ukrainian Redemptorist monastic orders, a hospital, the Lviv Theological Academy and the National Museum. His legacy continues to inspire the church today.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky died in 1944. On his deathbed, the Archbishop predicted the flourishing of the Ukrainian Church but only after great suffering. He was succeeded by Father Josyf Slipyj, Rector of the Lviv Theological Academy.
That suffering came quickly. At the conclusion of World War II, the Soviets occupied western Ukraine. To gain control of Ukrainian society, Stalin moved to abolish the Greek Catholic Church. On 11 April 1946, all the bishops were arrested; all subsequently died in captivity with the exception of Archbishop Slipyj, who was released from a camp in Siberia in 1963.
Failing to force any of the bishops to renounce communion with the Church at Rome, the Soviet authorities convened at gunpoint 216 priests for the Synod of Lviv. The participants of this non-canonical synod abolished the Union of Brest and freed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to rejoin the Russian Orthodox Church.
From 1946 to 1989, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was the largest outlawed church in the world.
Everything was very clandestine, says Father Gudziak. The faithful always had to anticipate searches at home, interrogations at work, threats, physical and psychological harassment, as well as imprisonment. Under Stalin [and during the 70s and 80s] there were deportations to labor camps and executions. The cost of fidelity was high.
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