PASTORAL LETTER OF HIS BEATITUDE SVIATOSLAV TO THE PRIESTS OF THE UKRAINIAN GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH ON GREAT AND HOLY THURSDAY
March 30, 2015
Once again we celebrate the feast of Great and Holy Thursday, when our Divine Savior, handed over to His Apostles the Bloodless Sacrifice and the mandate to keep the memorial of His saving Death and Resurrection, thereby establishing the Holy Mystery of the ordained Priesthood. Our identity as priests is intimately associated with that event. Our ministry is intimately connected to His Royal Priesthood and His Sacrifice. For, as we remind ourselves each time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, Christ our God is at the same time the One who offers sacrifice to the Father and the One who is offered, the One who receives the gifts of bread and wine and the One who is given in the Holy Mysteries.
This year, as our Church prepares to gather in Patriarchal Sobor on the theme of “The Vibrant Parish: A Place to Encounter the Living Christ,” I invite you to reflect on what it means to encounter the Living Christ, and how we, as priests, are called to be the ones who bring the Living Christ, who make him visibly present in the communities under our care and where we celebrate the Divine Mysteries.
The Church, as the Body of Christ, is a continuation through time and space of the works and teachings of our Savior. All Christians are called to be icons of Christ and all Christian communities should be places where the Living Christ can be encountered. However, the vocation of the ordained priest is special. Its purpose is that through us, through our personal life and pastoral ministry, the living Christ might be actively present among His people – so that through us each person of faith can experience the loving touch of our Savior. For it is by the grace of God that we received by the laying-on-of-hands that we are granted both the privilege and the responsibility to be instruments of this encounter with Christ, unworthy though we are.
The six elements of the Vibrant Parish, not surprisingly, are also fundamental characteristics of our priestly ministry. That is because the mission of the Church, reflected in these elements, is built on the mission of Our Lord Himself. In these difficult times, both in Ukraine and throughout the world, we recognize that Christ’s presence and the fulfillment of His mission is needed more than ever! When we look back on the direction our Church has taken in the last few years, we recognize how the Holy Spirit has been guiding us, preparing us for the challenges of the present day, as well as for those that lie ahead.
In calling the priest to preach Word of God and teach our faithful the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, Christ the Teacher continues to speak in His community of faith today with the same vitality and vigor that He spoke with while fulfilling His teaching ministry here on earth. The four Gospels from which we read tonight in the Passion Gospels each convey different aspects of Christ’s teaching. Together they form a mosaic of Divine Teaching, the most important element of which is that God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and desires to share His life with us. This is essentially the Good News! This message must be conveyed through us not only in words but also in the way we speak with gentleness, love, and respect for each person we encounter. A true priest is someone who is able to recognize in every person a beloved child of God who is hungry for divine truth, and is called to grow in faith each and every day. It is our task to provide spiritual guidance and nourishment on this journey of growth.
Through a priest called to celebrate the Liturgy, to pray and to teach the people to pray, Christ, the High Priest is present in His Church and continues to act as intermediary between God the Father and the human race. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to act on our Lord’s behalf as intermediaries, both praying for ourselves and for God’s people, and imparting God’s blessings upon all. Especially when we serve the Divine Mysteries, we allow ourselves to be instruments through which our Lord’s sacrifice, offered once and for all on the Cross, is made present today where we live and for the community we serve. I wish to especially emphasize to you and call you, dear brothers, to fidelity in serving the Divine Liturgy and other services, as well as to praying the Hours. Through these divine services we not only sanctify ourselves, but also grant our faithful the unique occasion to draw life-giving waters of saving grace from the springs of Divinity. When, on the other hand, we neglect this responsibility, we sin before God and before His People, and one day we will need to respond before our Lord’s tribunal for our neglect, which can inflict grave and irreparable spiritual damage, both in ourselves, as well as in the faithful entrusted to our pastoral care.
In calling us to merciful service for the poor and need, Christ desires to be present in us to our neighbors as Physician and Healer who ministers to those who suffer, who visits the sick, who comforts those who sorrow, who feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. We should not see ourselves as merely directors who organize the charitable work of the Christian community; but we must be personally involved in different forms of diakonia, be prepared, in the words of the Holy Father, to take on the “smell of the sheep.” We must not wait for the people of God to come to us. We must go to them, especially in times of hardship and need. In us, Christ must be present to His people, wherever they may be, in joy and in sorrow. Through us, Christ the Pastor takes care of His Father’s sheep, providing all that is necessary for their health and salvation.
This task is especially important today, when our land is being torn by a devious aggressor, and grief, fear, anxiety and destitution afflict many families and parish communities. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, deprived of a roof over their heads, thousands, who have lost loved ones as a result of war, and especially children, women and the elderly, millions, who have been forced to abandon territories under temporary occupation, ‑ all call out to our conscience, begging for help, compassion, support and comfort. The Christian heart cannot remain indifferent to this horror. With gratitude I can say that our parish communities actively perform acts of mercy towards those in need. At the same time all of us understand that the needs are still greater than what we, with God’s help, have been able to do. Therefore, I call upon you, dear Fathers, to keep glowing in yourselves and in our faithful the fire of merciful and active love towards our neighbor, so that by its power we might endure this time of national trial.
In entrusting us with responsibility and stewardship, Christ the King himself cares for and enriches his children with gifts, working, so that the world we live in is ruled according to God’s commandments, the most important of which is the commandment of love. It is for this reason that we begin each Divine Liturgy with the words: “Blessed is the Kingdom…” Yes, as priests we are called to be leaders in the communities we serve. We fulfill that role as pastors and good stewards, offering our own time, talents, and treasure for the building up of the Kingdom of God. We must also be able to recognize His many spiritual and material gifts which He gives to each and every member in His Church. Just as Christ was an image of His Heavenly Father, we too are called to guide our communities as fathers who lead His children with loving care. It is only in this sense that we can allow ourselves to be called “father” by our flock.
Christ, the Son of God who abides in perfect unity with His Father, and who sends on us His Holy Spirit, calls upon priests to be servants of this unity-communion, so that we too may live in perfect unity and perfect harmony. In this world, full of confrontation and division, we, as pastors of souls, must be particular signs of unity – in the way we act among ourselves, in the way we live in our families and communities, and in the way we reach out in love to those who hate us. And when we suffer offense and indignity, the words of our Lord on the Cross must be our words as well: “Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
In sending His apostles into the world to make disciples of all people, our Savior entrusted us with fostering a missionary spirit in the Church. Every priest according to his vocation is a missionary who should share the living Christ with those who do not yet know Him – to know Christ the Itinerant Preacher who spent most of his earthly ministry traveling from place to place, from Galilee through Samaria, to Judea and beyond, always reaching out to new people, proclaiming the Good News to all. It is that image of itinerant preacher that compels us to go beyond our own homes, to leave the villages, towns, and cities where we grew up and were raised, in order to bring Christ into every corner of this world we live in. So many people today seek God and are thirsty for Christ’s Gospel! It is our task to lead them to Christ and to open for them the doors to eternal life. In this we should also remember that the most effective way to preach the Gospel is through the example of our own lives, transformed and transfigured by the power of Christ’s Gospel. Our Lord Savior Himself reminds us of this when he proclaims: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
I wish to express my particular words of gratitude and turn to those brother co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, who, sacrificing their very lives and health, serve as military chaplains among our soldiers, who courageously defend our homeland. With gratitude I bow my head before those, who participate in the coordination of the volunteer movement, assist the wounded, the mobilized and their families, care for refugees and for all, who have suffered because of the war. Today the living Christ is present not only in our parishes and monasteries, but wherever blood and human tears are being spilled, where people are wounded and in misery. That is where today Christ’s priest must be present – as a living icon of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
On this day, as we hold the precious Body of our Lord in our hands, and as we share in His Precious Blood spilled in sacrifice for us, let us pray, deeply and sincerely, for our own priestly ministry that we may fulfill it with holiness and a renewed sense of service. We are priests of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. There is no vocation more noble than ours, there is no responsibility more awesome than the one that has been given us.
The Blessing of the Lord be upon us and through us upon His people.
Issued in Kyiv at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ
on the Fifth Sunday of Lent (St. Mary of Egypt)
29 March (16 March) 2015 A.D.