Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to the Youth
March 30, 2015
I always await Palm Sunday with great anticipation – he day of the glorious entrance of Christ into Jerusalem – for it is an opportunity to support and bless you and to speak to you the Word of God.
Today we experience a profound Gospel event – the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem. This is a celebration of Christ’s triumph and glory that opens the door to suffering and death, one of the most important episodes of His life. The people greet Jesus with great elation because news that He restored life to Lazarus had spread across the land like lightning. The thunderous welcome of Jesus at His entry into the city is a manifestation of the joy at encountering a person who recently revealed Himself as a life-giver, by having “called” to life His friend with the words, “Lazarus, come out!” Our Lord – still before he set out on His own path of suffering, death and resurrection – weeps for His deceased friend and returns him to life – because life, not death, is the human vocation!
By the resurrection of Christ, the expanse of resurrectional activity is extended to each of us. We receive hope in Jesus Christ because He, by His life-giving Word, can restore us to the light of life and the fullness of joy even from the very depths of death. In a few days, He will even literally descend to Hades to bring out from there those who fell asleep awaiting the Saviour. The hands of Christ are always open for our hands, in order that, like in the icon of “The Descent Into Hades,” He would raise us from our knees. His touch, the squeeze of His hand, is life-giving. He Himself is Life.
Dear young people! Over the course of the last year, we had the opportunity to sense and observe how quickly you grew, how you matured. The calamity that came upon Ukraine changed you and placed before you challenges that usually are unknown to your peers in many countries of the world. You saw many deaths, experienced the loss of your friends and acquaintances, as well as of our soldiers who, perhaps, were even younger than you.
The painful experience that you received encourages you even more to ask fundamental, deep and direct questions. I received one such question during an encounter with youth at the Marian shrine at Zarvanytsya. A girl asked, “Are we to live or die for Ukraine?” I was impressed by the openness, depth, and courage that was contained in that phrase. For Ukraine you must live! That is how I answered then in Zarvanytsya. That is what I say to you today. Because life is our principal vocation.
We have heard thousands of times this year the slogan, “Heroes don’t die.” These words have a profound Christian meaning, because we believe that death has been defeated. John Chrysostom wrote, “O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are fallen! Christ is risen, and the demons are conquered! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life flows freely!” I implore you: remember these words throughout the next week… in those moments when despair and powerlessness weigh on your soul in these difficult times of war and crisis.
Thus, my message to you today is – live for God and Ukraine! The logical question arises: how are we to live? The renowned Swedish actress, Greta Garbo, once said, “Life would be so wonderful if we only knew what to do with it.” This is truly a fundamental question, the answer to which is sought by young people throughout the world. I call you to a profound, honest, responsible, and bold quest for an answer. I assure you that in this search the Church will be your guide and advisor. Search for an answer in the Gospel of Christ, listening to the Word of God in the contemporary context and in the light of history, which is rich in good examples that inspire and allow us to dream and act with courage.
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth this year, our Church honours the memory of a great prince of the Church, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. He was a wise leader that led his people and Church through the most difficult hardships of the 20th century. Metropolitan Andrey often addressed young people, helping them to overcome the confusion of the interwar period, when they were faced with the same harsh complex life decisions that you are facing today.
The Metropolitan, to use modern terminology, was a successful man of his day. However, his advice regarding success – how to live – remains relevant even today. In particular, in his 1942 letter, About the Nurturing of Youth, he wrote, “But undoubtedly every young person needs the ideal to be a good, and a great Christian. In some degree, the young must understand that success and the achievement of other ideals, depend on this…” In time of war and anxiety, he turned the attention of the youth to that which was most important – to be good and great Christians. This is the key that offers us a response to the question of the abovementioned actress of what to do with this life.
The words of our great Metropolitan are echoed in the thought of Pope Francis, expressed this year in his letter to youth, when he says, “in Christ you find fulfilled your every desire for goodness and happiness. He alone can satisfy your deepest longings, which are so often clouded by deceptive worldly promises.” He called upon young people to have the courage to be happy. In fact, true happiness requires courage!
Hardship generates sacrifice, but in you, young people, it also brings out vigorous creativity. I regard with profound respect the young volunteer movement that has engulfed our communities and parishes. Your aid to the soldiers, the wounded, to those forced to migrate from the territory of conflict, and to all those that suffer from the war in Ukraine’s east, your dedication, resourcefulness, and sincerity inspire everyone, and are a concrete act of mercy about which the Lord speaks so often in the Gospel. Do not give up. Help those to whom you can reach out. And let not your sacrifice diminish with time. Rather, by creating a network of young volunteers, build ties that will form a foundation for new structures of goodness that are so needed in Ukraine. This will be the beginning of real change in a society that will be united, strong, and just in times of peace, which will certainly come.
In particular, I want to address the young soldiers. Dear friends and brothers! Hardship and the grave task of defending our homeland from adversaries is the fate that fell upon you. You accepted this challenge upon yourselves and exhibit admirable tenacity and dedication. Therefore, when we say today that young people “must live for Ukraine,” above all we think about you. Looking at your achievements that you so faithfully and persistently realize day after day, we cannot but recognize that you have trod on the path of the fullness of life, because the fullness of life is found in love. And what is love? Our Saviour assures us that, “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). To paraphrase Christ, we can say that no one is capable of living a more full life than the one who is ready to surrender his own earthly life out of love for one’s neighbour, and love for one’s country. Remember that our mother, the Church, prays for you continuously, supports you and, together with your earthly mothers, awaits your return home.
Dear young faithful of our Church, throughout this year we will seek out every opportunity to listen to you as frequently as possible, to be inspired by your boldness, and to learn from your courage. In addition, so that there might be a method to our encounters, I am giving you a small “homework assignment.” Following Pope Francis, I want to call upon you to read the Holy Scriptures more often. It is in the Scriptures that will find many answers to the questions which have been and will be posed to you.
Share with one another that Word of God that you hear, in your meditations on the texts of Sacred Scripture, when taking part in the prayer life of the Church and in your experiences of the spiritual life. Be open to the call of God to the priestly and monastic life, and never be afraid to make your own life choice in favour of God and His Truth. Make use of your own creative gifts and share Christian wisdom wherever you are – on social networks and on websites, on radio and television, during individual conversations, and other opportunities. May the wisdom of God, according to the words of Metropolitan Andrey, be a powerful and decisive force that will guide you into the future – a force that with transfigure your young minds and those of your peers. It is this Wisdom that will give you understanding as to what to do with your life, and what its purpose is. It will be beautiful.
May the blessing of the Lord be upon you!