Church in Ukraine
Ukrainian Religious Heroes
The New Martyrs
It is estimated that 17 million people suffered a violent death in 20th Century Ukraine. Many of these died for their witness to the Christian faith. The Soviets suppressed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 1946. Various members of the Orthodox Church were also persecuted. Those who clung to their faith were severely persecuted, exiled, tortured or put to death.
Pope John Paul II brought special attention to the new martyrs of the 20th Century in a ceremony held on 7 May, 2000 at the Colosseum in Rome. The Pope said there that the 20th Century
was marked by a dark shadow ... but splendid lights stand out ... so many men and women .. who witnessed to their faith suffering harsh persecutions in prisons, in the midst of all manner of privations; many of them even spilled their blood to remain faithful to Christ, the Church and the Gospel.
During his visit to Ukraine the Pope will beatify over 20 martyrs who died for the faith in Ukraine and other models of sanctity.The official postulancy documents were sealed in a ceremony at St. George's Cathedral in Lviv on 2 March, 2001 and sent to Rome. The results of the postulancy commissions in Rome were announced in April.
- In 1997 and in 2001, the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church recommended a number of martyrs and other models of sanctity for the devotion of the faithful.
- Lviv's Institute of Church History works to record the untold story of the underground Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Researchers from the Institute conduct interviews with survivors of the persecution, giving them a chance to tell their stories to the world.
Ukrainian Saints Through History
From the very beginning of Christianity saints have witnessed to Christ on Ukrainian soil. Here are some of the most well known:
Saints of the Kyivan Church
January 10 The Pratulin Martyrs (1874)
*Dates according to the Julian Calendar
St. Olha, Princess
Holy OLHA, Princess of Kyiv, wife of Prince Ihor, was named Helena in baptism. She was distinguished for her intelligence and her virtue. After her husband's death she ruled Rus. When her son Sviatoslav reached adulthood, she handed the throne on to him.
She was baptized in Constantinople. After returning, she did much to spread the Christian faith in Kyivan Rus. She passed into eternity in 969. Her relics were found incorrupt and laid in the Church of the Tithes in Kyiv. This was the first time relics were displayed in Rus-Ukraine. At the beginning of the 18th century her relics were irretrievably lost.
St. Volodymyr, Grand Prince
Prince of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine VOLODYMYR, called "Equal to the Apostles," was named Basil in baptism. The grandson of St. Olha, he took the throne in 980. As a pagan, he was known for his love of power, war and debauchery. Acknowledging the Christian Church, he received baptism in 988 in the city of Kherson. Before his baptism the Prince had gone blind, but his sight returned at his baptism.
Royal Prince Volodymyr converted the citizens of Kyiv to the Christian faith and then began to spread the Christian faith through all Rus-Ukraine. He was know for his works of Christian charity: he established schools, encouraged preaching, passed laws to regulate Church life, founded hospitals, freed slaves, debtors and captives. He started a custom of having spiritual literature read at mealtime, which is still practiced today in monasteries.
Metropolitan Ilarion (11th century) said the St. Volodymyr was "clothing for the naked, food for the hungry, refreshment for the thirsty, the aid of widows, calm for travelers, refuge for the homeless, help for the troubled, wealth for the poor."
St. Volodymyr passed into eternity on July 15, 1015. He was buried in the Church of the Tithes, which he had built in Kyiv. In 1636 his relics were found incorrupt. Hymns of the Church compare St. Volodymyr to Emperor Constantine, also called "equal to the apostles," and call him "root of Orthodoxy," "teacher of mercy and preacher of the faith," "destruction of idols," "blessed father and teacher and zealous like the Apostle Paul."
Saint Antonii Pecherskyi
Saint Antonii Pecherskyi is known as the founder of monasticism and the Kyivan Monastery of the Caves. He was born around 983 in Liubech, Chernihiv region. From a young age he lived alone in a cave. He became a monk on Mount Athos, Greece. He returned to Kyiv and settled in a cave. He continued his life in prayer, fasting and labor. In time there were more followers of this way of life. This led to the founding of the Kyivan Monastery of the Caves.
Desiring to lead his monastic life in solitude, Antonii choose one of the brethren to be hegumen (abbot) and he himself left to live in a separate cave. When the number of monks increased, he blessed their decision to build a church in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God on a hill above the caves. Antonii was a true ascetic, given to prayer and fasting, and a good counselor. He healed the sick with herbs and performed miracles. He passed into eternity in 1073.
He was canonized in the 13th century. He is commemorated on July 10 and September 28.
Saint Teodozii Pecherskyi
The hegumen (abbot) of the Monastery of the Caves, St. Teodozii Pecherskyi was born in the first half of the 11th century not far from Kyiv in a family that served the prince. From his childhood he was known for his religiosity. His mother dreamed that he would pursue a worldly career, but the boy was more influenced by his father, who was deeply religious.
At the age of 23 Teodozii decided to become a monk. St. Antonii received him and soon blessed his monastic tonsure. St. Teodozii was known for his zealous monastic life. When his mother came to him, he convinced her to become a nun.
In approximately 1062, already a priest, he was chosen hegumen (abbot) of the monastery, with the blessing of St. Antonii. He ruled the brothers wisely, remaining zealous in fasting, work and prayer. As the number of monks had grown they needed to build and organize a new monastery. St. Teodozii adopted the rule of the Studite order and from that time monastic life in the Monastery of the Caves has followed that rule.
St. Teodozii ably combined serving his community with working out his salvation. He was the spiritual director of many lay people. With the help of St. Steven's Church he established a home at the monastery for the poor, the lame and the sick; he cared for prisoners.
So he set the course of Ukrainian monasticism: to work not only for one's own salvation but at the same time to serve one's neighbor. In 1073 St. Teodozii founded a great walled church in honor of the Dormition of the Mother of God. He passed into eternity on May 3, 1074. They buried him in the cave underneath the old monastery. In 1091 his remains were discovered to be incorrupt while they were being moved from the grave in the cave into the church which he founded. The local veneration of St. Teodozii began at that time. He was canonized in 1108.
He is commemorated on May 3 and August 14.
Saints Borys and Hlib, Martyrs
The Holy Martyrs BORYS and HLIB were named in baptism ROMAN and DAVID. Sons of St. Volodymyr, who is called "the equal to the apostles," they were known from their youth for their works of charity. St. Borys was known for his love of church singing. St. Volodymyr loved them because of their tender brotherly love for each other. When St. Volodymyr was still alive St. Borys received his inheritance, the duchy of Rostov and St. Hlib the duchy of Murom. They both made great efforts to spread the Christian faith among the pagans in their territories.
St. Hlib is considered the first enlightener of the land of Murom-Riazan and his memory has been preserved there from early times as the first preacher of Christianity and the protector of the land. In 1015, after the death of St. Volodymyr, Sviatopolk, called "The Cursed," took control of the kingdom. Fearing opposition, he killed his brothers. Prince Borys died on July 24, Prince Hlib on September 5, 1015.
Their bodies were secretly taken to Vyshhorod (near Kyiv) and there buried in St. Basil's Church. Miracles soon began to occur on the graves of the holy princes. When the graves were opened, their bodies were found to be incorrupt and an unusual heavenly light shone on them. In the reign of Yaroslav the Wise a holy day in honor of Princes Borys and Hlib was celebrated. In 1115 their holy remains were transferred to a stone church built in their honor in Vyshhorod.
In 1240, during a Tatar attack on Kyiv, the relics of the saints were irretrievably
lost. The memory of the two prince-martyrs has been celebrated in Rus-Ukraine
for many years: this is clear from the great number of old monasteries and churches
named in their honor which still survive today in various parts of Ukraine,
Belarus and Russia.
St. Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr
St. JOSAPHAT (Kuntsevych), archbishop of Polotsk, was born in Volodymyr-Volyn around 1580. At baptism he was named Ivan. At the age of 15 he moved to Vilnius (present-day Lithuania) to work as a merchant's apprentice. Inspired by the vibrant religious life of the time, he entered the Greek Catholic monastery of the Holy Trinity in 1604, choosing the name Josaphat. In 1609 he was ordained to the priesthood.
That same year the disputes between Greek Catholics and Orthodox became more severe. Rumors spread in Vilnius that the Greek Catholic authorities wanted to hand the monastery over to the Latins. In 1611 he became auxiliary bishop of the Kyivan metropolia, in 1617 the auxiliary bishop of Polotsk. During his episcopate (1618 to 1623) there was a great religious revival in Polotsk.
In 1620 and 1621 Patriarch Theophan of Jerusalem, pressured by Hetman Petro Sahaydachnyi, consecrated Yov Boretskyi as Orthodox Metropolitan of Kyiv and then five other bishops. This created a parallel Orthodox hierarchy not in union with Rome in Ukraine and Belarus. A battle "Rus against Rus" began: at first it was polemical, later physical. It was particularly fierce in the archeparchy of Polotsk, where Archbishop Meletii Smotrytskyi was placed as a counterweight to Josaphat. Bitter polemics continued between them. Josaphat was accused of polonizing the faithful. On November 12, 1623 a crowd in Vitebsk killed Josaphat with axes and tossed his body into the Dvino River.
After the death of St. Josaphat a miraculous apparition appeared over the episcopal palace. His body was transferred to Polotsk. His incorrupt remains were buried two years after his death. Many miracles occurred through his intercession. On June 29, 1867 he was declared a saint. Since 1963, when Ukrainian Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj arrived from the Siberian gulag, the relics of St. Josaphat have lain in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
St. Josaphat is venerated by the universal Catholic Church.
The Pratulin Martyrs
In 1815 the territory of the Kholm eparchy (today in northeastern Poland) became part of the Russian Empire. For over 30 years Greek Catholics there were persecuted by the civil authorities in many areas, under the rallying-cry "purification of the Byzantine rite." Often the civil authorities turned to the army for help. Fr. Yosyf Kurmanovych, pastor of the village of Pratulin, was arrested because he refused to make changes in the Divine Liturgy; these changes essentially would have meant converting to Russian Orthodoxy.
On January 26, 1874 two companies of Tsarist troops came to Holy Trinity Church in Pratulin with a new pastor. The parishioners from Pratulin and the neighboring villages gathered around the church determined not to allow the new priest into the church. A few days before 5 people died under similar circumstances in a nearby village. Those gathered at the church that day were prepared to die for the faith. When the Russian soldiers raised their weapons, the people stood in a circle and sang. Nine people died there. Four more died the next day from the wounds they had received.
The beatification process for the Pratulin martyrs began in the 1930s and was
completed on November 6, 1998. The universal Catholic Church celebrates the
feast of the Pratulin Martyrs on January 10.
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