(Text revised on March 28.)
On the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the birth of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, UCU’s Institute of Church History organized a series of scholarly symposia “Patriarch Josyf Slipyj: Known and Unknown” in various cities of Ukraine. The travelling scholarly sessions were held in Poltava, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Chernivtsi, Uzhhorod, and Odesa.
Note: Patriarch Josyf Slipyj was the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church from 1944 to 1984.
(Detailed information is available in the Ukrainian language on the website of the Institute of Church History (http://ichistory.org.ua/)
The first meeting was held at Poltava National Pedagogical University in central Ukraine. Among the speakers were Prof. Lyudmila Babenko of PNPU. She tried to reveal the mechanism of direct and hidden pressure by the agents of the special services to convince the metropolitan to cooperate with the totalitarian regime. It was interesting to hear the “psychological portrait” of the patriarch that the KGB agents developed: proud, sometimes aloof, uncompromising and unbroken. The interrogators even complained that they couldn’t hit this man, for no methods of frightening him seemed to work.
The second meeting was in northeastern Ukrainian Kharkiv on 7 March. For a short time, the patriarch was in a prison in Kharkiv, waiting to be taken to the labor camps. Among those who gave reports were Archbishop Ihor Isichenko of Kharkiv and Poltava, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and Myroslav Marynovych, former dissident and current vice-rector of UCU.
During his time as a dissident, Marynovych also spent time in the same Kharkiv prison as the patriarch. Marynovych confirmed Slipyj’s words “there was too little bread to live on but too much to die from hunger.” Marynovych noted Slipyj’s great feat of writing his letter “Aspire to Greatness” while living in the conditions of imprisonment in a totalitarian country, which included not only physical punishment but the enslavement of the conscience and human dignity. “What a strong moral core this person must have had, a representative of the persecuted Church, to write, among the barracks and curses of the camps, such words: ‘Each person can do good, and in each good act is something great,’” said Marynovych.
Zaporizhzhia National University in southeastern Ukraine hosted a meeting on 9 March. Among those present were the local Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic bishops. One of the speakers was UCU professor Fr. Mykhailo Dymyd, PhD, who studied in Rome while Patriarch Josyf Slipyj was there.
Fr. Dymyd spoke about the creative freedom and bold courage of Patriarch Josyf, who in the 1970s and 1980s was the most famous Ukrainian in the free world. “I was a happy young man who never saw an unworthy example of priestly ministry,” said Fr. Dymyd. “Life at the College of St. Sophia in Rome was a social galaxy of constructive dynamic for the seminarians.” He spoke about canon law and the problem of the UGCC’s patriarchal status. He also noted the ecumenical dimensions of the patriarch’s activities, including his address to the heirs of the divided Church of Kyiv: “We are also Orthodox, as you are Catholic.”
On 10 March the Old Castle of the Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress opened a photo exhibit “Aspire to Greatness,” prepared by the Postulation Center for the Beatification and Canonization of Saints of the UGCC in cooperation with UCU’s Institute of Church History. The exhibit included nine thematic banners which presented the main stages of the patriarch’s activities.
Uzhhorod National University in southwestern Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region hosted a symposium on 13 March. Among the speakers was Bishop Hlib Lonchyna of the Holy Family Eparchy in London, England. The bishop knew the patriarch personally.
Chernivtsi hosted a meeting on 15 March and the port city of Odesa, on the Black Sea, hosted a symposium on 17 March.