Byzantine Catholic Church in America: News of the East

Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Patriarch Dies of Pneumonia at 86


Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan (Lubachivsky) of Kiev-Halych and All Rus',
Cardinal-Priest of Saint Sophia

14 December 2000
Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Patriarch dies of pneumonia at 86

From Serge Keleher

Patriarch Myroslav Ivan (Lubachivsky), who led the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in exile and returned to Ukraine in 1991 when the Church regained legal rights in the Soviet Union, died early this morning.

The patriarch, who had been weak and suffering for years from severe rheumatism, died of pneumonia at his residence at St. George's Cathedral in L'viv.

Funeral arrangements were pending the appointment of a patriarchal administrator (normally the senior Metropolitan); travel difficulties and the impending Christmas holy days may cause some delay.

Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops from around the world will gather to elect a new patriarch of their Church, which has over 7 million faithful; a date for the synod meeting has not yet been announced. Patriarch Myroslav Ivan was born in Ukraine, but undertook most of his ministry outside his homeland because the Soviet Union outlawed the Greek-Catholic Church in 1946. The Church was legalized in late 1989 and Patriarch Myroslav Ivan returned to his homeland in March 1991.

He defended Ukrainian Greek-Catholics forced to live their faith clandestinely. During this period of exile, the life of the Church in Ukraine was directed by a Locum-Tenens in the person of Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sterniuk), C.Ss.R.

The Holy See regards the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as a major archbishopric, meaning an Eastern Catholic Church which has all the attributes of a patriarchate but does not have the actual patriarchal title. In practice, the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church is usually called "patriarch" and is so commemorated in liturgical services.

Cardinal Lubachivsky repeatedly asked Pope John Paul II to elevate the major archbishopric of L'viv to a patriarchate in keeping with the Tradition of the Eastern churches.

Under canon law, he said in 1992, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church is entitled to a patriarch, and the Vatican's concession of the title would be a sign of esteem for the long-suffering Church and a rallying point for Church members.

But Patriarch Myroslav Ivan also understood the cause of the delay: "The Holy See is afraid that if it grants us a patriarchate it will be badly perceived by the Orthodox Church, worsening already uneasy ecumenical relations.''

Mitred Archpriest Ivan Dacko, the director of external relations for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church who had served as Patriarch Myroslav Ivan's Chancellor in Rome, said that Patriarch Myroslav Ivan" presided over truly outstanding moments in our Church.''

"He thanked Divine Providence for allowing him to reap the successes his predecessors worked so hard for: the legalization of our Church,'' Msgr. Dacko told Catholic News Service in Rome.

As to eventual Vatican recognition of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic patriarchate, "he expected it to happen and was disappointed that it did not. Ours is the largest Eastern Catholic Church,'' the Mitred Archpriest said. Patriarch Myroslav Ivan "never had ambitions for himself, but wanted the patriarchate for the good of the Church".

Msgr. Dacko described the patriarch as ``a very humble man and a man of deep prayer. He loved writing and translating and, as long as it was possible, he could be found sitting behind his typewriter.''

Born in Dolyna, Western Ukraine (then part of Austria-Hungary), in1914 and ordained priest for the Greek-Catholic Archdiocese of L'viv in1938, Patriarch Myroslav Ivan was a theologian and linguist who studied in Austria, Switzerland and Rome before and during World War II.

In addition to his degrees in Scripture and philosophy, he studied medicine at Rome's Royal Italian University. Father Lubachivsky moved to the United States in 1947, where he was secretary to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia, Metropolitan Constantine (Bohachevsky) and secretary of the Ukrainian section of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the precursor of the U.S. Catholic Conference.

From 1949 to 1967, the future patriarch served in parishes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. He became an American citizen in 1952. After another year in Rome writing a commentary on St. Matthew's Gospel, doing research and teaching at Saint Josaphat's seminary, here turned to the United States, where he served as a pastor, seminary spiritual director and teacher at seminaries and high schools.

Pope John Paul named him Ukrainian Greek-Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia in 1979 and personally ordained him to the episcopacy during a Divine Liturgy that November in the Sistine Chapel.

In 1980 Ukrainian Greek-Catholic hierarchs from throughout the West- at the time the hierarchs in Ukraine were unable to travel to the Vatican - held a Synod in Rome to nominate candidates for the office of coadjutor to Patriarch Joseph Slipyj, who had been released from Soviet custody and exiled to Rome in 1963. Of the three candidates proposed by the synod, Pope John Paul II selected Archbishop Myroslav Ivan, who was the first choice of the synod. Archbishop Myroslav Ivan lived in Rome and worked with Patriarch Joseph in Rome until the exiled Patriarch died in1984. Archbishop Lubachivsky automatically succeeded Patriarch Joseph; Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in May 1985.

This was the time of Gorbachov and "perestroika" in the Soviet Union; the catacomb Greek-Catholic Church in the USSR became increasingly active, raising its voice to demand the restoration of legal rights to practice the Faith freely and openly. The exiled Patriarchal Chancery in Rome (situated above the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus on the Piazza Madonna dei Monti, two blocks from the Colosseum) became a focal point in the West for this struggle, developing and maintaining contacts with the underground Church and publishing materials giving details of the struggle for freedom of religion. Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan and his close associates worked directly with Aid to the Church in Need, Keston College, and other organizations in the West promoting freedom of religion in the Soviet Union, and also published prayer-books badly needed by the hierarchy, clergy and faithful in the USSR. In keeping with his abiding interest in Holy Scripture, Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan personally edited and published the complete Gospel Book (used on the Altar) in modern Ukrainian.

Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan had never cherished personal ambitions, and was a quiet, retiring man by nature. Nevertheless, in this period he found himself traveling the world and meeting important public figures in pursuit of the need to defend the persecuted Church. Such Soviet dissidents as Andrew Sakharov came to visit him in Rome, and offered their support.

In 1989 all this activity culminated on the first of December, when Michael Gorbachov visited Pope John Paul II and the Soviet government announced the restoration of legal rights to the Greek-Catholic Church. Much work remained, but the fundamental issue of freedom of religion was agreed. Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan was already 75 years of age, and thought that it might be better to have a new Patriarch to lead the Church under these changed circumstances. Patriarchs are not required to resign at any particular age, but they are free to offer their resignation at age 75 if they wish to do so; Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan therefore wrote to the Pope offering his resignation. However, after consulting with the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod of Bishops, the Pope did not accept the resignation; Pope John Paul II wanted Myroslav-Ivan to return to Ukraine and assume the leadership of the Church there.

Thus in the Spring of 1991 Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan flew to L'viv, arriving on Lazarus Saturday (the eve of Palm Sunday) for an enormous, tumultuous welcome led by Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sterniuk). Hundreds of thousands of faithful lined the streets from the airport to Saint George's Cathedral, and cheered with joy as the Metropolitan presented the Patriarch with the white klobuk (the patriarchal head-dress), urging Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan to lead the Church in this new era. The BBC produced an hour-long documentary (available from the Patriarchal Chancery) on the events of the Patriarch's return. Aid to the Church in Need was closely involved; Father Werenfried van Straaten and Father Joseph O'Donohue (the Irish director of Aid to the Church in Need) both traveled on the plane from Rome to L'viv with the Patriarch.

Patriarch Joseph had directed in his Spiritual Testament that he should be buried in the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint Sophia, which he himself had constructed in Rome, but that when freedom was restored in Ukraine, he should be buried in the crypt of Saint George's Cathedral, next to Metropolitan Andrew (Sheptytsky), his predecessor who had ordained him to the priesthood and the episcopate. In August 1992 Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan had Patriarch Joseph's mortal remains brought from Rome to L'viv for interment in the crypt of Saint George's. It proved necessary to keep the Cathedral open around the clock for more than a week, as over two million people filed continuously past Patriarch Joseph's coffin.

There was steady progress throughout the nineteen-nineties; the seminaries and the Greek-Catholic Theological Academy re-opened after fifty years; monasteries re-opened, new hierarchs were elected and consecrated. But as Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan's health continued to deteriorate, largely due to advancing age, the Patriarch requested a plenipotentiary auxiliary to look after administrative matters. The Synod elected Bishop Lubomyr (Husar) to this position on 14 October 1996; Pope John Paul II confirmed the election the following day.

Gradually, Patriarch Myroslav-Ivan left more and more in the hands of Bishop Lubomyr (who was himself consecrated bishop in 1977 by Patriarch Joseph). For a year or so before his death, the Patriarch was bedridden.

Memory Eternal!


Use the "back" button on your browser or click here

  to return to the main ByzCath News Page.  -  The Byzantine Catholic Church in America Home Page