Patriarch Sviatoslav on the Joint Declaration

Update 2/14: A full English translation of Patriarch Sviatoslav’s response to the Joint Declaration (sans Scriptural references) is now available from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s website here. My thanks once again to Fr. Athanasius McVay for allowing Opus Publicum to host his partial translation of the Patriarch’s words.


His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus, has issued an official statement on the Joint Declaration signed yesterday by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba. The full text of the Patriarch’s statement — in Ukrainian — is available from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s official website. While Sviatoslav offers words of praise for the Joint Declaration, that praise is tempered by the fact that he was not consulted on the text despite being a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Fr. Athanasius McVay, a Greek Catholic priest, has kindly granted Opus Publicum permission to post his translation of the final three paragraphs of his Beatitude’s statement. He also added in Scriptural references at the end. Hopefully a full translation of Patriarch Sviatoslav’s words will be available in short order.

Undoubtedly, this text has caused deep disappointment among many of the faithful of our Church and among conscientious citizens of Ukraine. This day, many contacted me about this and said that they feel betrayed by the Vatican, disappointed by the half-truths in this document, and even see it as indirect support by the Apostolic See of Russian aggression against Ukraine. I can certainly understand understand those feelings.

Nevertheless, I encourage our faithful not to dramatize this declaration and not to exaggerate its importance to Church life. We have experienced more than one such declaration, and will survive this one as well. We need to remember that our unity and full communion with the Holy Father, the Successor of the Apostle Peter, is not the result of political agreement or diplomatic compromise, or the clarity of a text of a joint declaration. This unity and communion with the Peter of today is an essential characteristic of our Faith. It is to him, Pope Francis, and to each of us today, that Christ says in the Gospel of Luke: “Simon, Simon! Satan would sift you like wheat, but I prayed for you, so that your faith is not weakened, and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren.”

It is for this unity with the Apostolic See [of Rome] that the martyrs and confessors of the Faith of the Church of the twentieth century gave their lives and sealed their blood. Precisely commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Lviv Pseudo-Synod, we share their strength of witness, their sacrifice which, in our day, often appears to be a stumbling block – the stone which the builders of international relations often rejected. But it is the Christ Stone of Peter’s faith that the Lord made the cornerstone of the future of all Christians. And it will be “marvellous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22; Mt 21:42; Lk 20:17; Act 4:11; Ep 2:20; 1 Peter 2:7)


  1. Isn’t “ecclesial community” in this context to be understood as a local community of the Catholic Church? I am speaking as an Orthodox Christian here, so maybe Catholics will say I’m biased or am not seeing the whole picture – but that is how I understand that phrase in that context. I would say that any diocese, Catholic or Orthodox, might be referred to as an ‘ecclesial community” in the same sense that I understand it to be used here.

    Further, my impression is that the document recognizes that the Unia has caused more problems than it has solved, while admitting that is it a reality and that it would not be reasonable or just if we were to demand that Eastern Catholics either give up their Byzantine liturgical history or be summarily transferred to the Orthodox Church. Whatever the history, they are there and efforts should be made to promote respect, if not agreement.

    1. The issue is that the UGCC, like the other Eastern Catholic churches, is sui iuris; it is an autonomous church that deserves to be referred to as such. The “ecclesial community” language — which the Catholic Church uses to refer to Protestant denominations — was put into play in the early 1990s as a way of appeasing the Russian government and the Moscow Patriarchate, but such language is a flat denial of what the UGCC is: a church. It is not merely “a rite,” which is another bias that the UGCC — and other Eastern Catholics — have had to battle against for centuries.

      As for the “Unia” causing more problems than it has solved, I suppose that depends on how you look at it. One could argue that Russian politics (imperialism) and the behavior of the Russian Orthodox Church over the centuries has been at the heart of the problems ostensibly caused by the “Unia.” In the end, I don’t think anyone has clean hands here entirely, though the Orthodox accusations against the “Unia” are often exaggerated, politically motivated, and lacking in clear historical evidence.

      1. Actually, I meant with regard to restoration of East-West unity in particular. I apologize for not being clear. I actually thought that would be self-understood. I suppose that itself is evidence of a different frame of reference between Orthodox and Eastern Catholics.

        I have indeed read Vatican II documents about how the Catholic Church sees non-Catholics and I said “in this context” to separate between the use to which you refer and the current use.How could Rome refer to Eastern Catholic churches as “ecclesial communities” in the sense of how the term is used to refer to Protestants, who have no sacramental order?” That sense seems to be absolutely excluded here. We are speaking of eparchies that are in full communion with the Roman Pontiff. Are you thinking that it was Russian pressure that led to the use of that term? I suppose that’s not impossible, but I am not sure what would be gained by it. It would be clear to any educated Orthodox, regardless of personal attitude about the Unia, that Eastern Catholic churches are fully part of the Catholic Church. There’s no point in trying to deny their legitimacy as genuinely Catholic – not that I can see. And i think that the rest of the language of the joint declaration, saying that whatever we say about the merits of the Unia, Eastern Catholics are there – and as you are clearly demonstrating, you have your own identity. At this point it would be wholly unjust to force you to merge with either the Latin Rite or the local Orthodox churches in the geographical territories where you exist.

        As I said below, the relationship between the MP and Putins government is a cause for concern even within the Orthodox Church. I am a member of the OCA, which, as you may know, received its autocephaly from Moscow in 1970. Constantinople does not recognize that autocephaly. The issue of the manner in which autocephaly will be granted was supposed to be on the agenda for the upcoming “Great and Holy Council” but it will not be discussed because it remains to much a sore point. Is that friction all because of Constantinople’s claims that Russia sees as quasi-papal? Maybe, but I have no doubt that Constantinople has some legit points to make about Russian church behavior. I really wish that the MP had taken a politically neutral role in Russian society after the fall of the Soviet Union. Whatever the realities are, there is too much appearance of the MP functioning as an arm of the Putin government. Even if the MP is trying to do something wholly legitimate and independent, how can anyone – including Orthodox outside of Russia – not wonder if there might be an ulterior motive?

        Finally, I think that there is a big difference between the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the schismatic Orthodox bodies. The MP says that the Ukrainian Catholics are fomenting the Orthodox schism. I have no idea whether that’s true or not. I’m not there. But, Ukrainian Catholics are not schismatic Orthodox – however one looks at history – they are today Catholics in communion with Rome and that is their identity. You clearly do not see yourself as being Orthodox who got snatched away from the Orthodox Church. The divisions among Orthodox in Ukraine are a symptom of the discomfort of Orthodox with the relationship between the MP and the Russian government – and the fact that such discomfort existed in the past too, whether under the USSR or the Tsars. Even if the MP can present a reasonable argument in matters relating to its own ecclesial role in the Ukraine, I can’t blame people for wondering if such an argument doesn’t have another motive. Putin’s military actions in the Ukraine can only fuel the fire here. My personal opinion is that it would be best if Putin pulled out and Moscow and the Orthodox enacted what has been said on paper about how to declare autocephaly and do so in the case of the Ukraine. Maybe then we could ALL deal with the genuine issues of Catholic-Orthodox relations in that region and over all.

        It was my understanding of this joint declaration on this point and my personal hope, that the message would be that IF any Ukrainian Catholics are trying to stoke the fires of division among Orthodox that would cease, and EQUALLY: that Orthodox would recognize, and accept the reality of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and set aside feelings about the history and accept it as having its own unique identity in the here and now and therefore its own legitimate interests; not as a foreign body to be excised or forced into the autonomous Orthodox Church of the Ukraine under the MP.

  2. Regarding the relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and Putin’s government, and between the Patriarch and Putin personally, there are Orthodox outside of Russia who are not entirely comfortable with what they see. I have always respected +Kirill, but I am no blind to the appearances. Still, the fact is that the Russian Orthodox Church has genuine ecclesiastical interests in building a positive relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. There are deep issues that still divide us. No one is denying that, and the Unia is one of them. Hopefully the ice will continue to thaw and we can honestly and civilly discuss these sore points in the context of history and with mutual respect. We have an opportunity here to set an example for the world of genuine tolerance: the ability to firmly, but lovingly disagree, making even our lack of eucharistic communion an example of such disagreement in mutual respect and love.

    1. I don’t see why the UGCC, or any other Eastern Catholic church, should be an issue here, except for chauvinistic reasons. If the goal is unity, why should Moscow care (for the time being) if someone is in the UGCC or the Roman Church, etc.? As Adam DeVille noted in one of his pieces, should not both sides rejoice that they have won souls for Christ?

      I suspect one of the real issues at play here is that the UGCC — like the Ukrainian Orthodox-Kyivan Patriarchate — represents an independent church free from Moscow’s sphere of control. The Russians don’t like that. It’s a slap in the face to their “Russian World” ideology.

      1. The MP will have a legitimate ecclesial argument to make only in terms of relations among local Orthodox churches. But as I said, above, even if they present a totally logical ecclesial argument, how can others not suspect other motives?

        That aside, there is a legitimate ecclesial issue for Orthodox about the general issue of autonomy and autocephaly. Part of that is slated to be discussed in a pan-Orthodox council this year (the first since the 7th Ecumenical Council). The situation in Ukraine is an excellent example of the need to resolve this issue. Meanwhile, I’d agree that Moscow shouldn’t care about people in the UGCC. They don’t claim to be Orthodox or want to be, so just ignore them (in a positive sense) and focus on the internal Orthodox issues.

      2. If I may ask: is there fear among Eastern Rite Catholics that Rome will abandon you under pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church? That is a possibility that never occurred to me until just this moment – that there would such a fear. I can’t image Rome doing that and I interpreted the joint declaration in the context of not even imagining that possibility. I interpreted it to say that the Russian Orthodox Church must accept that the Ukrainian Catholics aren’t going anywhere. But I am not Eastern Rite Catholic so I may be missing something here.

        1. Oh, and if there is such a fear, why is it there? I ask this out of genuine ignorance of internal Catholic affairs. While it does seem to me that Rome is anxious to heal the East-West Schism, like I said before, I just couldn’t conceive (on my own) of that meaning abandoning the Eastern Rite Catholics.

          I hope that you understand that I am asking out of genuine interest in trying to understand a Ukrainian (or other Eastern Rite) Catholic perspective here. I am a convert to the OCA from the Episcopal Church. I am also a graduate of St Vladimir’s Seminary. I see these issues in that context. I do think that the Unia was a mistake, and on that point we may well continue to disagree. But that doesn’t change today’s reality, which is what I am interested at the moment.

        2. I think there is that fear, and I wouldn’t say it’s an entirely unfounded one given the history of Rome/Moscow relations over the past 50 years. It is well-documented that Rome stifled the UGCC at the outset of Vatican II in exchange for gaining Russian Orthodox observers at the Council. And after the UGCC emerged from the catacombs in the early 1990s, the Vatican continued to play games with the UGCC’s status, denying its full rights (or at least not advertising them). The language contained in paragraph 25 of the Joint Declaration certainly hearkens back to the bad old days, and so some in the UGCC are nervous.

          1. Wow! Ok, then, I can see why the term “ecclesial communities” was problematic. Thank you for your perspective.

            Are you familiar with the on-going conflict between the Russian and Constantinopolitan patriarchates over issues of canonical territory, particularly regarding Estonia? Although the dispute, does have a legitimate ecclesiastical basis, whichever side one takes, one cannot help but wonder whether Moscow’s motives for pressing the issue aren’t connected to ties with Putin. Now, I was chrismated by a priest from Latvia, who clearly saw himself as Russian. There is no doubt that he would consider Russia’s canonical claim over the Baltic states to be legitimate over Constantinople’s, and there are problems with Constantinople trying to assert to much control in the eyes of Slavic Orthodox in general in the name of primacy. So this is part of the context in which I have always understood such issues, so a new perspective is welcome.I do hope that I am right that the language of the joint declaration means as much as anything else, that Russian Orthodox must accept the reality of the UGCC and respect its self-identity.

            1. At the same time, if there is ANY truth – even in isolated instances, of Ukrainian Catholics threatening violence against the UOC-MP, or collusion with schismatic Orthodox in interfering with its legitimate operations, I hope the call of the joint declaration would be taken seriously by them too – on an EQUAL basis with the responsibility for the MP to respect the legitimate interests of the UGCC. I see it as a two-way street with both sides having equal responsibility to behave civilly and respectfully. We have so much more to gain by working together than we do by fighting and undermining each other. I can’t help but wonder what would happen in the Ukraine if the Orthodox and Catholics of the Ukraine actually started to work together – how quickly peace could be achieved – and yes, that means that the MP would have to separate itself from Russian political interests.

            2. I agree that the UGCC should behave civilly and responsibly. I don’t think I quite buy into your “schismatic Orthodox” rhetoric, and I am not sure why the UGCC should care one way or the other about their status vis-à-vis the rest of Orthodoxy. The Ukrainian Orthodox-Kyiv and UGCC are on good terms, and the numbers show that the MP is losing a large number of adherents to the UOC-KP. It’s only a matter of time before the KP is recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, and then what? I think Moscow has to learn that its days of ruling over Ukraine are over with.

              As for the opinions of individual Orthodox Christians, they are more than entitled to them.

  3. Thank you again, Gabriel, for your thoughts. It is interesting – even enlightening – to hear how someone outside my circle perceive the situation.

    I don’t think the EP is gong to unilaterally recognize the UOC-KP at this particular juncture. That would be risking too much. Whatever you, or I, or Patriarch Bartholomew thinks about Putin or Patriarch KIRILL, +Bartholomew really can’t afford to act in a way that is almost certain to cause it to lose all support from Russia, and perhaps even cause a schism. Whether or not the MP is right, they have the cards at the moment – or so it seems to me. Part of the reason I think so is that the very issue of granting autocephaly is one that was removed from the agenda of the upcoming council because it is such a sore point. The OCA and Ukraine are both specific cases in contention. 10 or 15 years ago I think it would have been much more likely.

    The problem with the UOC-KP from the perspective not only of the MP, but other Orthodox, is that it is self-declared. No one recognizes Macedonian autocephaly either for the same reason. This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Your comments have led me to wonder if granting the UOC autocephaly, and then having that body cooperate with the UGCC might not be the best thing for EVERYBODY.

    1. Well, I do think that would be the best situation for everyone. I really believe the UGCC’s sincere desire — a desire that was certain in the heart of (St.) Andrey Sheptytsky — is for a single Ukrainian Church in full communion with Rome. The UGCC does not see itself as “the only game in town” and what it desires above all else is unity. I would bet my bottom dollar that Patriarch Sviatoslav would gladly step aside if it meant a single Ukrainian Church — but in communion with Rome. That is the key here. Whether it’s due to misinformation, ignorance, or just some level of confusion, the UGCC’s aim is not to oust the Orthodox hierarchy and steal its flock; its goal is to establish a single, united church with full communion with Rome but without succumbing to Latinizations and such. While I understand that Ukrainian/Russian ethnic tensions do muddy the waters at times (as they muddy the waters of intra-Orthodox relations), if one listens to the words of the UGCC’s hierarchy, I think they would realize that it does not exist to somehow undermine or disrupt the life and health of Orthodoxy, but rather to serve as a bridge between East and West with an eye towards full ecclesiastical communion.

      For the record, I was Eastern Orthodox for seven years after having been raised in the Greek Catholic Church. While I have had critical words to say about Orthodoxy in the past, I am not hostile towards it and, in fact, wish it nothing but the best. I do not see this as a zero-sum game where one “side” needs to win out; I see matters as deeply unfortunate and the schism as something that needs to be healed. But it’s going to be a very long and trying process, one that is going to require a lot of humility on both sides of the divide.

      1. Although I have to say that it is precisely that notion of Eastern Rite Catholics (“Uniates”) being a bridge that is a sore point for Orthodox, especially Russians, I completely agree with your second paragraph – ESPECIALLY the part about it being a long, trying process requiring humility on both sides. That is what I’d like to think this joint declaration could mean. It won’t mean that if indeed Rome throws the UGCC under the bus. Moscow (both the MP and Putin) must recognize that other parties have reasonable aspirations. If there can be a single, autocephalous Orthodox Church working side by side with the UGCC, both being supported by their respective “sides” (one could hope that “sides” would cease to be a relevant term) in that cooperation, it seems to me that the political situation as well as the ecclesiastical situation and humanitarian situation would dramatically improve. Then, maybe, there will be a step toward healing the thousand-year-old schism.

        1. If we can get to the point where a single UOC and the UGCC are not competing, that “sore spot” won’t remain a sore spot – if anyone has any humility at all.

          1. I don’t think the UGCC is out to compete with anyone, though they do have a mission to their flock in Western Ukraine (which is majority Catholic) and to those Catholics who are scattered throughout Eastern Ukraine as well. The UOC-KP has been generous in ministering to Greek Catholics in Eastern Ukraine just as the UGCC ministers to Orthodox in the West. There has been a great deal of on-the-ground cooperation between Greek Catholics and Orthodox in Ukraine for the last couple of years despite Moscow’s attempts to break it up.

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