Staunton, July 18 – Pope Francis has issued a decree opening the process for the beatification of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944) who led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church from 1901 until 1944 under seven different regimes and who was always a passionate advocate for an independent Ukraine.
Many Ukrainians had long pushed for this action, the first step toward canonization, over the objections of some Polish church leaders. But they were encouraged when Pope John Paul II in 2001 expressed the hope that Metropolitan Andrey eventually would be canonized, and they will see this as vindication (nr2.ru/News/Ukraine_and_Europe/Vatikan-nachal-proceduru-beatrifikacii-mitropolita-Andreya-SHeptickogo-101718.html).
The Moscow Patriarchate, on the other hand, is certain to be outraged by this latest Vatican step. Like the Soviet state which tried to suppress the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church after World War II, the Moscow church has viewed that denomination as an anomaly and routinely cited it as a major obstacle to any rapprochement between Moscow and Rome.
Sheptytsky, whom church historian Jaroslav Pelikan has described as “the most influential figure … in the entire history of the Ukrainian Church in the 20th century” had a remarkable life, the result of being the leader of a church and the resident of a place caught between east and west.
Born near Lviv, he and those of his church lived under seven different governments: Austrian, Russian, Soviet, Polish, Soviet, German, and Soviet; and like the Ukrainians around him, he suffered as a result. But over the course of his life, he was distinguished by his holiness, his tolerance for all religions, and his commitment to an independent Ukraine.
He rose through the ranks of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is an eastern rite church subordinate to Rome, becoming a priest in 1892, the head of a monastery in 1896, and in 1899, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop of what is now Ivano-Frankivsk. Then in 1900, he became metropolitan archbishop of Lviv.
Harassed and arrested by many of the governments under which he lived and opposed by some of them because of his opposition to the forced Latinization of some Greek Catholic faithful, Sheptytsky distinguished himself by protecting Jews during the Nazi occupation of his see and issuing a pastoral letter calling on others to follow his example.
But he is most often remembered now for the fact that he secretly consecrated Josyf Slipyi as his successor in December 1939. Falsely imprisoned in the GULAG on charges of collaboration with the Nazis, Slipyi became the model for the Slavic pope in Morris West’s 1963 novel, “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” that was subsequently made into a movie.
Slipyi’s life and novel about it are often viewed as prefiguring the election of Karol Józef Wojtyła as pope. There is no question that Slipyi was a remarkable figure, but now, as the process of the beatification of Sheptytsky goes forward, Pelikan’s assessment of his predecessor is likely to gain ground not only in Ukraine but around the world.