Kyiv, March 4, 2016. The exhibition “Through the rough way of catacombs to the light of resurrection” has opened. It is dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the so-called “Lviv Sobor”, which resulted in elimination of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The exhibition features documents, photographs and other visual material – the results of historians’ research of the event. The Institute of Church History of the Ukrainian Catholic University and the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory joined their efforts to prepare the materials. “This exhibition is a bridge over the abyss between historians who have a lot to say and those who want to hear it. The exhibition plays an important role to fill this gap and will be an important component for understanding the history of Ukraine in the twentieth century. […] These pages of history should inspire us, especially now, when Ukraine is again in a difficult situation” said Volodymyr Viatrovych, Head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
“We have not yet understood the spiritual value of those decades [of underground activity] and what happened 70 years ago,” said Liubomyr (Husar), the Major Archbishop Emeritus of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. “The Church grows and develops through patience – such is God’s providence. This time of the 70th anniversary inspires us to contemplate again in order to see […] how the martyrdom, the persecution of our church, denial and abuse of our church contributed to what we now have. Due to what happened then, we revived, we consolidated and with God’s help we can best serve our nation.”
On March 8-10, 1946, there was the so-called “Lviv Sobor” with the participation of representatives from three dioceses of the Galician metropole. By its decision, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was eliminated, and joined the Russian Orthodox Church. From that time on, the Church had to survive underground for decades, and interpretations of this event range from a version of “reunion”, widespread in Soviet times, to declaring that “Lviv Sobor” cannot to be considered canonical, because no bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was present there. According to Oleh Turiy, Vice-Rector for Program Development of the Ukrainian Catholic University, “this council was, in fact, directed and held according to the script of special services from start to finish,” and the huge number of documents from the KGB archives confirms it. He noted that between the Orange Revolution and the year of 2010, when access was limited again, the UCU students and representatives of Protestant churches had managed to study and copy an enormous amount of materials concerning the persecution of religious communities in the Soviet Union, among them materials about “Lviv Sobor”. The mechanisms of the pre-planned UGCC elimination by the Soviet Union were also studied in the book by Bohdan Butsyurkiv (1996), Canadian political scientist who worked on this topic.
Oleh Turiy noticed that such form of repression against the UGCC fitted into the then tactics used by the communist authorities to deal with religious communities. According to him, at some point the Stalinist regime decided to temporarily abandon an idea of stifling religious life and began to use the Russian Orthodox Church, which, although was exhausted by repressions, but still remained the largest church. “It was used for ideological support of that power and for destroying other churches while creating a kind of “religious International”. The idea was to transform Moscow into the center of Christianity, but Christianity, which had to be manipulated and controlled by the communist Soviet regime,” explained the historian. The power was extremely hostile to the UGCC, because it was exactly the one which had played and continued to play an important role in the development of Ukrainian national identity and in the formation of civil society. “The very existence and activity of this church hindered building the Communist totalitarian society in western regions,” said Volydymyr Viatrovych. He added that Lviv sobor became the apotheosis of repression against intellectual elite and clergy, which had started in 1939 with the beginning of the Sovietization of Western Ukraine. Two years before the Nazi occupation the UGCC was not eliminated only because Metropolitan Sheptytsky was still alive, and NKVD realized the extent of his authority.
Currently, it is important to objectively and impartially review the interpretation of events given in Soviet historiography, and to inform the Ukrainian public about the pages of history, which until recently remained in the shadows, stressed Oleh Turiy and Volydymyr Viatrovych. The law on opening Soviet intelligence service archives, adopted as part of decommunisation laws, is of considerable importance in this process. However, Oleh Turiy stressed, “You cannot dwell on the past, the past should be left to God and historians. It is important that we should learn to draw conclusions from this unjust and tragic history, and learn to build a life without violence – on the basis of laws that lie at the heart of Christian faith and just social order.”
The exhibition “Through the rough way of catacombs to the light of resurrection” is located in an art gallery on the 3rd floor of the Ukrainian House and will be open to the public until March 18. In addition, the exhibition materials are published in a brochure that can be purchased. Oleh Turiy said that later on the Institute of Church History of the UCU is ready to bring the exhibition “whereever they want to see it.”