1. Tell us a bit about yourself - how did you come to be a priest in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church?
I grew up in a small farming community in Manitoba. The church we attended was just down the road from us. My Father and Grandfather were activity involved in the running and upkeep of the church, so I guess it just rubbed off on me. I had a couple of personal calls to become a priest, but careers and earning a living took precedence. But God was patient although persistent and He eventually redirected the path I choose and led me back to becoming a priest.
Where did you go to seminary?
Where didn’t I go! My training was quite eclectic. I studied for a while in Rome with the Dominican’s, and then in Mission BC with the Benedictines, then finished off with the Russian Catholics at the Orientalum in Rome.
Were you a cradle Catholic, or a convert?
I guess a cradle catholic in that I was baptized at birth into the faith of my parents, but once I left home, after some searching, choose to continue worship in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
2. What is it like being an Eastern Catholic?
Depends what you compare it with! I guess we have the best of both worlds. We have the rich Liturgy and traditions of the Orthodox Church along with all its benefits, and yet at the same time, through the Holy Spirit, have access to the fullness of Truth found only in the Catholic Church.
Do you ever feel cut off from or misunderstood by Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox?
I would have to say yes. Sad to say, but there exists ignorance in both camps. Among the Roman Catholics there are many who really know very little about us, even though we are the 2nd largest Rite in [the] Catholic Church. To them we are Orthodox but somehow Catholic. We are also looked down upon by many of the Orthodox because according them we have “left the true church” and united with Rome.
3. What would say are the key elements of Eastern Christian spirituality?
Key elements of our spirituality? I guess the main element is the quest for Deification or theosis – to become god-like. That through asceticism, contemplation and the sacraments, we slowly empty ourselves of our human sinful nature until we become just above the state of Adam and Eve before their fall from grace.
We have a strong Marian devotion, which can be seen especially through our many liturgical services.
Our approach to knowledge of God is more thru the “via negativa” or “Apophatic theology”. Since it is impossible for us as human’s to know everything about God, we come to know him by slowly ruling out what He is not.
Do you think they are complementary or entirely different from the major elements of Western Christian spirituality?
For the most part complementary. It’s just that they use different methods to arrive at Christian perfection; which is the ultimate goal of all Christians – to become another Christ in the world.
4. How do you as an Eastern Catholic view such controversial issues amongst the Eastern Orthodox as the filioque, papal primacy, and the like?
Uhm, we’re Catholic! Even in the early church, the See of Peter has always held a special role of distinction among the Pentarchy although the 5 heads always worked together although they were one.
As for the “filioque” (and the Son), I was taught that the Eastern Orthodox protest because it was a later addition to the Nicean Creed. Part and parcel of the final approval of the Nicean in the early church is that not a single iota of the creed may be changed. As for procession of the Holy Spirit, I believe there are different ways of explaining the same notion according to the different forms of
spirituality and language.
Why or how is it, do you think, that the Eastern Catholic Churches were able to overcome these issues and re-unite with Rome?
I cannot speak for all Eastern Catholic Churches but only The Ukrainian Catholic Church and in that only my interpretation. Ukraine became Eastern Christian in 988 AD thru the mass baptism by Prince Volodymyr. The Faith they chose from Constantinople and at this time there was only One Christian Church, although expressed in 5 different ways. It wasn’t until 1054 that a number of the Eastern Christian Churches split from Rome.
As for Ukraine, they were faithful to their Ruling Prince. In the following Centuries, some of these Princes were Roman Catholic, at which time the Ukrainian people considered themselves as Catholic, at other times their Princes were Orthodox so the people were considered as Orthodox. Much of these distinctions were noticed only by the hierarchy. To the faithful, there was no real difference, as the Liturgy was still celebrated the same way. This went back and forth for a number of centuries until finally in 1596 at the union of Brest, all but a couple of the Ukrainian Bishop’s decided to re-unite once and for all with Rome and make it official as opposed to constantly teetering on the fence. For the most part I think we can thank the Holy Spirit.
5. Who are your spiritual influences, and how have they influenced your prayer life and theological views?
Being trained in both Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic Universities my Spiritual influences are quite eclectic. I would say, in matter of importance, the Church Fathers, Philokalia, Catherine Doherty and Scott Hahn, and Casimir Kucharek.
As for how they have influenced me. In the word’s of Pope Paul VI, it has allowed me to “Breath with Both Lungs”, to take the best from both the Eastern and western churches in order to create a Spiritual food that works best for me. Think of it as Spiritual Fusion.
Do you have any saints to which you have a special devotion?
St. Theodosius of the Kievian caves is still number one on my list.
6. What is like being a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church?
Personally I find it more fulfilling then being a Roman Catholic Priest. There is a deeper richness in everything from our Icons, Church Design, our music, the beauty of our Liturgy, the freedom to marry, our spiritual and cultural traditions! All this and we still get to be Catholic.
7. How are the UGCC's relations with the Eastern Orthodox?
I would say that they are still a work in progress. We get together at least at the upper levels of our church hierarchy and try to find common grounds and understanding, working towards common goals.
In some locations of the globe the relations are very good and we peacefully share the use of our churches with each other, even frequenting each other’s churches if our Church is not available. In other areas there is a sense that we are not welcome but tolerated. While still in other areas there continues to be anger and hatred. Bit still in all this, progress is being made.
8. His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk just recently came for a visit - what was this like for you personally, and your parish?
For me personally it was very similar to meeting the Holy Father, minus all the security. There was that same sense of holiness emanating from him. The difference was that Our Beatitude was much more approachable. He’s young like us and full of enthusiasm and positive ideas for future growth of our Church. He also has a real concern for our youth, this present generation, listening intently to their side of the story. In short, he is a real loving father figure, and this brings great hope for our Church.
9. If you could offer any advice on prayer and the spiritual life, what would it be?
Don’t sell yourself short! A Saint is nothing more then a sinner who immediately after he falls, gets back up and tries again. If things don’t seem to be going your way, realize that it is so much easier working together with Christ then against Him. The problem is discerning whether or not we are following the path that we laid out for ourselves, or the one that Christ constantly tries to re-direct us too.
10. Who is Jesus Christ to you?
All theology aside, a friend, companion and role model. Someone I’ve learned I can also trust to see me through, no matter how dark the path may seem. Someone who gives me strength when I really need it, but allows me to stumble when I need to grow.