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Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Pennsylvania. One of the oldest Ukrainian Catholic Churches in America, yet only hosts less than 15% of ethnic Ukrainians.

Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Pennsylvania. One of the oldest Ukrainian Catholic Churches in America, yet only hosts less than 15% of ethnic Ukrainians.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church: open to all

The following article was written by Dr. Myron B. Kuropas and appeared in the October 16th, 1997 edition of The Ukrainian Weekly. Some content has been edited for use on this site.

Does one have to be a Ukrainian to be a Ukrainian Catholic? That question has apparently been answered. The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Chicago at its third eparchial conference in Minneapolis the last weekend in September, 1997 and the answer to the question appears to be a resounding no.

You ask: How can that be? Isn’t the Ukrainian Catholic Church exclusively for Ukrainian-speaking patriots? How can non-Ukrainians understand our liturgy, appreciate our centuries-long tradition, and adopt our liturgical customs when they don’t speak Ukrainian? What will happen to our Church if we give in to the “Americanizers”?

The answers to those questions are simple. Non-Ukrainians can and have appreciated, revered and adopted our liturgy, tradition and customs from the day the first Ukrainian married a non-Ukrainian in America. Take an example from the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Mt. Carmel, Pa. First established in 1891, Ss. Peter and Paul is one of the oldest Ukrainian parishes in the United States. A beautiful brick church was erected in 1914 at a cost of $85,000 and by 1934, there were 1,700 parishioners.

For better or for worse, however, Mt. Carmel never had a sizeable post-World War II immigration. By the time the old church burned down in 1994, there were few Ukrainian speakers in the parish. Did the parish fold? Absolutely not. A magnificent new church was constructed on the same site last year. This, according to the pastor, the Fr. Daniel Troyan, by a parish that ethnically is less than 15 percent Ukrainian. “People intermarried,” he told us, “and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren intermarried, but they kept coming to our church because they loved our liturgy and our customs. I have few Ukrainian speakers now.”

While the Rev. Troyan’s parish is holding its own, the rest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America is not. Consider these scary statistics. In 1924, when Constantine Bohachevsky became America’s second Ukrainian Catholic bishop, his eparchy included 237,495 faithful. In 1960, following an influx of Ukrainian Catholics from Europe and elsewhere, there were some 320,000 Ukrainian Catholics according to The Official Catholic Encyclopedia. In 1972, there was a total of 284,678 Ukrainian Catholic faithful in the United States. In 1997, just 25 years later, the total is 123,194. Why are our numbers going south? Why aren’t the children of our post-World War II immigration attending our churches?

The lunar landing - one of the great events that formed the worldview of modern people.

The lunar landing – one of the great events that formed the worldview of modern people.

Part of the reason is that we haven’t moved with the times. In many instances our beautiful churches have become Ukrainian museums, devoid of spirit and irrelevant to the younger generation. In addressing the Minneapolis eparchial conference, Fr. Pavlo Hayda, the late pastor of our parish, touched on a number of hot-button issues within our Church, including change, tradition and language.

Citing the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (“the only thing permanent, is change”), Fr. Hayda noted all of the amazing changes that have taken place in the last 100 years since our Church came to America: the technological inventions, advances in medicine, people walking on the moon, the rising level of education, and a growing awareness of the global community, to mention but a few. “How have we grown in this time?” asked Fr. Hayda. “How has our Church adapted to reflect these changes? … Each of these changes I listed has had a profound effect on our people and when we do not grow with them, they will surely leave us behind. I’m not proposing change for change’s sake and or that we chase every trend in society. Instead, I propose a well thought-out process, guided by prayer, which allows us to be faithful to our tradition, but capable to respond to today’s world.”

“Having respect for tradition means respecting the fact that for thousands of years the Holy Spirit has been leading humanity and the Church,” continued Fr. Hayda. “To deny and discount the past not only leads us to reinventing the wheel but more importantly denies the existence of Salvation History … Being traditional does not preclude change. What it does means is that we look at why things were done in a certain way in the past so that we can find a better way to do it in the future … Before we make changes, it is our obligation to examine why these things were done that why in the past and fully understand our traditions … Through a healthy approach to traditions we can come to a better realization of what is essential to our Christian heritage and what is merely accidental, what actually helps us in our journey and what hinders.”

Fr. Hayda offered a distinction between tradition and traditionalism, citing Dr. Martin Marty of the University of Chicago School of Divinity. “Tradition is the living faith of our ancestors who have died, whereas traditionalism is the dead faith of those who are living.”

In stressing Ukrainian language facility in our parishes we are placing the cart before the horse. “Language is meant to be a vehicle of communication,” Fr. Hayda declared. “The sacredness of language is correlated to the message it conveys, not the other way around.” Language is the kind of baggage that prevents us from moving forward, Fr. Hayda believes. “Again, it is like the Pharisees confusing the letter of the law with its meaning.” Fr. Hayda asked: “Do we use language for the greater glory of God, for building His kingdom here on earth, or to exclude non-Ukrainian-speaking people?”

Sts. Peter and Paul

Sts. Peter and Paul

Underscoring the Fr. Hayda’s views at the conference was Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church. “Your children need a reason to come back to your Church,” he said, otherwise they’ll continue to stay away. Pointing to the argument in the early Christian Church between Peter (who believed the Church should be open only to Jews) and Paul (who wanted a Church open to all), Bishop Nicholas urged those present to follow the example of Paul and to go out and “teach all nations.” “We are no longer an immigrant Church,” he stressed. “We are not a diaspora, temporary inhabitants of this country, nor are we a ‘rite.’ We are Church.”

Bishop Michael Wiwchar, former eparch of the St. Nicholas Eparchy, stressed the importance of spending time to learn about our Church. “You can’t love something you don’t understand,” he declared. His remarks regarding the open Church were reassuring. We need a live Church, a dynamic Church, he said. “Christ is not a museum curator.”

The debate over tradition, custom and language will go on as long as there are Ukrainian Catholics. Let’s hope that by the time it’s resolved, it won’t be too late.