March 16, 2019


"The Desire to pray in the Cathedral of Holy Sophia - is a desire to have access to our origins"

In an extensive interview, the Father and Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, speaks about the unexpected move on the part of the Government of Ukraine to deny the Ukrainian Catholic Church access to ancient Holy Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. The Cathedral is still in the care of the Ukrainian Government and is protected and maintained as an architectural and historical memorial. For a very long time, it has not been considered the property of any one denomination, nor has any single denomination been granted exclusive claim to it. It has functioned as a museum, but it has been opened for religious services for various groups and various events. More often than not, the religious services are of an ecumenical nature, but lately the now united Orthodox Church of Ukraine has been permitted to hold a few celebratory Eucharistic hierarchical Liturgies in the great church. His Beatitude Sviatoslav and other Ukrainian Catholic clergy and dignitaries have often been present at various state and Orthodox celebrations that took place at the Cathedral. The Ukrainian Catholics also wanted to have access to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation this Great Fast (Lent). However, they were denied and some considerable discussion ensued as to why were they denied the possibility, who objected and even if the Ukrainian Catholics had ulterior motives.



In sharing his thoughts during an interview with OBOZ TV, The Father and Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, explained that, "For us Ukrainian Catholics, it is not a matter of having a right to some property, but what is determinant are two things - values and relationships. When we speak about Holy Sophia Cathedral, what we have in mind are specific Christian values, the Christian foundation of European Ukrainian civilization, and not merely a church building... not another place for worship"

"Concerning the discussion about the Holy Sophia Cathedral and the possibility for various Churches to celebrate a Liturgy there, I will say quite frankly, that I really do not like it. Because it has taken on a unchurch-like character."

According to the leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, St Sophia Cathedral - our Kyivan Christian patrimony - is a common square where all heirs can meet and be present. So now this discussion must mature into the openness of our common roots.

If we talk about values or Christian roots, we want to draw attention to the fact that Holy Sophia is not just a church building, but a kind of civilizational matrix of Kyivan Christianity, this is Divine Wisdom. That is why one can possess the Cathedral of Sophia, yet not possess the Sophia of Kyiv."

He observed that the problem of Christian roots (throughout the space of European and Ukrainian civilization) is presently in danger. "Why do I posit that that these values are in certain danger? Because on one side, we see how the geopolitical ideology "Russkyj myr (Russian World)" wants to assign to itself such a foundation and then interpret in its own way the meaning of Christian principles as related to the modern expanse of countries, culture or civilization. On the other side, there are particular notions about Europeanness (which unfortunately are already widespread in Ukraine) that promote the rejection of a Christian foundation and values [...] It is my deep conviction that one and the other of these positions are erroneous assertions. So, when we speak of Holy Sophia values, we have in mind the foundation, the principles of our ecclesial and common entity. This is what we need to revive, uncover and embody in our lives. Unfortunately, the thought often echoed about the occupying the Cathedral of Holy Sophia, is 'the one that possesses Sophia, will possess Ukraine'. I think that this is a dangerous thesis."

The Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church explained that the longing to pray in the Cathedral of Holy Sophia - is a longing to have access to our origins, "we requested for the possibility to be there. Unfortunately, the government agencies can sometimes make a decision that we totally don't understand. Our desire was motivated. However, we respect the position of our government and our Orthodox brothers. We hope that which comes out of all our considerations and communication will be that which unites us, not that which divides us."

"Besides this, His Beatitude said that the UGCC wanted to show that it too is an heir of these traditions. The Holy Sophia Cathedral is important for eastern rite Ukrainian Catholics as well. This was the main reason why the Ukrainian Catholic Church submitted the request to celebrate a Liturgy in the Cathedral on the 7th of April (the feast of the Annunciation).

"To my mind, interconfessional relations must experience radical regeneration and transformation... we must see one another not as competitors, but as brothers... it is worth noting that we have (already) had many events in Kyiv's Sophia Cathedral. The latest event that we experienced in the Cathedral was the presentation of the 1144 Galician Gospel. Even more, I had the honour to greet and present this Gospel to Patriarch Filaret and the then primate of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Metropolitan Makariy. There have been other events in which we participated or conducted."

(source: UGCC Information Department)

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