stories of churches against a backdrop of war

Ukrainian Catholics

by Didier Rance

Artege, 300 p., €17.90

Holy Russia against the West

by Kathy Rousselet

Salvator, 128 pages, €15

Bi-ritual Latin and Byzantine deacon, former director of the pontifical work Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for France, Didier Rance discovered Ukraine in 1988 and has continued to deepen his knowledge of the country. from. He teaches at the Catholic University of Ukraine in Lviv, which depends on the Greek Catholic Church: it is the tormented history of this Eastern Church of the Byzantine rite united with Rome that he tells.

The desire for union with the seat of Peter is an old thwarted affair. Metropolitan Isidore of kyiv and all of Rus’ – the author devotes one of these synthetic portraits to him which mark out and air his book – works there in the 15th century, praying for the pope, but he will be deposed. It was not until 1596 that a Church was born in Ruthenia that we would call “Uniate” until the Second Vatican Council. The ordeals have only just begun, and the Greek Catholic Church will have to survive its forced attachment to Russian Orthodoxy under Catherine II, in the last glimmers of the 18th century. This Byzantine Catholicism, strongly established in Galicia, suffered in the Great War, then during the conflict of 1918-1919 with Poland, which was nevertheless Catholic.

Didier Rance unfolds a long chapter on the clandestine life of the Church under the Soviet yoke, between 1945 and 1989. Its title, « the final solution of the ‘Uniate problem' », is debatable in the apparent parallelism The Shoah. But the persecutions suffered are undeniable, and the author documents them with figures, facts and testimonies collected from “martyrs and confessors of the faith”.

After the fall of the USSR, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church emerged from the catacombs and raised its head. It brings together, according to the author’s data (2014-2019), 5.5 million faithful, including 4.5 million in Ukraine, in nearly 4,000 parishes. Despite the war and the uncertain fate of Ukraine, the essayist wants to believe that its Greek Catholics, who form the largest Eastern Church united in Rome, will continue to work for Christian unity.

Putin and his patriarch

From one Byzantine Church to another, from Ukraine to Russia: associate researcher at the Center for Studies of the Russian, Caucasian and Central European Worlds (Cercec), Kathy Rousselet is interested in the relations between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Russian state after the fall of the Soviet Union, and in particular since the accession of Vladimir Putin in 1999-2000.

The analysis is subtle and thorough, which shows how Kirill, from a rather liberal hierarch in the 1990s, became a patriarch endorsing and deepening the line of a Church defending traditional and anti-Western values, inscribed in a logic imperial promotion of the « Russian world ».

Could Kirill adopt another position, as the regime became more and more authoritarian? It’s not sure, suggests the author. “The Church has evolved in this increasingly constrained context: it is no more autonomous than other social organizations” Russians. And in his support of the war of invasion, Kirill “keep trying to preserve everything” : « unity of peoples » Orthodox Christians in its canonical territory – which includes Ukraine – “like his relations with power”. At the risk of seeing the expansion of his Church in the world permanently compromised.


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