– Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, the religious leader who headed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for nearly half a century, has been misunderstood through history.
Now, on the 66th anniversary of his Nov. 1, 1944, death at the age of 79, new details are emerging that challenge long-held stereotypes and provide a fuller picture of Sheptytsky’s political and civic activities as well as his views on Ukrainian statehood.
Sheptytsky was a unique leader in Ukrainian history.”
- Liliana Hentosh, a Ukrainian scholar.
“Sheptytsky was a unique leader in Ukrainian history,” said Liliana Hentosh, a Ukrainian scholar who has extensively researched the metropolitan’s life and unveiled new facts about his activities. “This was a person who can be the best example of what can be achieved by [serving] the community.”
Many Ukrainians today have largely forgotten the enormous role that Sheptytsky played, not only in the lives of their countrymen who inhabited western Ukraine -- a region historically referred to as Halychyna -- in the early 1900s, but also its events, scholars said.
“No matter where you look in Halychyna in the first half of the 20th century, he was person number one,” said Oksana Haiova, head of Religious Studies at the Lviv Central State Historical Archives. “People listened to and loved him.”
Those faded memories have allowed stereotypes, often advanced by Soviet and Polish historians as well as Ukrainians themselves, to gain ground.
As historians revisit Sheptytsky’s life, however, they are finding new materials that debunk long-held beliefs.
One of those misconceptions is that Sheptytsky was a staunch supporter of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, the political group which fought for Ukrainian national independence in the early part of the 20th century.
Although Sheptytsky was a supporter of Ukraine’s national movement, he was wary of OUN and many of its leaders.
His concern about the party’s radicalized message was significant enough that in 1929, Sheptytsky bought a one-third stake in Ivan Tyktor’s publishing house, one of the most important in Halychyna, said Hentosh, who recently found the document affirming the purchase.
The house published children’s materials and Novy Chas, a widely read Ukrainian-language newspaper.
Sheptytsky’s newspaper ownership helped the religious leader gain leverage in his battle with OUN. The organization had tried and failed to win over Sheptytsky with its radicalized agenda and had been using Novy Chas, Tyktor’s flagship newspaper, as a political tool. But Sheptytsky’s part-ownership of Tyktor ended all that.
He thought he wanted to be a pastor for that community. He saw God calling him to a greater goal.”
- Liliana Hentosh, a Ukrainian scholar.
“Sheptytsky took the newspaper away from OUN,” Hentosh said, adding that people forget the ferocious battle that took place in Halychyna over the hearts and minds of young people, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s.
“Sheptytsky fought for control over publications, especially children’s.”
Sheptytsky saw the conflict with OUN partly as a generational one, but his concern about its growing influence over Ukrainian youth spurred his desire to have some control over what was published.
Born in July 1865 into an aristocratic family that saw itself more as with the Polish elite than with Ukrainians, which comprised much of the lower class, Sheptytsky received his education in Krakow and Wroclaw, where he completed his doctorate in 1888.
He met with Pope Leo XIII in Italy, traveled to Kyiv, Moscow, spent several more years in study and in 1892 was ordained a priest. In 1898, Emperor Franz Joseph nominated him to fill a vacant post as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop of Stanislawow (today’s Ivano-Frankivsk); Pope Leo XIII concurred. In 1900, Sheptytsky became Metropolitan Archbishop, leading the Eastern Rite Catholics.
Early on, Sheptytsky consciously chose to serve Ruthenians, which is how ethnic Ukrainians in Halychyna identified themselves until World War I.
“He thought he wanted to be a pastor for that community,” said Hentosh. “He saw God calling him to a greater goal.”
Although he felt the product of two worlds, Polish and Ruthenian, Sheptytsky was not ready to think in strictly national terms at the beginning of the 20th century, Hentosh said.
Sheptytsky noted in a 1908 letter to a relative that he first saw himself as a transmitter of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where the Ruthenian and Polish components of his identity were equally important.
To that end, Sheptytsky did not necessary feel Ukrainians were ready for their own state. In 1918, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire laid on the verge of collapse, he wrote that independence from Austria would be “careless and even dangerous, and first of all disadvantageous.”
When Ukrainians seized power in Lviv on Nov. 1, 1918, however, his initial response was satisfaction that the city was taken without bloodshed, Hentosh said.
He held a special mass two days later in honor of the creation of the new Western Ukrainian National Republic and his support became unequivocal.
Newly unveiled documents show the depth of Sheptytsky’s concern over the plight of western Ukrainians, particularly after WWI.
Haiova said Sheptytsky’s overriding concern, was support for poor and underprivileged elements of society, such as orphans. Many lives were in catastrophic states.
“Thousands of kids were left without parents,” Haiova said. Sheptytsky said “children don’t know how to smile…One mother wrote [him] she was happy all three of her children had died because two wouldn’t have anything to eat.”
The past ideological stereotypes that are among the Ukrainian nationalist parties get in the way of understanding the metropolitan and this includes Polish and Soviet stereotypes.”
- Ihor Smolskyi, a scholar.
Haiova, who has spent the last 20 years studying the metropolitan, said Sheptytsky was prolific. She recently helped complete a three-volume series of Sheptytsky’s pastoral letters that span from 1899 to 1944. The volumes run 3,085 pages, only a portion of his writings.
The last decade of Sheptytsky’s life was particularly challenging, scholars said. His health began to deteriorate in the mid-1930s, yet he continued to call for rationality in a society that was becoming increasingly polarized.
When OUN split into two factions in 1940, he supported its more moderate wing and called for solidarity. Throughout his tenure as church head, he denounced murder as a political weapon.
Ukrainians remain uncomfortable with Sheptytsky, said Ihor Smolskyi, a scholar who has studied the relationship between the metropolitan and the Jews.
Sheptytsky is credited with saving the lives of many Jews during World War II.
“It’s like hitting your head against the wall,” he said. “The past ideological stereotypes that are among the Ukrainian nationalist parties get in the way of understanding the metropolitan and this includes Polish and Soviet stereotypes.”
Kyiv Post staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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