Former head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church His Beatitude Liubomyr talked about his predecessor, by whom he was consecrated, by the way. 2012 was declared the Year of Patriarch Josyf. As the solemn events in Ukraine and abroad come to their final stage, former Archbishop His Beatitude Liubomyr (Huzar) shared his impressions of Josyf Slipyj. On December 16, he read a remembrance lecture at the Patriarchal Cathedral of Resurrection in Kyiv.
“I remember when I first saw the Patriarch,” he started. “It was on Epiphany in 1943 in Lviv. He was accompanied by a few priests. I, being a small boy, asked my mother, ‘Mom, why are those priests so big?’ Since it was very cold, they wore warm clothes under their chasubles and looked really big.”
It was the beginning of acquaintance between His Benevolence Liubomyr and the Patriarch.
He got to know him better when the latter first came to the US at the end of the 1960s.
Patriarch Josyf had a very many-sided personality. His Benevolence describes some of the details.
“Josyf Slipyj is the son of Podillia,” he continues. “His family lived in Zazdrist village. He was born and brought up in a good Christian family. I think that this influenced his character, because Josyf Slipyj was a very hard-working person. The concept of ‘work’ was formed for him in his youth already. Those who know him from the early years say that he devoted a lot of time to studying. Diligence is one of the main characteristic features of Patriarch Josyf’s personality. Later on, I had a chance to personally witness it. He did not like inactivity; not only his one, but that of others as well. Once, in our residence in Rome, one Father and I were walking in the courtyard after the breakfast. We did not just stroll around, but we were making a schedule for the next few days. And Patriarch Josyf, who lived on the third floor, came down and said: ‘Why are you wasting time here?’ In fact, we were not, but he thought we should have been more effective.”
“In general, he dedicated his work to science. Josyf Slipyj promoted the development of scientific progress wherever he could in all possible ways available to him. He did not only work by himself, but he also created work places, motivated students, raised the feeling of respect towards science in them. It was he who initiated the foundation of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Rome after his exile. He had to overcome all kinds of obstacles to reach his goal. And if we have this university today, it is only thanks to the Patriarch’s first and very determined steps towards it.
“We can wonder where this enthusiasm for science came from. Josyf Slipyj saw science as a great power, a bigger one than military or economy. He was convinced that a nation that has scientists, will have respect of others, and will be able to position itself not as an object, but as the initiator of activity. In his understanding, science was the tool of power.
“Some may think that the Patriarch devoted all his time to science only. But that is not true: he turned out to be a great shepherd for souls. In the 1920s-1930s, when he was a dean of a seminary, he often wrote about social issues. And many priests or common people asked him for an advice in simple everyday matters.
“We know that Josyf Slipyj was forced to spend 18 years of his life away from his congregation, from his native land, but he never lost contact with his people. Those, who were imprisoned with him, said that they often addressed him with a request for spiritual advice, because they felt his care for the spiritual well-being of people.
“During those awful times, the Servant of God Patriarch Josyf wrote a number of messages to the people, which he sent to Ukraine in order to support people that suffered so much in times of persecution. Recently, one of his letters was found in a Kyiv monastery, it was immured in a wall. In that letter, the Patriarch takes a broad look on the life of our nation and tries to reach out with support in those horrible conditions. I think, all of us should read Josyf Slipyj’s letters to people.
“When he was released, he visited Ukrainians that moved to other countries, going to all the different places from America to Australia. He said that he traveled around the world twice. He even looked for our people in India and Japan. He went everywhere, where letters came from. He wanted to unite all Ukrainians spiritually. He wanted to help them feel they belonged to one nation and one church.
“We know how much time he dedicated to our church having the Patriarchate. He started taking care of it when Ukraine was still not free, when even thinking about it was putting people in danger. For him, Patriarchate is the concept of church’s unity, something that will help Ukrainians around the world feel spiritually united.
“I would also like to draw attention to some of his other features. As I have said, Patriarch Josyf was very hard-working. He demanded work not only from himself, but from others too. Seminary students were afraid of him because of his high demands. The Patriarch was one of the few priests who wore beard, and students made a saying about him: ‘Be afraid of the Beard more, than of fire or water,’ because he demanded a lot and was serious about it. That is why the common people had an impression of the Patriarch as of a very strict person, but he was not one. In fact, he was very kind. This kindness of his was revealed in his attitude towards children, in particular. Children were never afraid of him, he received them gladly. I remember this case, which happened in my parish, when His Beatitude came to America. There was a service, followed by a concert, and one boy came up to the Patriarch and just stood there looking at him. Josyf Slipyj asked the boy: ‘If I gave you candy, what would you give to me?’ ‘I would kiss you,’ said the boy, who felt absolutely free in the Patriarch’s presence.
“In the end, I would like to recall one more feature of this figure. During the imprisonment period, His Benevolence Josyf proved his devotedness and faith in God and church with his behavior. Though he did not die as a martyr, he is rightly called a ‘witness of faith.’ And during the 20 years he was given by the God after his 18-year-long imprisonment, he attested to his faith. Patriarch Josyf Slipyj was a genuine preacher of faith. And that is why, when we honor him today, I think it would not be right to concentrate on the external, human achievements only. We have to honor him for being a preacher of faith in the first place. And we have to follow his path, my dear.”