Blessed Vincent Lewoniuk (center) and his companions
Today is the anniversary of the massacre of thirteen peasant men and boys who died defending a little Greek Catholic church in what is now Poland. They gathered, with their families and neighbors, to prevent the Russian Imperial government from imposing an Orthodox priest into their parish. This took place when the Tsar destroyed the last Greek Catholic eparchy in the empire, Chelm, in 1873 – 1875. Deportations had already begun of clergy and lay leaders who were sent off in long columns on foot to Siberia.
This link, from Drelow, a parish attacked exactly one week earlier, http://www.drelow.siedlce.opoka.org.pl/meczennicy/historia_e.htm
The Russian attack on the Greek Catholics in Drelow
shows just what these peasants and craftsmen were up against. Pacifist, non-violent resistance was being met with guns, bayonets, beatings,whipping and exposure to the frigid cold. But seven days later, the Pratulin men and boys decided to try again.
The crucifix shown in the picture survived and is venerated to this day in the town. The spiritual heroism of these ordinary people thrust into a crisis of faith and power is remarkable. They should stand as heroes to all Eastern Catholics, I believe, as they fought to keep both the Byzantine Church and union with Peter. The days of dying for these at the hands of fellow Christians have hopefully passed, but the days of standing for what is right and true will not pass until the Second Coming.
I urge you to go to http://unici.pl/content/view/65.html for a good English summary which explains both their faith and what took place that day. It gives the name of each martyr, his age, information about him and his family. Reading it, you realize that they are people who loved and prayed and worked like we do, but rose to the ultimate challenge and met it head on.
Use an internet translator and read about how the survivors created an underground Church that survived for over a generation. Thousands of Greek Catholics refused to enter Orthodox churches, but worked with wandering priests who set up networks to dispense the Holy Mysteries to these faithful. Many Latin priests undertook illegal missionary work in their own districts to secretly serve these Stubborn Ones, as they were called, and some Austro-Hungarian priests came in the disguise of peddlers. In 1894 the Russians punished 162 such Latin priests. After 1905, the 120,000 remaining faithful were allowed to join Latin rite parishes in Russia, but were lost to our Greek Catholic Church.
There is a lot of bravado on the internet these days about President Obama’s administration persecuting the Church and how we have to stand up for our rights. Can we in America do that against the political forces which seek to impose their will on us as Catholics? We are nowhere near “persecution” now, but even now we cannot present the united front that the Greek Catholic people of Podlasie presented. We have differing voices all claiming to represent American Catholics, from far left to far right. It is a sign of the catechesis of the 1970s-onward that people really do not understand what these challenges are, because they don’t even fully understand the doctrines being attacked!
I propose that a lot of humility is going to be needed, and a lot of solid praying, and a lot of concise catechesis from diocesan offices – not 3,000 word documents! And before going to bed tonight, consider 19-year Aniceti Hryciuk, who dressed in his best clothes before going to confront those soldiers, and asked of his family “Will I be worthy to be killed for my faith?”
How many of us wonder that in these confusing times?