Today we commemorate the Pratulin Martyrs from the Podlasie region, now in Ukraine, who died defending the Greek Catholic Church from being forced into Russian Orthodoxy. You can read my previous summary of these inspiring men and boys here: https://frchriszugger.com/2013/01/24/blessed-martyrs-of-pratulin-men-and-boys-who-were-killed-today-in-1874-to-defend-the-byzantine-catholic-church-in-russia/
The Russians demanded that all Greek Catholics join the Russian Orthodox Church. On this day, Blessed Vincent Lewoniuk led the parishioners in defending the parish church against the forced intrusion of an Orthodox priest.
What was done to the Eparchy of Chelm in 1875 by the Russian Empire would be repeated again by the Communists in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Romania where the Greek Catholic leadership was arrested, priests forced to join Orthodoxy under great pressure, while priests and monastics who refused were imprisoned under very harsh conditions in their homelands and throughout the Soviet Gulag.
In Hungary, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, the Greek Catholic institutional Church survived, while the Communists continued to pressure the faithful daily with atheist propaganda, keeping priests’ children out of higher education, harassing people with a myriad anti-religious rules. The Hungarians dissolved the Basilian monks and nuns as well. In Poland, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Lemko Apostolic Administration were destroyed and most of the faithful scattered into northern and western Poland, and only one of the so-called Neo-Uniate parishes founded in eastern Poland was allowed to survive, at Kostomloty.
Shrine at Kostomloty, Poland
Yet the Greek Catholic Churches survived: in Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring, most of the recently “converted” Orthodox returned to the Greek Catholic Church. In Poland, brave priests and monastics conducted services in private homes or rented halls. The revival of the Greek Catholics after the fall of communism stunned the Orthodox, and we became a “roadblock” on the ecumenical circuit. But as Bishop Kallistos Ware said:
When Communism fell, should we not have taken the initiative in restoring their churches to them? Could there not have been, from the side of both Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, an act of mutual pardon and forgiveness? A great opportunity was lost.
In the Middle East, all the Christians band together in the face of the common enemy of radical Islam. Would that in the free West, there would be more of that uniting in the face of radical secularism, the Islamist threat, and the various ethical challenges we face in medicine. Pope Francis has been making overtures to the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and now the Protestants by participating in the Reformation commemorations in this coming October.
Those brave men and boys died for the vision of a united Christendom. Many more die today rather than renounce Jesus in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria and more. While people in the West simply shed the faith of their ancestors like changing a shirt! May we be strengthened by the faith of the martyrs past and present, and may we be brave enough to stand firm for Christ and His Church.