While it is true that we are the bridge between the Catholic Church and the many divided churches of the East in whom sadly happen to be in schism with Rome; and while it is also true that we are Orthodox (because of our profession of the Catholic Faith); it must be brought to our attention that there is a Catholic identity problem within the East just as there is within the West.
This is because there is a misconception of who we as Eastern Catholics are; whether we be Byzantine, Maronite, Coptic, Syro Malabar etc.
Among many beloved Eastern Catholics of good will, there happens to be an emotional attachment to the Eastern Orthodox Church because of its similarities in regards to theology and liturgical rites.
Having encountered many Eastern Catholics, it is not uncommon to hear that the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Churches are equivalent to the Catholic Church because of the validity of the 7 sacraments, the veneration of saints etc.
Even though these separated churches have valid sacraments and many similarities with the Church, it must be remembered that they are separated for a reason – that is – because of their bitter rejection of the deposit of faith in regards to submission to Peter, the Pope.
“You cannot deny that you are aware that in the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [‘Rock’]—of all the apostles; the one chair in which unity is maintained by all” (Optatus, The Schism of the Donatists 2:2 [A.D. 367]).
With that in mind, we here at HolySynergy must note that many Eastern Catholics have died at the hands of schismatics and communists because of this very key doctrine. Being that they are our ancestors as martyrs and saints of the church; insisting that the Orthodox are the same Church as the Catholic Church, or at least equivalent, is a slap in the face to these very saints.
Not only is it a slap in the face to these saints, it is also a heresy to insist that the true Church of Christ can be found in any other communion besides the Catholic Church.Let’s take a look at these very brave, pious, reverent, and holy martyrs of the Catholic East.
1. The Pratulin Martyrs.
“The Pratulin Martyrs were a group of 13 Greek Catholic believers killed by the Imperial Russian Army on January 24, 1874, in the village of Pratulin, near Biała Podlaska. Following the secularization and de-legalization of the Eparchy of Chełm, the Russian authorities forcibly subdued all Belorussian Catholics and their churches to the Russian Orthodox Church.
In a protest against the Russification and confiscation of the church, the Greek Catholic community gathered in front of the church, but were fired upon by the Russian forces, killing 13 of the protesters. The Ruthenian Catholic Church has erected a shrine to their memory there.” (Wikipedia, The Pratulin Martyrs.)
These very soldiers of Christ were recognized by Pope John Paul II and beatified on October 6, 1996.
2. Bishop Hopko
Bishop Hopko was an eparch of the Greek Catholic Church. Since Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Communists, the Greek Catholic Church was persecuted and abolished.
As a result, the Russian Orthodox Church was granted permission to remain in existence within Czechoslovakia because of its previous affiliation with the Communist state.
Bishop Hopko was arrested on 28 April 1950 and kept on starvation rations and tortured for weeks. Eventually he was tried and sentenced to 15 years for the “subversive activity” of staying loyal to Rome.
He was repeatedly transferred from prison to prison. His health, both physical and emotional later failed.
In 1964, he was transferred to an old age home. Unfortunately, he never recovered his health. Hopko died in Presov at age 72 on 23 July 1976. On 14 September 2003 Pope John Paul II beatified him at a ceremony in Bratislava, Slovakia.
3. Blessed Nicholas Charnetsky
Born in the year 1884 of Western Ukraine, Blessed Nicholas was the eldest of 9 children. Ever since he was very young, he had a desire to be ordained to the priesthood. At 18, he was sent to study by his bishop to study at the Ukrainian college of Rome. Four years after ordination, he had a desire to live as a monastic after the Latin Rite Redemptorists established a mission in Ukraine . Being attracted to the life of the Redemptorists, he entered the religious order in 1919.
In 1934 the Soviet army began to invade western Ukraine, causing the Redemptorists to flee to Lviv. In 1944, the Soviets invaded a second time. The following year all the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops were placed under arrest as part of the Soviet plan to suppress the Church and transfer its property to the state-sanctioned Orthodox Church.
During his time in prison Bishop Mykolay endured frequent violent interrogations. He was charged with collaborating with being an agent of a foreign power i.e. the Vatican; as a result he was sentenced to hard labour.
Even though he was released in 1956, his health was very poor. The prison authorities released him in order that he die elsewhere. While he later recovered, he has entered heaven in 1959. On his pastoral visit to Ukraine, Pope John Paul II beatified him on October 27, 2001.
4. Bishop Nykyta Budka
Bishop Budka was appointed appointed bishop for Ukrainian Catholics in Canada and titular bishop of Patara on July 15, 1912 by Pope Pius XI, and was consecrated (ordained a bishop) on October 14 of that year.
Bishop Budka was the first Eastern Catholic bishop with full jurisdiction within the New World, considering that he was born in Ukraine. After returning to the now Polish controlled Galicia (which was then Soviet territory), he bravely opposed the communist government because of its requirement that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church must separate from communion with the Pope.
On April 11 1945, he was sentenced to prison with many other bishops of the Church. He was charged with teaching in an underground seminary, conducting a memorial service for the victims of the Soviet occupation of Galicia in 1939, and campaigning for the secession of Ukraine for the Soviet Union.
Sentenced to 8 years imprisonment, he was sent to Kazakhstan to serve his sentence. He died in the Gulag on September 28, 1949 form what Soviet officials said was a heart attack. martyr on June 27, 2001, in a Byzatine rite ceremony by Pope John Paul II in Lviv.
5. Eparch Theodore Romzha
Bishop Romzha was a bishop of the Ruthentian Greek Catholic Church. Because of his opposition to convert to the Orthodox Church and refuse schism with the Pope of Rome, the Soviet Red Army has martyred him after beating him, which later caused him to be hospitalized, and poisoning him after hiring a nurse to inject him with curare because of his quick recovery. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on July 27, 2001.
6. His Eminent Beatitude Josyf Slipyj
Patriarch Slipyj was the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and a cardinal. Even though he was not a martyr, he along with the UGCC rejected to loose communion with the Pope regardless of what the communist party of Ukraine insisted. As a result, he was imprisoned with hard labour for eight years. The Soviets have later taken control of the UGCC within Lviv and later revoked the union breast with Rome and was forcibly “rejoined” to the schismatic Russian Orthodox Church.
7. Leonid Feodorov
Leonid Feodorov, a Catholic convert, was a Exarch (Patriarch) of the Russian Greek Catholic Church.
Although Leonid had originally promised to adopt the Latin Rite, while studying in the Jesuit seminary at Anagni, Leonid came to believe that it was his duty to remain faithful to the liturgy and customs of the Christian East. With the full permission and encouragement of Pope St. Pius X, Leonid transferred to the Russian Catholic Church.
Because of his pious submit to the Pope, the communist government has imprisoned him. On March 7, 1935, he died due to the rigorous of his imprisonment.
8. Pavel Peter Gojdič
Blessed Gohdič was a Basilian Monk and Bishop of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Prešov, Slovakia. Because of his rejection to submit Greek Catholics to the Russian Orthodox Church, as insisted by the Communist party, he was tortured. Later, the Communists have given him the infamous offer that if he were to leave the church, they would appoint him the patriarch of the a Orthodox Church of Slovakia.
He piously rejected to loose communion with the Pope and to convert to the schismatic church, causing him to suffer even more persecution. He died of terminal cancer in the prison hospital of Leopoldov Prison in 1960, on his 72nd birthday. He was beatified on 4 November 2001 by Pope John Paul II.
Let us close this post with a few quotes from the Popes.
“…for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it.”
-Pope Pius XI, Encyclical “Mortalium Animos”