Radio Spada loves to face the facts in their complexity. By warning against convenient simplifications, we have given large space to the reasons of the various actors in this conflict, trying to maintain first of all a perspective of Catholic analysis. At this point it seemed useful to propose something that had not yet been done: to give a voice to a priest loyal to the Tradition that experiences war not from social networks but in person, every day. This is Father Bogdan Vytrykush of the Fraternity of San Giosafat, a community associated with the Society of Saint Pius X, but of the Byzantine rite. The interview – you will see – is strong and deserves to be read, whatever your opinions are regarding this war.

RS: Fr Bogdan, let’s start from your activities: shortly, what is the Fraternity St. Josafat? How does your apostolate work? 

BV: The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Hieromartyr Josaphat is a priestly society founded in 2000 in Lviv (Ukraine) and its goal is to keep and spread traditional understanding of catholic faith and traditional catholic practices and spiritual life among faithfuls of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). Speaking about “traditional understanding of catholic faith” first of all I mean the teaching that Catholic Church is the only Church of Our Lord and all other eastern faithfuls need to belong to the Catholic Church in order to be saved.

Our founder, fr. Vasyl Kovpak, tried at first to get a permission to establish a traditional society from the local bishop of Lviv (who was also Cardinal and Archbishop Major of UGCC at that time), but unsuccessfully. Then fr. Kovpak turned to the FSSPX: bp. Bernard Fellay blessed our fraternity and shortly later also our seminary. So now our fraternity counts 22 priests, runs a seminary in cooperation with FSSPX and also has a branch of nuns. We spend our apostolate mostly in western regions of Ukraine, where UGCC has a long historical ground, but we have one mission in the east, which is rather an “orthodox” land.

RS: Can you explain what is the difference, doctrinally and liturgically, from the other Bizantine rite churches in Ukraine?

BV: At the beginning let us say who are the Bizantine rite churches in Ukraine. In Ukraine there are 3 “Orthodox churches”, with a conflict among their jurisdiction (they do not recognize jurisdiction to each other): the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” (under the Moscow Patriarch’ jurisdiction), the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (under the Constantinopolitan Patriarch’ jurisdiction) and the “Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church” (which is currently a part of the latter, but they are still in some conflict).

Then there is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, in union with the Roman Catholic Church since 1596. This Church also uses a branch of Bizantine rite, enriched and developed during its history. 

UGCC totally confess the Catholic faith, but its hierarchy follows also the errors of Vatican II (especially ecumenism and religious freedom). 

Doctrinal differences between “Orthodox” and Catholic faith should be well-known to each educated catholic. Orthodoxes don’t recognize Roman Pontific as Vicarius Christi, they declare that the Holy Ghost proceeds only from the Father (they therefore deny “filioque”), they don’t believe the Purgatory fire exists and they mystify the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. The main difference in moral questions is recognition of the so-called second marriage. 

Liturgical question is a special topic. Between different “Orthodox” denominations liturgical differences of course exist, but they are insignificant, to the point I don’t even know them in particular. “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” uses Ukrainian language as liturgical, but in my opinion this is for political reasons. Actually nationalism is one of the top reasons or even the main reason for this Church to exist.

In the history of the UGCC, liturgical life has often been a controversial issue. After our union with Rome the rite was enriched by different Catholic feasts, devotions and practices, for example the devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament, its exhibition in a monstrance, Eucharistic processions, First Communion for children, the feast of the Sacred Heart of the Christ and the devotion to His Heart, etc. 

But from time to time there were some, among clergy and faithful, who denied this Catholic influence on our rite and named it Latinization (in a negative sense). They called to “clean” our rite, to return to the “pure eastern rite” (without a clear definition of this “pure rite” to return to). But this “pure-ritanism” was very dangerous, especially in lands – occupied by Russia – where government pushed people “to convert” to “orthodoxy”. The result of such “ritual purges” was confusion among the faithful and religious indifference. From time to time our Church has lost whole dioceses, which made apostasy and connected to the “Orthodox church”.

In fact, our Society was founded to precisely support pro-Catholic spirit in the life of our Church at a time when our Hierarchy was imbued with this idea of purification of rites. 

RS: Do you believe that the bad effects of the Vatican II have been the same, both in the East and the West? Many here believe that, in the East, these effect are attenuated, can you confirm this?

BV: I believe that effects of the Vatican II are not the same everywhere. That is true, and visible, but I’m not sure that it mostly depends on liturgical rite. We can see that Catholics in Poland are far more conservative than in Germany or in USA. I heard for example that eastern Catholics in USA don’t visit Sunday’s Mass or go to confession more often than western faithful. I think the Providence used even such evil as communism to provide also some good effects: attenuating the influence of western errors to eastern lands beyond the “iron curtain”. 

There is also a different effect of Vatican II, which instead depends on the rite and I would call it “face of ecumenism”. While ecumenism in roman rite has a “protestant face”, in eastern rite it has an “orthodox face”.  The “pure-ritanism” movement firstly erases the external difference between eastern Catholics and “Orthodoxes” and then also the internal. So, for western Catholics the closer “brothers in Christ” are protestants and for the eastern ones these are “Orthodoxes”.

RS: One of the popular “myths” in Italy is that amongst eastern schismatics (faithful to Kiev as well as to Moscow) there is a strong religious adherence and intense spiritual life. You are a privileged observator, what do you think about it? 

BV: First of all, we have to clarify what intense spiritual life is and whom to compare “orthodoxes” with. If we are talking about Ukraine, I would say that Catholic Church (of both rites) has much bigger spiritual influenze to its faithful than “Orthodox” one. The number of faithful who practice their faith (regularly at Sunday Masses, going to confession and communion) is proportionally much higher among Catholics. Even in big cities you can find that many “Orthodox” temples are without daily Masses, many priests celebrate only on Saturdays and Sundays. Many orthodox faithful do not spend individual confession and go to communion once or twice a year and “orthodox” priests support this. I haven’t heard about prayer movements in orthodox environment such as Living Rosary, Apostolate of Prayer, etc. which we have among Catholics.

Of course, there is also a portion of “Orthodox” faithful who try to follow strong restriction in meal during Lent or try to meet other strong requirements but I wouldn’t say it is a big percentage.  It is important to estimate the number of parishes, organizations and faithful  in proportion. Because 75% of Ukrainians identify as “Orthodox” but most of them have not visited their churches for years and don’t know even such simple prayer as “Pater Noster” or “Deigenitrix Virgin” (Ave Maria in eastern version).

Another thing, some “Orthodoxes” like to compare themselves to liberal Catholics in western countries and criticize their modern errors, and in such a comparison they really appear as conservative Christians with an intense spiritual life. For example, “Orthodoxes” in Russia published also books of abp. Lefebvre “They uncrowned Him” to show how bad things are going on in Catholic Church and oppose themselves to “bad catholics”.

RS: Let’s talk about the war. Here in Western Europe, one of the most frequent objections to the “Ukrainian Front” is that it is supported by liberal governments and progressive lobbies from all around the world. Moreover, an integration of Ukraine into the Europe of the pro-LGBT, pro-abortion and anti-family directives is unlikely to be good for the faithful’s souls. What do traditional catholics of Ukraine think? If on one side we have the schismatic Russia, an ally of the antichristian communist chinese regime, on the other side we have the Dissoluting West: none of the alternatives is exciting.

BV: It is a good observation from your side. Many Ukrainians really desire an integration of our country into Europe and NATO for two main reasons: national independence from Russia and economical opportunities coming from Europe. Our people don’t want to be a satellite of Russia anymore and this is a real reason behind the current war by Putin. I think most of our people – especially those who are working or traveling in Europe – expect that the EU will help us overcome our internal problems (corruption, oligarchy, etc.) and provide investments and law instruments, to help Ukraine to become a strong and equal “sister” in the European family. I’m talking here about what ordinary citizens think, and among them there are also good Catholics. 

Of course it is naive to think that from EU we can import only good opportunities for our country, avoiding pressure about gender-ideology and other various dirt. We can observe this on example of Poland, when EU applies economical sanctions for the resistance of polish government to such kind of influence from Europe. And it has to be underlined that EU maintains those sanctions during the war in Ukraine, while Poland is helping us more than anyone else in Europe. I’m not very good in political questions, but I don’t see in Ukraine conservative politicians on the same level than Poland by now.  

So, what we should to do in this situation as traditional Catholics? First of all, we must remember that Our Lord is the true Governor of the world, and His Holy Mother is the Mediator of all His graces. Of course, we are expecting a real intervention of Our Lady after the consecration of Ukraine and Russia by Pope Francis. We don’t know how She will do it, but we need to be ready to become her instruments. We should fight for our spiritual freedom even more than for national independence. Our main weapon is the state of our souls: we need to train them every day.  First, we need to try constantly live in state of grace. Next, we need to use the powerful weapon given us by Our Lady in Fatima – to pray the rosary everyday. And finally, we must raise ourselves and our children to resist public sin. We never can approve them; we never can set economical or national interest higher than God’s commandments.  It is our only alternative. Let’s leave the rest to God.

RS: In the war rhetoric regarding Ukraine, we often hear the word “banderism” (from Stepan Bandera) associated to some of the actual political leaders. Here the term is exclusively disparaging and is almost a sinonym of nazism. What does the Bandera family mean to Ukraine and especially to Ukrainian catholics? Does Russia’s lighthearted use of the accusation of “neo-Nazism” correspond to reality, or should distinctions be made?

BV: First of all let’s see: who is actively using this term nowadays and why? It is Russian government and Russian propaganda mass media. And they are doing this to justify the war they started in Ukraine. Russia spends billions of dollars every year for its propaganda inside and outside the country (such resources as “Russia Today”) and the term “Banderism” is their ideological weapon. It is not a new invention: this legend that population of west Ukrainian regions are “terrible Banderists” who hate everyone else, especially Russian, was widely spread during the long years of communistic occupancy, in the whole Soviet Union.

Stepan Bandera was a leader of the “Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists” (OUN) during World War II and later. This society has organized the “Ukrainian Partisan’s Army” (UPA) which has been operating for about 10 years in western Ukraine. Their goal was to obtain the independence for Ukrainian people and that’s why Bandera’s name is still honored in monuments and street names in those regions. Yes, they had some agreements with Hitler’s Germany, expecting their help to achieve their goal. But after the proclamation of the “Act of Restoration of Ukrainian Statehood” by the OUN in Lviv in 1941, real Nazi arrested Bandera and most of the key members of OUN, and many of them were executed in German prisons. These facts show that “Banderists” were not Nazi at all. 

We need to say here that Ukrainian Catholic Church supported the idea of national independence, but it also has condemned some political murders made by this movement in the pastoral letter “Do not kill” in 1942. We should understand that World War II was a very difficult time, a war of all against all. We need to make our evaluations from real historical facts, after in-depth multifaceted research. Unfortunately, many politicians like to use ideological manipulations rather than truth.

Returning to present, we need to underline that all these russian stories about “banderism” (seen as Nazism) in Ukrainian internal politics is a deep fake. Yes, we have politic movements, which honor Stepan Bandera as a personality. Their idea is to spread Ukrainian language and culture all over Ukraine, is it Nazism? Nobody is calling to hate people of other nationalities. Moreover, there are in Ukraine various controversies about the figure of Stepan Bandera and the aforementioned political parties are not even represented in the current parliament. By the way, in the last couple of months before war, we had in our social networks this “challenge” where groups of people such as schoolchildren, firefighters, lower officials, military and others filmed themselves while singing one old song: “Bandera is our father, Ukraine is our mother, we will fight for Ukraine”.  This is the best explanation who is Bandera for current Ukrainians – just a symbol of the fight for their Motherland. 

RS: Is the idea of a Western Ukraine – with a strong catholic presence – separated from the area with the largest russian component, a viable solution? Can a return of Galicia (or at least part of it), with adjacent territories annexed, as a political reality detached from the rest of present-day Ukraine be an acceptable or desirable scenario for you? 

BV: Short answer is absolutely NOT. It is not acceptable for two reasons: national and spiritual. 

I would say that Ukrainians were never united by a common goal such as during the current war. Our people was split and occupied by different countries and regimes over its history. Of course, we have some cultural and religious differences as result, it is natural, but we are still one people. There is no such nation as “Galicians”. Actually we have smaller ethnical groups inside of Ukraine and even inside of Galicia, but they are not separate nations. We were waiting for this unity for centuries.  

Spiritual reason is similar. Let’s not forget about the Catholic mission. Ukrainian Catholic Church has its structures in all regions of Ukraine, even our Society has a small mission in east region; to set any boundary means to set additional impediments also for spiritual communication. Let’s also look at today’s events from another angle. Many refugees from eastern regions are temporarily living in Galicia. Many of them almost never practiced their religion. Now, those who are living near good Catholic families have a good example. They go together to Sunday Masses, learn to pray rosary, somebody ask to prepare for confession. They are open to us because we are open to them in a common fate, because our men from all regions are fighting together. This is indeed a great occasion for apostolate, isn’t it? We call it Providence.

We also need to remember the promise of Our Lady from Fatima: even Russia will be converted. We don’t know how that will happen, but I hope that Ukrainian Catholics will have a great opportunity for their apostolate. First step in such scenario can be a conversion of most Ukrainians, and national unity is a good fundament for it.

RS: If, in this situation, you had to give a message in one sentence to the Catholics in Western Europe, what would you say?

BV: Take up your rosaries; let’s help Our Lady to convert Russia.

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Photo: FSSPX.Actualités