17 February 2017New York, NY (UCCA) – On the 125th anniversary of his birth, Ukrainians and others around the world will pause this Friday, February 17, 2017, to acknowledge the life of an heroic pastor. Together with them, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the nation’s largest representation of Ukrainians in America, honors the life of Josyf Cardinal Slipyj.
Born in the village of Zazdrist (in today’s Ternopil oblast) on February 17, 1892, the young Josyf Kobernytsky-Dychkovsky went on to study at the Greek Catholic Theological Seminary in Lviv. He would be ordained into the priesthood by then-Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky in October, 1917, only months after that spiritual leader’s own release from his years of imprisonment and banishment. For a young spiritual leader, Father Josyf was instantly confronted with a world shocked at the death of the Russian Tsar, and the emergence of the Ukrainian Republic in Kyiv, headed by Mykhailo Hrushevsky. In 1922, Fr. Josyf would begin teaching dogmatics at the Lviv Theological Seminary, and in 1928 would be named rector of this most important center of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic theological study and training.
On November 25, 1939, just after the combined Soviet-Nazi invasion of his beloved Lviv which had slaughtered 10,000 of its residents, Fr. Josyf was nominated as bishop-coadjutor at the request of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. With the blessing of Pope Pius XII, he was consecrated Bishop Josyf Slipyj on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 22, by Metropolitan Andrey, Bishop Nykyta Budka and Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky.
After the death of Metropolitan Sheptytsky on November 1, 1944, Archbishop Slipyj succeeded him as Metropolitan of Halych, and leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Soviet Army had only just reoccupied the city earlier that summer, and plans were quickly enacted to cleanse the inhabitants. On April 11, 1945, Metropolitan Slipyj was arrested together with Bishops Hryhory Khomyshyn, Nicholas Charnetsky, Nikita Budka and Ivan Liatyshevsky, and sentenced to eight years of hard labor in Siberia for treason. The Metropolitan had refused to break relations with the Vatican and submit the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to the authority of Moscow. He served his term in various Siberian and Far Eastern labor camps and was condemned to indefinite exile in Siberia when his sentence was up. During his imprisonment, he could not help but pray for his church, with all of its eparchies, religious houses and schools confiscated, half its clergy imprisoned and a fifth exiled. As President Ronald Reagan would recall upon hearing of Slipyj’s passing, “When we remember Cardinal Slipyj's 18 years in Soviet prison camps, when we reflect that he was condemned to the gulag because he refused to betray his church, we see the power and strength of the human spirit brought clearly into focus.”
After 18 years of hard labor, Metropolitan Josyf was freed from exile through the efforts of Pope John XXIII and was permitted to come to Rome on February 9, 1963. Between his release in 1963 and his death at the age of 92, he travelled to all the continents where the diaspora flourished, even visiting President Ford in the White House. On January 25, 1965, Pope Paul VI conferred upon him the title of cardinal.
His numerous visits throughout our communities are still remembered to this day, a testament to a life of spiritual service, humility and grace. Cardinal Slipyj was a tireless advocate for his flock, and unafraid of ruffling feathers – as when he reintroduced the ordination of married men into the priesthood in the United States. Although he never lived to see his homeland set free, we are confident that if he were alive today, he would be very active all across Ukraine, whether pastoring among the sick, tending to the wounded, or calling out our continued adversary for traumatizing yet another generation of innocent civilians.