(Chevetogne, Belgium) The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Volodymyr the Great in Paris was established as an exarchate (a temporary structure) in 1960. Its jurisdiction covers five countries: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Since 2012 it has been headed by Bishop Borys Gudziak, a former MASI professor, who taught in several of the Institute’s summer programs at Mount Tabor Monastery in California in the 1990s. In early 2013 the exarchate was transformed into an eparchy, a more permanent structure. Since its inception in 1960 no gathering of representatives of all of its parishes had ever occurred. That changed in January 2015 as the clergy and lay representatives of the eparchy gathered at the Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chevetogne, Belgium from January 29 to February 1, 2015. They gathered for their first Sobor or council, which centred on the theme of the Vibrant Parish initiative now underway throughout the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church world-wide, a program in which MASI’s Fr. Andrew Onuferko has played a central role.
Fr. Andriy Chirovsky was invited by the Eparchy to offer a series of theological-pastoral presentations. He delivered the following five presentations:
- The Eparchial Sobor as a Time to Speak and be Heard
- The Word of God and Our Response to it in Liturgy and Personal Prayer
- Diakonia, Charity and Good Administration: Doing our Best in the Best Way
- Unity within the Church, Ecumenical Outreach, and a Mission Orientation
- Planning for the Future of the Church: A Process-Oriented Vision
He also introduced three small group discussions on the following topics: “What hurts might I carry,” “What am I afraid of,” and “What is one concrete thing that I can do to enliven my Church.” After each small group discussion, reports were made to the whole body.
Before each of Fr. Andriy’s addresses, biblical scholar and MASI alumnus, Fr. Yuriy Shchurko, offered powerful reflections on Hebrews, Chapters 10-12, with a special emphasis on the role of faith in our lives. Fr. Andriy was especially pleased to hear Fr. Yuriy’s talks, as the latter was Fr. Andriy’s student in 1998 during the summer program at Mt. Tabor. A whole series of today’s leading Ukrainian Catholic Scholars of the younger generation were once MASI students.
The Sobor was not only an opportunity to hear about how to be a vibrant Church. Indeed, the assembly modelled this reality for its participants who returned to their parishes with renewed zeal and hope for the future. Its members took part in daily Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy. An atmosphere of frank and respectful sharing with a good dose of humour and just plain Christian joy prevailed. Bishop Borys demonstrated his characteristic approachability and warmth, even starting a snowball fight at one point, in order to brighten the spirits of participants on a chilly and grey day. He received a number of direct hits. No excommunications are expected, however, as the Bishop got only what he asked for. Many people, accustomed to a very formal relationship with their bishops in Ukraine, were pleasantly surprised by the gentle mayhem.
Presently the Paris Eparchy is experiencing solid growth as more and more Ukrainian migrants flood to Western Europe. The Paris cathedral, once reduced to some 50 souls has some 600 hundred regular Sunday congregants, with many children enrolled in its school. Some 30-40 Ukrainian workers arrive in Paris every week. Two additional parishes are being planned in the city. Parishes in Belgium and Holland are also experiencing quick growth. Several ordinations are planned for the coming year.
Interestingly, Sobor participants, largely well-educated recent immigrants from Ukraine, expressed the need to introduce liturgy not only in Ukrainian, but also in various local languages. They asked that the eparchy’s website eventually offer information in Ukrainian, French, Dutch, Italian and English. The Eparchy is determined to embark upon translation of Christ Our Pascha, the Catechism of the UGCC into at least French working from the English text prepared under the guidance of the Sheptytsky Institute.
Fr. Andriy Chirovsky and his wife Halyna have been invited to return to Paris in June in order to offer workshops on Christian marriage for both laity and clergy.