An interview between Adam DeVille and Fr. Andriy Chirovsky
In Ottawa on 26 November 2005, Bishop Stephen of the Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada, in the name and at the behest of His Beatitude Lubomyr, father and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, elevated the Rev. Dr. Andriy Chirovsky to the rank of mitred archpriest in recognition of not just Fr. Andriy’s 25th anniversary of priestly ordination but especially his founding of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute (MASI) of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University, Ottawa.
To many, the bestowal of this honour may seem bizarre. Not a few wonder what the purpose of a mitre is, what an archpriest is, and whether these honors are not relics of a bygone age. A few even think that in accepting this honour Fr. Andriy is increasing in glory or even seeking such glory for himself. To know him, however, is to know that in accepting this honour he does so in the spirit of Pope St. Gregory the Great: “my honour is the honour of the whole Church. My honour is the firm strength of my brothers. I am truly honored when due honour is paid to each and every one.”
To understand a little better this honour, I sat down with Fr. Andriy for an interview.
The Meaning of the Mitre and Title
Adam DeVille [AD]: Why did you get the mitre?
Fr. Andriy Chirovsky [AC]: “The document from Patriarch Lubomyr mentions the long-term effective leading of the Sheptytsky Institute, teaching, [and] active and creative scholarly work. But I really believe that it’s a way of giving recognition to the Sheptytsky Institute. An institute can’t wear a mitre so they had to pick somebody who actually has a head. That’s why, I suppose, this fell upon me. I have never really understood ecclesiastical honours….But…I would not want to be misunderstood: I am grateful though I did not seek this. I was encouraged by a number of people to accept this distinction because, as they said, ‘The Church needs to get used to honoring education and scholarship and intellectual work as an authentic ministry within the Church.’… I feel rather uncomfortable with it but as I said on the day when Bishop Stephen (Chmilar) granted it to me with love and generosity…, ‘I will try to wear this mitre as a reminder to me of our Lord’s crown of thorns, not as a reminder…that I am somehow special. The mitre calls me to responsibility and self-sacrifice.’”
AD: What does a mitre mean speaking ecclesiologically?
AC: “Well, in the Eastern Churches that have this practice of granting mitres…the idea is to make the presence of the bishop more visible throughout the eparchy because the bishop can only be in one place at a time. In Ukraine, when a parish is celebrating its patronal feast or some other local celebration, if they can’t get the bishop to come, then they will make an effort to get perhaps a few mitred archpriests to come….
AD: What does an archpriest do? Does he have additional responsibilities or jurisdiction?
AC: “I certainly have no additional powers or jurisdiction as a result of this elevation. It is purely honorific. But it is possible for this title along with its insignia to be bestowed upon someone as they are given new responsibilities in the Church.
AD: What other insignia did you get?
AC: “There is also the epigonation and the jeweled pectoral cross.”
AD: What do those mean?
AC: “The very ornate pectoral cross simply sets one apart from other priests since it is a general custom among the Slavic clergy that a priest usually wears a silver pectoral cross and an archpriest may have a gold cross or even one that is more ornate with semi-precious stones and perhaps an enamel icon of the crucifixion.
“There is also the epigonation, which is a diamond-shaped vestment that hangs at the hip of the priest under his phelon. It is a reminder of the sword of the Holy Spirit.”
The Early History of MASI
AD: So you got these honours for founding the Institute. Tell us about your early vision and experiences setting up MASI.
AC: “I first thought that the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Rome would be the place where our Church could develop its own theological tradition. I was a student there in the mid-1970s and I traveled to many Ukrainian communities in North America with a presentation about the UCU, ‘The Ukrainian Catholic University: A Necessity for Every Ukrainian.’
“I was so convinced that the rediscovery of our own theological, liturgical, spiritual, and canonical tradition would lead to a great rebirth of the Ukrainian people as a whole and would have ecumenical implications to benefit not only Ukrainian Catholics but Ukrainian Orthodox as well. Unfortunately, the UCU was not ready to take some of the risks….”
“In 1983, I was invited to teach at Catholic Theological Union…in Chicago, and in 1984, Patriarch Joseph the Confessor (Cardinal Slipyj) passed away. At the funeral several of us young and impetuous priests and would-be theologians approached the inner circle of Patriarch Joseph with the proposal that we were ready to pick up our lives and move them together with our families to Rome in order to develop the UCU into an accredited, fully functioning [university]….Our proposal was not treated as serious. The group I am referring to included Fr. Peter Galadza, Fr. Deacon Andrew Onuferko, and the lay doctoral student, Borys Gudziak.”
AD: What did you do after this was turned down?
AC: “It was at that point that I realized that I would have to do something myself. Patriarch Joseph had come up to me when I was 18…and he thrust his finger into my chest, saying, ‘You! You will do a doctorate and you will teach our theological tradition.’ This was ever-present in my mind because I was by now teaching at Catholic Theological Union (CTU). I began to explore possibilities of creating an institute that could function as part of a larger institution and I knew that we had to start small even if my ultimate goal was much larger….
“…I knew it wouldn’t be easy so I approached every single professor of CTU—including a Jewish rabbi!—to…guide my project through all of the potential minefields of academic politics. And so I had well over 50 meetings with individual professors, adjusting a word here, a phrase there, in…the proposal for the institute of Eastern Christian studies (ECS). Finally, at the faculty assembly of May 1986, the proposal to formally create the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies was…, thanks be to God, unanimously accepted.
“We held our first summer program in 1987 at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Redwood Valley, California (popularly known as ‘Mt. Tabor’) with around 15 students…plus the monks. The students came from across North America.
In addition to the summer program, we had more courses in ECS added in Chicago at CTU and several people were able to complete an M.A. in theology with a specialization in ECS, either by attending CTU in Chicago or by attending a long series of summer programs. For example, Lesia Nahachevsky, from Saskatoon, did her M.A. by attending nine (I think) summer programs in a row.”
MASI Moves from Chicago to Ottawa
AD: How did the Institute get from Chicago to Ottawa?
AC: “I had hoped that our bishops would take notice of the Sheptytsky Institute and…there was one hierarch in particular who was deeply interested…: the late Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk….
“In January of 1989, I was scheduled to undergo serious surgery on the cervical spine. The doctor told me to make sure I had my documents in order and that I had plans for my family in place because the surgery might be dangerous. In addition to the usual will and insurance policies, I made sure to write down the master plan for the multiphase development of…MASI…. I mailed that document to the only member of our hierarchy who seemed truly interested, namely Met. Maxim, hoping that if anything happened to me, he would somehow see to it that this Institute was indeed developed.
“At the same time, I wrote a proposal for the resurrection of the theological journal Logos, which had been published by the Yorkton Province of the Ukrainian Redemptorists from 1950 to 1983. I felt that the Sheptytsky Institute would need a peer-reviewed theological journal…. I sent that proposal to the then-provincial…, Fr. Michael Bzdel, CSSR. On the day I checked in…for my operation, two letters arrived…from Met. Maxim and Fr. Bzdel. They had not conferred with each other but both had received my proposals and both were enthusiastic about going forward. I was able to go into the operating room in complete peace knowing that Divine Providence had everything well in hand and that I had much work ahead of me and nothing to fear.
“After a very difficult operation, with some major complications, I was finally able to call Met. Maxim some three weeks later. I thanked him for his encouragement and we talked about where the Institute might be best developed further. He wanted me to explore the possibilities at Saint Paul University (SPU) in Ottawa, and I assured him that I planned to visit Ottawa in the summer. Met. Maxim sounded rather disappointed and said that the Ukrainian Catholic bishops of Canada would be meeting soon in Edmonton and he would have preferred for me to travel to Ottawa to bring to him the report of negotiations before that Edmonton meeting in March. I realized that this was an opportunity not to be missed, and so against my better judgment I decided to get to Ottawa as soon as possible. My doctor was completely against any travel…but when I insisted, he said that he would write down in my file that he forbade me to lift more than one pound.
Undaunted, I enlisted my wife Halyna to act as our baggage-carrier and using a little of the tiny inheritance that we had received from Halyna’s late father, we bought tickets to Ottawa. Fr. Joseph Andriyshyn, the rector of Holy Spirit Seminary, arranged for a dinner meeting with Fr. Achiel Peelman, OMI, the dean of the faculty of theology at SPU. I presented the master plan for multiphase development as well as other documents and Fr. Peelman assured me that SPU was quite interested. Fr. Andriyshyn and I wrote a report and faxed it to Met. Maxim, but he wanted me to come to Winnipeg to present all of this face-to-face….
I got permission to fly to Winnipeg the next weekend. Met. Maxim was enthused and directed me to present myself at the bishops’ meeting in Edmonton the following weekend! …Without daring to ask the physician, I flew to Edmonton. The bishops were seeking a project with which to mark the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. I encouraged them to do something bold…by investing in the minds of our future priests, religious, and lay leaders….On that day, the bishops of Canada decided unanimously to sponsor the relocation of the Sheptytsky Institute from CTU in Chicago to SPU in Ottawa. The bishops of Canada had indeed made a courageous move. They extended their moral and financial patronage over this project presented to them by a very naive, young (I was 32) priest in whom they had little reason to put their trust….
There were other moments of great courage in the months and years to come. Among these, perhaps the greatest was the decision of Peter and Doris Kule of Edmonton to donate first one million dollars then another million dollars, and then further donations to bring their total donations to date to well over four million dollars! This was an investment in the minds of our future leaders.
Thus God has blessed us in incredible ways. When, in the early years, when I would show people the master plan, many scoffed and said that this was work for several generations, but God has enabled us to establish bachelor, master, licentiate, and doctoral programs. When you consider that St. Vladimir’s Seminary (Orthodox Church of America) and Holy Cross Seminary (Greek Orthodox) have existed for approximately three-quarters of a century and still do not have a Ph.D. program, it becomes clear that our ability to have fully accredited programs up to and including the Ph.D./Th.D., is simply amazing. And to think that people are still waiting for a miracle that can be attributed to Metropolitan Andrei! I can tell you that Met. Andrei Sheptytsky and Patr. Joseph (Cardinal Slipyj) were both intimately involved in every step of our amazing progress.
Institute Life in Ottawa Currently
AD: Where is the Institute now in its development and where is it going?
AC: “The Institute currently has 3 full-time professors and a nice group of part-time instructors. However, taking into consideration…the need to develop such things as a Doctor of Ministry program and wide-ranging distance-education initiatives, including both satellite campuses and internet-based courses…, we desperately need several more full-time professors. Now this is dependent entirely on finding further funding. Frankly, we need more courageous people like Peter and Doris Kule who care enough about the future of our Church…that they would be willing to make donations that go beyond the comfortable. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the professors and administrative staff of the Institute have made a gift of their lives to this cause, sacrificing more than I feel comfortable describing….
“We also need to further our outreach, including basic advertising. Far too many people do not know we exist! If any of you have sons or daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, neighbours, nieces and nephews, please tell them to consider MASI for their university education. Melita Mudri-Zubacz, whose husband, Fr. Gregory, is a new priest in the Archeparchy of Winnipeg, just finished an M.A. with us, and she came to Ottawa after hearing me speak in Saskatoon several years ago, when I said to the audience: ‘Tell your sons but also tell your daughters!’
AD: Sometimes people wonder where exactly you are. Are you in Ottawa? Arizona? Somewhere in between?
AC: “I think I’m somewhere in between! My heart is in Ottawa with the MASI headquarters but I was taken to Arizona by the promptings of the Lord for a sabbatical year in 2002-2003 and after about 8 months in that warm, dry climate, I was able to put aside the cane which I had needed to stand, to walk, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy for 9.5 years. When I return to Ottawa, the cold, damp climate has me back on the cane in a matter of days. My health was in decline and it finally stabilized in Arizona. But more important, we did an incredible amount of prayerful discernment and from every source the message was the same: that my wife and I were to stay…in Arizona. The Lord has called us into the desert for His own reasons, my health being only one of them. ”
AD: So you are fully at work in Arizona? You are not just down there sunning yourself by the pool and being fed grapes while the rest of us in Ottawa freeze?!
AC: “Oh no! I am…fully engaged in the work of the Institute for which I work full-time teaching mostly through fully interactive, two-way video-conference, also utilizing various other technologies that are available to us today. The Internet is a wonderful gift from God because it effectively makes distance irrelevant. From Arizona I teach my classes, work with many students, participate in committees of the Institute, supervise the publishing of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, and carry on my own research and writing together with a good deal of travel to speak and preach and offer retreats. I come to Ottawa about five times a year for a couple of weeks at a time….
Facing the Future
AD: Where would you like to see MASI in 5 years?
AC: “Within 5 years, we absolutely have to add at least two more full-time professors. In addition, I hope that in this short period we will be able to establish the beginnings of our Internet-based programs and perhaps at least one satellite campus.”
AD: What about 25 years?
AC: “The Lord has more amazing plans for this Institute than my feeble brain can handle. I only pray that I not be in the way and that my colleagues and fellow workers also always allow the Holy Spirit to guide the Institute….We have much more to do than we now understand because there will be new people who will come to our Church, people who do not yet know of her existence, who are not ethnically bound to our tradition but who will come to love it if we allow the Holy Spirit to pour Himself out powerfully and explode all the barriers that we think exist. Let it come!
“I ask anyone who reads this to pray for our Institute: for our spiritual and physical health and that the Lord might protect us from any and all temptations to pride, to self-centredness, to an arrogant approach to learning and teaching. We especially need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to bind all those who work for the Institute together in mutual love and support, in forgiveness, and in a courage to risk everything for the Lord who is the truth that we teach, the way that we live, and the love that we all so desperately long for.”