The historic Congress of Ukrainian Theologians
70 years after the Uniates' meeting in Lviv, on 2-4 January 2007 in the Greek Catholic Major Seminary, theologians from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church discussed on eucharistic communion of Eastern Christians, heirs of the Kyivan tradition. The congress was organized by the Ukrainian Academic Theological Society, which has continually been active since 1923. During the communist times its headquarters was moved to Rome, where the bulletin 'Bogoslovie' was published.
The idea to hold a congress of the UGCC theologians, which has been in union with the Pope since the Brest-Litovsk Union in 1569, originated at the 7th Congress of Polish Theologians on 12-15 September 2004. The Ukrainian theologians, who were guests at the Congress, saw positive fruits of mutual discussion and theological analyses of modernity and expressed their readiness to repeat the same experience in their determinants. Therefore, the Ukrainian Academic Theological Society, directed by Fr Dr. Mykhailo Dymyd, worked out the theme of the congress 'Eucharistic communion as a challenge for the tradition and modernity of the traditional Churches'. Competent distinguished specialists in Ukrainian theology were asked to deliver talks. Solemn services, plenary sessions and discussions in groups focused on various aspects of the so-called 'eucharistic hospitality', canonical norms for intercommunion, liturgical practices and pastoral perspectives of their realization. A solemn service in the chapel of the Holy Spirit Seminary in Lviv opened the Congress. The sessions were preceded by prayer for wisdom, written by the Servant of God Andrey Sheptytsky, and read by Bishop Volodymyr Vytyshyn. The background for the contemporary issues concerning eucharistic communion was the lecture of Fr Dr. Myron Bendyk from Drohobych, who showed ways to build conditions for Eucharistic communion in the teaching of the superiors of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the 20th and 21st centuries. He showed that on the theological level there was the need to keep the mystery of faith, without temptation to close it in strict, purely rational definitions. In his opinion the way to understand the Eucharist within the framework of ecclesiastical practice, its limits and possibilities to extend communion to other Churches depends on accepting the Trinitarian model in ecclesiology. Here we deal with the significance of canonical norms, permitting or forbidding communion given to other believers. During the discussions following that talk it was indicated that differences in understanding the Eucharist itself and its distribution are not of dogmatic but only of canonical character.
This issue is specific and connected with the religious life in Ukraine. However, it partly concerns Roman Catholics, living in this country. Since sometimes there are certain circumstances that justify the need to receive Holy Communion in an Eastern rite catholic Mass. Therefore, the discussions at the congress are also important to Roman Catholics. In the future the working groups may include theologians, canonists and historians from all Christian Churches, which the participants of the congress called for.
Associate Professor Taras Kurylec spoke about such an interdenominational working group. He meant the Kyivan Church Study Group, originated on the American ground, which also deals with issues that are important to Christian Churches. The experiences of this group, well documented in the works of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, co-organizer of the Congress, can be a model for initiatives in Ukraine itself.
Rev. Dr. Dymyd spoke about another inspiration for eucharistic communion, explaining the model to build unity in the Church of Antioch. This model is based on the experience of the Melchite rite, formulated in the 'Creed' of the Patriarch of the Melchite Church Bishop Elias. The characteristic of this Creed is the acceptance of the tradition of Rome and Byzantium as the unity of faith of those Churches was understood in the first millennium and the acceptance of the understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, as the primacy was understood in the first millennium. Bishop Sofron Mudryj, Rector of the Theological Academy in Iwano-Frankovsk who rendered great service to the development of the theological environment, presented a similar stand.
The theologians, divided in the sections: historical, canonical, dogmatic, ecclesiastical-ecumenical, pastoral and liturgical, discussed the key problems of the congress and worked out the final document 'Solemn message to the Synod of Bishops concerning the search for eucharistic communion between Churches of Kyivan tradition.' A list of theological initiatives was enclosed and it shows the way of development of the Ukrainian theological environment. It heralds dynamic, many-sided and modern forms of conducting research, pastoral practice and cultural influence on the Ukrainian society, with its contemporary problems, the answer of which can be the Eucharist, uniting all believers.
The Polish aspect of the Congress was the participation of the lecturers: Rev. Ass. Prof. Przemyslaw Nowakowski (Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow), who spoke on the experiences of intercommunion in the Roman Catholic tradition, and Prof. Karol Klauza (Catholic University of Lublin), who presented kenotic understanding of the Eucharist as common - Catholic and Orthodox - model to understand the Eucharist.
The Congress, organized in difficult conditions, turned out to be a special time and place of the action of the Holy Spirit. The participants included several bishops and almost 250 theologians who felt they were one community. That might have resulted from the charisma of the members of the Ukrainian Academic Theological Society as well as the periodical 'Bogoslovie'. This is a good base for this 'laboratory of ecumenism', which Ukraine is clearly becoming. It is worth paying attention to...