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Lady Wisdom in the Ruins of Colonial False Choices: in memory of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky




November 1.


In this Kyivan Church of ours, we remember not only the Holy Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian (and oh, do we need them in this pandemic), but also our father among the saints Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky.


Really, Sheptytsky is the reason the Greek-Catholic church looks the way it does today, with all of our factions too. Having been born and raised in a family that had adopted Polish customs (which meant that they practiced their faith the Roman way), Sheptytsky slowly developed a consciousness that ours is an Orthodox church -- and has always been Orthodox -- in communion with Rome. It was a disturbing insight to some. Did not admitting that we are Orthodox mean that we had to come under Moscow, as they've been claiming since 1640?


Sheptytsky answered no, and for the first half of the twentieth century, he reshaped the spectrum of Greek-Catholic consciousness. He's the reason we have a Latin order like the Redemptorists thriving in our midst (they have a thing for not only the Theotokos of the Passion, but also Mother Teresa of Calcutta); he's also why there's a Russian Catholic church that is Orthodox in communion with Rome. Sheptytsky walked his people through our negotiating through these two hegemonies -- Polish and Russian -- in a pastoral letter where he theorized that what it means to be 'Ukrainian' is to remember that no one can tell us we are theirs when are ourselves. We are Catholic, and we are not subsumed by Rome. We are Orthodox, and we do not belong to Moscow. Founded in the baptism of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Volodymyr and Olha, the Church of Kyiv is an apostolic church of her own governance; its catholicity has driven her to full communion with the Chair of Peter in Rome, even as we children of divorce long for our mother church, the Chair of Andrew in Constantinople.


In this way, to claim Sheptytsky as our father among the saints is to come into deep awareness of what it means to be a colonized church. 'I'd rather be in a colonized church,' I once said after three beers to Fr Myron Panchuk of blessed memory.


He sat straight up. 'Tell me more about that,' he said.


I have reflected on what I have wanted to tell him for a long time. I have decided that when I see him in the resurrection, I will reply that the myth of Christian persecution, as the great New Testament theologian Candida Moss has it, has had a number of Christians at this time decrying our colonization by the secular. It is we, across the Body of Christ, who have a colonized complex. Yet decrying secular colonialism has not united us. It has further fragmented us because we sublimate the power relations among the churches. What replaces the ecumenism of repentance is a return to nostalgia, where each church centers itself and its traditions as the standard bearer of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Christianity, what have you.


To be a colonized church is to be an ecclesia that cannot afford nostalgia. We know what happens when we act from trauma. Sheptytsky sent Nykyta Budka to be bishop of Canada, so of course he called for Ukrainians to side with Austria in the First World War, which got all the Ukrainians in Canada interned (oops). There is a reason why despite so many Jewish communities themselves wanting to declare Sheptytsky as Righteous Among the Nations, his case for either that or canonization in Rome has stalled. It's because after the horrors of Stalin's artificial famine in Ukraine, known as the 'Holodomor' -- the 'hunger death' -- Sheptytsky was among those who welcomed the Nazi occupation as freedom from the Soviets. He quickly reversed course and issued a pastoral letter 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' to condemn Nazi antisemitism, and he sought to protect Jewish communities from genocide, but that first false move will always haunt his legacy. It was a fake choice between colonizers. He picked one. He should not have, and yet such is the condition of being colonized. No nostalgia is possible. Remembering the past is to revisit the scene of the crime when our trauma was inflicted, and our only hope is to break free of this dream that has locked our bodies in.


Fr Andriy Chirovsky, a theologian in our church who founded the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute for Eastern Christian Studies, positions Sheptytsky as one of the great 'sophianic' theologians in our tradition. Often, those who know anything about 'sophiology' -- the theology of Lady Wisdom -- will point to those who were associated with the Paris school of Russian émigré theologians: Bulgakov, Mother Maria, Evdokimov, Meyendorff, Schmemann, as well as those who came before like Florensky and Solovyov. But if these guys theorized the centrality of Lady Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, to Orthodoxy, then (as Chirovsky argues) Sheptytsky was the practitioner. He ordered that every one of our churches have an icon of Holy Wisdom, Divine Sophia herself, mounted in our altars. The temple of God is the house of Lady Wisdom herself, who has set up seven pillars and invites us to feast at her table.


And so it is that in these dangerous times that the feast of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky comes to us again. It is a moment when so much of geopolitics revolves around picking between colonizers, even though our global ecology has been ruined by this very colonization. As it is, our very churches and families often split down partisan lines, and here I do not simply refer to that election over there across the Pacific, as if 'America' is the only place where the politics of the world should be decided. In the midst of such fragmentation, we the spiritual children of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky remember both his words and his weaknesses. We a colonized church -- we who have experienced much more of this colonization from within the schisms of the Body of Christ itself than the phantom bogeyman of the secular social formation which is itself the unacknowledged child of Christian political consolidation over the last thousand years or so -- pray for God's wisdom.


In this wreckage of the pandemic (which is itself a symptom of our postcolonial ecological devastation), we enter again into the house of Lady Wisdom, who has built seven pillars, and with Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, we ask her to feed us simple colonized fools from her table till we want no more.


Originally posted on Facebook.

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