Updated: Feb 17
The following is a translation of a homily His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav delivered on Wednesday, February 12th during the 10th anniversary celebration of the Three Holy Hierarchs seminary near Kyiv. His Beatitude's message struck a deeply anti-consumerist, distinctly communitarian, and perhaps harshly critical tone for our liberal world order. To an American ear, the Ukrainian politics of federalization ring true with the partisan ideal of state’s rights and republicanism. His Beatitude emphasizes the common good over reactionary post-communist individualist tendencies, and the importance of clergy to guide communities to inter-dependence and mutual sacrifice.
Reverend Bishops, Venerable Clergy, Honorable Seminarians, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Christ is Born!
Today Christ’s Church celebrates three saints, and great hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. There’s a logic to celebrating these great saints together on one day. The entire history and premise of celebrating this feast in such a manner lies in the fact that we Christians are a monotheistic religion. Our God is the One and Only. There are no other gods. But this one God is not alone. The One God we believe in is a united community in hypostasis, made up of three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It’s such a bizarre mystery. How can three be one? The One exists, lives, and shines on creation as a united, life-giving Tri-nity.
One of the first people to get into the depths of this triune blessed life — a person who could live there, and then emerge to explain and uncover its secret — was our glorious Basil the Great. Eastern theology, as an heir to the Antiochian school and of Alexandrian heritage, teaches that the person is a vessel for all being. Meanwhile, in God, there are three Persons. Such exists the Divine insofar as they do not divide divinity among themselves.
These three persons do not shred the Divine Nature, the united Being, into pieces. Instead, they are furnished together, wholly. As such, all of God’s divinity exists fully in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
In addition, St. Basil the Great says that there is only one united Will of God. The Son wants the same as the Father, and the Holy Spirit shares in the will of the Father and the Son. This is the Divine Nature in its fullness. This is what is revealed in the divine freedom.
For us humans, this is sometimes strange. How is it possible to be together with someone without being distinct from them? How is it possible to be a person, an individual, without being an individualist? Not to be closed off into oneself. Every one of us sometimes feels uncomfortable when we have to live in communion with another.
All of us want our own rooms. Our private homes. Sure, we get some comfort out of spending time with others, but when I need to share in the will of another, it sometimes feels like coercion.
This is the kind of fallen freedom of the human individual which separates one from another. One Soviet satirist said, “freedom is what we do when nobody’s watching.”
The Holy Trinity opens up the whole truth about a person. St. Basil said people are “created in the image of a triune Being.” A person is only oneself when they are capable of creating a community with another person, not when one closes into one’s own egoism — when he falls to the temptation of a sort-of human federalization which is damaging, crushing, and destructive.
The One Trinity is the revelation of all-human goodness and the common aspiration for all people. In God, we are bestowed the greatest level of divine freedom.
Gregory the Theologian, meanwhile raises Aristotle’s conceit (that humans are inherently social creatures) to the Divine realm. Zoon politicon — ζῷον πoλιτικόν. Gregory tells us that the names of the Persons — the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit — are names for the kinds of relationships they are building with one another. Alone, none of those names get at the gist of the mystery of the Divine Being. But they reveal, in and of themselves, a relational identity. Why is a Father a father? Because He has a son. Why is a Son a son? Because He has a father. Why is the Holy Spirit a spirit of holiness? Because He comes from the Father and dells within the Son.
This Truth, about the depth of human relations which open our shared human truth, means that. A person can begin to recognize oneself by their own name, the way in which they’re called, only when they meet with other people. A person can only realize themselves when they set off and give themselves to another person.
If you live your life only for yourself, if you hoard all of your wealth only for yourself, you will forget who you are. You will get lost. You will only become an anonymous consumer in this imagined world. If a Christian is to recognize oneself, they need to heed the personal call of the Holy Trinity though an encounter with another person.
John Chrysostom tells us that a community of Christians — your parish, our Church — is an icon of the Holy Trinity. Together we are called to create a unitary community, a united Church, as an icon of the One God which opens up into the Holy Trinity. Within the Church, we exist as separate, unique, individuals, but can also be ourselves only when we live to learn in community.
This is why the catholicity of the Church depends on moments when we all gather. In the local Church, we call this synodality. On the parish level, we call it community. This is the plane in which the Holy Spirit reveals Himself. We can only see the Holy Spirit at work when many different people can unite into one.
One Church. One community. One people. One humanity.
This is why we celebrate the Three Holy Hierarchs together on one, united day.
Here, in our seminary chapel of the Holy Trinity, we see their light shining brilliantly. Here is where we begin to understand what light Christ taught us about. May your light shine among people. This is the light of the unitary Tri-nity which placed in each of you faithful the Father through the Son with the Holy Spirit at your baptism and chrismation.
When we learn to create community and live one with God, know our names, and live in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, that light shines before other people. They see this light. And when they see this light, they don’t glorify us, they glorify our Father who is in heaven. This is the triune character of Christian witness.
Yes, may your light enlighten people so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
We’re celebrating the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs seminary here in Knyazhychi. I think our predecessor, His Beatitude Lyubomyr no doubt intentionally placed this reborn seminary under the patronage of the Three Holy Hierarchs. This feast gets at the very crux of why such a seminary exists. The seminary is a community.
The Church is a community, so therefore someone who is ordained to serve the church must learn how to live in a community. I think you know what I’m talking about. The kind of person who is able to give up everything and join a community such as this one cannot be a priest. After years of working in a seminary, that experience of being a community will empower the priest to build his own parish community. They need to know how to unite people and how to ground that unity around the parish.
Building the Church today, to serve in these difficult modern circumstances, means knowing how to build a community. This is a difficult task.
The modern world and our new technological culture strengthens the tendency to individualism, separation, and self-centeredness. How difficult it is, today, to gather people — for any cause!
This radical individualism of our contemporary culture, here in Ukraine and in other post-Soviet places, has its own unique qualities.
After years of collectivization, when they took away our personhood, and when they said that the collective is more important than the person, we now see a certain reactionary tendency to separate oneself from others and everything.
This is perhaps why the devil is speaking to us about the evils of federalization, even at the high cost of changing our constitution. They talk about the rise of regionalism and the separation of one part of the country from another. It’s the foreigning of one person to another.
How important is it to celebrate his holiday of the Holy Hierarchs? To learn how to leverage the strength of the Holy Spirit to live together, united, and to build a common good. Christ’s Church is the soul of this movement for national unity, and the seminarian or priest should learn how to serve for the unity of the Church and nation.
Today, we thank God for 10 years since the re-establishment of this seminary. In this small community which is growing and strengthening — those who have graduated feel a lot of nostalgia for their time here, he wants to return to his alma mater because this is where he learned who he is, his calling, the context for his life, to be himself, and to be free to accept God’s call.
Today, we feel the joys of this feast and this seminary across the entire universal Church. We’re grateful to Pope Francis for making a gift to this seminary. Shortly after the liturgy, we’re going to inaugurate a conference center, which we will name in honor of Pope Francis. The Ecumenical Hierarch gifted this seminary the tools to build a community. In all of these buildings — and the brother seminarians know this well — there isn’t a single room where all of the seminarians can get together.
Today, the blessing of this conference center will kick off the physical gathering of this community, this seminary. It will be blessed with the strength and works of the Holy Spirit. We thank the Pope and the donors to his foundation for giving us another opportunity to build a seminary community. Through it, we intend to build the internal unity of our entire particular, local Church.
With us today is one particular priest who is an example of the global essence of our Church. With us is Fr. Richard Soo. Thank you very much for your presence. He is the pastor of a Chinese parish in Vancouver which belongs to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
Him being here shows us that our Church is global, never limited by borders, nationality, or ethnicity. Our Church’s community is open to all. This is our calling to globalism — to carry our light given the current circumstances of modernity.
Fr. Richard, please convey to your parishioners in Vancouver that the Chinese are part of our Church. Our Church is a mother Church for them. Their sorrows, their hopes, for their homeland in Hong Kong, is a part of our concern and our prayer. Please convey to them that heart-full embrace of the Mother Church from Kyiv.
May the all-merciful God allow you to defeat loneliness, so that you may feel a part of a community in Christ’s Church. Feel called, not to individualism, but to unity and community in the bosom of the One God in Three Persons, our life-giving spring and purpose, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Born!