If You Pray, They Will Come

Ukraine’s Studite monks draw the laity with liturgy and example

text by Matthew Matuszak
photographs by Ivan Babichuk

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Monks devote their life to seeking God; later the faithful seek out the monks.

This traditional cycle describes today’s emergent Studite order of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and particularly its monastery of St. Joseph the Betrothed and adjoining Church of St. Michael the Archangel in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Father Viktor Mandro (his official title is Hieromonk), priest, Studite monk and associate pastor of St. Michael’s, explained if “a monastery is located near a river, the monks are involved in fishing. It is different if they are by a forest. Their work is flexible.

“However, the ustav, or rule, for liturgical services and personal prayer is generally similar in all monasteries and means that many hours of each day are spent in devotion.”

Eight hours of prayer, eight hours of rest. The newly independent Ukrainian government gave the Studites their church and monastery in 1991 (the mix of structures was built in the 17th century for the Discalced Carmelites, though its most recent occupants had been the K.G.B.).

With a prayer and rest schedule established by the order’s rule, filling eight hours with work was something of an open question in the urban setting of Lviv.

Repair of the neglected church and monastery complex has been a work-in-progress, taking up some of the Studites’ time. But it is the people of Lviv, seeking a good Christian example, who are the monk’s real work. About 1,500 people attend three liturgies at St. Michael’s on Sundays and holy days. Two of the community’s six priests are assigned to parish ministry. The others have special duties in the monastery or the eparchy (diocese). All 26 monks, in varying degrees, are involved in the care of this urban parish in post-Soviet Lviv, a city of 800,000. The parish faithful, in turn, join the monks in prayer and service.

The Studites in Lviv have been at their present location for a decade, but “the modern Studite order,” explained Father Viktor, “is part of the tradition that missionaries to Kievan-Rus’ brought from the Byzantine Empire.” In the 10th century, at the request of Grand Prince Volodymyr, Byzantine priests and monks evangelized his principality, Kievan-Rus’, portions of which make up present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Today, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a church that, while in full communion with Rome, follows the rites and traditions of the Byzantine Church.

Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1901 to 1944, wanted “to unite the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Ukraine, Belarus, even in Russia,” said Father Viktor. The Metropolitan founded the Studites along the lines of the monastic traditions of the Christian East to facilitate the reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

When the Soviets occupied western Ukraine at the end of World War II and drove the church underground for 70 harrowing years, the Studites were scattered. Most of the 60 professed monks at Univ, the primary monastery near Lviv, were sent to Siberian camps, forbidden to return to Ukraine. The rest were imprisoned for a time and then released. They tried to keep in contact, sometimes two or three shared an apartment. Many of the priests served secret liturgies in private homes.

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Tags: Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Monastery Seminarians