Toward a Golden Age of the Eastern Churches

The Sheptytsky Institute cultivates a serious study of God while fostering prayer and contemplation.

text by Athanasius Holub
photographs by Andrei Komar

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The study of God is often approached with great hesitation, even fear. Yet in many universities and faculties of theology professors and students are ready to launch into self-assured discussions of doctrine but feel awkward about praying in class.

This is not the case at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, part of the faculty of theology at Saint Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. Founded in 1986 at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and relocated to Saint Paul’s at the request of the bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, the Sheptytsky Institute now offers programs in three countries.

The institute’s strength lies in integrating academic work with prayer. While maintaining high standards of critical scholarship, the institute encourages a mystical and liturgical approach to theology. This may seem paradoxical, but that impression only makes the institute’s founder and director, Father Andriy Chirovsky, smile. “All the great truths of the Christian faith are couched in seeming contradictions…why should it be strange that our theology is critically sharp yet mystically prayerful?”

The institute is named after Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944) who, as Archbishop of Lviv, led the Ukrainian Catholic Church from the youthful age of 36. Imprisoned by czarist forces in World War I and paralyzed for the last 15 years of his life, he led his flock through Nazi and Soviet occupations, saved Jews from slaughter, strove for Orthodox-Catholic reconciliation and entreated his flock to pray for the gift of God’s wisdom.

The Sheptytsky Institute began with a unique summer program that is perhaps the only one of its kind. A select group of students – primarily from Ukraine – travel to Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Redwood Valley, California, and stay for a month, sharing in the life of the monks of Mount Tabor and immersing themselves in Eastern Christianity. The students participate in at least five hours of daily worship and three hours of classes. They receive six university credits, but much more remains in their hearts.

“It’s a life-changing experience,” says Ukrainian Sister Renée Khiba from Lesotho, South Africa.

Sister Paraskevia Vakula from Ukraine puts it this way: “After all the devastation of spiritual life in Ukraine under Soviet occupation, it is wonderful to come to this holy mountain.”

“We have to talk about God; more importantly, we have to talk to God through worship,” emphasizes Father Peter Galadza, a professor of Eastern Christian liturgy at the Sheptytsky Institute and site coordinator for a similar monastery-based summer program at the Studite Monastery in the western Ukrainian city of Univ.

At its Ottawa campus, the Sheptytsky Institute strives to emulate the strengths of its monastery-based programs. “Even though we have a full liturgical schedule,” notes Father Andrew Onuferko, “you can never reach the same level of intensity as in the peaceful serenity of the monastery.”

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Tags: Ukraine Education Eastern Christianity Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Canada