16.12.2017
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Religion and Philosophy

05.12.2017

METROPOLITAN SLIPYJ IN FILM

Larysa Zariczniak

Hamilton, ON

On a Sunday afternoon in the hall of Holy Spirit Church in Hamilton, a film premiered about Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj. U Spravakh Ryfy (“The Ryf Cases”) was presented by Ihor Yatsiv, the press secretary of Patriarch Sviatoslav on 12 November 2017. This documentary film was produced in Ukraine but uses archival material and interviews from Ukraine, Rome, Italy and the United States. The film’s title is a reference to all of the criminal investigations and operations attempting to liquidate the Church in western Ukraine during the post-war Soviet period. All of these operations were put into one KGB folder codenamed “Ryf.”  It features the first years of Metropolitan Slipyj’s life until 1963, when he was finally released from the GULAG in the Soviet Union and returned to Rome.

As Father Ihor presented the film, he noted that the people who had had personal contact with the Metropolitan during that time have all passed, but newly-opened KGB files in the SBU Archives, along with video and photo documentation, is now available. Father Ihor stated that, “The film is a documentary through which you can see the history of the church and Ukraine until 1963.”

Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj was born 17 February 1893 in the village of Zazdrist and studied at the Lviv Greek-Catholic Seminary and Innsbruck University in Austria. He was ordained a priest in 1917 after which he studied in Rome but returned to Lviv when it became a part of the Second Polish Republic. After the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 and the annexation of western Ukraine, Slipyj was secretly ordained as the archbishop of Serrae and Coadjutor Archbishop of Lviv – he was to be Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky’s successor.

The new Archbishop-Coadjutor took as his motto the words "per aspera ad astra", meaning "through harsh things to the heavens." These words would become symbolic of modern Ukrainian history, which suffered greatly to gain its independence. This motto was also quite relevant for his personal life, as with Metropolitan Sheptytsky’s death in 1944, Slipyj became Metropolitan and was immediately arrested, tried, and imprisoned in the Soviet GULAG system.

Throughout his life he served his country and his people – even if he was beaten, imprisoned, and nearly died because of it. In his testament he wrote, "I had to suffer imprisonment by night, secret court-rooms, endless interrogations and spying upon me, moral and physical maltreatment, and humiliation, torture, and enforced starvation.  In front of the evil interrogators and judges I stood, a helpless prisoner and silent witness of the Church who, physically and psychologically exhausted, was giving testimony to his native Church, itself silent and doomed to die. As a prisoner for the sake of Christ I found strength throughout my own Way of the Cross in the realization that my spiritual flock, my own native Ukrainian people, all the bishops, priests and faithful - fathers and mothers, children, and dedicated youth as well as the helpless old people - were walking beside me along the same path.  I was not alone!"

He was, until the end, an unapologetic Ukrainian patriot as he wrote, “I pray for you, my spiritual flock, and for the whole Ukrainian nation, whose son I am which I have tried to serve throughout all my life… My thoughts extend to all my brothers and sisters in Ukraine and the vast expanses of the whole Soviet Union, to those who suffer in freedom and to those who languish in jails, prisons, hard labour camps or death camps... I watch with wonder and see how they defend our native Ukrainian language, how they enrich our native Ukrainian culture, and how with the full power of their minds and hearts they save the Ukrainian soul.  And I suffer alongside them, for they are persecuted for this as common criminals.”

Metropolitan Slipyj was the last survivor of five leading churchmen imprisoned by the Soviet Union under Stalin. The others were Cardinals Stefan Wyszynski of Poland, Jozsef Mindszenty of Hungary, Josef Beran of Czechoslovakia, and Aloysius Stepinac of Yugoslavia. After his release he became a symbol of Catholic resistance to communism, especially among those who knew him personally and among the Ukrainian diaspora community who considered him their Patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church.

The film portrays Slipyj’s personal story throughout the history of his times. He, for example, was released from the GULAG because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. How and why? Well, you’ll have to see the film to find out!

 

The film is seeking financial aid to create and film a second installment which would follow Metropolitan Slipyj’s life after his release until his death in 1984.  Father Ihor warmly thanks the Buduchnist Credit Union for its financial support.


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