Dear Editor: John Allen writes (“Why Ukraine Church’s Drive for Independence Matters to Rome,” The Tablet, Dec. 22): “During the Soviet era, fealty to the Patriarch of Moscow was imposed down the barrel of a gun, rendering, among others, the Greek Catholic Church in the country the world’s largest illegal religious body.”
No discussion of this can be taken seriously unless one acknowledges that from the 16th through the 19th centuries, Orthodox Christianity was effectively illegal in what is now western Ukraine, those areas being occupied by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Austro-Hungarian Empire, both of which were staunchly Roman Catholic.
Conversion to Roman Catholicism was met with intense opposition and as a matter of political expediency and ideological coercion, the Orthodox Ruthenians were permitted to retain their Byzantine Rite practices and local ecclesial infrastructure with the condition that they pledge allegiance to the Roman pontiff.
This practice of Unia was widespread not only in what is now Western Ukraine but also wherever an Orthodox population existed under Catholic occupation; namely, throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the French Levant.
Yes, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) was subjected to intense persecution during the Soviet era. The Russian Orthodox Church suffered far worse under the Soviets, and was used as a very convenient tool by them.
That the liquidation of the UGCC happened under Soviet direction effectively destroyed any prospect of the UGCC renouncing the Unia under legitimate terms and reuniting with their Orthodox Mother Church under legitimate and voluntary terms. That the longer history of the UGCC is ignored and blame is placed squarely and unequivocally upon the Russian Orthodox Church is intellectually dishonest and a blatant example of historical revisionism.
What is happening today cannot be assessed accurately without a systematic examination of the last 500 years of Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox history.