Over 400 years ago Orthodox Christians of the present day western Ukraine broke away from the Orthodox Church and entered into union with Rome. Although they kept their religious traditions and rites they were not totally free from forces of latinization in the various aspects of their ecclesial life. Today, the place of the Greek Catholic Church in the Western Ukraine within Christianity is a topic of dispute and confusion. The Greek Catholic Church is an obstacle in Catholic-Orthodox relations. To overcome this obstacle it is necessary to examine various areas, the historical, the theological and then possibilities for the future. In the study it is deemed essential not to lose sight of the fact that each Church, now and historically, is made up of people, of souls, with their own ways of thinking, their rights and their identity.
Since the councils of Brest and Uzhgorod the relation between Russian Orthodoxy and the Greek Catholics of Western Ukraine, as well as with the Church of Rome, have been tense and unfriendly. In order to promote a policy of friendship and forgiveness and Christian peace between these Churches, among these Christians it is certainly necessary to reread history in an open and unprejudiced way.
Elements of history that ought to be reexamined are certainly many and complex. Firstly, it is essential to examine the cultural, national and political forces that were at play in the Western Ukraine in the pre-Brest-union decades. What was the status of these areas and these peoples with relation to the rest of Russia during the times of Tartar domination and in the times afterwards. Was there already a political or cultural rift growing between Moscow or the Greater Russia and this part of the Little Russia.
Secondly, it is necessary to investigate the attitudes of the Western Ukrainian Christians of the 16 century to the granting of autocephalous status to Russian Orthodoxy by Constantinople. What was the reaction to the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate not so many years before the Union of Brest.
Thirdly, it is necessary to enter a detailed study of the western powers that were influencing the history of the Western Ukraine at the time. What was the role of Poland. What were the political plans that the Polish were putting into play at the time and how important was a pro-Catholic religious ambient in the Western Ukraine for Polish stability. What was the role of Roman politics at the time. Similarly the following centuries must not be forgotten, with the influences and political forces that were at play between the West (Poland, Rome, Austro-Hungarian Empire) and the East (Russia).
Further, it is necessary to examine the relation of culture and religion and the identification of religion with nationality and the importance of religion in national independence as well as in issues of dependence.
The tensions in the Ukraine are often reduced to Orthodox-Catholic politics. How much have both Orthodoxy and Catholicism been used as instruments of political powers. How free and therefore, how responsible was the Orthodox Church for the suppression of Greek Catholic dioceses and ecclesial institutions during eras of the Russian Empire and in the Stalinist-Krushchev era. To what extent were the events of violent seizure of Churches in the Ukraine in the 1990's linked to nationalism and to what extent can the Catholic Church as a whole and even the very Greek Catholic Church be given responsibility for these events.
In order to resolve the difficulties surrounding the status of the Greek Catholic Church in Western Ukraine a detailed examination of history is deemed necessary. As history can carry with it interpretations, it is necessary to promote the idea of a dialogue between the three Churches (Orthodox - Greek-Catholic - Latin) aimed at promoting an educated understanding of historical events and the people involved in, or responsible for them. The dialogue should seek to understand and not to condemn the motives and the reasons that have led to these difficult centuries of Orthodox-Catholic relations. It would be hoped that a mature dialogue might allow for the taking of responsibility for the mistakes of each Church by the same Church, thus, the Latin Church ought to take responsibility for her mistakes and the mistakes of her members, the Greeek Catholic Church for hers and the Orthodox Church for hers.
The unions of Brest and Uzhgorod also signified theological tensions between Orthodoxy and the newly formed Greek Catholic churches. The unions similarly, implied a theological harmony between the Greek Catholic Churches and the Church of Rome.
The first theological principle to be accepted was the general Latin ecclesiology, that is theology of the Church and therefore automatically the Catholic theology of the papacy. Secondly other theological doctrines and opinions such as the Filioque and the conception of purgatory were accepted. Later the theological definitions of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and the Vatican I definition of papal infallibility and jurisdiction were to be accepted. Accordingly, the Greek Catholic churches distanced themselves theologically from Orthodoxy and the harmonic evolution of eastern theological tradition.
Another aspect of theological rift was in the area of the theological method used. The influence of thomism, Carthesianism and the various philosophical schools and trends of the Western Catholic world were to be felt in the Greek Catholic Churches. The acceptance of the western philosophical and theological methods might be partially due to the fact that in entering union with Rome the Greek Catholic Churches had no legacy of philosophical schools to bring with them, as the Rus' had not developed as of yet philosophically.
As the years passed by after the unions, the Greek Catholic Churches were constantly subjected to forms of latinization. The latinizing forces were to be felt in the liturgy, in the abandonment of certain Eastern traditions and customs for the sake of accepting Latin ones. Similarly the organization of the Greek Catholic Churches and the administration of the sacraments and so forth, were to be formed on the basis of Roman canon law.
Theologically this was and is problematic, in the first place because it has Greek Catholics from their theological tradition and mother Church. Further, it has led to a certain disharmony between religious traditions - spirituality and Church structures, organization and theological thinking. It would seem essential that this harmony be promoted so that the Greek Catholic Churches possess the necessary harmony between these various elements of ecclesial life. It seems essential, as the Catholic Church, the Orthodox world and Greek Catholics themselves desire, that the life of the Greek Catholics be fully Eastern and correspond to their own ancient Christian roots and traditions in as pure a way as possible.
At the same time however, it is would be wrong to negate or to overlook the last 400 years and the various developments that have taken place within the Greek Catholic world and its traditions. Although, the Greek Catholics should purify themselves of the effects of Latinization, it can not be suggested that they return to the way they were before the Unions, to a type of Old believer type of Church and traditions. Similarly, one might question whether the Russian Orthodox Church of today, or indeed any of the Orthodox Churches could suffice as a proper and healthy model for a reform of the Greek Catholicism. The reason for this is that each of the Orthodox Churches have themselves undergone their own evolution and have been subjected to various historical influences that have made them what they are today.
What needs to be suggested is that the essential elements and principles of the Eastern tradition be promoted and purified. The other connected elements would then follow suit. A study of the various differences with the Orthodox world of liturgy, education, church structures and organization, popular, ecclesial and spiritual traditions etc. ought to be made. In this way a criteria of legitimate difference can be developed and used accordingly in harmonizing the Greek Catholic ecclesial nature.
Towards a resolution of the problem
There are two particular areas of concern in any attempt to resolve the problem surrounding Greek Catholicism. The ideal solution would be the establishment of Eucharistic communion between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. This of course would need in the first place a common agreement on the theological differences, that these differences are complementary rather than contradictory. The understanding and the theological openness to investigate the meaning and the nature of the Papacy is essential to such a process. A theological resolution, maybe only possible through the means of a general ecumenical council, and logically speaking, would mean that the Greek Catholic Churches can not be held to be of an unorthodox or heterodox faith.
The remaining issue, which might well be best to be treated chronologically as the first issue to resolve is the nature of canonical jurisdiction of the Greek Catholic Churches. The present situation of falling under the jurisdiction of Rome is unpleasant to the Orthodox understanding of ecclesial communion. It is also a situation which is not harmonic with the Eastern Christian traditions, theology and spirituality of ecclesial life. A studious endeavor to understand the various developments and harmony of the various eastern traditions and juridical structures is essential to providing an indicator for a reform of the juridical status of the Greek Catholic Churches. The ideal status would be that of an autocephalous Church, with the blessing of the communion of Orthodox Churches as well as of the Church of Rome. While the approval of the Orthodox world is much more conceivable than Rome's approval to such a status. Certainly Catholic theology ought to continue to study the difference between various Christian traditions, between the Eastern and the Latin. Such a process expressed itself in the codification of a canon law for the Eastern Catholic Churches. If this process were to continue and in particular to show that the evolution in the Latin Church can not be applied to Eastern Churches as was done after the Unions of Brest and Uzhgorod and to some extent in the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, then there would be great hope for the future.
The idea of an autocephalous status for the Greek Catholic Churches, would not only be pleasing to the Orthodox Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, but it would also please many of the Greek Catholics. If the Russian Church were to forward this idea more openly, a new trust between the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox could be built up and the bitter events of history could be more easily forgotten and forgiven by both sides. The process of autocephalization of the Greek Catholic Churches would have to undergo several steps.