Page 8, 21st April 2000

21st April 2000
Page 8
Page 8, 21st April 2000 — Facing East: a faith for Easter

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Locations: Rome, Chisinau, St Petersburg


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Facing East: a faith for Easter

of the Church were the

IAM NOT SURE I would recommend two Holy Weeks in a row, but a few years ago I experienced just that. Having got to Good Friday here in the West, I then began Holy Week again in Ukraine: with the Greek Catholics, who are loyal to Rome and celebrate the Eastern rite.

The contrast could not have been greaterin Lviv, the huge crowds could not fit inside the recently returned cathedral of St George, and so on Palm Sunday the square was filled with young and old people holding sprigs off the bushes as their palms to greet Our Lord. Buckets of Holy Water were splashed around and the liturgy really involved the the people in a dramatic way.

it was as if hope itself were being welcomed into a grey, persecuted and polluted Ukraine. In a land where persecution of the faithful had included deportations, executions and the banning of the Greek Catholic Church, the devotion and joy of the people was deep and beautiful.

Then on Holy Saturday night, the doors of the cathedral were locked, as the tomb itself was sealed, and we processed elbowing with the crowds three times around the outside of the church, carrying purple candles as though searching for Our Lord in the darkness of night, with sorrow and penitence. The shroud which had been venerated over the Triduum had been removed and the tomb was empty: walking into the empty tomb, Khrystos Voskres, Christ is Risen, echoed and reverberated over and over again as the triumph of Life over Death was celebrated in the Sacred Liturgy.

As one Ukrainian said: "In a land where Lent is kept with fervour and real fasting where Lenten and Holy Week liturgies go on for hours with their sombre content and pros

melons there is a penitential and physical keeping of Lent. Then there is a real sense of a physical resurrection: for, as the first Khrystos Voskres is proclaimed, it sends a shiver down your spine, to your very soul. It is like spring after


It is not only Rite Church in Eastern Europe which can help us to rethink our approach to Easter. The Latin Rite Bishop of Moldova, Bishop Anton Cosa of Chisinau, told me a powerful story last week. Aged 38, he is one of the youngest bishops in the world, having been consecrated in Rome this January.

There are about 20,000 Catholics in Moldova, with 13 priests (including three young Moldovans), 23 sisters and now seven seminarians studying in Horodok (Ukraine) and St Petersburg. I asked Bishop Cosa how the Faith had been kept during the 50 years of atheistic persecution in Moldova when all the churches had been destroyed. He replied that the real bricks the rock of St Peter and

that even when whole Christian families were deported to the gulag prison camps, their prayers continued. In particular, the grandmothers — the babushka —kept the faith alive and were able to teach it to the next generation. Priests used to travel in secret. under the cover of dark, to visit the faithful, to baptise and to celebrate the sacraments.

ONE ELDERLY and devout woman came to Bishop Cosa, and asked him to come to bless a hidden grave, where she had

buried a clandestine priest who had suffered so much for the Faith. She had made sure that when this priest died he was wearing vestments and she had placed his breviary on top of his coffin. Bishop Cosa said: "The Church is coming alive with new conununities and I cannot count the number of baptisms ... a lot of the young people come from old Catholic families who had forgotten their Catholic heritage."

The light of faith seemed to have been extinguished for 50 years, but as Bishop Alexander Kaszkiewicz of Grodno told me: "The Church was put to death here in this part of Eastern Europe, but we now have real reason for joy. We have churches open and many young people in church and young men at seminary. This is due to the prayers of the old

babushka and the martyrs." Death has been transformed by Resurrection.

One of the miraculous results of the years of persecution and oppression, in Ukraine and many other parts of Eastern Europe, is the large number of vocations. The Easter experience of the Church is that of death and resurrec tion. There are, for example, well over 1,000 Greek Catholic seminarians in Ukraine. For many years the Liturgy was cele brated clandestinely in the woods and forests of Ukraine: yet now, on the edge of one forest and old land-fill site, nearly 250 seminarians study in an old Komsomol (communist youth) summer camp at Rudnn, just outside of Lviv.

Tertullian's words sanguis rtyruni

semen christiano

rum (the blood of martyrs is the seed

of Christianity) ring true. Yet, it is undoubtedly the case that vocations abound where the liturgy is celebrated with devotion, rever ence and a realisation that the spiritual is part of life. The sense of the numinous, the beauty of holiness, obviously draws young people to consider a radical alternative to the corrupt materialism which they see emerging around therm I once heard Cardinal Daneels remark, "Perhaps we can rediscover the beauty of the liturgy from the devotion of the Eastern Church." The late Cardinal Hume also reflected on this, after his meetings with the Patriarch of Moscowit is no wonder that Holy Week and Easter are celebrated with such profound and reverent joy in the East, for after all the sufferings of so many peoples the hope of the Resurrection shines through. Yet, If we dumb-down the liturgy we are only serving the devil and should not be surprised by a fall in the number of vocations.

It is reported that Pope John Patti II once said "Ex Oriente lux". The liturgies and radical witness of the Church in the East can inspire us: for the light of the Resurrection comes from the East.

Neville Kyrke-Smith is Director of Aid to the Church in Need.

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