"...for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it."

-Pope Pius XI, Encyclical "Mortalium Animos"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mar Ivanios (1882-1953), Archbishop of Trivandrum: The Story of a Great Conversion by Margaret Gibbons

This book opens a window on a the too-little known East and its teeming millions. Mar Ivanios, the subject of this discriminating study, was a member of the Church of Malabar which is the indigenous Church of India originating with St. Thomas the Apostle. Mar Ivanios re-united with the Catholic Church in 1930 and was the means of bringing countless thousands back to the fold. A man of sanctity and learning and an historian with a deeply-rooted veneration for lawfully constituted authority, he adopted Belloc's view that official history taught in English schools and universities gave a thoroughly wrong perspective to every essential matter in the English reformation. He, with thousands of other Jacobites, became convinced of the unique claims of the Catholic Church and the futility of seeking sanction and spiritual solace elsewhere and believed in the re-union of Christendom on the basis of historical Christianity. This Sacerdos Magnus, an exotic figure from the East, was the cynosure of all eyes at the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin and on his visits to Australia, Canada, and Rome. Yet his sanctity, asceticism, and simplicity puts western Christianity to shame. An opportune, penetrating, and informative study of an unusual man whose zealous administration was rewarded with much fruit, it is of inestimable value now. There is a world elsewhere and it is our privilege to learn of it from this absorbing account of an archbishop beloved by all who knew him. A remarkable portrait of a remarkable man.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Rule of Life

The following is excerpted from pages 53-61 of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic prayerbook

My Divine Friend

by Rev. Michael Schudlo, CSSR.

Published 1959

(Note: This prayerbook contains some latinizations but it does have some good principles for the layman on how to live a holy life.)

(Imprimi Potest: Vladimir Malanchuk, CSSR. Vice-Provincial No. 596, May 25, 1958. Nihil Obstat: Basil Makuch, STD, PhD. Censor Episcopalis. Imprimatur: Constantine Archbishop Metropolitan Philadelphia, August 1, 1958 No. 767/52M.)

A Rule of Life

Let us serve God “in holiness and justice before Him” all our days. (Luke 1,75)

The Christian should spend his life for the greater glory of God because He made men to know, to love and to serve Him on earth as the Angels are going in heaven. We must live with God and in His presence all the days of our life, as the Lord commanded His servant Abraham: “Walk before Me and be perfect!” (Gen. 17,1)

A rule of life is one of the best means to serve God and to reach that holiness to which all Christians have been called by Christ: “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He who adopts and follows a rule of life does not spend his time capriciously. He assigns to each moment its proper duty. “Let all things be done decently and according to order,” says St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:40). Where there is no rule, there is no order. Man without a rule of life lives by caprice and fancies. If he likes praying, he prays, if he does not feel like it, he won't pray for days. If he feels like reading a good book, he will read it, but if he does not feel like it, he won't touch it, nor do anything else, although his reason tells him to perform his religious and other duties, even though he does not have any sensible pleasure in do doing.

In the life of a Christian each duty must have its proper time and be fulfilled when the time comes, unless something occurs that renders its fulfillment impossible or imposes its delay. Nothing is forgotten, nothing is done in haste or in a careless way, if a person follows a rule of life. All is well done according to the previously established plan. All daily duties, all practices of piety are done with exactitude. If there is no rule in one's life, he easily neglects his duties and often ends by omitting them altogether.

A proverb says: Order is heaven's first law. God is a God of order while Satan is a ruler of confusion. “Method will teach you to win time. To him who does everything in its proper time, one day is worth three.”

It is obvious that a strict rule of life cannot be followed by all Christians, but a certain order may be prescribed for each day, for instance: begin each day with a prayer and end it with a prayer. Regulate the time for your meals, for work and for your recreation.

There is much merit in the self-restraint and mortification resulting from a rule of life which you have imposed upon yourself. Your life will be more pleasing to God and you will gain more merit for paradise. Your eternal salvation will be guaranteed by a Christian rule of life.


1. Have a fixed hour for rising. Seven or eight hours of sleep are usually sufficient. Get out of bed as soon as your alarm clock rings. Don't indulge in sloth. Let your first thought be of God. If you delay in getting out of bed at the first ring of the clock, your whole day will be spoiled by sloth and lack of energy in the fulfillment of your daily duties. Give thanks to Jesus and Mary as soon as you wake up for having preserved you during the night in which thousands of people have passed away.

2. After having dressed, kneel down and say your morning prayers, adding three “Bohorodytse Divo” in honor of the Blessed Virgin, mother of Perpetual Help, for a happy death and eternal salvation. The Blessed Virgin promised special blessings in life and eternal salvation of the soul to all those who devoutly recite three “Bohorodytse Divo” in honor of her purity in the morning and at night. This revelation was made to St. Mechtilde. End your morning prayers with the morning offering of yourself and of all your works to God through the hands of the Blessed Virgin.

3. Devote a certain time each day to meditation according to the method of St. Alphonsus and to the reading of a book about the life of a Saint or Jesus Christ, and on Wednesdays read something about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Remember, that God is speaking to your heart while you are reading a good book. Read it slowly, do not hurry, reflect upon its contents and make necessary conclusions from what you read, trying to imitate the Saint whose life you are reading. Spiritual reading in this way is a sort of easy meditation.

4. If you can, assist at the Divine Liturgy every day. Unite yourself to Our Lord by means of a spiritual or actual Holy Communion. Look at the altar, think of the meaning of the various ceremonies, pray with the Blessed Virgin Mary for the conversion of the infidels, heretics and sinners, especially those that belong or should belong to your parish. Pray also for the progress of the Catholic Church, for religious and priestly vocations among our people, pray for the peace of the world.

The time of the Mass is the best to secure from God all the graces you may need for yourself, your family, your Church or country. St. Francis de Sales says: “You will not get grace at all, if you cannot obtain it during the sacrifice of the Liturgy.” The saintly Pope Eugene adds: “The Divine Liturgy obtains the forgiveness of the punishment of sin more efficaciously than the prayers of the whole world.” Jesus Christ Himself assured St. Mechtilde: “There is not a sinner, no matter how great he might be, whom I am not ready to forgive, if he asks me during the Liturgy.” God cannot despise and reject your prayers during the Divine Liturgy because Christ is praying with you by offering His unbloody sacrifice to His Father.

5. Use your missal while you are following Mass. Do not forget your daily Rosary. Try to say it with your family. God loves those who pray to Him. Remember that “the family that prays together stays together.” The Holy Rosary is very pleasing to the great Mother of God for which she will reward you in this life and hereafter.

6. Make a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Do not forget your Divine Friend Who is expecting you in your church to bless and console you. Use the visits composed by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, the great Doctor and moralist of the Catholic Church.

7. Do not let your day pass without doing some penance for you own sins and for the sins of the world. The life of a Christian should be a continual act of penance. Here are some suggestions: mortify your curiosity or inclination to do something which is useless, watch over your eyes, do not let them wander and look at everything. Do not watch your television every day especially on Wednesdays and Fridays in honor of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus Crucified. Do not wound your neighbors with harsh words, do not tease them too much, refrain sometimes through a spirit of penance even from permitted pleasures, for example, eating fruit, candies, drinking, etc. Moderate your tongue. Do not speak to o much and never murmur or complain. Be courteous and kind to persons for whom you feel any antipathy. Bear your cross and pains with resignation, offering them to Jesus and Mary.

8. Fulfill your duties energetically and with a pure intention to please God and make yourself useful to your neighbor; direct all your actions and occupations, even those that are indifferent, to God according to the advice given to all Christians by St. Paul, “In eating, in drinking, in all that you do, do everything for God's glory.” (1 Cor. 10,31)

The Blessed Virgin made various requests during her apparitions at Fatima. Her principal request, however, was “the faithful fulfillment of one's daily duties.” Other pious practices “are important only in their relation to her one main request- sanctification of our daily lives,” said the Mother of God.

Thus all your actions and occupations will become meritorious and precious in the eyes of God for which He will reward you in the next life.

Before you undertake or start any work, say with St. Alphonsus de Ligouri: “I do it for Jesus and Mary.” Raise your mind and heart to God, repeat some short ejaculatory prayer during your work at least from time to time so that you may not be too much absorbed by earthly occupations.

9. Do not eat at random but have a time for your meals. Pray and bless yourself before you take your meal even when you are in company, in a restaurant or on a train. Always do some little act of mortification at your meals in honor of Jesus and Mary.

10. Go to bed at a fixed time as far as possible. Make your examination of conscience, thank God if you were good during the day, and ask His forgiveness if you were bad. Make an act of contrition for the sins you might have committed and promise to be better the next day. Make a spiritual Communion and offer it to Jesus Christ in reparation for all offenses that He has received from sinners and bad Christians during the day. Commend to Jesus and Mary all the poor souls in purgatory and the dying sinners.

11. Go to confession every week or at least every two weeks. By going to confession once a week you may approach Holy Communion every day, even when you have some venial sin on your soul. Make an act of contrition and go to Holy Communion which you should receive at least after every confession, or a few times a week, eventually every day, if your spiritual director advices you to do so. Do not omit preparation and thanksgiving which are very important.

12. Be kind and cheerful with the members of your family and with all people with whom you are in contact. Avoid little jealousies, criticism, tale-bearing, and caprices which discredit piety in the eyes of the world. Show by your behavior that Christian piety makes a person good, understanding and cheerful, and not sad. St. Francis de Sales rightly said: “Sad Saints are not really Saints”, that is , they are not true Saints because true piety which unites the soul with God makes it content and joyful.

13. Avoid both levity and repellent austerity. Be simple, modest, and considerate in your social dealings with others. On the other hand, be inflexible in regard to dangerous books, indecent plays and in movies, bad conversation and immoral jokes. Do not hesitate to protest when Christian faith or morals are offended., when the Pope, the Bishops and the priests are derided. Always give good example because pagans and non-Catholics observe you in your doings. A young man was in the company of his Protestant friends. He ate meat with them on Friday. They were scandalized and asked him, “Since when are Catholics permitted to eat meat on Fridays?” Defend the Catholic Church and the Eastern Rite if they are attacked.

14. Be frugal in your meals and honest in your expenses. Do not get too attached to earthly things. Imitate the poverty of your Crucified Redeemer. Try to support the church, school, and other good institutions of your parish or diocese with the money you can save.

15. Select one day a month to prepare yourself for death. Go to confession and receive Holy Communion. Recite the prayer for a happy death (p. 140).

16. A true devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary is regarded as a certain mark of salvation. Saint Andrew of Crete says: “God grants devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary to those whom he wishes to save.” Pray to St. Joseph, to the Holy Trinity, to your guardian Angel, to your Patron Saint and to your Name-Saint.

Traditional Byzantine Rite Fast and Abstinence

Russian rite, Ruthenian rite, Melkite rite, Greek rite
(Cf. Fr. R. Janin, A.A. Les Eglises orientales et Les Rites orientaux, Paris, 1922)

There is no distinction between fast and abstinence; the fast essentially bears on the quality of the food and not the quantity. These rules are for all the Byzantine rites but it should be noted that the Russian rite is much more severe with other stricter prescriptions and nine different degrees of fasting.In villages and monasteries the ancient custom remains in vigour whereby it is forbidden to eat before Vespers. All must fast from seven years of age.

1. Great Lent: 48 days. Forbidden are: Food cooked with fat, fish, oil, eggs, milk products wine.Oil is permitted on Saturday, Sunday. Fish is permitted on the feast of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday

Russians add: All Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (& Wednesdsay of Holy Week) the food may only be cold and dry; Good Friday nothing may be eaten.

2. Apostles Lent: This varies from 9 to 42 days depending on the feast of Easter. It begins on the first Monday after Pentecost until the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This Lent has the same rules as Great Lent but oil and fish are tollerated (in some places) except on Wednesdays and Fridays.

3. Assumption Lent: From 1st - 14th August. A difficult Lent permitting only olives and vegetables cooked in water; oil is tolerated on Saturdays and Sundays.

4. Christmas Lent: For the 40 days before Christmas. The same restrictions as for Great Lent but oil and fish are permitted except on Wednesdays and Fridays.

5. Weekly: Wednesdays and Fridays are days of strict fast

6. Forbidden food: Like most oriental Christians, the Catholics of Byzantine rite kept the Mosaic ban on eating blood, suffocated animals and certain animals considered impure; and which Oriental Church Councils have many times renewed. Catholics and schismatics are equally faithful in this matter.

The Ruthenian Rite

This is the largest of the Eastern Catholic Rites, numbering 5 million souls. The rite is situated in Ukraine and Belarus, the countries much loved by the Mother of God, which together with Greater Russia will be consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart and become totally Catholic. The popes have given the apostolate of the conversion of Russia to the Ruthenians.

Immediately after the Consecration the priest crossing his hands makes a sign of the Cross above the altar with the Sacred Species singing:
"Thine of Thy own we offer to Thee in behalf of all and for all."
On the altar can be seen: the tabernacle, (the Ruthenians shape their tabernacles like little Eastern churces); the Evangelium or Gospel; the star (which covers the patern and represents Bethlehem); the Communion spoon for distributing Holy Communion to the Faithful, and the hand-cross for kissing.

Question: What's the Filioque, and what is the controversy surrounding it?

Answer: Filioque is Latin for "and the Son." It is found in the Nicene Creed as it is said in
the Catholic Church: "I believe in the Holy Ghost... Who proceeds from the Father and the Son." The controversey surrounding it is one of the ancient dogmatic points of disagreement between the Catholic Church and the schismatic churches of the East.

When he stirred up trouble between Constantinople and Rome in 870, Photius needed an occasion to bring a popular movement against the Latins. This he found when certain Spanish monks chanted the Filioque in the Creed of their Mass. Photius cliamed then, and the schismatic Greeks still claim, that this addition to the Creed was not permissable. Photius' followers held that the Council of Ephesus, in its 7th canon, forbad additions to the creed. ("It is not permitted to produce or write or compose any other creed except the one which was defined by the holy fathers who were gathered together in the Holy Spirit at Nicaea.") This is a false premise, since the canon was written to forbid the composition of any teaching contrary or contradictory to any truth already expressly defined in the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople. Other creeds had been used before and after Nicea, witness the one attributed to St. Athanasius. And witness also that the Creed of the Council of Nicea was itself reformulated by one Ecumenical Council which took place inbetween Nicea and Ephesus: Constantinople I.

As the reader has no doubt garnered by now, the original Creed formed at the Council of Nicea, and later added to at the First Council of Constantinople, did not originally contain the Filioque, which was first added to the Mozarabic Liturgy by the Council of Toledo around the year 600. (The Visigothic Kingdom was a stronghold of Arianism and other Trinitarian heresies, so the Mozarabic bishops, properly exercising their office, inserted the word to defend Trinitarian orthodoxy.) From the Mozarabic Rite it made its way into the Gallican Rite, formally being added to their liturgy at the council of Aachen around 800. In the 11th century, Pope Benedict VIII formally added it to the Roman Rite, which had, by that time, imported much from the Gallican Liturgy.

Now that we have identified the issue and explained a little of the historical controversy surrounding it, it remains for us last to defend the truth of the dogma of the Filioque -- a dogma one denies at the peril of his soul.

Concerning our dogma, Father Anthony J. Maas, the great Catholic Scripture scholar says, "As to
Sacred Scripture, the inspired writers call the Holy Ghost the Spirit of the Son (Gal 4:6), the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:19), just as they call Him the Spirit of the Father (Matt. 10:20), and the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11). Hence they attribute to the Holy Ghost the same relation to the Son as to the Father. Again, according to Sacred Scripture, the Son sends the Holy Ghost (Luke 24:49; John 15:26, 16:7, 20:22; Acts 2:33; Tit. 3:6), just as the Father sends the Son (Rom. 8:3, etc.), and as the Father sends the Holy Ghost (John 14:26). Now, the 'mission' or 'sending' of one Divine Person by another does not mean merely that the Person said to be sent [only apparently] assumes a particular character [...], as the Sabellians maintained; nor does it imply any inferiority in the Person sent, as the Arians taught; but it denotes, according to the teaching of the weightier theologians and Fathers, the Procession of the Person sent from the Person Who sends. Sacred Scripture never presents the Father as being sent by the Son, nor the Son as being sent by the Holy Ghost. The very idea of the term 'mission' implies the persons sent goes forth for a certain purpose by the power of the sender, a power exerted on the person sent by way or a physical impulse, or of a command, or of prayer, or finally of production; now, Procession, the analogy of production, is the only manner
admissible in God. It follows that the inspired writers present the Holy Ghost as proceeding from the Son, since they present Him as sent by the Son. Finally, St. John (16:13-15) gives the words of Christ: 'What things soever He [the Spirit] shall hear, He shall speak;...He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you. All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine." Here a double consideration is in place. First, the Son has all things that the Father hath, so that He must resemble the Father in being the Principle from Which the Holy Ghost proceeds. Secondly, the Holy Ghost shall receive 'of mine' according to the words of the Son; but Procession is the only conceivable way of receiving which does not imply dependence or inferiority. In other words, the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son."

Eastern Church Fathers who can be cited in defense of this dogma are Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, and Hippolytus. Nor should we forget that great Eastern profession of Faith, the Athanasian Creed, which proclaims: "The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten but proceeding."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Great Melkite Catholics: Brother Francis Maluf, MICM (July 19, 1913 – September 05, 2009)

Read about Brother Francis, MICM ( Dr. Fakhri Boutros Maluf) who was a Melkite Greek Catholic, a relentless defender of the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation and possibly one of the greatest Catholic thinkers of the 20th century. http://catholicism.org/author/brfrancismaluf

Due to circumstances in his life and the necessity of banding together with other Catholics who defended the perennial teaching of the Church on salvation ("Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus"), he ended up becoming the superior of a religious order of the Roman rite rather than of his own Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

We pray for the day when Melkites who believe in the Dogma "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus" and the necessity of Holy Unia will be able to be members of monasteries in their own ritual Church and worship according to their own Eastern Catholic tradition.

Currently the Saint Benedict Center in New Hampshire has a chapel and a chaplain under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MORTALIUM ANIMOS (An Encyclical which should be required reading in Eastern Catholic seminaries)


Venerable Brethren, Health and Apostolic Benediction.

Never perhaps in the past have we seen, as we see in these our own times, the minds of men so occupied by the desire both of strengthening and of extending to the common welfare of human society that fraternal relationship which binds and unites us together, and which is a consequence of our common origin and nature. For since the nations do not yet fully enjoy the fruits of peace - indeed rather do old and new disagreements in various places break forth into sedition and civic strife - and since on the other hand many disputes which concern the tranquillity and prosperity of nations cannot be settled without the active concurrence and help of those who rule the States and promote their interests, it is easily understood, and the more so because none now dispute the unity of the human race, why many desire that the various nations, inspired by this universal kinship, should daily be more closely united one to another.

2. A similar object is aimed at by some, in those matters which concern the New Law promulgated by Christ our Lord. For since they hold it for certain that men destitute of all religious sense are very rarely to be found, they seem to have founded on that belief a hope that the nations, although they differ among themselves in certain religious matters, will without much difficulty come to agree as brethren in professing certain doctrines, which form as it were a common basis of the spiritual life. For which reason conventions, meetings and addresses are frequently arranged by these persons, at which a large number of listeners are present, and at which all without distinction are invited to join in the discussion, both infidels of every kind, and Christians, even those who have unhappily fallen away from Christ or who with obstinacy and pertinacity deny His divine nature and mission. Certainly such attempts can nowise be approved by Catholics, founded as they are on that false opinion which considers all religions to be more or less good and praiseworthy, since they all in different ways manifest and signify that sense which is inborn in us all, and by which we are led to God and to the obedient acknowledgment of His rule. Not only are those who hold this opinion in error and deceived, but also in distorting the idea of true religion they reject it, and little by little. turn aside to naturalism and atheism, as it is called; from which it clearly follows that one who supports those who hold these theories and attempt to realize them, is altogether abandoning the divinely revealed religion.

3. But some are more easily deceived by the outward appearance of good when there is question of fostering unity among all Christians.

4. Is it not right, it is often repeated, indeed, even consonant with duty, that all who invoke the name of Christ should abstain from mutual reproaches and at long last be united in mutual charity? Who would dare to say that he loved Christ, unless he worked with all his might to carry out the desires of Him, Who asked His Father that His disciples might be "one."[1] And did not the same Christ will that His disciples should be marked out and distinguished from others by this characteristic, namely that they loved one another: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another"?[2] All Christians, they add, should be as "one": for then they would be much more powerful in driving out the pest of irreligion, which like a serpent daily creeps further and becomes more widely spread, and prepares to rob the Gospel of its strength. These things and others that class of men who are known as pan-Christians continually repeat and amplify; and these men, so far from being quite few and scattered, have increased to the dimensions of an entire class, and have grouped themselves into widely spread societies, most of which are directed by non-Catholics, although they are imbued with varying doctrines concerning the things of faith. This undertaking is so actively promoted as in many places to win for itself the adhesion of a number of citizens, and it even takes possession of the minds of very many Catholics and allures them with the hope of bringing about such a union as would be agreeable to the desires of Holy Mother Church, who has indeed nothing more at heart than to recall her erring sons and to lead them back to her bosom. But in reality beneath these enticing words and blandishments lies hid a most grave error, by which the foundations of the Catholic faith are completely destroyed.

5. Admonished, therefore, by the consciousness of Our Apostolic office that We should not permit the flock of the Lord to be cheated by dangerous fallacies, We invoke, Venerable Brethren, your zeal in avoiding this evil; for We are confident that by the writings and words of each one of you the people will more easily get to know and understand those principles and arguments which We are about to set forth, and from which Catholics will learn how they are to think and act when there is question of those undertakings which have for their end the union in one body, whatsoever be the manner, of all who call themselves Christians.

6. We were created by God, the Creator of the universe, in order that we might know Him and serve Him; our Author therefore has a perfect right to our service. God might, indeed, have prescribed for man's government only the natural law, which, in His creation, He imprinted on his soul, and have regulated the progress of that same law by His ordinary providence; but He preferred rather to impose precepts, which we were to obey, and in the course of time, namely from the beginnings of the human race until the coming and preaching of Jesus Christ, He Himself taught man the duties which a rational creature owes to its Creator: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by his Son."[3] From which it follows that there can be no true religion other than that which is founded on the revealed word of God: which revelation, begun from the beginning and continued under the Old Law, Christ Jesus Himself under the New Law perfected. Now, if God has spoken (and it is historically certain that He has truly spoken), all must see that it is man's duty to believe absolutely God's revelation and to obey implicitly His commands; that we might rightly do both, for the glory of God and our own salvation, the Only-begotten Son of God founded His Church on earth. Further, We believe that those who call themselves Christians can do no other than believe that a Church, and that Church one, was established by Christ; but if it is further inquired of what nature according to the will of its Author it must be, then all do not agree. A good number of them, for example, deny that the Church of Christ must be visible and apparent, at least to such a degree that it appears as one body of faithful, agreeing in one and the same doctrine under one teaching authority and government; but, on the contrary, they understand a visible Church as nothing else than a Federation, composed of various communities of Christians, even though they adhere to different doctrines, which may even be incompatible one with another. Instead, Christ our Lord instituted His Church as a perfect society, external of its nature and perceptible to the senses, which should carry on in the future the work of the salvation of the human race, under the leadership of one head,[4] with an authority teaching by word of mouth,[5] and by the ministry of the sacraments, the founts of heavenly grace;[6] for which reason He attested by comparison the similarity of the Church to a kingdom,[7] to a house,[8] to a sheepfold,[9] and to a flock.[10] This Church, after being so wonderfully instituted, could not, on the removal by death of its Founder and of the Apostles who were the pioneers in propagating it, be entirely extinguished and cease to be, for to it was given the commandment to lead all men, without distinction of time or place, to eternal salvation: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations."[11] In the continual carrying out of this task, will any element of strength and efficiency be wanting to the Church, when Christ Himself is perpetually present to it, according to His solemn promise: "Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world?"[12] It follows then that the Church of Christ not only exists to-day and always, but is also exactly the same as it was in the time of the Apostles, unless we were to say, which God forbid, either that Christ our Lord could not effect His purpose, or that He erred when He asserted that the gates of hell should never prevail against it.[13]

7. And here it seems opportune to expound and to refute a certain false opinion, on which this whole question, as well as that complex movement by which non-Catholics seek to bring about the union of the Christian churches depends. For authors who favor this view are accustomed, times almost without number, to bring forward these words of Christ: "That they all may be one.... And there shall be one fold and one shepherd,"[14] with this signification however: that Christ Jesus merely expressed a desire and prayer, which still lacks its fulfillment. For they are of the opinion that the unity of faith and government, which is a note of the one true Church of Christ, has hardly up to the present time existed, and does not to-day exist. They consider that this unity may indeed be desired and that it may even be one day attained through the instrumentality of wills directed to a common end, but that meanwhile it can only be regarded as mere ideal. They add that the Church in itself, or of its nature, is divided into sections; that is to say, that it is made up of several churches or distinct communities, which still remain separate, and although having certain articles of doctrine in common, nevertheless disagree concerning the remainder; that these all enjoy the same rights; and that the Church was one and unique from, at the most, the apostolic age until the first Ecumenical Councils. Controversies therefore, they say, and longstanding differences of opinion which keep asunder till the present day the members of the Christian family, must be entirely put aside, and from the remaining doctrines a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief, and in the profession of which all may not only know but feel that they are brothers. The manifold churches or communities, if united in some kind of universal federation, would then be in a position to oppose strongly and with success the progress of irreligion. This, Venerable Brethren, is what is commonly said. There are some, indeed, who recognize and affirm that Protestantism, as they call it, has rejected, with a great lack of consideration, certain articles of faith and some external ceremonies, which are, in fact, pleasing and useful, and which the Roman Church still retains. They soon, however, go on to say that that Church also has erred, and corrupted the original religion by adding and proposing for belief certain doctrines which are not only alien to the Gospel, but even repugnant to it. Among the chief of these they number that which concerns the primacy of jurisdiction, which was granted to Peter and to his successors in the See of Rome. Among them there indeed are some, though few, who grant to the Roman Pontiff a primacy of honor or even a certain jurisdiction or power, but this, however, they consider not to arise from the divine law but from the consent of the faithful. Others again, even go so far as to wish the Pontiff Himself to preside over their motley, so to say, assemblies. But, all the same, although many non-Catholics may be found who loudly preach fraternal communion in Christ Jesus, yet you will find none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor. Meanwhile they affirm that they would willingly treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, that is as equals with an equal: but even if they could so act. it does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ.

8. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. Shall We suffer, what would indeed be iniquitous, the truth, and a truth divinely revealed, to be made a subject for compromise? For here there is question of defending revealed truth. Jesus Christ sent His Apostles into the whole world in order that they might permeate all nations with the Gospel faith, and, lest they should err, He willed beforehand that they should be taught by the Holy Ghost:[15] has then this doctrine of the Apostles completely vanished away, or sometimes been obscured, in the Church, whose ruler and defense is God Himself? If our Redeemer plainly said that His Gospel was to continue not only during the times of the Apostles, but also till future ages, is it possible that the object of faith should in the process of time become so obscure and uncertain, that it would be necessary to-day to tolerate opinions which are even incompatible one with another? If this were true, we should have to confess that the coming of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, and the perpetual indwelling of the same Spirit in the Church, and the very preaching of Jesus Christ, have several centuries ago, lost all their efficacy and use, to affirm which would be blasphemy. But the Only-begotten Son of God, when He commanded His representatives to teach all nations, obliged all men to give credence to whatever was made known to them by "witnesses preordained by God,"[16] and also confirmed His command with this sanction: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned."[17] These two commands of Christ, which must be fulfilled, the one, namely, to teach, and the other to believe, cannot even be understood, unless the Church proposes a complete and easily understood teaching, and is immune when it thus teaches from all danger of erring. In this matter, those also turn aside from the right path, who think that the deposit of truth such laborious trouble, and with such lengthy study and discussion, that a man's life would hardly suffice to find and take possession of it; as if the most merciful God had spoken through the prophets and His Only-begotten Son merely in order that a few, and those stricken in years, should learn what He had revealed through them, and not that He might inculcate a doctrine of faith and morals, by which man should be guided through the whole course of his moral life.

9. These pan-Christians who turn their minds to uniting the churches seem, indeed, to pursue the noblest of ideas in promoting charity among all Christians: nevertheless how does it happen that this charity tends to injure faith? Everyone knows that John himself, the Apostle of love, who seems to reveal in his Gospel the secrets of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and who never ceased to impress on the memories of his followers the new commandment "Love one another," altogether forbade any intercourse with those who professed a mutilated and corrupt version of Christ's teaching: "If any man come to you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house nor say to him: God speed you."[18] For which reason, since charity is based on a complete and sincere faith, the disciples of Christ must be united principally by the bond of one faith. Who then can conceive a Christian Federation, the members of which retain each his own opinions and private judgment, even in matters which concern the object of faith, even though they be repugnant to the opinions of the rest? And in what manner, We ask, can men who follow contrary opinions, belong to one and the same Federation of the faithful? For example, those who affirm, and those who deny that sacred Tradition is a true fount of divine Revelation; those who hold that an ecclesiastical hierarchy, made up of bishops, priests and ministers, has been divinely constituted, and those who assert that it has been brought in little by little in accordance with the conditions of the time; those who adore Christ really present in the Most Holy Eucharist through that marvelous conversion of the bread and wine, which is called transubstantiation, and those who affirm that Christ is present only by faith or by the signification and virtue of the Sacrament; those who in the Eucharist recognize the nature both of a sacrament and of a sacrifice, and those who say that it is nothing more than the memorial or commemoration of the Lord's Supper; those who believe it to be good and useful to invoke by prayer the Saints reigning with Christ, especially Mary the Mother of God, and to venerate their images, and those who urge that such a veneration is not to be made use of, for it is contrary to the honor due to Jesus Christ, "the one mediator of God and men."[19] How so great a variety of opinions can make the way clear to effect the unity of the Church We know not; that unity can only arise from one teaching authority, one law of belief and one faith of Christians. But We do know that from this it is an easy step to the neglect of religion or indifferentism and to modernism, as they call it. Those, who are unhappily infected with these errors, hold that dogmatic truth is not absolute but relative, that is, it agrees with the varying necessities of time and place and with the varying tendencies of the mind, since it is not contained in immutable revelation, but is capable of being accommodated to human life. Besides this, in connection with things which must be believed, it is nowise licit to use that distinction which some have seen fit to introduce between those articles of faith which are fundamental and those which are not fundamental, as they say, as if the former are to be accepted by all, while the latter may be left to the free assent of the faithful: for the supernatural virtue of faith has a formal cause, namely the authority of God revealing, and this is patient of no such distinction. For this reason it is that all who are truly Christ's believe, for example, the Conception of the Mother of God without stain of original sin with the same faith as they believe the mystery of the August Trinity, and the Incarnation of our Lord just as they do the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, according to the sense in which it was defined by the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. Are these truths not equally certain, or not equally to be believed, because the Church has solemnly sanctioned and defined them, some in one age and some in another, even in those times immediately before our own? Has not God revealed them all? For the teaching authority of the Church, which in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in order that revealed doctrines might remain intact for ever, and that they might be brought with ease and security to the knowledge of men, and which is daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him, has also the office of defining, when it sees fit, any truth with solemn rites and decrees, whenever this is necessary either to oppose the errors or the attacks of heretics, or more clearly and in greater detail to stamp the minds of the faithful with the articles of sacred doctrine which have been explained. But in the use of this extraordinary teaching authority no newly invented matter is brought in, nor is anything new added to the number of those truths which are at least implicitly contained in the deposit of Revelation, divinely handed down to the Church: only those which are made clear which perhaps may still seem obscure to some, or that which some have previously called into question is declared to be of faith.

10. So, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it. During the lapse of centuries, the mystical Spouse of Christ has never been contaminated, nor can she ever in the future be contaminated, as Cyprian bears witness: "The Bride of Christ cannot be made false to her Spouse: she is incorrupt and modest. She knows but one dwelling, she guards the sanctity of the nuptial chamber chastely and modestly."[20] The same holy Martyr with good reason marveled exceedingly that anyone could believe that "this unity in the Church which arises from a divine foundation, and which is knit together by heavenly sacraments, could be rent and torn asunder by the force of contrary wills."[21] For since the mystical body of Christ, in the same manner as His physical body, is one,[22] compacted and fitly joined together,[23] it were foolish and out of place to say that the mystical body is made up of members which are disunited and scattered abroad: whosoever therefore is not united with the body is no member of it, neither is he in communion with Christ its head.[24]

11. Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors. Did not the ancestors of those who are now entangled in the errors of Photius and the reformers, obey the Bishop of Rome, the chief shepherd of souls? Alas their children left the home of their fathers, but it did not fall to the ground and perish for ever, for it was supported by God. Let them therefore return to their common Father, who, forgetting the insults previously heaped on the Apostolic See, will receive them in the most loving fashion. For if, as they continually state, they long to be united with Us and ours, why do they not hasten to enter the Church, "the Mother and mistress of all Christ's faithful"?[25] Let them hear Lactantius crying out: "The Catholic Church is alone in keeping the true worship. This is the fount of truth, this the house of Faith, this the temple of God: if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. Let none delude himself with obstinate wrangling. For life and salvation are here concerned, which will be lost and entirely destroyed, unless their interests are carefully and assiduously kept in mind."[26]

12. Let, therefore, the separated children draw nigh to the Apostolic See, set up in the City which Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood; to that See, We repeat, which is "the root and womb whence the Church of God springs,"[27] not with the intention and the hope that "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth"[28] will cast aside the integrity of the faith and tolerate their errors, but, on the contrary, that they themselves submit to its teaching and government. Would that it were Our happy lot to do that which so many of Our predecessors could not, to embrace with fatherly affection those children, whose unhappy separation from Us We now bewail. Would that God our Savior, "Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,"[29] would hear us when We humbly beg that He would deign to recall all who stray to the unity of the Church! In this most important undertaking We ask and wish that others should ask the prayers of Blessed Mary the Virgin, Mother of divine grace, victorious over all heresies and Help of Christians, that She may implore for Us the speedy coming of the much hoped-for day, when all men shall hear the voice of Her divine Son, and shall be "careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."[30]

13. You, Venerable Brethren, understand how much this question is in Our mind, and We desire that Our children should also know, not only those who belong to the Catholic community, but also those who are separated from Us: if these latter humbly beg light from heaven, there is no doubt but that they will recognize the one true Church of Jesus Christ and will, at last, enter it, being united with us in perfect charity. While awaiting this event, and as a pledge of Our paternal good will, We impart most lovingly to you, Venerable Brethren, and to your clergy and people, the apostolic benediction.

Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the 6th day of January, on the Feast of the Epiphany of Jesus Christ, our Lord, in the year 1928, and the sixth year of Our Pontificate.


1. John xvii, 21.

2. John xiii, 35.

3. Heb. i, I seq.

4. Matt. xvi, 18 seq; Luke xxii, 32; John xxi, 15-17.

5. Mark xvi, 15.

6. John iii, 5; vi, 48-59; xx, 22 seq; cf. Matt. xviii, 18, etc.

7. Matt. xiii.

8. cf. Matt. xvi, 18.

9. John x, 16.

10. John xxi, 15-17.

11. Matt. xxviii, 19.

12. Matt. xxviii, 20.

13. Matt. xvi, 18.

14. John xvii, 21; x, 16.

15. John xvi, 13.

16. Acts x,41.

17. Mark xvi, 16.

18. II John 10.

19. Cf. I Tim. ii, 15.

20. De Cath. Ecclesiae unitate, 6.

21. Ibid.

22. I Cor. xii, 12.

23. Eph. Iv, 16.

24. Cf. Eph. v, 30; 1, 22.

25. Conc. Lateran IV, c. 5.

26. Divin. Instit. Iv, 30. 11-12.

27. S. Cypr. Ep. 48 ad Cornelium, 3.

28. I Tim. iii, 15.

29. I Tim. ii, 4.

30. Eph. iv, 3.

Original Source:


Monday, August 9, 2010

Mar Matthew Gregory Nakkar (1795 - 1868) A Syrian Saul

Between 1825 and 1830 nearly all the Syrian Jacobites in Damascus and Southern Lebanon, including the Bishop Jacob al-Haliani, returned to the communion of the Catholic Church: there were, in fact, only fifteen Jacobite families left there. Alarmed, the Jacobite patriarch sent Matthew Nakkar, Metropolitan of Mosul, to Damascus to deal with the situation, and to see, like a new Saul persecuting the faithful of that city, that Bishop Jacob was imprisoned.

Nakkar, born in 1795 into a distinguished family which for 600 years had monopolised the Jacobite See of Mosul, was ordained a priest at the age of 25, and succeeded his uncle as Metropolitan in 1826. He soon distinguished himself for his zeal against Catholics of the Syrian rite, denouncing them to the Muslim Turkish authorities for disobeying the Sultan's order forbidding change of religion. In his Memoirs we read: "My hatred for Catholics, inherited from my ancestors, increased every day; I preached against them relentlessly and formally taught what they regarded as heresy...I did all in my power to hamper their clergy in their ministry...To profess Catholicism seemed to me scandalous and dishonourable."

It was his success in the imprisonment of two recently converted Catholic bishops in Mardin, obtained from the Pasha at Baghdad for a suitable consideration, that caused his patriarch to send him to Damascus. On his arrival, however, he found that Mar Jacob al-Haliani had sought refuge amongst the Maronites in Lebanon, and all he could obtain was the imprisonment of 25 Catholics for as many days. Seeing that his efforts to have Mar Jacob sent back to Syria were without avail, Matthew decided to give up for the present, and he went to Jerusalem to celebrate Holy Week there.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre it is the custom on Easter Eve for the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and a Monophysite Armenian ecclesiastic to shut themselves up in the chapel of the Angel before the sepulchre, kindle fire, and pass it out through small windows to the waiting multitude outside. Now it was, and remains, a common belief amongst the schismatics that this 'holy fire' still came down miraculously from heaven (as it genuinely had done before the schism), and that this miracle was a sign of God's approval of the separated churches. This belief was not confined to the simple: Matthew Nakkar, for example, firmly believed in the miracle and all that he had heard about the properties of the holy fire, e.g., that it did not burn. Accordingly, on this Holy Saturday of 1832, he went with his deacon to the church, joined in the procession, united his heart with the excited crowd, and jostled with them to light his candle at the holy fire. With triumph he returned to his deacon, and, to demonstrate the miracle, applied the flame to the deacon's long beard - it disappeared in a flash of light, sizzling and smelling. "I cannot express my amazement," wrote Mar Matthew, "I was so certain that the fire would not burn that for a few minutes I was stupefied: then I pulled myself together and bitterly reproached my deacon for his lack of faith that had caused his beard to be burnt!" It was the beginning of the change in Matthew Nakkar's life: if the "holy fire" was not miraculous, then it was not the sign of God's approval of his church he had believed it to be; henceforward he began to have other doubts, and he resolved to make a study of those points of religion about which there is disagreement between the Jacobites and the Catholic Church.

Picture: The syrian Patriarch of Antioch
Mar Ignatius Rahmani (late 1800's)

He was soon to have this opportunity in an unexpected way. Having travelled to Aleppo to have the Catholics there expelled, he was obliged to wait there until the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan before the orders could be executed by the authorities. Divine Providence so disposed it that, in the mistaken belief that he had come to the so-called "Venetian Inn", Mar Matthew obtained lodging at the monastery of the French Lazarist Fathers! After the persecutor's initial surprise and fear, the Father Superior won his confidence through his charity and respectful welcome, and soon conversations and discussions followed which turned principally on Monophysitism: was Jesus Christ a real, whole and complete man as well as God, or was He not? Matthew found his views less easy to defend than he had supposed - he was particularly impressed by the testimonies that Father Godès adduced from the writings of the Syrian doctor St Ephrem, and he asked permission to read himself in the Lazarists' library. He read there and he prayed; as an honest man, he was really worried. Grace was at work, and on 27 November 1832, in the church at Aleppo that he had come to recover, he made a public abjuration of heresy and was reconciled by the patriarch of the Catholic Syrians, Mar Gregory Jarwah.
Then the persecutor became the persecuted. He went straight to Mardin, the chief Jacobite stronghold, and within two months fifty-four Jacobites had formally abandoned their errors. The Jacobite patriarch cited him before the governor, accusing him of receiving a "chest of gold" from the Pope as the price of his apostasy, and of enticing good Jacobites from their allegiance to the Sultan to that of the "Franks". The governor, in spite of the evident injustice of the accusations, took the course of Pilate, and soon Mar Matthew was imprisoned in the patriarch's own jail.

Picture: The Syrian Patriarch of Antioch and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Mar Ignatius Gabriel Tappuni (early 1900's)

The latter tried everything he could to make him apostasise: he was confined in an empty underground cistern for two weeks, and every evening brought out for a cruel beating. Then, dressed in a caricature of episcopal vestments, he was brought before the patriarch and ordered to curse the Council of Chalcedon. Thereupon he was struck in the mouth, the blow breaking his teeth, and literally kicked from the top of a flight of stairs to the bottom. Unable to move, he was picked up and flung into a hut outside the monastery. "If he dies, throw his body to the dogs" was the order.
The next morning, as Mar Matthew lay in the hut praying to God for strength, a Kurdish princess happened to pass by, and hearing his groans, told her servants to break the door down. Hearing Matthew's story, she sent for her husband, who had him taken to his palace and nursed back to health. Giving thanks to God and the prince for this unlikely turn of events, Mar Matthew was soon back at his preaching and teaching with more zeal than ever; at the end of a year he had won over his own successor in the see of Mosul and a thousand lay-people. Thus he continued for some thirty-five years, bringing tens of thousands of Jacobites to the Catholic Faith in his new diocese of Nabk and Kariatim until, rich in merits and exhausted by his labours, he went to his eternal reward on 22 March 1868 at the Syrian ecclesiastical college at Sharfeh.

Picture: "I am a monk to become a saint and to live life as it was meant to be, before the Fall. I would like to magnify the Glories of Mary." Br. Ephrem Marie, C.SS.R of the Syrian Rite.

The Basilian nuns of Minsk The Ordeals of Saintly Mother Makrina 1784 - 1869

On 11 February 1869, Mother Irena Makrina Mieczyslavska, the Ihumena or abbess of the nuns of the Order of St Basil the Great in White Ruthenia (today the Republic of Belarus), died in the order of sanctity in the Roman convent of the Trinità dei Monti, under the watchful protection of the miraculous image of the Mater Admirabilis there venerated. Many years before, she had offered herself to God as a victim of expiation for the sins committed during the time of the carnival, and God had granted her yearly an excruciating affliction during these days, which she offered to Him with the greatest patience. This year, God was pleased to end her life of sufferings and prayers for the Church in Ruthenia and in the world and to call her to her eternal reward. His Providence had brought her to die in the centre of Catholic Unity as a witness to the almost unbelievable story of the sufferings for the Faith of the 245 Basilian nuns of what is today Belarus and Lithuania.

Picture caption: The long suffering Mother Makrina of the Order of Saint Basil the Great

The story had begun three decades previously. Czar Nicholas I, the self-styled "Minister and Lieutenant of God", had decided to liquidate the union of several millions of his Ruthenian subjects, and had found in the notorious Josyf Semashko a willing tool in the work of subjecting these poor souls to the combined political and religious control of Moscow. This unworthy Catholic priest having received the episcopate from the Czar in exchange for his soul, waited until the death of Metropolitan Josaphat Bulhak in December, 1838 before delivering over his flock to the wolves. "In 1839", wrote Pius XII, "the union of the Ruthenian Church with the dissident Russian Church was solemnly proclaimed. It is impossible to describe the miseries, perils and hardships with which the most noble nation of the Ruthenians was afflicted at that time, for no other crime or guilt but that of crying out against the wrong done it and striving to retain its faith, when it had been driven by force and fraud into schism.... The Catholic Church had to lament the tearing by iniquitous violence from her motherly embrace of these her children."

Before his formal act of apostasy in Polotsk on 24 February, 1839, Semashko had been chaplain to a convent of Basilian nuns in Minsk who occupied themselves with the schooling of children, and so one of the first acts of his episcopate was to present them with an act of submission to the Orthodox religion which they were to sign. Neither his promises of imperial favour, however, nor his threats of forced labour in Siberia could move them from their fidelity to the Holy Union with Rome into which their ancestors had entered in 1596. One morning in summer, 1838, a troop of soldiers with Semashko at their head, forced their way into the convent of the Blessed Trinity, and, finding the nuns before the Blessed Sacrament, gave them a final ultimatum. Their superior, Mother Makrina, had already prepared them for this moment expressing their choice thus:

"Death, here below, in persecutions and in tears, and eternal glory in heaven, my dear daughters, or life in this world and death in the next: choose!"?

They had chosen: "Siberia rather than abandon Jesus Christ and His Vicar!"

At their unanimous refusal to apostasise, Semashko gave the order to his guards to seize the thirty-five sisters and bind their hands and feet in irons. One very old sister remained. She had at that moment died on her knees; she was left on the floor where she had expired. Now the sisters thus bound and chained together two by two were led from the city to cries of compassion from its outraged citizenry. Mother Makrina had obtained one favour from the civil governor: she was permitted to carry their large, wooden crucifix with them. A forced march of seven days to Vitebsk, the city of St Josaphat's martyrdom, followed. Exhausted, they arrived at what had hitherto been another convent of their order, and which was to be their place of imprisonment.

There they found thirteen of their sisters in irons; the abbess of Vitebsk, Mother Eusebia Tyminska, and four other nuns already having died from the torments they had undergone, the remaining nuns begged Mother Makrina to adopt them as her spiritual daughters. The convent had been turned over to a group of women of ill repute and ex-wives of soldiers who under the loose grouping of a religious community were the partners of the nightly drunken excesses of the dregs of the Russian and apostate Ruthenian clergy.

These latter, known to all as the "black women", were to be the overseers of all the cruelties which Semashko had planned in order to induce his former flock to apostasise. Seven years of living martyrdom were to pass here and elsewhere for the sake of the Unity of the Church. Initially their daily routine consisted of restoring the house to order after the previous night's debauchery every morning before 6 am. At this time they went to work in chains breaking rocks in a quarry, and transporting them in wheelbarrows to which they were further chained. This continued, with an hour's break at midday, until nightfall, when they returned to look after the livestock and to be abused by the "black women" before retiring to their prison, still in chains. Malnutrition and frostbite followed in winter, when they were unable to supplement their meagre diet with the grass of the fields, and had to try to share the fodder of the pigs in order to survive.

Picture caption: An old Ruthenian rite priest lies in death, R.I.P. This good paster of his people suffered prison and exile in Siberia for Jesus Christ. The then three Assistant Bishops at St. George's, Lviv, (20 kilometers away), would not assist at the funerals of these old priests; unlike most modernist bishops in the West who, in this matter, still show respect for their clergy. This priest like his confreres is simply as ignored in death as he was unwelcome to the Ecumenists in life.

But worse was to follow. Semashko, believing that the nuns would "become more reasonable" when he had "taken of the skin in which they were born and replaced it with another", began to have to have the nuns flogged twice a week. Each received fifty lashes, and was forced to assist at the scourging of all the others. They prepared themselves for this ordeal by meditating on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and while the torture lasted, they thought they saw Him suffering, and so gathered strength rather than terror from the sight. Their greatest pain was that their torture took place exposed in the sight of the Russian clergy and other men, but even this grief only united them the more closely to the shame of Jesus at the pillar. The onlookers waited eagerly for some sigh or groan, but all they heard after each lash was the prayer "By Thy Cross and Thy Passion, Jesus, save my soul!": when a sister ceased to say this, it was because heaven had open its gates to another martyr.

Other sisters died one by one during their labours, which they were forced to continue despite the wounds of the scourgings. Some were beaten to death by the wooden staffs of the "black women"; one was burnt alive when forced into an oven by them when they were intoxicated. But still neither Semashko nor his henchmen could force Mother Makrina or any of her sisters to sign the act of apostasy. Then he tried separating them, incarcerating them in a damp and freezing cellar where they had to share a few rotten vegetables with the worms which crawled all over their body, rendering sleep impossible. So great was the confidence of Semashko that some, if not all of the community would sign the document of apostasy he so badly needed to show the czar, that he came in person to the scene of their misery bearing a jewelled cross and the offer of a new title and position for Mother Makrina. His divide-and-conquer tactic having failed, she told him to take the emperor's cross and hang it on his own already richly-decorated chest the better to hide his "apostate heart", adding: "Once a thief hung upon a cross, now a cross hangs upon a thief!"

New torments and scourgings followed until one day Semashko came to the area to "reconcile" a Greek Catholic church to the Russian Orthodox Church, and forced the nuns to assist at the ceremony. Despite their vehement refusal, they were dragged bleeding and bruised to the door of the church. Then, in a dramatic scene, Mother Makrina seized an axe which she saw lying on the ground and knelt down, presenting it to Semashko with the words "You have been our pastor, now be our executioner: cut off our heads and roll them into your church, for never shall our feet walk in. Here is the axe! Here are our heads!" Knocking the axe out of her hands and wounding a nearby sister, Semasko struck the kneeling abbess across the mouth breaking one of her teeth. She presented it to him saying: "This is the noblest action of your life, monster; and in remembrance of it take this diamond and set it in your heart of stone. Believe me, it will outshine all the jewels for which you have sold your soul." After fresh blows the sisters returned to their labours singing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, in which many of the people who had gathered to witness the scene joined.

After two years, the Sisters were ordered to go to the town of Polotsk, where St Josaphat had been bishop, and where Semashko was to have himself a palace constructed through their labours. To their great sorrow, they were separated from their wooden crucifix which had been to them the source of so much consolation in their prison, and before which they had prayed for fortitude, perseverance and the conversion of their persecutors, and sung the hymns which they had composed. But a consolation awaited them at Polotsk, where, to their joy, they found ten Basilian sisters still alive of the twenty-five who had been brought there from Vilnius, and who took Mother Makrina as their superior. Because the people of Polotsk began to throw bread over the walls of the prison, the community was taken to a nearby village called Spas. They were to begin the construction works by levelling a stony hill, and this they were to do without tools, Semashko decreed, using stones to break stones. By summer 1841, nineteen sisters had died at Spas either from a combination of the tortures and exhaustion (the backbreaking work had resulted in such pain and dislocation that the sisters could no longer lie down at night, and had to 'rest' seated back to back), or from falling rocks and landslides. Another two perished in the floggings which ensued in reprisal when it was found that an indignant villager scratched the following words on the wall of the Russian Church:

"Here, instead of monasteries Are Siberia and the galleys!"

If they had been able or even desired to write graffiti, they would probably have recorded such sentiments as these, which we find in the words of one of their hymns:

"My God, change our sadness into joy: deliver our country from schism - that is our only prayer! Let us suffer, slaves of Our Lord! If we fight for Him, then one day He will dry our tears by making the Faith triumph!"

In autumn, Semashko arrived to try anew to force the sisters to sign his document. This time he brought with him a decree from the Czar. "All which the Arch-arch-archhierarch Semashko has done, and all which he will yet do for the propagation of the Orthodox religion, I approve, confirm and declare holy, holy and thrice-holy", it read, granting Semashko unlimited recourse to military power. He was enraged that they had written a petition to the Czar in which they begged to be allowed to die in their religion, and he showed them the refusal of Nicholas I written in his own hand. This time he struck Mother Makrina so hard across the mouth that the cartileges of her nose were damaged and she could not speak distinctly for more than a year (all in all he knocked out, on various occasions, nine of her teeth). Then he subjected all of the nuns to unnumbered lashes until nightfall in order to make them reveal whence they had obtained the necessary materials to write and send their petitions. He was not answered, but another sister perished.

That winter the sisters would all have died of starvation but for the local Jewish merchants, whom the Russian clergy and "black women" could not prevent from giving to the nuns the residue of the wheat used in distilling, since they were themselves deeply in debt to them for the alcohol they consumed. The news of the expiry of three more sisters in 1842 (one, the 72-year-old Sr Seraphina, having expired at the thirtieth lash, had her corpse scourged until the sentence was completed) under the lash reached the ears of a general of the Russian occupation forces. His personal intervention led to the cessation of the floggings, but Semashko was to exact a terrible revenge. Doubly angered by this development and the news that some Basilian priests imprisoned nearby had made good their escape during the intoxication of their jailers (the sisters had witnessed with their very eyes the martyrdom of five of the older Basilian priests there), he arrived at the house of the "black women" and incited, in his anger, all of the local clergy, and indeed, all the men in the establishment, to outrage the poor nuns in their drunken fury, offering the rank of archpriest that very day to any who should consummate his crime.

The intoxicated horde came, fell upon their prey, and, the more the nuns resisted, the more they beat, kicked, tore at and bit them. But despite the infernal cries and blasphemies which pierced the night, God heard the sighs and prayers of his servants, and miraculously preserved all of them from a fate worse than death. Three indeed, perished, and eight had their eyes torn out and their faces mutilated; one had had her nose bitten off. All were covered in blood and wounds, but the next morning they were made to work as usual. Neither the visits of apostate priests, nor a terrible period of six days without water could force any of them to waver. The works continued, the blind sisters being made to knit all day.

In 1843 the surviving sisters were made to march to Myedzyoly, a town near Minsk where they were imprisoned in what had been a Carmelite convent. Here it was that Semashko carried out his final attempt to make the sisters apostasise. He commanded each of those who could still see to be bound in a kind of sack which rendered movement of the arms impossible. Then, with ropes placed around their necks, they were led through the town to a nearby lake. The apostate priests - two Basilians were amongst them - offered them the choice of accepting their religion or "drowning like dogs". As each one refused, she was dragged out into the lake, the rope around her neck tied to a boat. When the water reached chest level, the ultimatum was repeated and they were dragged into the deep. When their victims seemed on the point of either drowning or being strangled by the rope, they were dragged back to shallower waters. This continued for two to three hours; it was repeated on five occasions over a three week period; three sisters were drowned, but none apostatised. Only the protestations of the Jews in the area caused this torture to be stopped when the water began to freeze over. That winter one more sister died and seven became too debilitated to work. By the winter of 1844-45, frostbite had reduced the number of sisters who were able to work and look after the others to five, including Mother Makrina, who was a pillar of strength to all despite a terrible wound she had received in her head, which was now crawling with worms. When one of these sisters died of asphyxiation being unable to move through frostbite, the end for all seemed nigh.

Then it was that their deportation to Siberia with a group of Basilian monks was decreed. Mother Makrina knew that if God wished any of them to escape to the free world in order to make known the persecutions of the Ruthenian Catholic Church, then Divine Providence would have to arrange such a seeming impossibility soon. The four able sisters scrutinised their opportunities until it came to pass that their persecutors indulged in drunken excess for three consecutive days. At the end of the third day, not a single man or woman in the establishment was left conscious, and so, the night of March 31, 1845, the four bade their sisters a tearful farewell until eternity, and, accompanied by their prayers, began an epic escape which commenced by their having to jump from a third-storey window onto the snow-covered ground below. First Mother Makrina, and then two more sisters landed safe and sound. An anxious wait followed for Sr Irena, who joined them some minutes later, having delayed to remove the coat from a guard lying in a drunken stupor. The sisters made their way to the ruins of a nearby chapel and gave thanks to God. They decided to split up, the better to elude their eventual pursuers, and agreed to meet up in the Eternal City.

Only one of them was to reach that destination, and the Divine Providence assured that it was Mother Makrina. The venerable abbess survived, by God's grace, a three month ordeal of being hunted at the age of sixty like a wild animal through the forests of Russian-occupied Lithuania, suffering from hunger, thirst and cold, until she reached the border of Prussian-occupied Poland, passing as a shepherdess. Welcomed by the Archbishop of Poznan, she was conducted, after her recuperation, by Church officials through France and to her final destination, the feet of Pope Gregory XVI. The fate of her three companions is unknown, except that they appear to have reached Austrian Galicia alive. Of those who remained imprisoned, the death of two more in rapid succession after the departure of the escapees saw Semashko obliged to have them taken to a hospital, under the strict condition that they would not have recourse to the ministrations of any Catholic priest. Their subsequent fate is unknown.

Mother Makrina's story shocked the civilised world. Her physical condition (a medical report declared that her skull had been broken, and in that in one place was covered only by skin; her deformed body showed all the ravages of irons and ropes) testified to the truth of the solemn deposition she was able to make to the Sovereign Pontiff. Providence had arranged her arrival on 6 November, 1845, just in time for Gregory XVI to be well-informed before his historic meeting with Nicholas I in Rome on 13 December, 1845. It is a matter of historical record that the Czar emerged from his audience covered with shame and confusion, having had his denials as to the persecution of the Ruthenian Church refuted by documents written in his own hand, such as the one declaring Semashko's deeds "thrice-holy". The tyrant, facing the opprobrium of Europe (the Irish statesman and Catholic leader Daniel O'Connell compared Nicholas to Nero and Diocletian) was forced to sign a Concordat with the Church. The latter, alas, was to prove to be very short-lived, as subsequent persecution was to show.

Of the 245 Basilian nuns of White Ruthenia, not a single one is known to have apostatised, whether under the lash of Semashko or in labour camps of Siberia. Then, as now, it was the women of Belarus' and Ukraine who gave an example of courage to the men. Many priests, religious and laymen were martyrs and confessors for Catholic Unity under Semashko (including his own father, a priest), but the record of Mother Makrina and her companions stands out even in an order which was to give so much more glory to God under first the later persecutions of the Czars and then the Communists.

[Fr Rohrbacher: Histoire Universelle de l'Église Catholique Vol XII, livre XCI; Dom Chamard, O.S.B.: Annales ecclésiastiques An. 1869, Fasc.1; E. D'Auvergne: Histoire de l'Orthodoxie Russe (Paris 1857); Fr G. Markovic: Gli slavi ed i papi (Zagreb, 1897); Fr E. Maykowski: Quedam ad vitam et causam M. Macrinae Mieczyslavska (Analecta O.S.B.M. 1928, 1930); Dom Poulet, O.S.B.: Histoire de l'Église; W. Lencyk: The Eastern Catholic Church and Czar Nicholas I (Rome, 1966)]

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