Ukrainian Catholicism, a tapestry woven with rich traditions and unwavering faith, includes a deep veneration for the saints. These revered figures serve as beacons, guiding the faithful on their spiritual journey, embodying virtues, and providing a bridge between the earthly and the divine.
A Tapestry of Holiness in Ukrainian Catholicism
For Ukrainian Catholics (and other Catholics and Orthodox Christians), saints are not merely historical figures but living companions on the path to holiness. Their stories, steeped in sacrifice, devotion, and commitment to their faith, resonate down through the generations, weaving a spiritual tapestry that ties together the example and prayers of the saints with the life of Christians still struggling in this life.
Importance of Saints
Ukrainian Catholics believe that saints are intermediaries who intercede on their behalf before God. These holy figures are not worshipped as if they were gods, but are venerated but as exemplars of Christian virtues, since their lives demonstrate the transformative power of a life dedicated to God. The lives of saints serve as a guidebook, offering inspiration and solace to those navigating the complexities of human life.
Their Role in Spiritual Life
The saints occupy a central place in the daily lives of Ukrainian Catholics. Whether through prayers, feast day celebrations, or the naming of parishes, these holy figures gives the community a sense of spiritual connection with the Church throughout history. Saints are seen as companions who offer guidance, protection, and comfort in times of joy and adversity.
How can we pray to the Saints?
Praying to saints is an integral part of the spiritual journey. When approaching a saint in private prayer, one typically begins with a heartfelt invocation, calling upon the specific saint by name: for example, “Holy [Saint’s Name], pray for us.” In this invocation, we ask for the saint’s intercession, since he or she, being close to God, can aid us: as it says in the Bible, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). The prayer then unfolds as we expresses our specific needs, concerns, or gratitude. We can ask the saint’s guidance, protection, or assistance, and often we ask for grace to follow his or her good example in living as a disciple of Jesus. Thus, we acknowlede the saint’s virtues and exemplary life, which serve as an inspiration for the believer to cultivate similar qualities in his or her own spiritual journey.
During the public worship of the Church – the Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Molebyns, and other services – Ukrainian Catholics pray to the saints in many different ways. During the Divine Liturgy, we regularly honour the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, and the priest also remembers a variety of saints. Almost every day of the year has one or several saints who are remembered on that day, and, over the centuries, different hymns have been written in their honour, which Ukrainian Catholics sing during the Divine Liturgy and other services. Some saints are widely venerated, and their feast days are celebrated with real solemnity: these include John the Baptist (June 24 and August 29), the Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29), and, of course, the Mother of God. Mary has many feasts, but the most important are her birth (September 8), her entry into the Temple (November 21), the Annunciation (March 25), and her Dormition (August 15).
Other saints also have major feasts in their honour: for example, the Great Martyr George (April 23) and the Great Mary Demetrius (October 26), the prophet Elias (July 20), St. John the Theologian (September 26), St. Nicholas (December 6), and the three holy hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom (January 30). But this list is far from complete.
What are Martyrs?
Martyrs are saints who have willingly accepted suffering and death rather than abandon their commitment to Christ and the Church. Perhaps as many as 50% of the saints commemorated in the Ukrainian Catholic Church are martyrs. These individuals are seen as witnesses to the teachings of Christ and exemplars of courage, faith, and endurance in the face of adversity.
The martyrs in the calendar of the Ukrainian Catholic Church include a number of saints who were killed by the Nazi and Soviet regimes. During the Soviet era, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was driven underground. Many faithful and clergy endured persecution, imprisonment, and even death for their refusal to renounce their Catholic faith.
Martyrs, within the Catholic perspective, symbolize a profound commitment to the principles of Christianity, echoing the words of Christ: “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) The sacrifices made by the martyrs are remembered and venerated by the Church as a testament to the enduring strength of faith and the preservation of the Christian tradition in the face of external challenges. Their stories inspire future generations to hold firm to their beliefs, even in the midst of trials and tribulations.
Who are the Apostles and Evangelists?
For Ukrainian Catholics (and for other Catholics), the word “evangelist” can refer to individuals who actively and ardently spread the teachings of Christianity. However, the term specifically refers to four early Christian disciples – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – who wrote the four gospels of the New Testament. Two of these men, Matthew and John, were members of the twelve apostles, while Luke and Mark were close companions of the first Christian preachers. Ukrainian Catholics still honour all the Apostles with feasts, and also dedicate every Thursday to this group of saints, since they played such an important part in the mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus and fostering a deeper understanding of the Christian faith.
However, the work of spreading Christianity didn’t stop with the twelve apostles and their generation: in every century, Christian missionaries have worked to spread Christian faith and the good news of what Jesus has done for us. In fact, some of these missionaries are remembered in the Ukrainian Catholic Church as “equal to the apostles,” a title that indicates how important the continued spread of the Christian faith is. Some examples of this category of saints include Cyril and Methodius, two brothers who converted the first Slavic peoples to Christianity, and Saints Volodymyr and Olha, the rulers who brought Christianity to the ancestors of the modern Ukrainian people.
Evangelism, therefore, isn’t just for the evangelists: from a Ukrainian Catholic perspective, evangelism involves not only proclaiming the message of salvation but also embodying the teachings of Christ in our own lives. Ukrainian Catholic evangelists are individuals who, through their words, actions, and commitment to Christian virtues, strive to bring others closer to God and nurture a vibrant Christian community. The evangelistic mission is not confined to formal preaching but extends to a holistic approach of living out the Gospel, fostering spiritual growth, and contributing to the well-being of the broader community.
Ukrainian Catholic evangelists work towards the transformation of hearts and minds, seeking to inspire others to embrace the Christian faith and live according to its principles. Their efforts contribute to the growth and vitality of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, including in North America, where so many people need to hear the gospel of Jesus.
From the pivotal role of saints as guides and exemplars in daily spiritual life to the heartfelt practice of praying to saints, Ukrainian Catholic spirituality fosters a deep connection between the earthly faithful and these revered figures. The martyrs, symbolizing unwavering commitment, and the apostles, evangelists, and missionaries, embodying proactive Gospel-sharing, further enrich this spiritual landscape. As we delve deeper into rich tradition, may the stories of saints inspire, the sacrifices of martyrs resonate, and the efforts of evangelists strengthen the bonds within our Church and inspiring us to share the good news with those who most need to hear it.