Greek-Catholics in Moskow

By Feodor Petrov (<easthcath@mail.ru>), July, 2001

This time I visited the Greek-Catholic Community of the Holy Apostles Peter and Andrew in Moscow with a particular goal of gathering as much accurate information about it as I could. I attended the Sunday Liturgy at the Community church and spoke with their pastor, Fr. Andrey Udovenko and his wife, in their home.

This Community is the only known Greek-Catholic Community in North-Western Russia (regarded in Latin Curia not as a parish, but as a pastoral point), at least the only one that has its own Greek-Catholic pastor, who is Fr. Andrey. Although it is located in Moskow, the capital of Russia, only a few people know about it.

The Priest

Fr. Andrey Udovenko was born in 1961 and lived in Mordovia (one of the regions of Russia). He was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and an Orthodox priest from 1987. He received his priestly formation during the period when the ecumenical activity of the Orthodox Church in Russia was high and the ecumenical relationships with the Catholic Church were good. As many other priests formed in that time, he was inclined to Catholicity. (The situation in today's Russian Orthodox Church is quite different. It's usual now that Orthodox clergy in Russia regard the Catholic Church as spoilt and even heretical, though official statements are much softer.)

During the time of his service as an Orthodox priest, the KGB tried to force Fr. Andrey to work for them. It wasn't unusual during those times for many Orthodox priests and bishops to work for this frightening organisation. The local government official, called the Representative in the Religious Affairs, demanded that he work for the KGB, but he refused and his own bishop made his life conditions impossible, especially financially. He was also threatened by his bishop that he would be forbidden from performing his priestly duties.

While many Orthodox priests of that time desired to be in union with Rome, they were awaiting the final reunification, being faithful to their Russian Orthodox people. But under these circumstances it was impossible for Fr. Andrey to wait any longer. That's why he asked to be received into the Catholic Church as an Eastern Catholic priest. As the Catholic Church regards Orthodox sacraments as completely valid, he was received as an already ordained priest in 1991. Since March, 1992, he was taken under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Lviv, head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, and as a priest of the Eparchy of Lviv.

During the difficult period before he became Catholic de jure, he called his Orthodox bishop's office often to ask if he was forbidden to serve or not. The bishop's response always confirmed that he could continue to perform his priestly duties. But when he became Catholic in March, 1991, he learned to his astonishment, that he was forbidden to serve since August, 1990. The only explanation he could find is that his bishop back-dated the decree about it. That was the last step of the Fr. Andrey's official relationships with his former bishop.

Fr. Andrey insists that he didn't change his faith, nor give up his orthodoxy. In this he follows the thoughts of Vladimir Soloviev, as well as of his predecessors, Russian Eastern Catholics at the beginning of the 20th century. They preferred to call themselves "Orthodox in communion with Rome" rather than "eastern Catholics", It means they are completely Orthodox (in their liturgical heritage, way of thinking, spirituality etc.) and at the same time completely Catholic (recognizing the primacy of the Pope of Rome and all the Catholic faith, infallibly taught by the Catholic Church, — though in the Catholic East they can be sometimes expressed in the terms a little bit different from those of the Catholic West).

As a Greek-Catholic priest he started to serve in Moskow and formed his new community. Now he lives in Moskow with his wife Helena. They haven't children. He serves his community as its pastor. He said, that it is the only community he works for at the moment. He's temporarily incardinated as a priest into the Latin Apostolic Administration of the North of Russia, under the jurisdiction of its Latin Ordinary. All the Greek-Catholics of Moskow are formally placed under his pastoral care, though only a few know about it. He lives with his wife in a one-room apartment in Moskow and has a comparatively small income. It's interesting that he has formed friendly bonds with some priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. This indicates that not all of them feel hostility towards the Russian Eastern Catholics.

Fr. Andrey has written several books, including an unofficial Greek-Catholic catechism, a very interesting book on worship in the Byzantine Catholic tradition called Mystagoggia (Greek "Explanation of the Sacraments"), a book about Christian Egypt and a Dictionary of Christianity. All these books, except the dictionary, are as yet unpublished and Fr. Andrey hopes he will some day be able to raise the money to have them printed. Taking into consideration that there are very few serious Greek-Catholic books in Russian available, we can sincerely share his hope.

The Community

The roots of the community are completely "Russian". It was not started by foreign missionaries — it appeared and grew on the Russian ground. Fr. Andrey and his flock consider themselves a Russian Orthodox Community in communion with Rome. They prefer the name Orthodox-Catholic community of the Holy Apostles Peter and Andrew, although they refer to themselves as a Greek-Catholic community in their official papers. The name Orthodox-Catholic has deep historical roots in Russia. When in the beginning of the 20th century the first Eastern Catholic groups started in Russia, under the recently beatified Fr. Leonid Feodorov, their exarch, St. Petersburg Greek-Catholics used the name Orthodox-Catholic for their first house-churches as well as for their magazine — an Orthodox-Catholic magazine, "Word of Truth". Fr. Andrey and his wife are fond of the Russian people to whom they belong, and of Russian history, culture and Church heritage. Orthodox-Catholics are the same as Eastern Catholics (Orthodox Christians with the fidelity to Rome), but the last term was not used historically and is a little bit artificial for the Russian language.

The name of the community is very symbolic, since the Apostle Peter is a source of church unity and represents the See of Rome, and the Apostle Andrew (after whom Fr. Andrey was named,) traditionally represents the See of Constantinople and the Byzantine Tradition. He was also, according to legend, the Apostle who preached the Gospel in the lands that would one day become the Ukraine and Russia.

The community itself is not big. There are about 15-20 people at the usual Sunday Vespers (on Saturday evenings as the liturgical day starts after sunset on the preceding day), about 30-40 people at the usual Sunday Liturgy, and about 25-30 participants at their weekly meeting outside the Liturgy, which will be explained later. During Easter, which is the most important feast of Christian tradition, there were about 80 attendants this year. Since there are not so many members, the life of the community is very family-like.

All the members of the community came during Fr. Andrey's work as Greek-Catholic priest. Most of them were not believers before they came to the community, only a few of them are former members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some of the members are very active in the life of the Community and help Fr. Andrey a great deal in his work.

History of the Parish

The Community was formed in 1991. Since March 1992 the Community has been under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Lviv (Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church). The history of the community started with simple prayer meetings. The Liturgical Services began much later. During the first period of Community history, its Liturgy and meetings took place in the state school. But this later became impossible. From 1999, the community was transferred to the jurisdiction of the local Latin Ordinary. About this time the Sisters, Missionaries of Charity, who have a hospital for mentally handicapped children in Moskow, let Fr. Andrey and his community hold their Liturgical service (Vespers and Sunday Liturgy) in their Latin Chapel there. At the moment the community continues to gather there for the Liturgy. It exists as a "pastoral point" for the Greek-Catholics of Moskow under the jurisdiction of the local Latin Ordinary. Under the civil law it's an unregistered religious group. This means they can't have any buildings or other property as a community. The only rights such a group has is to worship and to give religious education to its members.

Liturgy

The Community gathers for worship in the Chapel of the Sisters, Missionaires of Charity (MC) at ul. Chechulina 13b, Moskow. Each Saturday the Vespers takes place at 6 p.m. and each Sunday the Liturgy is held at 9 a.m. The community is Russian Orthodox liturgically, that means it uses the same Liturgy (including the old liturgical calendar, fasts according to the Russian Orthodox traditions, and Church-Slavonic as the liturgical language), which is used by the Russian Orthodox Church. Of course the Pope and its Latin Ordinary are mentioned during the liturgical prayers, not the Moskow Patriarch. No latinisation is admitted in the Liturgy, which is very important for Fr. Andrey as well as for any Eastern Christian, especially orthodox, attending the Liturgy. There are some small changes in the Rite — the Gospel is read in Russian, not in Church Slavonic, and the congregation can sit during the sermon. But it was made in accordance with old and respectable eastern traditions, that are simply not in use now in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Attending the Sunday Liturgy in this parish is a very moving experience. You can feel a very strong unity between the participants, their deep faith and profound devotion, that are quite typical of the Eastern Christians. At the same time, the feeling is much more personal than during the usual Russian Orthodox Church Liturgy — maybe because the community is rather small. The liturgical chants used during the Liturgy are very traditional. They are simple enough but sung by the whole congregation — this isn't as common in most of the usual Orthodox parishes. Of course the Communion is received under both species, as practically all the Christian East (including Orthodox Christians) does.

Beyond the Sacraments

The prayer meetings that started the community's history, are still held. At the moment they take place on Sunday evenings. They start with guitar songs, sung by the members of the community and guests. After that, four members of the community offer their thoughts in turn, in the form of sermons. Fr. Andrey said that, according to the Slavonic church traditions, only men having a good reputation (not in manifest sin, taking part in community life, not smoking etc.) are given the right to make such sermons publicly during these meetings. Then the New Testament is read aloud. Each meeting, one chapter from the New Testament is read and discussed, so the whole New Testament should be read during seven years. After the reading each person present at the meeting can share his thoughts and feelings about the chapter read. Then the participants pray in their own words. After a small meal, the more traditional prayers take place.

Besides these meetings, there are other activities in the community. They prepared some audio tapes and CDs with the music performed by the community members (including guitar songs, psalms etc.). Also the community makes a retreat each year under Fr. Andrey's guidance. It's usually a five day retreat or, in other words, spiritual exercises. Of course it's done completely in the Eastern tradition.

There's no organised charity work or social service in the community (that's traditional for the Orthodox mentality too). But some members are helping other people in their need as best they can. For example some of the women wash the children's laundry for the MC Sisters regularly.

Life conditions

Fr. Andrey himself has a comparatively small income, the main part of which is the financial support from the German Foundation called Kirche in Not. He said that he and his community don't get any other support from the church officials. "Some families of the Community have many children and a small income, but our Administration Caritas doesn't want to help them", said Fr. Andrey. He doesn't receive any financial or moral support from the local Latin clergy. He's sure that they're simply not interested in the existence of his community.

The home for the Missionaries of Charity

The community doesn't have any church building or chapel, so their only means of gathering for Liturgy depends on the Sisters, Missionaries of Charity, who let them use their Chapel. "If we could have our own church building" - says Fr. Andrey - "there would be many more people than now". At the same time, according to Fr. Andrey, the local Church Authorities to whom the community is subject, look on the Greek-Catholics as the barrier and problem in their ecumenical relationships with the Orthodox Church. Fr. Andrey doesn't agree with this point of view. He believes that if orthodox priests and laity would see attention, love and respect given to the Eastern Catholics from the local Latin Church authorities, it would lead to the reunification much faster, but it's clear that the local Church authorities pay respect to the eastern heritage in word only, with their deeds quite opposite to their words.

Prayer request

The Greek-Catholic Community of the Holy Apostles Peter and Andrew urgently needs your prayer support in its needs. It's a necessity for all the Greek-Catholics in Western Russia. Most of them don't even exist officially, and have no priests who can provide them with the proper pastoral care according to their respectable Rite. Your love and prayers are very important in this crucial situation.

Russian-style icon near Missionaries of Charity Chapel

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Last modified on Wednesday August 18, 2004 at 1:33 AM EDT