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10 May, 2011  ▪  Ivan Patryliak

Andrey Sheptytsky, Lion of Halychyna

Andrey Sheptytsky was the Greek-Catholic Metropolitan who was first met with distrust but later gained respect even from his enemies

Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, Roman at birth, was the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for almost 44 years. He found respect with every new government coming to power in Halychyna in the turbulent early 20th century…

A noble politician

In 1901, an extraordinary man appeared as the Metropolitan of Halychyna. He was born to a local noble family which had already given the Ukrainian Church a bishop and two metropolitans back in the 17 and 18th centuries, but was polonizedby the mid-19th century. For the Poles, Andrey Sheptytskyi was a renegade, while Ukrainians saw him as a “suspicious Polish spy.” His tasks included sorting out church affairs, strengthening its reputation in the eyes of the public and the State, halting the outflow of parishioners to the Roman Catholic Church, and coming to terms with intellectuals carried away by socialist doctrines.  

As Metropolitan of Halychyna, Andrey Sheptytsky had the opportunity to implement his vision of church life in a broader context and play a weighty role in politics - not only in Halychyna, but the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a vigorous protector of social and national rights of Ukrainians in the Upper House (Herrenhaus) of the Austrian Parliament; Deputy Chair of Halychyna Sejm, the Lviv-based parliament; educator and sponsor; opponent of Polish cultural expansion in Halychyna; and the founder of hospitals, museums and libraries. All this made him popular among both common people and intellectuals. The educated part of the society began to look at the Church from a totally different perspective, seeing it as an institution which had overcome conservatism and which was moving ahead of its time.    

In the years of WWI and the Russian occupation, the Metropolitan refused to flee from Lviv and renounce his faith. His perseverance resulted in his exile to a remote region of the tsarist empire, but brought him recognition in the rest of the world. Foreign diplomats and progressive intellectuals in Russia were all appalled by the persecution of Sheptytsky for his religious beliefs. However, the Metropolitan himself saw his three-year exile to Russia as a chance to spread the idea of Uniat, a union of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches. While in exile, Sheptytsky used his time gathering supporters for this vision. Once released after the February Revolution, he consecrated some Greek Catholic priests and bishopsfor the Great Ukraine and Russia.  

On his way back to Lviv, Metropolitan Sheptytsky visited the revolutionary Kyiv to speak in front of the Tsentralna Rada[1]. His speech had such a powerful effect on the local socialists that they decided to establish an autonomous Ukrainian Church led by Sheptytsky. When Ukrainians gained power in Halychyna, he greeted the rise of sovereignty, but this cost him his freedom later. Once Ukrainians lost Lviv after a grueling struggle, the Poles put the Metropolitan under house arrest for two years because he refused to leave his parish and the city.

Poland’s legal enemy

In late 1920 the Vatican insisted that the Polish government in Halychyna allowed Metropolitan Sheptytsky to go on a pastoral trip to Ukrainian communities in the US. On his way Sheptytsky negotiated with Pope Benedict XV and the members of the government in Italy, President Aleksandre Millerand, Premier AristideBriandand Marshal Ferdinand Fochin France, and the powerful Cardinal Mercier in Belgium. He actively debated the Ukrainian situation with politicians in Canada and the US. Everywhere he went, Sheptytsky insisted that others should have supported Ukraine when deciding on Halychyna’s future. His diplomatic activities irritated the Polish government, so he was once again arrested in September 1923 in Poznan and held for three months.

Metropolitan Sheptytsky’s policy from 1923 to 1939 was to show a triangle of apparent loyalty to Poland by opposing violent struggle, sharp criticism of the Polish policy towards Ukrainians, and his attempts to build up Ukrainian cultural, religious, academic and political life as much as possible.  Andrey Sheptytsky worked out his firm principle in 1930, condemning arsons and sabotages by the Ukrainian Military Organization[2] and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists founded in 1929, while criticizing Polish “pacification” publicly. He went to Warsaw to meet with Józef Piłsudski, the first leader of the revived Poland, and ask him to stop terrorizing Ukrainians. However, none of the Polish high-fliers accepted him. Metropolitan Sheptytsky bravely responded to the ravaging of Orthodox churches in Kholm, currently known as Chelm, and Podlachia by the Polish government in 1938 and the forcing of Roman Catholicism onto the Orthodox locals, in a special proclamation where he labeled the events in North-Western Ukraine “appalling” and the Polish State and clergy “the enemies of the Ecumenical Church and Christianity.”    

Still, the outright opposition to Warsaw’s policy did not turn Sheptytsky into a blind fan of bolshevism, as happened to many intellectuals in Halychyna. His protesting message against the artificial famine in the Ukrainian SSR was uncompromised and revealing: “Ukraine is in agony (…) People are starving to death. The unjust cannibal system of state capitalism has left this flourishing country in ruins (…) These crimes make human nature go numb and blood freeze in veins (…) The blood of the starving working people who have ploughed Ukrainian black soil is calling on the heavens for revenge; the voice of hungry harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. We are asking all Christians of the world, all believers in God, especially workers and peasants, and our compatriots – to join this voice of protest and pain…”


Soviet pioneers in Halychyna invented an extremely sophisticated way to eliminate the Church – they undermined it economically. The Bolsheviks seized all grounds or enterprises of the metropole and billed it with a “tax debt” over the years of its existence within Poland. Rendering unto Ceasar the things that were Ceasar’s, Metropolitan Sheptytsky pawned his family’s silverware to cover the groundless bill. The financial war with the government failed to break the Metropolitan. He sharply criticized the ban on praying in schools and educating the youth about religion; convened bishops in Lviv where he called on the clergy to struggle against unbelief and expressed the hope that the Greek Catholic Church would eventually embrace all territories of Ukraine and Russia and save the souls of divided Orthodox Christians. He also banned red flags and praise of Communist leaders in churches; rebuked the bolshevist practice to spoil people with alcohol, turning them into drunks; and established underground theological courses. In response, punitive soviet authorities shut down monasteries, church hospitals and orphanages; opened a series of covert cases against the Metropolitan and his circle; and began to undermine him and “split the Uniat administration apart.”

Andrey Sheptytsky saw the outbreak of war as a window for escape from the atheistic bolshevism. The Vermacht’s quick progress eastward and the proclamation of Ukraine’s sovereignty in Lviv created an illusion that a new era had begun. The Metropolitan genuinely greeted the start of the building of a Ukrainian State and agreed to join the Senate (the Council of Seniors set up in Lviv in July 1941). Yet, the feast of freedom did not last… Massive arrests of the initiators of the sovereignty revival by Gestapo officers killed all hopes. The Nazis started manipulating Sheptytsky’s reputation from day one of the occupation. To minimize the effect of his statement dated 1 July, 1941, where the Metropolitan supported the building of a Ukrainian State, they published a new pastoral letter on his behalf on 5 July which looked more loyal to Germany, and was supposedly based on a non-existent “diocese newsletter of July 1941.”

In his attempts to save at least some forms of political life for his nation under occupation, Metropolitan Andrey helped establish the Ukrainian National Council in 1941 on the basis of a Council of Seniors. It also, did not live long. In February 1942 Sheptytsky’s sharp protest addressing Himmler where he judged the massive killings of Jews drove the Reichsfuhrer-SS so mad that he ordered his men to disseminate the Council. Three experts in Ukrainian issues were sent to moderate Andrey Sheptytsky, including Hans Koch, Otto Vechter, and Alfred Bizanz.  However, their conversation ended up a complete disaster. The old Metropolitan scolded the visitors for how they treated the conquered nation. The offended Nazis said the “hereditary Count and aristocrat” had “bad manners”… To scare the Metropolitan, the Nazis searched his chambers looking for weapons. In response to this terror and abuse of power Sheptytsky began to save the Jews who lived in Halychyna. He hid hundreds of Jewish children, dozens of rabbis, and scrolls with Torah texts in his personal chambers at Sviatoyurska Hora, St. George Hill in Lviv, monasteries, church hospitals and orphanages. The Metropolitan risked the devastation of his church but still gave shelter to the persecuted Jews.

In the surge of WWII in late November 1942, Andrey Sheptytsky published an angry letter titled ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’ which came like thunder out of the clear blue sky. When blood shedding became a routine solution to any political problems and millions of people were turned into executioners and victims, the Metropolitan warned everyone encroaching on the life of others that God’s punishment and anathema would find them. He was particularly critical about the struggle of Ukrainian nationalist organizations against each other, labeling it fratricide and demanding that the mutual violence be stopped and a compromise be found for the sake of Ukraine. As he did not see the ways to implement political ideals of the nation, Metropolitan Sheptytsky desperately longed for bringing to life the principles of religious unity. He wrote letters to Orthodox Christians, both the clergy and intellectuals; sent his priests to the Great Ukraine; and tried to go to Kyiv to start the unity campaign. However, the German government and stubborn short-sightedness of Orthodox Church leaders hindered all his attempts.  


In 1944 Metropolitan Sheptytsky stayed in Lviv after yet another shuffle of government, he did not flee to the West as hundreds of thousands Ukrainians did. The realm of “the second wave of the soviets” somewhat differed from September 1939. A lingering, and initially failing war, with Germany made Stalin and his circle change their strategy towards the Church. The Communist rulers realized how significant religion was in supporting the moral stability of the Red Army, so they liberalized their Church policy but, of course, took the Russian Orthodox Church; the only one they tolerated and authorized, under their complete control.

Sheptytsky saw these changes and hoped that the warming with regard to the Church would give Greek Catholics a chance to survive in the USSR. The old Metropolitan heard news about Red Army troops and officers no longer being intimidated or afraid to enter churches, visit sermons, ask priests for blessings, and wear crosses and medallions. Political instructors stopped mocking religious sentiments in the army; the new soviet administration was perfectly tolerant towards the Church and even allowed nuns and monks to take care of the injured. Andrey Sheptytsky thought it was possible to find a formula for the Church to co-exist with the government if they did not interfere with one another, just as he had struggled to live with the Polish and German governments. He realized that the new regime expected two key things from him - an official pledge of loyalty through support in the struggle against Nazism, and assistance in oppressing armed insurgents.

At the Synod of the Greek Catholic Clergy on 7 September 1944, Metropolitan Sheptytsky announced that the Nazis forced Ukrainians into the Galicia Ukrainian Division and the Church could not but allow its chaplains to follow its believers. Yet, the most important signal to the government was his judgment of punishment without proper investigation or trial practiced by the UPA, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Sheptytsky conceded as much as he possibly could under those circumstances by criticizing groundless blood shedding and hinting that the armed insurgent struggle against the government had no future and could only aggravate repressions. Obviously, the Metropolitan began to realize more clearly that the Bolsheviks were only using him for their own interests. Before he died on 31 October 1944, the Metropolitan spoke the words of prophesy to his closest circle: “The Bolsheviks will destroy and devastate our Church, but you should tolerate it – don’t betray your faith, your holy Catholic Church. The difficult experience that will fall on our Church is temporary. I can see our Church revived. It will be more beautiful and glorious than before and will embrace our entire nation.”  

After his last speech, Metropolitan Sheptytsky did not say another word until his death at 1:30 p.m. on 1 November 1944. Remembering the reputation of the late Metropolitan, the Bolsheviks allowed a ceremonial funeral.  In January 1945 a delegation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church visited Kyiv and Moscow. The delegates were assured that the government would not touch the Church. However, when the Bolsheviks failed to force the new Metropolitan Josyf Slipy to officially call on the underground insurgent fighters to lay down their arms in February that same year, let alone assist in convincing insurgents to start negotiations of capitulation, the regime launched a complete destruction of the Greek Catholic Church. The last words Andrey Sheptytsky said before his death turned out to be a prophecy.

What happened to Sheptytsky’s archive

Oksana Hayova, historian: “Part of the archive taken to Russia after the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was eliminated and has never been returned.”

All conquerors of Ukraine had their own visions of history. They had two options – destroy the documents or keep them secret, which, if you think about it, was not the worst way to hide the truth. Another option was to take documents abroad. This happened to the archive of Metropolitan Sheptytsky in 1914. After the tsarist army occupied Lviv in 1914, the Metropolitan was arrested and exiled to Spas-Yevfimeyevski Monastery in Suzdal, a remote region in Russia, while the documents went to St. Petersburg. As demanded by Russian intellectuals including Aleksandr Kerenski, Georgiy Lvov and others, Metropolitan Sheptytsky was released and returned to Lviv, the main city of Halychyna. He got back some of the documents after the February Revolution in 1917. The rest is still in Russia.

On 27 July 1944 the soviet army occupied Lviv for the second time. This turned into a tragedy both for the people of the city, and the documents. Until 1946, the archive had been kept at the Metropolitan’s chambers in St. George Cathedral, but then it was time to leave the premises for the new clergy. As the new residents thought of what they could do with the papers, they decided nothing better than to just throw them out into the church yard. Someone threw a lit cigarette into the pile of paper which started a fire. It was extinguished, but the old question came up again: what next? Someone offered to send the “waste paper” to a paper plant to make notebooks. Fortunately, an official from the Oblast Administration ordered a stop to this arbitrary practice. The Metropolitan’s archive was taken right from the paper cutters, put on a train and sent to Kyiv.

Only after Stalin’s death did the documents begin to return to Lviv. I thought we had everything back but it turned out I was wrong. When I visited the historical archive in St. Petersburg I found that a lot of Sheptytsky’s correspondence before 1914 was still kept in Russia. Also, I found some family documents from Prylbychi, a village in Yavoriv County, Lviv Oblast, where the Metropolitan had been born. I was moved by an envelope with a lock of hair inside with “The hair of my mother” written by the Metropolitan himself. Does St. Petersburg really need it that much?  

Written down by Nadiya Pasternak

After Western Oblasts of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic were liberated from German invaders, Uniat-oriented clergy kept following their anti-soviet position. Essentially, they were legitimate and widespread foreign agents alien to us, who had a damaging influence on our territory.

Therefore, based on the thorough study of the situation, we have developed a plan to eliminate the Greek Catholic Church…’  

A fragment of the report by Lieutenant-General P. Drozdetsky, Deputy Chair of the National Committee for State Security of the Ukrainian SSR, to the National Commissariat for State Security (KGB) dated 16 March 1946.    

Photo captions:

From monk to metropolitan. Andrey Sheptytsky went a long way in learning God, his nation and himself  

Lord of St. George

Many myths about Sheptytsky surfaced when he was alive and still flourish today


Everywhere he went, Andrey Sheptytsky insisted that others should support Ukraine when deciding on the future of Halychyna  


[1]The Ukrainian Central Council was founded on 17 March, 1917, as a representative body of political, public and cultural organizations and trade unions, to become a revolutionary parliament later and run the Ukrainian national movementuntil 28 April, 1918.

[2]An illegal military revolutionary and political organization founded in 1920 by the leaders of various insurgent movements acting in Ukraine.

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