The Church’s current state is a crisis of our own making. We have allowed a distorted understanding of the Gospel and of God to fester within the body of the Church to the extent that Pope Francis acknowledges the need to “combat the culture of abuse” now so evident. An underlying disease of power dominating Christian (not just Catholic) structures for centuries accounts for the prevalence of this culture.
I write as a member of an Eastern Catholic Church, for most of its history forced to live as a powerless minority under differing regimes. My Church has not been immune to the enticements of power and concomitant corruption. Yet, it has sustained alternate images and voices, such as the passion-bearer saints Borys and Hlib, martyred for refusing to raise their swords against their brother; or Andriy Sheptytsky, who, in the 1940s, in the name of Catholic-Orthodox unity, offered to surrender his title of Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) to the Orthodox claimant of the see, should there be a restoration of the entire Ukrainian Church’s communion with Rome.
Despite suffering caused by foreign regimes as well as fellow Catholics, the UGCC has endured as a Church of hospitality with a vision of serving in humility and openness to others.
As I write we are in the midst of Easter Week—Bright Week, as we call it. A week of intense celebration of the Resurrection: Christ’s descent into Hades raising Adam and Eve and all humanity with Him. God has become one of us so that we may become one with God. God became one of us, in order that we may rise NOT to the power of monarchs, but to the humility of the One who washes the feet of his followers. The time is of welcome: all the doors of the iconostasis (icon screen) are open, symbolically inviting EVERYONE to join the feast. John Chrysostom proclaimed in his Easter homily: “Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; . . .” Humility and hospitality are the hallmarks of the season: they reveal the truth of our God, who humbles Self to invite us into an intimate relationship with divinity and with each other.
This vision of Church cannot be reconciled with the current Church in crisis, but this vision can revive the Church. A Church dominated by structures of power and streamlined for efficacy by canonical strictures does not nurture humility. An ethos of certainty and exclusivity does not make room for those marked by otherness to imagine themselves invited into the divine embrace. Humility means that we all must stand before the Holy Spirit in the hope that together, whether we are progressives or traditionalists, male or female, rich or poor, Divine Wisdom will make herself known to us. Humility entails that those with privilege must listen to those on the margins of mainstream society and actively allow their voices into our souls. Hospitality, rooted in the Divine embrace, calls us to welcome “saints and sinners” alike – remembering that the degree to which I open myself to the other is the only marker by which I will be known as a follower of the One who welcomes all. Building a Church of humility and hospitality is the path out of our current crisis.
A Church of humility and hospitality must renounce structures of power in favor of leaders with spiritual authenticity, venues of heartfelt dialogue and opportunities to experience solidarity. Every community’s mission must make power and efficiency secondary to service and compassion. Local communities should see themselves freed to place their uncertainty, challenges and fears before the Holy Spirit in prayerful expectation of insight, rather than assuming that office holders are the enlightened ones. Office holders must cease to see themselves as divinely ordained to provide all answers or protect the community from a “dangerous” other without recognizing their own fallibility or admitting their own humanity. A Church of humility and hospitality is both the pilgrim Church on the way to the Kingdom and the community aware of its responsibility in ending the desecration of the most precious gift we have been given: divine creation. It is a Church where everyone, especially its leaders, are in a constant process of metanoia: conversion to a fuller living out of the Gospel.
Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.