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Passion and Resurrection: The Greek Catholic Church in the Soviet Union 1939-1989.

OXFORD, England -- A startling suggestion has been made in a new book, Passion and Resurrection: The Greek Catholic Church in the Soveit Union 1939-1989: that Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad, who died Sept. 5, 1978, in the study of Pope John Paul I, was a crypto-Catholic "recognized by Rome, with jurisdiction from Pope Paul VI throughout Russia."

That assertion, said Father Serge Keleher, an Irish-born Ukrainian Catholic who has served as secretary to Isidore Borecky, Ukrainian Catholic bishop of Toronto and eastern Canada, "is not impossible -- but neither can it be entirely proved."

But perhaps it can be nuance.

Russian exiles in the West always believed Nikodim as a KGB plant in the church, if not a KGB agent. They said that on general grounds: The KGB Church Office controlled episcopal appointments as it did all other aspects of Orthodox church life, especially dealings with "abroad."

But there were particular reasons for suspecting Nikodim, notably the fact that he became metropolitan of Leningrad at the youthful age of 32 after doing his theology in a rapid correspondence course. He was soon given responsibility for foreign, that is ecumenical, relations.

In a 1974 meeting with Nikodim in London, I tried to test him by asking: "When you became a monk at the age of 16, greatly to the distress of your parents, did you ever imagine that within so short a time you would be metropolitan of Leningrad?"

Nikodim, hardened by his KGB experience, found this an easy pitch. Using a translator to gain time, he replied: "Many thoughts pass through the head of a boy of 16." I found it surprising that a bishop should be so abusive of his priests, describing them as drunken layabouts. "That proves," sai Oxford's Russian Orthodox Bishop Basil Osborne, with tongue only half in cheek, "that he's a genuine bishop."

Nikodim's first contacts with the Catholic church dated back to 1962. Russian Orthodox observers had been invited to the council by Pope John XXIII.

In August 1962, Nikodim let it be known that he would like a confidential meeting with top Vatican officials. He secretly met Archbishop Jan Willebrands, second in command to Cardinal Augustin Bea at the new Secretariat for Christian Unity, in Paris and wih Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, the World War I French cavalry officer who was prefect of the Oriental Churches Congregation, in Metz, France.

The gist of Nikodim's message was that the Russian Orthodox Church would consider sending observers to the council only if they could be assured in advance that it would be strictly apolitical -- that is, it would nott condemn "atheistic communism."

At this point Nikodim was clearly acting as an agent of Soviet foreign policy. On the other hand, because John had decided there would be no condemnations at the council, it was not difficult to accept the Russian Orthodox condition. So, to everyone's amazement, two Russian observers arrived the day after John's opening address, Oct. 11, 1962. One of them, Vitaly Borovoi, was from Leningrad.

Six months later, Metropolitan Joseph Slipyi, leader of the Ukrainanian Catholic Church, was released from his labor camp and made his way, reluctantly, into Roman exile.

That was an indication of the changed atmosphere. Nikodim's great admiration for Pope John was proved by his massive 656-page biography posthumously published in Russian in Vienna in 1984. But Nikodim had an even closer relationship with Pope Paul VI. He was the first ecumenical leader Paul received.

Said the pope, "During the many years we have been out of touch, we have not had any true understanding of each other. So you might think that if I stretch out my hand in friendship, it is about to strike you. But be assured that I really do want to take your hand, not to strike you."

Enter a new witness, Michael Havryliv. In 1971, at age 22, he was a Russian Orthodox seminarian in Leningrad. He was also discovering the Catholic church and reading Vladimir Soloviev, the great Russian religious thinker who became a Catholic in 1896.

Havryliv began to go regularly o confession to Father Joseph Pavilonis, then in charge of the Leningrad Catholic church of Our Lady of Lourdes. He became aware of a network of crypto-Catholics in and around the Leningrad seminary.

In 1973, one of them accompanied him to Lithuania where, June 13, a Capuchim priest formally received him into the Catholic church. This anonymous Franciscan told Havryliv that Metropolitan Nikodim was "secretly a Catholic bishop, recognized by Rome with jurisdiction from Pope Paul VI throughout Russia."

With this knowledge, on Sept. 6, 1975, Havryliv returned to Leningrad and went to confession to Metropolitan Nikodim, who "accepted Havryliv's monastic vows and profession of faith to the apostolic see and the pope of Rome."

Nikodim gave him a copy of the Jesuit Constitutions in Russian and ordered him to live according to them. On Oct. 9, 1975, Nikodim ordained Havryliv deacon and then, on Nov. 4, priest, but without requiring the oaths usually taken by Orthodox priests.

In 1977, Havryliv was assigned to the Moscow Patriarchate Diocese of L'viv and Ternopil in the Ukraine where the Metropolitan Nicholas (Yuryk) was a former Greek-Catholic who had accepted the enforced conversion in 1946.

Havryliv reports tha in his final meeting with Nikodim, "he blessed me and gave me instructions to keep my Catholic convictions and do everything possible for the growth of the Catholic cause, not only in the Ukraine, but in Russia."

On Sept. 5, 1978, Nikodim died during a meeting with Pope John Paul I. It is significant that, just as with Paul VI, Nikodim was the first ecumenical visitor granted a private audience with John Paul I.

What are we to make of it? It is clear that Nikodim had, or came to have, great sympathy with the Catholic church and that it was not merely a political calculation.

His attitude to Rome, though unique among he hierarchy, was not uncommon among Russian intellectuals after the council. Visitors to the Soveit Union at that time speak of smuggling in the documents of Vatican II.

It was the ecumenical aspect of Pope John's council that most intrigued them: It seemed to presage the fulfillment of the prophecies of Soloviev, who dreamed of reunion between the sister churches.

Another of my questions to Nikodim in 1974 was: "Does the word Jesuit still have the Russian the same pejorative implications it has in the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevski?"

Back through the translator the answer came: "The Jesuits should be grateful to Catherine the Great of Russia who saved them in their hour of peril." True enough: The papal decree abolishing the Jesuits was never promulgated in the Russian empire.

Havryliv has left Rome and is now back in Ukraine after -- as one of his professors put it -- "getting some theology into his head."

I suggest that the Lithuanian Capuchin, the source for the story, took Nikodim's role as dispenser of sacraments to Catholics and exaggerated it into conversion. This enhances rather than diminishes Nikodim's role.
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Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 9, 1993
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