We Give Thanks to God for Union of Brest

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Holy Father Celebrates Divine Liturgy to Commemorate 400th Anniversary 7 July 1996

Praised be Jesus Christ!

1. "Ut unum sint".

The words of yesterday's evening liturgy resound again today in this Vatican Basilica. This is the place where four hundred years ago the representatives of the Metropolia of Kiev met Clement VIII, Bishop of Rome. Arriving in the See of Peter on 23 December 1595, they expressed that Eastern Church's desire for union with Rome. In so doing, they were certain that they were responding to the action of the Holy Spirit, who had not ceased to urge the separated Christian Churches to unity.

They were particularly aware of acting in line with the decisions taken in 1439 by the Council of Florence. They were, moreover, strongly impelled by the eloquent concern of Christ's great prayer in the Upper Room, repeated in the Gospel of today's liturgy. On the eve of his passion, Christ prayed to the Father for his disciples. He did not pray only for his disciples then, but for all those who would believe in him in the future (cf. Jn 17:20-21). Christ prayed for all his followers, for the Church in every century and in every generation: "That they may all be one; even as you Father are in me and I in you ... that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (Jn 17:21, 23).

Restoration of unity was reason for Union of Brest

How moving is Christ's prayer for the unity of all his disciples, of all those who witness to the faith! It is not surprising that down the centuries these words have touched the hearts of Christians in every generation, especially when it became necessary to defend or restore unity. One of those moments was doubtless the one we are commemorating in today's liturgical assembly, and which has passed into history with the name Union of Brest, since it was there, on 9 October 1596, that the decisions taken during the mission to Rome of the representatives of the Kiev Metropolia were ratified.

2. "Unitatis redintegratio". The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism begins with these words. In it we read: "The Lord of ages, nevertheless wisely and patiently follows out the plan of his grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times he has begun to bestow more generously upon divided Christians remorse over their divisions and longing for unity. Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day a movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians. Taking part in this movement, which is called ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour. They do this not merely as individuals but also as members of the corporate groups in which they have heard the Gospel, and which each regards as his Church and indeed God's. And yet, almost everyone, although in different ways, longs for the one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and sent forth to the whole world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God" (n. 1).

These words belong to a Council of our times; nevertheless we are certain that four centuries ago, "the Lord of ages" inspired the leaders of that event which we call the Union of Brest, despite the historical limitations it involved. Actually, it was a question of unitatis redintegratio. For your ancestors, dear brothers and sisters, it was a matter of restoring that unity whose lack they felt. Indeed they well knew that the unity of believers is a gift and an explicit desire of Christ; they knew that he paid for it with his blood and his Passion on the Cross; that he made this unity the sign of his own mission: "So that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). For the conclusion of the Union of Brest, it is certain that the deepest reason was this: unitatis redintegratio. This is the essential reason which led to that happy event four centuries ago.

For this reason we have gathered here today to give thanks to God in St Peter's Basilica. Indeed we never cease to hope, although this Union was partial, that it will indirectly contribute to sustaining and restoring the desire for unity of which the Second Vatican Council speaks.

Be ready to bear with one another in love

3. The Apostle Paul writes: "I therefore ... beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness with patience, forbearing one another in love" (Eph 4:1-2). We accept these words as if they were addressed to us. Each one of them has great importance for us today as we celebrate the fourth centenary of the Union of Brest. There is no doubt that this Union fully defined your Christian vocation, dear brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Her union with the Church of Rome was renewed by that act.

The Apostle urges us all to act in a way worthy of this vocation and, at the same time, he stresses that our life must be marked by humility and meekness, by patience and the readiness to bear with one another in love. What can these words mean in the context of our time? They remind you, dear Greek Catholics, that you must become promoters of this spirit both with regard to your Orthodox brothers and sisters as well as your Latin-rite Catholic brothers and sisters, inviting them to share this same spirit of communion. To witness that you are conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of your specific vocation is just such an attitude.

The Apostle writes: Be "eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:4). It is a question of building up the universal dimensions of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Paul writes of this with deep feeling: "There is one body and one Spirit ... one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:4-6).

Dear brothers and sisters, with this vision of the mystery of the Church, you can also apply to yourselves the Apostle's other words: "There is ... one hope that belongs to your call" (Eph 4:4). Celebrating the fourth centenary of the Union of Brest is like crossing an historical threshold. And the word of God teaches us clearly that this celebration is also a call to the great hope that the crucified and risen Christ has brought us.

It was he who revealed the mysteries of the kingdom to us. It was he who passed on to us the glory of God received from the Father and made it our hope. United with him, in the Apostolic Church, we trust that this glory will become the heritage of us all, despite our sins, since "hope ... does not disappoint" (Rom 5:5). Amen!

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