Given at the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom at Westminster Cathedral on 28th October 2017
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to Westminster Cathedral, for this Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, surely a highlight of the gathering of the Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches of Europe. I welcome in particular His Beatitude Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. To have here in our midst the Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a real honour. I welcome too His Excellency Archbishop Edward Adams, the Apostolic Nuncio, who is representing His Holiness Pope Francis, as well as Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, Bishop of the Eparchy of the Holy Family in London, all my brother bishops of Eastern and Latin rite, and all the priests, religious and faithful present in the cathedral this afternoon.
It is sixty years since, in June 1957, the Apostolic Exarchate of the Holy Family in Exile was established for the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in England and Wales. This is a significant anniversary: one we do well to celebrate. Yet how the political and religious situation across Europe has changed since then! These changes, not least in the eastern parts of Europe, have brought with them great hope after years of darkness: yet great challenges face the Church. Here, a major development has been the establishment, in January 2013, of the Eparchy of the Holy Family in London, followed by the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain in October 2016.
These Eparchies have been established in a land where for centuries priests ministered without the support of a hierarchy, where a careless word could, literally, cost a life, where the faith itself seemed to be hanging by a thread. There are indeed points of contact in the history of our churches. The development from Exarchates to Eparchies has brought both continuity and change. How good it is that the Ukrainian Greek Eparchy remains under the patronage of the Holy Family. But the Holy Family ‘in Exile’ no longer.
Today there is, for you all, I trust, a real sense of homecoming. Something familiar to the Holy Family themselves, as they made their way back from fulfilling their civic responsibilities to the Romans in Bethlehem to their home in Nazareth. That homecoming was not an end in itself; instead, it provided the context in which Christ grew to maturity. Our Christian communities and families can and must take their inspiration from this example. Blessed Pope Paul VI made the point well on a visit to Nazareth in 1964: ‘Nazareth is the school in which we begin to understand the life of Jesus. It is the school of the Gospel…. Here we learn the method by which we can come to understand Christ. Here we discover the need to observe the milieu of his sojourn among us – places, period of time, customs, language, religious practices, all of which Jesus used to reveal himself to the world.’ Today, as we Latin rite Catholics witness and take part in liturgies not so often seen in this cathedral, we pray that they can bring us to a deeper understanding of the things of Christ. Though I am reminded that this is not the first time there has been an Eastern liturgy in Westminster Cathedral: in October 1926, the then newly-established Society of St John Chrysostom arranged a Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine-Slavonic rite, as the culmination of an Eastern Liturgical Week, with Cardinal Bourne in attendance.
The liturgy of the Church, properly and reverently undertaken, can be among the most powerful of catechetical methods. Indeed liturgical catechesis is, rightly, something of a priority to your church life and this synod. The reverence we show for the things of God is a barometer of our reverence for God himself; those who see the love and care we put into our liturgical celebrations are, we pray, the more likely themselves to grow in knowledge and love of him towards whom our praise is ordered. More than that, liturgy gives what it teaches, drawing those who live and experience it deeper into the life of grace, in word and gesture, in symbol and sacrament. In the Gospel today, we hear of the reaction of the ten lepers to their cleansing. Nine were healed and went on their way; we hear no more of them. But one reacted by praising God, falling at the feet of Jesus and giving him thanks. It was this one who was rewarded with consoling words from Jesus. ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’ The liturgy, performed with care and reverence, makes us well. It can teach us to go and do likewise. It is valuable catechesis indeed.
Catechesis would not be worthy of the name if it did not have one eye on evangelisation. We do not learn of the things of faith to keep them to ourselves. Looking outward is so very important. History teaches us this again and again. We might think of the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius, brothers and monks from Constantinople, that immersed the Eastern Slavs in the faith and liturgical tradition of the Christian East. We know how, in more recent times, the faith, kept alive of necessity in secret under oppressive regimes, has had the opportunity to flourish afresh: we give thanks for all those who kept the faith in hard times, and have given witness more openly as Christianity has been reasserted in the public sphere.
All efforts at catechesis, all initiatives of evangelisation, make no sense unless viewed in the context of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The victory of Christ, won in the face of what seemed on human terms an impossible defeat, is the wellspring of our hope. That hope is evident in the Eastern Catholic Churches today. In Ukraine, confidence, faith and optimism are evident. We might think of the new Catholic university, the seminaries full of young men testing their vocation, the social programmes. In Belarus, which I was privileged to visit recently, there is a similar story, with the restoration of so many churches and the re-emerging of Catholic life. It can be no accident that the rich new Catholic catechism produced by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is called Christ our Pascha. A church that was outwardly non-existent in 1991 is now indeed in resurrection: a resurrection that is a powerful image of the Christian mission to ‘restore all things in Christ’.
May God bless the gathering of Eastern Bishops, of which this Divine Liturgy is such a central part. May you be the ‘watchful guardians of communion’ and ‘servants of ecclesial unity’ (Ecclesia in medio oriente 39) of whom Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have both spoken. And may we all allow the beauty and holiness of today’s celebration to lead us on to a deeper, ever more outward-looking faith in Jesus Christ.