Russian Catholics have welcomed the announcement of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, that he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 25 March.
Fr Lawrence Cross, a priest of the Byzantine-rite Russian Catholic Church and pastor of Holy Trinity-St Nicholas in St Kilda, Melbourne, told The Catholic Weekly his Church saw the announcement as “a positive thing” – with one caveat.
“We do welcome it. But it’s a bit overdue! That was asked for in 1917, if I remember,” he said.
“From the point of view of us Russian Catholics, 1917 was the beginning of a terrible history for us.
“It’s only been a consciousness of divine protection, particularly of Our Lady, that’s seen the Russian Catholics through.
“People should look at the writings of those living martyrs, like Fr Walter Ciszek, the author of With God in Russia.
“You’ll see this kind of devotion to Our Lady emerge; someone who’s been immersed in the Gulag, tortured and brutalized.
“It’s devotion to Our Lady, as part of their spirituality, that saw them through.”
Fr Cross said that there was a deep harmony between the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima and the well-known Slavic Marian devotion, the Pokrov, or Protection of the Blessed Virgin.
The Pokrov references the 10th century apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St Andrew the Fool-for-Christ at the church of Blachernae in Constantinople.
She cast her veil across the congregation to protect them from, ironically, an invasion of pagans from what was then called Rus’, prior to its conversion to Christianity.
“That’s become a very deep devotion, particularly in the Slavic world and in Russia,” Fr Cross said.
“We see that and Fatima as of a piece.”
The Pokrov is also the feast of the armed forces in both Russia and Ukraine, and was especially beloved among the Cossacks, who chose her as their patron.
“There’s something very human underneath it all too: the boy who’s out there fighting, who’s praying for him? His mother.” Fr Cross said.
The Russian Catholic Church is among the smallest Eastern Catholic Churches, with its origins in the desire of Russian “Silver Age” philosophers of the late 19th century to pursue reunification of the Churches.
It also has links with the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest sui iuris Eastern Catholic Church, due to the influence and organizational involvement of the early-20th century Ukrainian churchman Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky appointed the first Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarch, Blessed Leonid Feodorov, who died in 1935 upon his release from the Soviet Gulag. He was beatified in 2001 by St John Paul II.