The Venerable Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel of Christ in the shadow of the two greatest totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. He promoted peace and upheld public morality, leading to his arrest or persecution by occupying Poles, Tsarist Russians, Soviet Communists, and German Nazis.
Sheptytsky was born into a noble Polish family on July 29, 1865, as Count Roman Alexander Maria Sheptytsky. Although his parents baptized him into the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, Sheptytsky petitioned to transfer to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church at the age of 23. When he became its leader in 1901, native Ukrainians believed he would further Latinize the church and bring it under Polish domination. Instead, he defended its Byzantine Catholic theology, supported Ukraine’s struggle for independence, and spent his family’s wealth building educational and charitable institutions.
Encounters with socialists in Russia inspired him to write well-developed social theology. He believed the Marxist doctrine of class warfare violates the Christian spirit of peace. The spread of Communism represented the “advance of the kingdom of Satan” on earth. “The enemies of God and humanity have rejected religion – the basis of social order, ” he wrote in a 1933 plea for the world to expose the Holodomor, the forced starvation of at least six million Ukrainians by the Soviets.
He encouraged his priests to speak out on the “social question” but limited them to a handful of ethical positions, including the defense of private property. “The first principle of Christian social action is the inalienability of private property,” an “essential institution” which is “protected by divine law.” He also defended democracy, writing that citizens have “the right to participate in the political process through election.”
Although he opposed “hyperproduction, ” he believed socialism creates strife, empowers an oppressive state, disincentivizes work, and vitiates economic growth. “Whoever helps the Communists … betrays the cause of the poor, ” he wrote. He counseled people of all social classes to “turn work into wealth.” He also prayed for divine guidance for every action: “Grant me the wisdom of work and the wisdom of rest; may work for You be luxury for me, and rest without You – fatigue.”
Soviet-inflicted mass starvation caused him to welcome the Nazis whom, his defenders say, he believed would be less repressive. After confronting their brutality, he wrote pleas to Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler to stop killing Jews, and he privately informed Pope Pius XII of their murderous actions. Publicly, he denounced “political killing” and said the state “must exercise civil toleration of all faiths.”
Most importantly, he hid Jews from the Nazis and instructed his church to do likewise. Some lived in attics or in hidden rooms; Jewish children posed as Ukrainian Catholics living in monasteries. One of them, Rabbi David Kehane, went on to be chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, then chief rabbi of Argentina. The metropolitan personally saved more than 150 Jews during the Holocaust.
Met. Sheptytsky died on November 1, 1944, in Lviv. In 2015, Pope Francis declared Sheptytsky “venerable,” the first of three steps to canonization as a saint. Israel’s Yad Vashem has also reconsidered naming him one of the Righteous Among the Nations (an honor already bestowed upon his brother, St. Klymentiy Sheptytsky).
As a former inmate in the Soviet gulags said, “The spiritual inheritance of the Sheptytsky brothers … is sufficient to reveal to the contemporary person all the beauty of the love of humanity.”