Uniatism, also known as Greek Catholicism, is a hybrid form of Roman Catholicism, which tries to imitate the externals of the Orthodox Church. In reality, despite much inflated figures, there are few Uniats in the world – actual numbers may well be fewer than two million. This at least is positive because Uniatism is a spiritual illness based on alienation from the Church. Of course, I do not speak here of the average Uniat. Bribed, tricked and starved into an outward semi-submission, Orthodox remained in their souls Orthodox, but that is not the case of their latinised and shaven clergy.
For instance, I well remember the story of a friend who visited the Galician (so-called ‘Ukrainian’) Uniat church in London. When the priest began praying for the ‘Pope of Rome’, my friend turned to one of the parishioners and asked him: ‘So you’re Catholic then?’ He was insulted by this and answered, ‘No, no, we’re Orthodox’ – ‘my pravoslavnye’. My friend then said, ‘But your priest is praying for the Pope’. To which he received the reply, ‘Oh, but that’s just him, I don’t know or care what he believes in, but we’re Orthodox’.
I also recall the story of a convert from Catholicism. Taking up Orthodoxy with great enthusiasm, he began painting icons. However, once his initial burst of enthusiasm had died down, he began to lapse and so did his iconographical style. His ‘icons’ began to resemble Uniat ‘icons’. That is to say, his imitative technique was very good, but there was no content, they were empty shells, pictures before which no-one had any desire to pray. Similarly, so-called ‘Orthodox’ music, like that recorded by the Uniat ‘Theophanie’ group in France, is technically excellent, perhaps perfect, but it is just a background noise, an electronic ‘muzak’, which inspires no prayer.
The fact is that the Catholic world, with huge amounts of money and infrastructure, has a great intellectual tradition. Thus, for critical editions of texts of the Church Fathers the French ‘Sources Chretiennes’ must be the finest series in the world – but nobody reads them, except for a tiny number of academics, who play no role in real Church life. It reminds me of a rather pretentious Roman Catholic visitor to an Orthodox parish who boasted that Catholic clergy are far better educated than Orthodox clergy and that they studied for seven years before ordination. A simple Orthodox parishioner turned to him and commented: ‘You mean to say they study for seven years and still don’t become Orthodox? They can’t be very intelligent then’.
Uniatism may have near perfect techniques, a profound ability to imitate, but it is an empty imitation, acting. And being outward only without inward content, it is not something that inspires prayer. It is nearly 40 years since I attended the only Uniat service I have ever been to. At the time ill-informed, I still knew instinctively that something was not right in the service, that it was not Orthodox. It was only afterwards that I realised that I had been tricked, that it was not Orthodox. Even though they may not be able to explain it, Orthodox can smell falsity, however good the acting.
This externalism is proof that Uniatism is outside the Church. It reduces the Church of God to a mere rite – ‘Eastern’ or ‘Byzantine’ – whatever that is. For Uniatism the Church is a mere study, not a way of life. I remember some 25 years ago, we received an elderly Russian who had studied at the Uniat ‘Russicum’ in Rome. He continually criticised our Archbishop who had ordained him, refused to obey him or follow any of the practices of the Church, because ‘that is not what it says in the books’. The situation came to a head and the Archbishop was seriously considering defrocking him, when the man in question ran away to some Uniat group. The spirit of the bookworm, of the intellectual game, is not the spirit of the Church.
Roman Catholic rationalism, external knowledge, which so colours the spirit of Uniat clergy, does not fit in with the Church. It is all very well to know about the history of the structure of Orthodox services, but this is not what the Orthodox pastor needs to know at confession and for preaching. Did St John of Kronstadt know the history of the structure of the Orthodox services? Probably not, as it is irrelevant, it is only for the curious. What St John of Kronstadt, the model for all Orthodox parish clergy, knew, was how to save souls, how to become a saint. Now that is Orthodoxy, not Uniatism.