Monastery sale divides Toronto Ukrainians

By 
  • November 21, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Ukrainian eparchy of Toronto is divided and will face years of bitterness and recrimination over its decision to sell its monastery near Orangeville, according to one of the bishop’s most senior consultors.

“It will be resented for many years,” said Fr. John Tataryn, pastor of St. Demetrios parish and a consultor to Eparch (bishop) Stephen Chmilar.

A small congregation which regularly attended the monastery for Sunday Masses has circulated petitions against the sale, and claims it has collected more than 1,000 signatures. They have also conducted prayer vigils outside the eparch’s residence and made offers to buy the property.

The Orthodox Coptic Church in Toronto will buy the property for an undisclosed sum. The sale will close Jan. 14, 2008.

In letters to the diocese, Chmilar and his advisors have made the case that selling is the only way out of dire financial straights, and possible bankruptcy. In an Oct. 23 press release, the eparchy paints a picture of the Ukrainian diocese drowning in debt. The eparchy extends through most of Ontario and Quebec with 78 parishes serving more than 10,000 Ukrainian Catholics.

{sidebar id=1}The financial crisis began with a plan by the Ukrainian parish of St. George in Oshawa to buy and renovate an old school for seniors’ apartments. The $2.5-million project ended up costing $6.2 million, and the eparchy was left holding multiple mortgages to cover cost overruns. By 2006 the Oshawa debt was costing $1,000 a day in interest payments alone, and the Oshawa parish was only paying 40 per cent of the cost.

Selling the old monastery was the best way to get the diocese out from under at least some of its debts ever since the Ukrainian Studite Monks, who had come to Orangeville in 2000, left three years ago, said the eparchy’s vice chancellor Don Onyschuk.

“It’s not a question of walking away from a spiritual  heritage. You have to  understand that this was a monastery that ceased to be a monastery after the monks left, period,” Onyschuk said.

But Tataryn believes it’s a decision which cripples the spiritual life of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada.

“The core of the Eastern church is monasticism. Without monasteries the Eastern church is not going to exist. Our services are very monastic,” said Tataryn.

Tataryn claims the monastery could have been self-sustaining. If an infusion of cash was needed the eparchy could have sold one or two of the four farms that make up the 125-hectare property, without touching the Holy Mother of God Shrine at the centre of the monastery, according to Tataryn. Monks from California were prepared to move to Orangeville to try to re-start the monastic presence, he said.

“This bishop is not interested in the monastery at all,” said Tataryn.

In a May 2006 letter to the priests of the diocese, Onyschuk committed the diocese to using some of the money from the sale of the Holy Mother of God Monastery toward erecting a new monastery on property the eparchy already owns in Brampton. However in the Oct. 23 release Onyschuk makes it clear there will be no money left over from the sale.

“After the deal is closed there will still be a massive debt load to maintain on the Oshawa property, which is also being considered for sale,” said the release.

Vasyl Shafransky believes the monastery gave him and the other people who gathered regularly in Orangeville a new and vital connection to their Christian identity.

“We found something that would help us to go forward,” said the recent immigrant and father of two.

Though he has protested vigourously over the past year, Shafransky claims he will accept Chmilar’s decision to sell the monastery if he must.

“He’s our bishop. He’s our spiritual father,” Shafransky said. “But this is not right. Our leaders are just selling and selling and selling. The church is declining.”

Maintaining a monastery requires more than just lay support, said Fr. Michael Kwiatkowski, Holy Spirit Seminary director of spiritual formation. Monks should support the community as much as they are supported by the community, he said.

Roman Zubrytsky said he owes his spiritual life to the monastery — a spiritual life he had no connection to even when he lived in Ukraine. He believes the diocese has neither listened to its own people, nor genuinely sought solutions from lay Catholics.

“The problem seems to be in communication,” he said. “They look at everything as a business problem. They don’t even call it a monastery. They call it a property.”

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