THE WILL OF GOD
The Untold Story of Father Platonides Filas
Athanasius McVay, OSBM
Much has been written in the past about Father Platonides Filas, but certain significant events in his life, which I have uncovered during recent research in the Vatican Archives, are not widely known. Despite having been an episcopal candidate on at least two or three occasions, he never became a bishop. Filas was destined instead to lead the newly reformed Basilian Order; first as superior of its fledgling mission to Canada and then as General Superior of the entire Order. This article will present the story of the episcopal nominations of Father Filas, within the context of his call to be a leader in the Ukrainain Catholic Church.
Until the early twentieth century the Basilian Order was the only religious order in existence in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. From its inception in 1617 until the end of the eighteenth century, the Basilian Order was entrusted with a monopoly regarding the Ukrainian Catholic episcopacy. This situation produced excellent episcopal candidates for the Church, but also produced a serious brain-drain from the order itself. However following the reform of the Order (1882-1904) a new cadre of priests became available, ready to once again assume positions of leadership in the Church.
One such priest was Father Platonides Filas. Born Peter Filas in 1864, he entered the Monastery on November 17, 1883, receiving the monastic name of Platonides. After completing his monastic and academic formation he was ordained a priest on September 15, 1889. Because of his personal intelligence and zeal he quickly moved to the forefront among his brethren with respect to the preaching and teaching on social and moral issues that plagued the Ukrainians of Austrian Galicia. He was soon noticed by those in authority in religious and governing circles.
Candidature for Auxiliary bishop of Lviv
Since taking over Galicia in 1772, the Austrian government had consistently sought to both reform and strengthen the Greek Catholic Church. This policy was designed, among other reasons, to strengthen Ukrainians' loyalty to the Austrian regime. To be successful, any reform required zealous, reform-minded church leaders, especially bishops. Rome and Vienna cooperated in the nomination of such candidates to the Greek Catholic bishoprics, particularly to the Metropolitan See of Lviv. When Cardinal Sylvester Sembratovych died in 1898, a suitable replacement of the same high caliber was needed, one who was an educated, intelligent, zealous reformer, loyal to the Catholic Church and acceptable to the Austrian government. Some of the newly-reformed Basilians, such as Fathers Andrew Sheptytsky, Soter Ortynsky and Platonides Filas, possessed these qualities.
Sheptytsky was the favourite candidate, even before the death of Cardinal Sembratovych, but his nomination presented some problems. In the first place, he was only 34, a year shy of the minimum (canonical) age for bishops. Also, because of his lack of experience, Sheptytsky was very reluctant to accept the great burden of metropolitan-archbishop, head of the entire Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. As a temporaty sollution, the Austrian government decided to nominate the aging bishop of Stanislaviv, Julian Sas Kujilovsky, to the metropolitan see, while giving Sheptytsky the opportunity to gain necessary experience by nominating him to be bishop of the smaller Stanislaviv eparchy.
Kujilovsky’s age and infirmity necessitated the appointment an auxiliary bishop to assist him. The most promising candidates from among the secular clergy were widowers and thus, according to the Synod of Lviv (1891), were not eligible. Among Basilians, Platonides Filas was considered to be the most promising candidate. He held a doctorate in Sacred Theology and had been noticed by secular and religious authorities for his zeal and leadership qualities. However, when the Apostolic Nuncio requested Bishop Kujilovsky to ask for Filas to be his auxiliary, Kujilovsky refused. Realizing that he had been appointed as an interim candidate, the old bishop did not want to be seen as incapable by having to asking for an auxiliary. In his dispatches to Rome, the Nuncio also suggested that, fearing a restoration of a Basilian monopoly on the Ukrainian episcopate, the Basilian’s opponents had influenced Kujilovsky against Filas.
In order to eliminate Russofilism from among the clergy. Rome and Vienna wanted the Basilians to assume the running of the Lviv seminary. Though refusing him as an auxiliary bishop, Kujilovsky did agree to turn over the seminary to the Basilians, under Father Filas' direction. It was hoped that, with Filas as rector, Kujilovsky would warm to the idea of having him as auxiliary, at a later date. We can imagine how Father Filas felt as these events took place. Before his candidacy was proposed , he would have been asked whether or not he would let his name stand. Having agreed, he would have had to prepare himself psychologically and spiritually for his new post. How disappointing for him then, when the nomination did not in fact occur.
Candidature for bishop of Stanislaviv
Before Filas could assume direction of the Lviv seminary, Metropolitan Kujilovsky died. It had been virtually decided that Sheptytsky would be Kujilovsky’s sucessor, but a replacement would be needed in Stanislaviv. The Metropolitans of Lviv had the privilege of being consulted regarding Episcopal candidates for the other Ukrainian eparchies. Not wanting to appear biased in favour of the Basilians, Sheptytsky first proposed several canons of the metropolitan cathedral; all of whom were widowers. Knowing that they would not be accepted by Rome, Sheptytsky stated that the only other eligible candidate was Basilian Father Platonides Filas.
For a second time, the government and the Vatican very much favoured Filas’ candidacy, but his nomination was not to be. Those fearing a restoration of a Basilian episcopal monopoly became alarmed at the prospect of a second Basilian bishop. They strongly opposed Filas' nomination and their opposition did not escape the notice of the Apostolic Nuncio. A further source of opposition came from Father Petrus Bapst, the last Jesuit Superior of the Basilians. Bapst was one of the few people who felt that Filas did not possess the requisite qualities for the office. Bapst’s attitude may also be explained by the Jesuit reformer’s opposition to any Basilian accepting high office in the Church. The Jesuits had such a regulation in their own rules and so they grafted a similar rule onto the Basilian Constitutions. The strength of these combined sources of opposition was sufficient to once again deny Filas the bishop's mitre.
Superior of the Basilian Mission in Canada
In the late years of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth century, Canadian Catholic Church leaders had been grappling with the problem of appropriately serving the Ukrainian Greek Catholic immigrants in Canada. Requests were made for priests to be brought in from Ukraine, but most of these were married and the Vatican had prohibited married clergy from serving in North America. Only the priests of the newly-revived Basilian Order were suitable. Thus, as a result of the mediation of Metropolitan Sheptytsky, the Canadian bishops were successful in obtaining a small group of Basilians and Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.
Father Bapst had initially designated Father Jeremias Lomnytsky to be the leader of the Basilian mission to Canada. Bapst was concerned about Lomnytsky’s over-involvment with the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, which Lomnytsky had co-founded, and tried to deal with this problem by sending Lomnytsky to Canada. At the last minute, however, Filas was sent in lieu of Lomnytsky. This turned out to be a providential change, for Filas proved to be uniquely suiteed to the task.
In November 1902, Father Filas arrived in Canada with three other Basilians and four Sisters Servants. His mission quickly caught the attention of the chief Catholic hierarch, Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface, who invited Filas to preach a mission in Winnipeg in March of 1903. His personal capabilities, knowledge of French and, in the words of Langevin, his "wonderful manner" allowed Filas to make a great personal impression. He began a correspondence with Langevin that continued long after Filas returned to Austrian Galicia. Archbishop Lanegvin’s letters to Filas are unusual for their respectful and intimate tone, as if written by one equal to another. Langevin did not write in the same vein, either to Filas' successor, Father Sozontius Dydyk, nor to the first Ukrainian bishop for Canada, Nicetas Budka. Without doubt, Platonides Filas’ personal gifts and leadership abilities were instrumental in influencing the Canadian hierarchy to sanction the expansion of the a native Ukrainian mission.
Meanwhile, Filas’ leadership skills were being noticed outside of Canada. In 1904, when the Jesuits completed the reform of the Basilian Order, the first Basilian General Chapter promptly elected Platonides Filas as Superior General. To the disappointment of the Canadian Ukrainians, Filas had to return to Galicia. Nevertheless, even after assuming his new post, Filas continued to provide for the Canadian mission. He ordered the Basilians in Ukraine to release Father Athanasius Filipow, to serve as Filas replacement in Canada (for they were greatly reluctant to do so). And in his first official letter, the newly-elected Superior General included the Canadian mission among the priorities of the entire Order.
L-R Fathers Athanasius Filipow, Platonides Filas, Sozontius Dydyk & two lay-brothers. Winnipeg, 1905
Candidature for bishop in Canada
As far back as 1898, Bishop Jourdan de la Passardière, an expert on the Eastern Churches, actually proposed Andrew Sheptytsky as bishop for the Ukrainians in Canada even though, at that time, the Canadian bishops were opposed to a separate Ukrainian church structure. Subsequently, Father Filas’ mission helped to modify their attitude. Filas, functioning as the de facto vicar general or liaison for Ukrainians to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, had demonstrated his excellent capabilities. When Metropolitan Sheptytsky paid a visit to Canada, in 1911, he also made a remarkable impression on Archbishop Langevin and other Catholic leaders. Thus the impressions made by both Filas and Sheptytsky, helped to convince the Roman Catholics of the need for a separate Ukrainian church structure, headed by an autonomous bishop.
Archbishop Langevin had invested a great deal of human and financial resources in serving the Ukrainians. He was very concerned, (correctly, as it turned out) that an indigenous Ukrainian bishop would look warily upon Langevin’s priests who had adopted the Ukrainian rite. It was not until 1910-1911 that he began to acquiesce to the necessity of a Ukrainian bishop, whereupon he strongly proposed Father Filas as the ideal candidate for the office, having worked personally and successfully with him. Another enthusiastic proponent of Filas was the superior of the Ukrainian Redemptorists, Father Achille Delaere. Since the first Redemptorists were not of Ukrainian origin, Delaere also shared Langevin’s concerns that a Ukrainian bishop might oppose them. However, after having worked closely with Filas, Delaere strongly seconded his candidacy. The Apostolic Delegate to Canada duly transmitted these recommendations to the Vatican, yet the person nominated as the first bishop for Canada (proposed by the Austrian Government in consultation with Metropolitan Sheptytsky) was Nicetas Budka, not Filas. Further research is required, in order to to discover why the recommendations of such important churchmen as Langevin and Delaere were not heeded.
During the First World War, events critical to the Ukrainian Church had taken place. In 1914, Metropolitan Sheptytsky was deported to Russia and the following year Bishop Chechovych of Peremysl died, thus leaving only one Bishop in Galicia. To remedy the vacuum of church authority, Father Filas was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Ukrainians scattered throughout Austria-Hungary. In the words of the Apostolic Nuncio: "The Bishop of Stanislaviv praises him [Filas] highly: and also the Minister of Religion esteems him greatly. I asked for information about him from the Jesuit Fathers, who had presided at the successfully completed reform of the Basilian Order in Galicia, and I received the most positive information. He is active and zealous and possesses the trust of the Ukrainian clergy." Father Filas’ term as Superior General was also prolonged to 1917. The following year, the newly elected Superior General died and Filas was called upon to reassume the leadership of the Order, until 1920.
At the end of the First World War, another war between Poland and Ukraine broke out. During the Polish occupation, Father Filas wrote many letters to church authorities in order to secure basic human rights and the release of the Ukrainian clergy from prison and internment. Church officials, in particular the Nuncio Achille Ratti (later Pope Pius XI) continued to refer to Filas with great respect and esteem. After the war, the Basilians were finally appointed to administer the Major Seminary in Lviv, a posting to which Filas himself had been designated over twenty years earlier. If he had become a bishop at any one of the places for which he had been proposed, his fame would have undoubtedly become more widespread. Instead, God called him to a humbler leadership; one that was perhaps more arduous yet most successful. His brothers in the Basilian Order will not forget his zeal and generosity, and many Ukrainian Canadians will always cherish the memory of perhaps the greatest of all the pioneer missionaries.
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