Robert Klesko is an EWTN Theology Advisor, married to Aundrea with five boys, and is in diaconate formation for the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic Church. He writes from Irondale, Alabama.
As we continue our journey in search of monastic wisdom, we make a stop on the North Shore of Long Island. We’re going to visit a friend — my college classmate Fr. Eugene a member of the Basilian Fathers of St. Josaphat. I met Fr. Eugene, Deacon Methodius and Fr. Emilian in undergrad at the now-defunct St. Mary’s College of Ave Maria University (Orchard Lake, Michigan). They introduced me to Eastern Christianity and are largely responsible for the spiritual life that I have today (but that is another article).
The monastery is set on the picturesque estate of the public utility executive John E. Aldred. Built in 1916, the building and grounds are beautiful. Since the Basilian Fathers took over the estate they’ve added the appropriate iconography and ornamentation from their native Ukraine, so the combination of the English-estate inspired architecture with an old-world touch of Eastern Europe is quite a nice juxtaposition.
The Basilians, of course, are endeavoring to follow in the footsteps of St. Basil the Great, the third-century bishop of Caesarea in Asia Minor. The Rule of St. Basil, the fruit of Basil’s extensive travels touring various monastic institutions, rests on three spiritual pillars. First, it encourages community life as a means of mutual enrichment in virtue. This is one of the earliest rules to encourage the cenobitic, rather than the eremitic (hermit) monastic life. Basil writes, “The common life of brethren is an arena for spiritual combat, a good path of progress, a continuous exercise and practice of the Lord's Commandments. This kind of life has the glory of God as its only aim.— The second pillar is adherence to the specific rules set down by St. Basil. There are 55 long rules and 313 short rules – all of Basil’s rules are aimed at an ordered life focused on theosis (the indwelling of the Holy Trinity). These same rules would be adapted in the sixth century by St. Benedict. The third spiritual pillar is hospitality – service to the Church and the community. While Basil commends monks to be “removed from the cares of the world” (Long Rule 5, 6; Ep. 2) this does not preclude the exercise of various apostolates nor pastoral work. You’ll find the Basilian Fathers in parishes and various apostolates of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. In fact, Fr. Eugene recently became a U.S. Army chaplain!
The Basilians at St. Josaphat Monastery have six members, three priests and three brothers. The Order has monasteries and residences in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. They have a publishing house and run the Ukrainian Pontifical University of St. Josaphat in Rome.
What impressed me the most about these men was the sincerity of their faith. For Ukrainian Catholics, the free exercise of the Faith is a recent freedom. Many remember the tremendous persecution of the Church under the Nazis and the USSR. The modern Ukrainian Catholic Church is a Church built on martyrs and righteous confessors – Bl. Vasyl Velychkovsky, Bl. Blessed Ivan Ziatyk, Bl. Zenon Kovaly, and Ven. Andrey Sheptytsky (to name a few). My friends display deep solidarity with the past, coupled with a new hope for the future. This hope, rooted in the Gospel, is spread through their churches in preaching, a strong sacramental life, and the encouragement of close-knit communities. The Church community is very important among Ukrainian Catholics, as it not only provides an important link to their ethnic and cultural heritage, it is also an important vehicle for evangelization to an increasingly bland American culture.
Overall, what I received from my friends, Fr. Eugene, Fr. Emilian, and Deacon Methodius was an invitation. They invited me to witness the Divine Liturgy and that experience opened my eyes to a theology, a spirituality, and a lung of the Catholic Church that I had no idea even existed. Their witness to the Faith, love of their ancestral homeland, and generous hospitality are virtues to be lauded. If you find yourself near Glen Cove or any Ukrainian Catholic Church, please visit! Go for Divine Liturgy… and stay for the pyrohy!