July 23, 2008

July 23rd - Remembrance of Bishop Vasil Hopko

I had the honor of greeting a relic of Bishop Hopko last night at an enshrinement service at our Byzantine Catholic church. The physicality of any relic brings home the realness of that person but this relic, a bone still green from the arsenic poisoning he received by failing to recant his Byzantine Catholicism, makes him all the more real. One is reminded of how Christ still bore the wounds of the crucifixion after the Resurrection and how that made Reality more real for St. Thomas.

A brief biography:

Fr Vasil' became the newly-appointed Auxiliary Bishop and was ordained on 11 May 1947. He helped the Bishop greatly, preparing the people for hard times on the horizon.

Little by little the Czechoslovakian Communist Party prepared for the violent elimination of the Greek-Catholic Church in its nation. On 28 April 1950, the Communists carried out their work of "liquidation" during the so-called "Council of Presov", held without the presence of Bishops. Here they declared that the Greek-Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia no longer existed and that all its priests, faithful and churches were to be transferred over to the Orthodox Church. Bishops Gojdic and Hopko were arrested.

Following the arrest, Bishop Hopko underwent drastic interrogation and torture so he would deny his faith and confess to fabricated accusations. On 24 October 1951, after more than a year of cruel and diabolic interrogation, he was condemned by the State Court to 15 years in prison and a loss of all civil rights for 10 years. While in prison, in addition to the torture he received, he was given small doses of arsenic which caused a chronic poisoning, which was later verified by an analysis of his bones.

On 12 May 1964 he was released from prison for health reasons. After years of mistreatment, the Bishop suffered from grave physical ailments and mental depression caused by the constant torture and inhuman treatment. Notwithstanding all this, he continued to contribute actively to the resurgence of the Greek-Catholic Church.

On 13 June 1968, the renewal of the Greek-Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia was re-estabilized after 18 years of open persecution. From 1968, Bishop Hopko began living in Presov; on 20 December 1968, Pope Paul VI confirmed his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop for all Greek-Catholic faithful in Czechoslovakia. He carried out this responsibility with great care, encouraging the faithful and ordaining priests.

Bishop Hopko died on 23 July 1976 in Presov.
Our Byzantine pastor said "when I think of Bishop Hopko, I see my parishioners. All of you can identify with him in some way."

The pastor was intriguing regarding suffering, which Bishop Hopko shared in immensely: "No one can tell another person what to do with their suffering. My good Irish mother used to always say 'offer it up, offer it up'. If I hurt my knee she said, 'offer it up'. Which is true and good but now we rightly don't tell children to offer it up anymore. It's something that only comes about when we grow up. No one can make the decision for us."

That strikes me as essentially true because no one has ever grown up by being told to grow up, have they? Growth happens independent even of our willingness to grow, I think. Certainly physical growth does, since although we eat food, we don't eat it for the purpose of growth, we do it because we love food. I think we grow in a mature view of suffering only out of a love for Christ. I tend to feel like I have to have develop a theology of suffering, to explain it and/or dominate it, and then I'll more fully love Christ, when it actually works exactly the opposite.

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