Blessed Emilian Kowch – Patron of Pastors
In the Fall of 2009, Fr. Ihor Yatsiv conducted an interview with His Beatitude Lubomyr (Husar) for Radio Resurrection regarding the Patriarchal Synod of Bishops of the UGCC in Lviv-Bryukhovychi that in September. The following is a translated excerpt of the printed text of that interview as it appears on the UGCC website.
At the Synod Blessed Priest and Martyr Omelyan Kowcz was proclaimed the patron of pastors of the UGCC. Why was this pastor chosen? For those who know his biography, I think it is clear. But is there possibly some explanation for this? And also, what is the practical realization of this patronage?
It needs to be understood: Why are there priests? The whole Church is the people of God. In this people of God there are certain persons called by God to serve their neighbor, to minister in a very specific way, in particular to offer sacrifices to God in the name of the people of God and administer the holy sacraments to them, to teach the people God’s truths, to lead these people to God. They are chosen for this; they are chosen not to sanctify themselves, but they are chosen to minister to the community.
We are only human beings. Very often even such very holy things become mundane for us and so we need to be reminded, to give examples of people who in this priestly ministry, as we say, were outstanding. Let’s take the example of the martyr Father Omelyan Kowcz. He was pastor in Peremyshlyany not far from the city of Lviv. He, as a pastor, ministered to people in a very exemplary method; in a word, he was a good pastor. But he also found himself in very special circumstances, being at a parish, because it was then the time of the Nazi occupation, when they persecuted and exterminated Jews, and he helped them, he protected them. When by a cruel method they wanted directly to burn them in their temple, in the synagogue, he rescued those people.
And for all of this he spent part of his life in the Majdanek concentration camp, near Lublin, on the territory of modern Poland. There he did not stop ministering. And even when there was an attempt to free him from this death camp, he refused. He wanted to serve. He gave his life fully to others, looking for nothing for his own self, not a single benefit. He left his family and community; he was on a territory outside of Ukraine, but this was all totally of secondary importance for him. The most important thing for him was to be a priest, to serve his neighbor in such terrible circumstances and even with the sacrifice of his own life.
To give an example for priests, in what spirit a pastor should live, he becomes now a heavenly intercessor. Because we, as pastors, need prayer, and he, being such a prominent friend of God, already acknowledged by the Church as such, becomes also our intercessor. Not only as an example. He prays for us clergy, he helps us with his prayers, asks God for grace for us. Therefore, we considered that it is worthwhile placing such an extraordinary example of ministry for us, I will say so, for spiritual strengthening and as a model of how should we behave. We know his life, his example is very dramatic and at the same time very marvelous. Sometimes it is necessary for us to bear various difficulties, different temptations which come to us, and here we have before our eyes a human being who was able to manage all that he faced; he was able to live for God and for his neighbor, and that is why we wanted to place him as a model for our clergy.
I hope that we will soon, in some more festive method, celebrate our decision and also make pilgrimages to that former concentration camp in Majdanek, in order to give him the proper honor, and, on the other hand, to ask his intercession.