Orientales omnes Ecclesias

Orientales omnes Ecclesias (December 23, 1945) is an encyclical of Pope Pius XII to the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It commemorates the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Union of Brest.

Orientales omnes Ecclesias
Latin for 'All the Eastern Churches'
Encyclical of Pope Pius XII
Signature date23 December 1945

In his encyclical, Pope Pius XII explains that many trials and persecutions took place in the last three hundred and fifty years, but that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church always came out strong. He reminds of the many favours and assistances the Church received from Rome and how his papal predecessors always supported the independent culture and rite of the Oriental Church. In the last part of the encyclical, he addresses the grievances facing the Ukrainians in 1945. Aware of the persecution of the faithful and expecting even more, he writes:

  • We know that grievous snares are being set for your faith. We have reason to fear, that in the near future still greater hardships will befall those who refuse to betray their sacred religious allegiance. (Orientales omnes Ecclesias, 62)

Encyclical background

While most Oriental Christians belong to an Orthodox Church, some, like the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church, are united with Rome, which allowed them to keep their own Oriental liturgy and Church laws. The Ruthenian Catholic Church is located in Ukraine. Ruthenian Catholics call themselves Rusyns. They are closely related to the Ukrainians and speak a dialect of the same language. The traditional Rusyn homeland extends into northeast Slovakia and the Lemko region of southeast Poland. Until 1922, the area was largely a part of Austria-Hungary. After becoming Polish, which follows the Latin Rite, Polonisation and significant problems developed for all Orthodox.[1] Some Ruthenians, resisting Polonisation, felt deserted by the Vatican and returned to the Orthodox Church. After World War II, in 1945, Polish and Slovakian areas became part of the Soviet Union which exerted pressure, on the Ruthenians and other Ukrainians united with Rome, to sever relations and join the Orthodox Church headed by the Patriarch of Moscow. It was claimed that (1) the union with Rome was a Polish conspiracy to dominate and wipe out the culture of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; (2) orthodox faithful and priests united to Rome had to suffer under Polish bishops of the Latin Rite and Polonisation; (3) but now they are liberated by the Soviet Army under the leadership of Marshal Joseph Stalin and therefore continued ties to Rome are no longer necessary.[1] The new Patriarch Alexius I called on Catholics for a separation from Rome:

  • Liberate yourself! You must break the Vatican chains which throw you into the abyss of error, darkness and spiritual decay. Hurry, return to your true mother, the Russian Orthodox Church![2]

Pope Pius XII answered: "Who does not know that Patriarch Alexius I, recently elected by the dissident bishops of Russia, openly exalts and preaches defection from the Catholic Church in a letter lately addressed to the Ruthenian Church, a letter which contributes not a little to the persecution?"[3] He mentions the United Nations proclamation that religious persecution will never happen again: "This had given us hope that peace and true liberty would be granted everywhere to the Catholic Church, the more so since the Church has always taught, and teaches, that obedience to the ordinances of the lawfully established civil power, within the sphere and bounds of its authority, is a duty of conscience. But, unfortunately, the events we have mentioned have grievously and bitterly weakened, have almost destroyed, our hope and confidence so far as the lands of the Ruthenians are concerned.[4]


The Pope knew not only about the attempts to separate the United Churches from Rome. He also was aware that, in months preceding the encyclical, all Catholic bishops of the Ukrainian Church had been arrested, including Josyf Slipyj, Gregory Chomysyn, John Laysevkyi, Nicolas Carneckyi and Josaphat Kocylovskyi. Some, including Bishop Nicetas Budka, perished in Siberia.[5] Subjected to Stalinist Show Trials, they all received severe sentencing. The remaining leaders of the hierarchies and the heads of all seminaries and Episcopal offices were arrested and tried in 1945 and 1946. On July 1, 1945, some three hundred priests of the United Church wrote to Molotov; they protested the arrest of all bishops and large parts of the Catholic clergy.[6] After the Church was thus robbed of all its leadership, a "spontaneous movement" for separation from Rome and unification with the Russian Orthodox Church developed. Mass arrests of priests followed. In Lemko, some five hundred priests were jailed in 1945[7] or sent to a Gulag, officially called "an unknown destination because of political reasons".[8] In order to address this problem, Pius decided to engage in a comprehensive historical review of the reunion and its advantages to the faithful in Ukraine.

History of the Reunion

The Pope repeats assurances of his predecessors that the oriental rites will be honoured. There will be no attempt by the Vatican to change or abandon them. The Pope reviews the history of the Ruthenian Church, which led to the unification with Rome. The Church was in disarray and needed reform; it experienced decadence and abuses. Towards the end of the 16th century, it became obvious that there was no hope of achieving renewal and reform of the Ruthenian Church except by restoring union with the Apostolic See.[9] Prolonged and difficult negotiations were necessary before a unity application could be achieved in 1596. Pope Clement VIII on December 23, 1595, met the emissaries. They read the declaration of all the bishops before the illustrious assembly and then in their own name and that of the other bishops made a solemn profession of faith and promised due obedience and respect.[10]

At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the 20th century, economic conditions led to the emigration of many from Galicia to the US, Canada and South America. Pope Pius X feared that these emigrants may lose heir religious identity, and in 1907 he appointed a bishop with special faculties for them.[11] Later on, since the number and the needs of these Catholics were increasing, a special ordinary bishop was appointed for Galician Catholics in the United States and another in Canada besides the ordinary bishop, for the faithful of this rite who had emigrated from Ukraine, Russia, Hungary or Yugoslavia.[11]

After the encyclical

From 1945 to 1958, six Ukrainian bishops were murdered, sentenced to death or died in the Gulag.[5] In 1949, Pope Pius made Josyf Slipyj cardinal in pectore, that is, for his own safety it remained a secret. In 1957, he congratulated him on the 40th anniversary of his priesthood. But Slipyj remained jailed until 1963.[12] The Ruthenian Church continued to suffer. The Soviet authorities initiated persecution of the Ruthenian Church in the newly acquired region. In 1946 the Uzhorod seminary was closed. In 1949 the Ruthenian Catholic Church was integrated into the Russian Orthodox Church. Rusyns on the other side of the Czechoslovak border were also forced to become Orthodox, while those in the Polish Lemko region were deported en masse in 1947 either to the Soviet Union or to other parts of Poland.


  • In these heavy calamities, where human help seems to be of no avail, nothing remains, venerable brethren, but earnestly to implore the most merciful God, who "will do justice to the needy and will avenge the poor," that of his loving kindness he would himself calm this terrible storm and at length bring it to an end.[13]
  • In this sad and anxious state of affairs our fatherly heart goes out especially to those who are so harshly and bitterly oppressed by it, and first of all to you, venerable brothers, the bishops of the Ruthenian people. Great as are the trials which afflict you, you are more burdened with anxiety for the safety of your flocks than for the injuries and sufferings inflicted upon yourselves, in accordance with the words: "the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep."[14]
  • In bonds as you are, and separated from your sons, it is not in your power to give them instruction in our holy religion, but your very bonds more fully and profoundly proclaim and preach Christ.[14]


  1. Alberto Giovannetti, Pio XII parla alla Chiesa del Silenzio, Editrice Ancona, Milano, 1959; German Translation, Der Papst spricht zur Kirche des Schweigens, Paulus Verlag, Recklinghausen, 1959, p. 112.
  2. Giovannetti 115.
  3. Orientales omnes Ecclesias 57.
  4. Orientales omnes Ecclesias 58.
  5. Giovannetti 131.
  6. Guglielmo de Vries, Oriente Cristiano, ieri e oggi, Roma, 270-275.
  7. Giovannetti 90.
  8. Jan Olav Smit, Pope Pius XII, London Burns Oates & Washbourne LTD, 1951, p. 174.
  9. Orientales omnes Ecclesias 8.
  10. Orientales omnes Ecclesias 10.
  11. Orientales omnes Ecclesias 23.
  12. Pelikan, Jaroslav (1989). Confessor between East and West : a portrait of Ukrainian Cardinal Josyf Slipyj. Internet Archive. Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans Pub.
  13. Orientales omnes Ecclesias 59.
  14. Orientales omnes Ecclesias 60.
  • Pope Pius XII (1945-12-23). "Orientales omnes Ecclesias" (PDF). Acta Apostolicae Sedis (in Latin). Vatican City (published 1946-01-25). ser. 2 v. 13 (2): 33–63. ISSN 0001-5199. Translated in "Orientales omnes Ecclesias". vatican.va.
  • Richard Cardinal Cushing, Pope Pius XII, St. Paul Editions, Boston, 1959
  • Alberto Giovannetti, Pio XII parla alla Chiesa del Silenzio, Editrice Ancona, Milano, 1959, German Translation, Der Papst spricht zur Kirche des Schweigens,Paulus Verlag, Recklinghausen, 1959
  • Jan Olav Smit, Pope Pius XII, London Burns Oates & Washbourne LTD, 1951
  • Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Roma, Vaticano, 1939,1951