Today, 17 May 2012, is the 60th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Ivan Ziatyk (a.k.a. John Zyatyk), a priest of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church and a member of the Redemptorist Order. While some of us might be able to remain true to our Faith after two or three torture sessions, it takes a whole lot more tenacity, courage and heroism to undergo over 38 interrogations with their associated beatings and deprivations and remain true to God. This is what Blessed Ivan did.
Only someone already far advanced along the road of holiness would be able to do that. So Blessed Ivan’s life must be remarkable for holiness, despite the trials of his long martyrdom.
Blessed Ivan Ziatyk was born towards the end of 1899 into a peasant family of Odrekhova, which is now found in south eastern Poland. During his early teenage years Ivan’s father died, and his elder brother Mykhalio saw to the rest of his upbringing. Quiet, prayerful and obedient, Ivan proved to be a very able student. At the age of 20 he entered the local Ukranian Catholic seminary in Przemysl, and so excelled at his studies that soon after his ordination in 1923 he was called upon to teach at the same seminary and give spiritual direction to students.
There is something about teaching a subject that helps you grasp it at greater depth than any student. So it seems the more Ivan taught catechetics and theology the deeper conviction he felt about God and the more he desired to grow closer to God. By 1935 this desire had matured into a religious vocation with the Redemptorists. As soon as Ivan had completed his notivitate, this gifted teacher was assigned to the Redemptorist seminary at Holosko. His kindness, obedience and closeness to God made Ivan as easy choice for increasingly more important roles of service within the monastery, firstly looking after the temporal needs of the monastery and later as superior.
By the end of WW2 a terrible persecution by the Soviet secret police broke out against the Church. Initially only bishops were targeted. This persecution soon spread to religious orders. Ivan was one of those rounded up from several places in 1946, taken to Holosko, and imprisoned in a wing of a monastery without any heating. That area of the world is bitterly cold for most of the year. All of them suffered the intense cold as well as constant surveillance and many interrogations. In October of 1948 all of the Redemptorists in that place were moved to another guarded monastery in Univ.
How Ivan handled himself under these conditions must have been exemplary, because when the Provincial was forcibly deported to Belgium this man chose Ivan to take his place as both provincial of the Redemptorists and vicar general of that region of the Church. Naturally this choice made the communist authorities take a closer look at Ivan. Extraordinary spiritual leaders like Ivan couldn’t be tolerated for long, and so in early 1950 he was arrested and charged with spreading the Catholic faith. For two years he endured the prisons of Lviv and Zolochiv, together with the interrogations, tortures and appeals to forsake his faith that went with it.
On 21 November 1951, Ivan was given an official sentence of 10 years imprisonment and he was sent to a prison camp near Bratsk in the Irkutsk region of Russia to serve it. At this new prison Ivan attracted particular brutality from the overseers. On Good Friday according to the Ukranian liturgical calendar Ivan was viciously beaten and then soaked in water before being left outside in the Siberian cold. When at last Ivan was found in this condition, he was taken to the prison hospital where he died soon after on Easter Sunday, 17 May 1952.
The life and death of Ivan made a deep impression on everybody. In 2001, Ivan was declared Blessed by Blessed John Paul the Great on a papal visit to the Ukraine. May the Lord God grant that he may soon be declared a Saint. We have need of witnesses like Ivan who were willing to say Yes to God continuously in conditions of great hardship and suffering.
Blessed Ivan Ziatyk, pray for us.