Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration


Sister Tarsykia Matskiw, SSMI (1919-1944)

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“She modeled saintliness in life’s ordinariness.”

Текст по-українському: August 08.2021U

  The period of the underground for the UGCC, revealed the love and devotion to Christ’s Gospel of bishops, monastics, and laity. Their lives and martyrdom gave witness to the holiness and action of the Spirit “in” them and “through” them. When, in 2001, 28 Ukrainian Catholics were recognized as “blessed”, they represented the enduring loyalty of our Church to Christ. There are so many more whose names we will never know, but we acknowledge that due to their self-sacrifice and commitment our “silenced Church”, “Church of the martyrs”, has emerged from the underground bursting into bloom from the bountiful seeds sown by its saints. The Church has seen both destruction (liquidation) and resurrection (legalization); it was a silenced Church with its hierarchy in the camps of Mordovia, Siberia, and Kazakhstan, but it endured and received the “wreath of glory”, which was her renewal at the end of the century. . . .

Whenever we speak of saints, subconsciously we expect to hear about extraordinary events or suffering that resulted in sainthood. There was little of this in the life of Blessed Tarsykia. Her life became extraordinary by fulfilling daily tasks responsibly and being ready to give her life for Christ. She modeled saintliness in life’s ordinariness. Here we may not face persecution, but Blessed Tarsykia exemplifies the need for each of us to strive towards sainthood in our quotidian living.

Olha Matskiv was born on March 23, 1919 in Khodoriv, Ukraine. She was the eldest of Roman and Maria Matskiv’s four children. Her father had a supervisory position at the railway, and the family moved to Ravy-Ruska when his job required it.  As a child Olha developed a love for nature, all living things, church and prayer. Her niece, Olha Kudlyk, describes Olha’s childhood from her memoirs, as she heard from family stories: “She was obedient, thoughtful, and loving towards her parents and siblings.” Similarly, another sister recalls: “She would gather flowers from the field to decorate the roadside chapel on her way to baba’s. She would save injured creatures and mend their wounds.” Olha’s mother taught her to see the world as God’s gift. No wonder she began to feel called to a monastic life, after finishing high school in Lviv.

Olha’s mother, however, was so against her entering a convent that she forbade her attending daily liturgies. Undeterred, Olha secretly left for church in the early mornings and returned in time to make breakfast for the waking family.   In time, Olha asked for her parents’ blessing and despite her mother’s objection, Olha joined the SSMIs in Krystynopil. So began a new chapter of her life which ended at the “Golgotha” of the second descent of Bolsheviks on Lviv. From the start, with her joyful nature and dedicated service, Olha embraced the monastic life. On the 4th of November, 1938, she accepted her habit, took the monastic name of Tarsykia, and made her first vows. Her responsibilities included overseeing the convent workshop, teaching sewing, and being the gatekeeper. In September, 1939, Soviet armies came to Krystynopil. The front line of battle was close to the monastery. In a letter to her parents, dated September 2nd, 1941, Sr. Tarsykia writes: “We have experienced much: war, bombs, bullets, and the front line. We have lived through horrendous waves of endless bombing by the Bolsheviks. At times we were more certain of death than survival.”

  In 1943-44, when the Soviet armies advanced through Western Ukraine, the sisters were given the option to leave the community and go home, but according to Sr. Daria Hradiuk, not one of them left.

 On the morning of July 17, 1944 you could sense that military action would begin again and that evening the bombing started. . . The next morning combat lessened and the sisters prepared for the Divine Liturgy with Fr. Josyf Zahvijskyj.

 . . . An eyewitness states: “It was already early morning, we were waiting for Father to come for the service; we heard the bell; someone was at the gate. Sister went to it . . . the Bolshevik fired and one of our sisters was shot . . . she hadn’t even made it to the gate.”

Sr. Demyana Chepil writes in her memoirs, that all the sisters were in the basement, “the only ones in the house were myself, Sr. Maria Borodijevych and Sr. Tarsykia. Unexpectedly the soldiers rang the bell. We jumped at the sound, Sr. Tarsykia ran out ahead of me. She noticed that she hadn’t brought the key and turned to ask Sr. Maria to get it. In that moment the soldier shot his automatic rifle through the opening in the gate. He shot Sr. Tarsykia in the head. I saw her fall immediately.”

  . . . On entering the Bolsheviks saw Sr. Tarsykia’s body. “The officer asked in amazement: ‘Who did this?’ One of them admitted, ‘I killed her.’ Our superior Sr. Monica Bolesta asked why. He answered, “Because she’s a nun.”

  . . . Not far from the monastery was the cemetery, but because of the combat nearby we couldn’t bury her there. So, she was buried in the monastery garden near the statue of the Mother of God. Even those who killed her attended her funeral.  . . . Subsequently her remains were moved from Krystynopil to Lviv where she was interred in the Sisters’ gravesite at Lychakiv monastery.

  Thus the events of the Second World War destroyed the regular monastery life. . . . In early spring of 1946 it was clear that the Soviet authorities would not allow our monastery to continue, inasmuch as the preparations for the destruction of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church were well underway. . . . After the so-called “Lviv Sobor” and the arrest of our hierarchy, the authorities went after the monasteries. . . . A similar fate awaited other, both men’s and women’s, monasteries. The life of blessed Tarsykia and her fate foresaw the period of persecution of our Church and her death was as if a sign of the Soviet intent for the death of our defiant Church.

The life of blessed Tarsykia witnessed complete faithfulness to Christ and His Church. . . In her death she gave witness to her love, as her life witnessed holiness. She demonstrated that holiness is not limited to a small circle of the early Christians, but also is possible in our world.

Her life should be an example for our life; her service should be continued by our service, and her death and holiness should call us all to holiness.  May Sr. Tarsykia’s intercession grant us all the gift of sacrificial love and a passion for holiness lived out in our world. This is something we all need. (R. Syrotych)


One thought on “Sister Tarsykia Matskiw, SSMI (1919-1944)

  1. I am an American, 70 years old who served with Peace Corps in Ukraine from 2011-2013. There is a Fr. Carlos Martin who serves a ministry of a Sacred Relic Exhibition approved by the Vatican. Today in Texas I held a relic of Blessed Tarsykia Olha Matskiv and felt a very strong attachment to her. As my heart breaks at the current war I have found an intercessor to help me in my prayers for the conversion of Russia. Thank you for the information on this site.

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