UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Parish Feast Day Celebration in Southfield, MI
By Elizabeth Symonenko
As the morning mist, swirling about the brightly colored autumnal foliage cleared on Saturday, October 8, 2011, it revealed a mass of giddy and giggling children, squirming on the steps of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Southfield, Michigan. The students of the Lesia Ukrainka School of Religion and Ukrainian Studies, held brightly colored flowers and kept looking to the left and right, wondering from which direction their guest would be arriving. The giggles turned into a joyous roar as a car drove passed them, horn honking in response to their waves. Finally, their beloved bishop, His Grace Bishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. had arrived.
Upon receiving dozens of flowers and hugs from the children, His Grace, along with visiting seminarian of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary (South Bound Brook, NJ), Subdeacon Andriy Matlak, proceeded in to the sanctuary where he was greeted by parish pastor Father Paul Bodnarchuk. Bishop Daniel served a short Moleben before the children proceeded with their busy day, preparing for Sunday’s Parish Feast Day celebration.
As the children resumed their studies, His Grace spent some valuable time with their parents, their “first teachers”, offering valuable advice, suggestions and encouragement. Just before the lunch hour, Bishop Daniel joined the children on the stage for an opportunity to bond with the youngest of his flock. The children bombarded His Grace with questions, wondering how old he is, what his favorite food is, and whether it is a good idea to celebrate Halloween. Having patiently answered all their questions, His Grace invited all the children to join him for a pizza lunch, provided by the parent’s committee.
Completing his visit with the youngsters by touring their classrooms, His Grace gifted each child with an icon card and a blessing, praying that God should guide them as they grow into devout and faithful members of the Church.
Having visited with the youngest members of his flock and their parents, who comprise the Church in this life, His Grace expressed a desire to visit and pray with those who helped establish this parish, those who fought the “good fight” and have since passed from this life. In response to his request, Bishop Daniel was escorted by a number of parishioners to the Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, which is the final resting place of a large contingency of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful. Arriving at the cemetery His Grace called everyone closer, and expressed his gratitude for having the opportunity to visit with those individuals whom he wished he had been able to meet in this life, but, whom he is honored to meet this day, to thank them for all their work and sacrifices on behalf of the Church and Ukraine.
Having served a Panachyda at the gravesite of Father Nicholas Zhytynsky, His Grace led the way around the cemetery stopping at each gravesite with a short prayer, sprinkling each with holy water, and leaving a piece of fruit at each tombstone. The sun shown brightly and joyously as the Church Militant met with the Church Triumphant in common prayer. As the solemn tones of Vichnaya Pamyat still hung in the air, and the scent of incense mingled with that of the autumn leaves, His Grace reminded everyone that it is our duty to come and visit the gravesites of our loved ones. That while their bodies might be entrapped in the earth, their souls are not, and we need their prayers as much as they need ours. We are all one Church and need to assemble often for the glory of God.
That evening the church filled once more for the Vespers service. Joining Father Paul Bodnarchuk, were Father Andrew Rogers of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Dearborn, Michigan, as well as Father Andrei Alexiev, and Father Deacon Jerome Nietubicz from Holy Ascension Serbian Orthodox Church in Ecorse.
The darkened church only served to accentuate the setting sun, as it threw rays of color mesmerizingly through the incense laden atmosphere of the church. In to this peaceful atmosphere, His Grace descended from the Ambo to stand in the middle of the Nave, amongst his people.
While short in duration, his sermon was big on meaning. The greatest take away concerned the method of our prayers. Bishop Daniel explained to us the method of praying used in the Old Days. Before we inundate God with our desires, we need to first acknowledge our dependency on Him, and our gratitude to Him. No prayer, no service, no Liturgy begins without first glorifying God. The priest begins each Divine Liturgy with “Blessed is our God always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen! Glory to You, our God; glory to You!” In this same manner we should begin our own private prayers. First glorifying God, thanking Him, and only then petitioning Him and asking for His assistance. Bishop Daniel reminded us that God hears all our prayers, and while we may think He does not answer or doubt that He is listening, the truth is that we may not be in true “need” of what we ask, or we simply may not be ready to receive it. Sometimes, no matter how much we pray, the answer simply will be “No” to our request, and other times it will be “Not yet.”
After Vespers, Bishop Daniel, along with the other clergy and guests were invited to the church hall for a light repast of perijky, holubtsi and other delicacies. After the meal, a relaxed conversation ensued covering a myriad of topics ranging from the theological to the political. Begrudgingly everyone had to bid goodnight to His Grace, wishing earnestly that the evening could continue, but, knowing full well that tomorrow would be another joyous day, shared with their hierarch.
Just as Saturday had, Sunday also dawned sunny and joyous and unusually warm for this time of year. Once again the parish campus was abuzz early in the morning. The usually sleepy and glum faces were replaced with joyous chatter, smiles and outright laughter. Anyone walking in at that moment would be able to feel the joyous anticipation in the air.
Once again the church steps hosted children with flowers. This time the children were joined by all the parishioners and guests. Men carried banners out to meet His Grace, as girls with flower petals joined them, calculating how thick a shower they could create and still have enough petals to make it back to the steps.
With the words “Glory to Jesus Christ!” Bishop Daniel rounded the corner and made his appearance. Led by the altar boys with candles, the ceremonial Seraphim fans, the banners, and the giggling flower girls throwing rose petals, His Grace arrived at the front steps. He was greeted by Georgia Kereliuk and Wara Siryj of the parish sisterhood with the traditional bread and salt. This traditional gesture represents hospitality towards a visiting hierarch or dignitary. The bread is the most respected and life nurturing food item, while salt represents a lasting friendship. Additionally, Christ is the “Bread of Life”, and Christians are the “Salt of the Earth”.
Parish Council President, George Korol, extended a warm welcome to Bishop Daniel, thanking him for his visit to our parish. The children from the Jr.U.O.L. greeted His Grace with flowers and were rewarded with a group hug! “Let’s go to church!” commanded Bishop Daniel, and with those words ascending the steps in to the church. In the narthex His Grace was greeted once again by parish pastor Father Paul Bodnarchuk, along with Father Andrew Rogers, visiting pastor from Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Dearborn, Michigan.
As the choir erupted in song, His Grace regally led his flock in to the church. As the smiling congregation filled the sanctuary, Bishop Daniel stood amongst them to get vested. Each article of his vestments has specific meaning and symbolism, and the children who were gathered in the first two rows craned their necks, watched and listened carefully to each prayer and bequest to the Lord, recited with each item that was donned. The children were awed, witnessing as the man who walked in to the church became transformed before their very eyes, reflecting the otherworldliness which is the essence of the Orthodox Church.
The children of the parish took an active role in the Liturgy, holding the candles during the reading of the Gospel and during the Great Entrance. All the faithful bowed their heads, and were moved by the delicate and joyous voices raised in prayer, as the children congregated in the front of the sanctuary to sing the Lord’s Prayer.
After the reading of the Gospel, once again, Bishop Daniel inspired his flock, as he descended from the ambo to stand amongst them. He reminded everyone of the importance of honesty and ownership of our lives and deeds. We are too quick to pass the blame, or to lie in order to get out of an uncomfortable situation. He reiterated the importance of truth and honesty, not only to those around us, but, to ourselves. We need to prioritize our lives, making sure we put God first, and all else second. This may be difficult at times and seem that we are ostracizing ourselves from society. Bishop Daniel gave the example of a young gymnast, the daughter of a deacon, who was required to attend competitions and meets on Sunday mornings. If she refused, her future as a gymnast might be compromised. It may seem like a tough decision, hindering her progress and future; however, in truth the decision was easy. Our final destination is with God, and therefore, our life’s goals need to reflect this desire and help steer us towards Him.
His Grace invited us to take a moment this coming Friday, October 14, the day the Church celebrates the Pokrova Feast Day, and to re-evaluate our lives. We need to take a step back and examine how we are living our lives. While we celebrate the Feast Day, thanking the Mother of God for spreading her protective omophor over us; we in turn, need to be protective coverings for those around us. We need to nurture, encourage, protect and support those whom God has seen fit to put in our lives. It is an awesome responsibility that each of us has been given.
Upon the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy the congregation made its way to the church hall, where they were joined by Father Mario Daczyszyn, pastor of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warren, Michigan, and Father Volodymyr Pertiv, Dean of the Ukrainian Catholic Churches in Detroit and pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Dearborn Heights.
The program began with an opening prayer led by Bishop Daniel, followed by a moment of silence commemorating those parishioners who had passed away. Upon the conclusion of the delicious meal, Mrs. Lyubov Lazurko, director of the Lesia Ukrainka School, said a few words and directed everyone’s attention to the stage where the children were gathered for their performance. The audience was regaled by the myriad of folks songs, recitations, dances and recitals. The whole event culminated in the performance of the church choir under the direction of Mykola Newmerzychyj, ending in a round of applause.
The event concluded with Bishop Daniel reciting the closing prayer, and promising to return to us during Great Lent. We eagerly look forward to his returning visit! Eis Polla Eti Despota!