UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Archpastoral Visit to Southfield, MI!
By Elizabeth Symonenko
Giggles and muted laughter could be heard over the pitter-patter Saturday morning, December 1, 2012, at Holy Protection (St. Mary the Protectress) Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Southfield, Michigan. The rain pounding on the rooftop was not the only source of the pitter-patter. The children of the Lesia Ukrainka School of Religion and Ukrainian Studies, affiliated with the cathedral, were all running around excitedly adding to the cacophony of noise. Their excitement stemmed from the anticipation they were experiencing in greeting their beloved hierarch, His Grace Bishop Daniel - Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A.
With flowers swaying in their hands the children ran up the steps to the church to see if His Grace had arrived. The children in back of the line, who had yet to reach the narthex, knew Bishop Daniel had been spotted before they saw him by the gleeful giggles of the children who had already reached their destination, and were squealing with joy.
With a warm smile on his face, His Grace Bishop Daniel, along with Very Rev. Fr. Paul Bodnarchuk, pastor of the cathedral parish family and Deacon Vasyl Dovgan, seminarian at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Bound Brook, NJ, stood in the doorway of the narthex waiting to greet the youngest of his flock.
Accepting the flowers from the little hands, His Grace led his little congregation in to the church for their usual Saturday morning Moleben before classes. Upon completion of the service, Bishop Daniel took the opportunity to teach the children about their Church.
Having spoken for a few minutes, he asked that they all stand and follow him, because he had something special to show them. They all got up and followed as His Grace led them to the front of the church. Up on the solea His Grace pointed out various icons found on the iconostas, identifying the various saints, and events depicted on them.
Now, came the truly “special” part. Bishop Daniel asked the children to join him up on the ambo, as Father Paul Bodnarchuk opened the Royal Gates. Accustomed to being scolded for playing on the steps, or for walking in front of the Doors, all of a sudden the children found themselves standing right there, and staring in to the Altar. For most, especially the girls, this was a “first”. They crowded around, careful not to step inside, and peered at what seemed like another world to them. Explaining the sanctity of the Altar, His Grace showed them the Altar table, and the items found on it – the Gospel, the Cross, etc. Bishop Daniel completed the lesson by gifting each child with a beautiful icon card of the Birth-Giver of God.
As the children disappeared in to their classes for instruction, His Grace joined the crowd that was gathering in the church hall. The Southfield parish had volunteered their facilities this month to the Orthodox Detroit Outreach (ODO) to prepare meals for local homeless. The ODO is a newly formed organization which incorporates volunteers from the various Orthodox parishes in the Metropolitan Detroit area, including Romanian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Antiochian, Russian, OCA, Greek, Albanian, etc. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
As Bishop Daniel was diligently preparing sandwiches, the children from the Jr. U.O.L. Southfield Chapter joined him, rolling up their sleeves and spreading gobs of peanut butter on slices of fluffy white bread. Wrapping each sandwich in a plastic baggy, the children then delivered them to the next station, where volunteers added them to the brown bags which had already been stuffed with a fruit, bottled water, and a breakfast bar.
Having made short work of the bag lunches, Bishop Daniel joined the rest of the volunteers in the kitchen, who were preparing “hot” breakfasts for the homeless. This included a breakfast patty and an egg, sandwiched in an English muffin. The patties needed to be cooked and the eggs prepared. His Grace rolled up his sleeves, donned a new pair of rubber gloves and went to work.
The ODO prepares bagged lunches on the first Saturday of every month, utilizing the facilities of various Orthodox parishes that wish to assist them. The bagged peanut butter lunches prepared by His Grace and the other volunteers were immediately delivered to the Detroit Rescue Mission which is a local non-profit organization that provides assistance to over 1,500 individuals each day. They not only serve meals, but, offer substance abuse treatment, provide shelter, clothing, counseling, mentoring programs and job transitioning.
The other 130 prepared breakfast dishes were immediately refrigerated and will be delivered Tuesday to the Neighborhood Service Organization which is another non-profit organization that provides diverse and innovative community development programs and services.
The ODO also accepted a large donation of canned and non-perishable foods that the Jr. U.O.L. chapter had been collecting throughout the month of November, as part of their Thanksgiving agenda. “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” (Matthew 25: 35)
Upon completing the lunch preparations for those in need, it was time for His Grace to join the school children for their lunch. Having prayed the Lord’s Prayer, Bishop Daniel blessed the meal, which consisted of pizza sponsored by the Parent’s Committee, as well as oseledets/herring, veggies and perijky with kapusta for the older crowd.
It seemed as if they had just sat down when the bell rang for class, and the children once again dispersed among their classrooms. As they sat and studied, Bishop Daniel took a moment to visit each class, ending his tour appropriately in the religion class. The students were honored to have His Grace spend some time with them, answering their questions, clearing up some things they were always puzzled about and simply getting to know their hierarch more personally. They now know who his best friend is (Metropolitan-elect Antony), where he likes to shop, his favorite food (sushi), etc. The seemingly mundane questions, succeeded in breaking down the barrier between hierarch and children. Before His Grace entered their room they were all nervous, shaking their heads, and insisting they wouldn’t ask him anything. As they got up to leave they were no longer intimidated, but, came up for a blessing, to chit chat and even to give and receive a hug from His Grace.
The school day concluded with Bishop Daniel enjoying an impromptu dance program, as he was invited to sit and watch the children perform their Ukrainian dance steps in their final class of the day.
As the sun went down, the parishioners of the Southfield parish were joined by Father Andrew Rogers of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Dearborn, Michigan, and Father Andrei Alexiev from Holy Ascension Serbian Orthodox Church in Ecorse, when they arrived at the church for Vespers. The darkened Nave, whispered voices and solemn prayers all gave the service a tone of gravity. Upon the conclusion of Vespers, His Grace once again took a moment to minister to his flock by delivering a rather sobering message in his sermon. He reiterated that this was the beginning of the Nativity Fast, and therefore, we as Orthodox Christians should take a moment to inspect ourselves. The three kings had arrived baring gifts for the Christ Child, but, what gift would we be giving Him this year? What can a person gift to God? How can a person give a gift to God? Is this truly a dilemma? No. Christ instructed us saying, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, have you done unto me,” (Matthew 25:40). Therefore, by helping others, giving to others, worrying about others, we are in truth giving a gift to the Lord.
His Grace stated, “Make a gift of yourselves.” You are the gift. Wrap yourself in wrapping paper consisting of good deeds, so the Lord can unwrap His gift and find you there.
Continuing with the Nativity theme, His Grace was invited to join a number of parishioners for an evening out, as they all drove down to Detroit for Noel Night. Noel Night occurs in Midtown Detroit, which is the cultural center of the city. Various cultural venues, as well as the facilities of Wayne State University were all open to the public free of charge. The little group from Pokrova mingled with thousands of revelers as they walked the streets, enjoyed the Christmas decorations, sang Christmas Carols, viewed ice sculptures, were mesmerized bymimes and acrobats, laughed at the walking Christmas tree, met St. Nicholas and spent some quality time marveling at some of the world’s masterpieces displayed at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The casual outing allowed for further bonding of the faithful with their hierarch. Conversation flowed nonstop and one could hear snippets of commentaries on various art pieces, discussions about theological dogmas, and once again more lighthearted chats about daily worldly issues. No docents were required for our little group, as it turns out that His Grace Bishop Daniel is rather knowledge on the topic of art history. The group hung on every word as he explained various aspects, nuances and styles depicted on the various paintings by the masters. From young to old everyone exited the DIA with a new appreciation for the arts and their bishop. With the voices singing “Joy to the World” echoing off the skyscrapers, the little group dispersed to find their cars and return to their homes, feeling perhaps physically tired, but, spiritually uplifted.
Sunday morning, once again, one could hear the pitter-patter on the roof top. However, grey skies and rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the parishioners of St. Mary the Protectress Cathedral as they gathered under umbrellas awaiting the arrival of His Grace Bishop Daniel. As young girls scattered flower petals along the way, His Grace, along with Deacon Vasyl Dovgan turned the corner and were loudly greeted by all those gathered. His Grace was once again greeted by the children of the Jr. U.O.L. and the Lesia Ukrainka School, as they showered him with flowers. Mrs. Pauline Krajdub greeted Bishop Daniel on behalf of the church choir, Mrs. Wara Siryj presented His Grace with bread and salt from the St. Olga’s Sisterhood, and Church Council President Olga Liskiwskyij and Vice President Andrew Smyk, extended a warm greeting from the parish.
Accepting everyone’s greetings, bread, and flowers with a smile, His Grace ascended the steps to the cathedral with his faithful following behind him, where he was greeted by parish pastor Father Paul Bodnarchuk.
As His Grace entered the Nave, the choir burst out in song! Smiles were seen on everyone’s faces and the joy could be felt as everyone poured in behind their hierarch to partake in the “work” of the Divine Liturgy.
With the young school children holding lit candles His Grace read the Gospel relating Christ’s parable of the “Rich Fool”. Upon completion of the reading, Bishop Daniel descended from the ambo and stood among the people to explain to them what they had just heard, but, may not have grasped fully. It was not his riches that made this man a “fool”, but, his attitude. He was only focused on himself, as was easily evident in the number of times he spoke of “I, me and my”. This mind-set is against the teachings of God, as Christ instructed us to think of others before ourselves.
How often do people dress the “part”, donning extravagant clothes, to give the impression that they have achieved something special in this life? You are mistaken if you believe that once you have accumulated material goods, you are a success. Driving a fancy car simply to garner attention in the name of pride is not the way Christians are called to live. Our true goals should not be in earning money to buy a larger house, a fancier car, etc., but, to do more good in the world. We need to focus on what good we can do with the things we’ve been blessed with. Don’t focus on what you have already accomplished, but, more on what you haven’t, but, could still achieve. Think of how many people you can help, how much good you can do. You need to ask not what you have done to garner your personal success, but, what have you done for the good of someone else? Only when we care for others do we have the right to even contemplate our own success. Our true successes are achieved when we share our lives, our talents, our achievements in making other’s successes a possibility.
Life is not simply getting up in the morning, getting dressed, going to work, coming home, spending time with the family, having dinner, going to sleep, getting up, getting dressed, etc. This is not living, this is merely existing. We are not called to exist, but, to live to the full potential that God has given us. We are called to “do” good things!
Bishop Daniel relayed to those listening, how he had witnessed the volunteers gathered yesterday in the parish kitchen preparing food for the hungry. That was a true “success”.
Yesterday we acted like the Church, not simply a church building that is worried about paying the electric bill, fixing the broken window or about other issues pertaining strictly to our parish. Yesterday, we behaved like the Church of Christ, by doing “good” to our neighbors, to people we don’t even know, who have never stepped foot in our church, but, are in need of assistance. It is our duty to continue this good work. The parish has opened the window, but, now has to continue to care for others, not just those within the parish family, nor only those living in Ukraine, but, we also need to care for those who are found in our immediate locations, regardless if they are black, or green or even blue. It doesn’t matter who they are, they are all our neighbors and it is our duty to care for them.
His Grace told of one time when he was visiting a parish in the China Town area, and during his sermon the church reverberated with the pounding of a drum, heard from outside. A procession was winding its way down the street collecting funds for those who were harmed and left in great need due to a tsunami. Hearing the drums, he had stopped his sermon and realizing the reason behind the drum-beat, requested that everyone get up and go outside, and whatever money they had set aside to put in the church’s donation basket that day, they should instead donate to those in the procession. The parish would not suffer by missing one week’s donations, nor would it be any more successful. However, those funds would make a great difference to those who were truly in a desperate need of assistance, and with their donations the parishioners would truly be able to count their successes.
At the conclusion of his sermon, His Grace invited everyone to take part in future volunteering opportunities that will most definitely be happening in the Southfield parish. It just takes a couple hours of our time to make a world of difference.
With furrowed brows, everyone was still mulling over the bishop’s words, and perhaps investigating their own “successes” as the Divine Liturgy continued. The children of the school congregated at the front of the church and when the time came they sang the Lord’s Prayer. The sweet, innocent voices raised to the Lord in supplication further moved the faithful in to contemplation.
After the dismissal, His Grace took a moment to once again share some words of wisdom with the parish, explaining to them the importance of the Nativity Fast. That it is not only important to refrain from eating meat and dairy products, but, from eating that which we truly enjoy. Furthermore, it is a time to cultivate peace in our hearts, to not get angry, to be patient, helpful and forgiving. We shouldn’t lose our patience and get upset if someone cuts us off in traffic, but, pray and wish them a safe trip and that God watch over them. It’s not easy, but, it is important. Additionally, the Nativity Fast is not a time for sadness, but, a time for joy, for we anticipate the birth of Christ. We are not punishing ourselves, but, preparing ourselves. We should never be sad in church, we should rejoice that we are able to join our fellow parishioners in common prayer, and together raise our voices to the Lord.
Upon the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the church walls rang with repeated and joyful declarations of Mnohaya Lita, Many Years to our hierarch His Grace Bishop Daniel! With smiles on their faces and eager to approach His Grace, everyone slowly made their way to kiss the Cross and ask for Bishop Daniel’s blessing.
Making their way down to the church hall, everyone broke the morning fast with a scrumptious Lenten luncheon prepared by the St. Olga’s Sisterhood. The luncheon once again gave the faithful an opportunity to spend some time with their bishop. Everyone took the chance to have a moment with their hierarch, ask for his opinion, his advice and mostly for his blessing. As the afternoon came to a conclusion everyone was sad to say goodbye to His Grace. His visits to our parish always serve to reenergize and revitalize not just the parish, but, each and every individual. His words, while having a general meaning, always hit a personal cord for each individual, as each person receives the “message” that seems to have been formulated strictly for their personal needs.
We wish His Grace Bishop Daniel, and Deacon Vasyl Dovgan a safe flight home and a quick return to our parish! Eispolla eti despota!!!