The sun shone brightly, glistening off the dew-covered fields where the geese quietly grazed, lifting their heads lazily to glance at the small heard of deer as they nimbly pranced in to the woods beyond. The bucolic scene was accented by the gold domes of St. Andrew’s Memorial Church, glowing in the morning sunshine. The ringing of the bells cascaded over the gurgling stream and echoed off the Consistory buildings of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. as those inside scurried around preparing for the visit of Maryna Poroshenko, the First Lady of Ukraine and the wife of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
While her husband attended the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, the First Lady took the opportunity to visit the Metropolia Center. Joining her were Liudmyla Mazuka, the wife of the Ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S., Olena Bezreka, the Executive Director of the Petro Poroshenko Charity Foundation, Natalia Butenko-Beba, the assistant to the First Lady, and Mykhaylo Markiv, photographer.
Stepping out of the car upon arrival, Mrs. Poroshenko looked with admiration upon the lovely architecture of the Consistory buildings, and stopped to admire the Centennial banner hanging over the doorway. She was greeted by His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of USA and Consistory President, the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, and the Consistory Secretary, Elizabeth Symonenko.
With a gracious smile for everyone, the First Lady followed Vladyka Daniel in to the Consistory offices and paused in the main hallway to admire the portraits displayed on the walls of all the bishops of the Church. She paused numerous times to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with the office staff, who were glowing with excitement at her visit.
Mrs. Poroshenko was awed as she entered the brightness of the Consistory atrium. His Eminence drew her attention to the Maidan exhibit, which portrayed the faces, facts and information of Ukraine’s initial freedom fighters. Vladyka Daniel informed the First Lady that when the first altercations began, the faithful of the Church rallied around their Ukrainian homeland, and in addition to their heartfelt and continuous prayers, the Church collected over $600,000 for the freedom fighters.
Visibly moved by not only the support of the faithful, but, by the awareness and dedication to their Ukrainian roots and brethren, the First Lady turned and followed, as His Eminence led her to the St. Sophia Seminary Library, where the party was joined by His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony, Metropolitan & Prime Hierarch of UOC of the USA and Diaspora. The First Lady was greeted by Mrs. Natalia Honcharenko, the Director of the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center and the Librarian of St. Sophia Seminary Library Pani-Matka Oksana Pasakas. Mrs. Honcharenko informed those gathered that the seminary collection has been assembled since 1952 and includes over 50,000 books, 70 periodical titles (bound and unbound) and 40 periodicals and 25 specialized (that is, religious or ethnic) newspapers on current subscription. The library specializes in Eastern Orthodox Patristic and liturgical studies, and East European - particularly Ukrainian - history and culture.
Impressed with the sheer volume of tomes housed in the large library complex, the First Lady next turned her attention to the Museum Exhibit, temporarily housed in the Library, displaying the history of the Metropolitans of the UOC of USA. Mrs. Poroshenko was enthralled as Dr. Michael Andrec, UOC of USA archivist, carefully explained the significance of the numerous items displayed, explaining various points of interest. The First Lady paused to glance closely at Patriarch Mstyslav’s panagia, was amazed at the simplicity and yet, beauty, of his vestments, and was in awe of Metropolitan Antony’s embroidered herald.
Before leaving the library, Mrs. Poroshenko paused to sign the guest book, and then with a smile she increased the quantity of books in the library, by gifting the Seminary Library several titles pertaining to the Holodomor, and various topics on Ukraine.
The First Lady, along with her entourage, joined the hierarchs of the UOC of USA in the conference room of the Consistory, where His Eminence Metropolitan Antony gifted the her an icon of the Metropolitans of Kyiv, a bilingual prayer book published by the UOC of USA, as well as a few additional sentimental items. After a brief rest, and light discussion over tea and pastries, everyone made their way to the St. Andrew Memorial Church where the First Lady was greeted with a visual delight as the crowd, wearing their Ukrainian vyshyvanky, greeted her with smiles and laughter. Having enjoyed her group hug, she followed the hierarchs, and the parish pastor, V. Rev. Yurij Siwko, up the steps and solemnly entered the church. Upon venerating the icon, she looked up in awe at the colorful mosaic of Christ which drew her eyes upward towards the dome. Taking in the beauty before her, she joined as the Seminarians led those gathered in singing the Lord’s Prayer. Metropolitan Antony than prayed for the wellbeing of Ukraine, Ukrainians and the current government of Ukraine, including Mrs. Poroshenko; entreating that “God grant them many years!” The church exploded in song as the entire congregation burst out in a melodious and loud rendition of “Many Years/Mnohaya Lita”, the tendrils of their voices weaving up to the dome, spiraling back down to the faithful, reverberating along the walls, out the open doors to be mingled with the voices of those who had gathered outside.
Visibly moved, the First Lady made her way towards the exit, stopping now and again to admire the various icons which Vladyka Daniel brought to her attention. Some were ancient and historic, while others were new, representing the long history of Ukraine and the saints which God had placed on her soil.
Emerging from the golden gleam of the interior of the church, Mrs. Poroshenko was greeted by a riot of color, as gathered before her on the steps of the church were the members of the dance ensemble, Barvinok, under the tutelage of Grygory Momot. Having greeted the First Lady with the traditional bread and salt, the dance troupe impressed the crowd with an energetic number, the girls’ ribbons flying, as they twirled and swirled, and the men impressing with their great acrobatic skills.
With the Ukrainian spirit reawakened and heightened within everyone’s heart, the crowd slowly walked around the church and quietly descended in to the Holy Resurrection Mausoleum, to pray at the tomb of Patriarch Mstyslav, of blessed memory. As the people gathered, they respectfully gazed upon the tomb of the hierarch who sacrificed so much on behalf of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Having sung a solemn and prayerful rendition of “Memory Eternal/Віяна Пам'ять“, the First Lady thoughtfully viewed the Patriarch’s exhibited mitre and vestments, before ascending the stairs back in to the sunlight.
With flowers in hand, Mrs. Poroshenko, led by His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, walked passed the graves of Ukrainians who had traveled to the United States in search of freedom. The sunshine danced among the swaying limbs of the overhanging trees, belying the solemnity of the occasion, as the First Lady laid the flowers before the Memorial Cross, in homage to those who laid down their lives in the fight for Ukrainian freedom. Having once again prayed and sung “Memory Eternal”, the entourage, which was running late, turned to walk back to the cars. However, before doing so, Mrs. Poroshenko, wished to say a few words to the people who were gathered around her. She thanked everyone for all their efforts, not only towards her personal visit, but, towards assisting Ukraine in her efforts to gain true freedom. She congratulated everyone for retaining their customs, teaching their children the Ukrainian language, history of the country, and ancient traditions. She expressed her sincere appreciation at everything she saw this day, which made her proud and grateful. She humbly and genuinely embraced the crowd with her smile, her words and her arms.
Pausing here and there to accommodate selfie requests, the First Lady, with a huge smile on her face seemed reluctant to leave, but, alas she bid farewell to the hierarchs, and with a final wave got in the car and sped off.
The crowd remained behind, laughing, joking, and recounting their experience at meeting the First Lady of Ukraine. This will be a memory that will live on beyond selfies. It will live in their minds, spark their spirits, and for many years will be retold to their children and grandchildren. “Let me tell you about the day I met Maryna Poroshenko, the First Lady of Ukraine.” Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Слава Україні! Героям Слава!
First Lady of Ukraine Visits the Metropolia Center - 09/21/17
Photos and Text by Elizabeth Symonenko