Remembering the Archpastor: 25th Anniversary of Repose of Patriarch Mstyslav
Remembering the Archpastor...

Remembering the Archpastor: Spiritual Father of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, Diaspora and Ukraine - 25th Anniversary of Repose of Metropolitan and Patriarch Mstyslav...

Згадуємо в молитвах Архипастиря: духовного отця Української Православної Церкви США, Діаспори та України - меморіальна програма з нагоди 25-ти ліття упокоєння Митрополита та Патріарха Мстислава....

As a flower blooms, the lazy morning came to life slowly as the faithful began to arrive at the St. Andrew Memorial Church to pay homage and pray for the soul of Patriarch Mstyslav of blessed memory.  Children squinted in the bright sunlight as they congregated on the steps of the church, waiting for the hierarchs and clergy to appear so they could lead them down to the Holy Resurrection Mausoleum, located below the church, and to the Crypt of the Patriarch where the hierarchs would serve a Panakhyda in honor of the 25thyear of repose of His Holiness.

The songs of the robins in the trees, and the chatter and giggling of the impatient children suddenly ceased as the bells of the church began a slow toll. It seemed all joy vanished in an instant and everything was rendered silent. Dong!  The children watched as the clergy emerged quietly from the church. Dong!  As the clergy quietly descended the steps, the hierarchs emerged in to the sunlight.  Dong! All that could be heard was the shuffling of feet as everyone made their way down the steps of the church and processed around to the mausoleum.  Dong!

Leaving behind the sunlight, and descending the steps to the mausoleum, everyone found themselves transported to an ethereal world.  The marble floors and walls of the structure added an air of solemnity and permanence.  Slowly, everyone squeezed in to the crypt, filling the cavernous room to capacity, leaving many of the faithful to pray outside. 

His Eminence Metropolitan Antony began the Memorial Service, as everyone present, from clergy, to children joined in. 

“Give rest, O God, to Your servant, and place him in Paradise where the choirs of the Saints and the righteous, O Lord, will shine as the stars of heaven. To Your departed servant give rest, O Lord, overlooking all his offenses.”

The solemnity of the service was felt by everyone as they stood shoulder to shoulder, remembering and praying together for Patriarch Mstyslav.  As the room filled with the smoke from the incense, the atmosphere became even more surreal, as if both worlds, the living and the dead, were mingling together to pay homage to the man who lay peacefully resting after a life spent energetically working towards building the Church and saving a nation and her people.

With the singing of “Veechna Pamyat/Memory Eternal” the service concluded with His Eminence Metropolitan Antony thanking everyone who participated and prayed for the blessed repose of Patriarch Mstyslav, and invited everyone to join him and Archbishop Daniel for a Memorial Lunch at the Pokrova Ukrainian Orthodox Social Hall, followed by a Memorial presentation.

Before making their way back up in to the sunshine, the faithful lingered, quietly whispering amongst themselves.  Some stopped to take photos, others came up to prayerfully lay their hands on the tomb of His Holiness, while yet others walked through the various exhibit rooms in the crypt, organized and presented by the staff of the Ukrainian History and Education Center, taking in the displays of vestments, miters, documents and enjoying historic photos.

Back above ground, everyone slowly made their way to the hall, some people stopping to pray at the gravesites of loved ones, while others stood in the sunlight enjoying each others company and sharing stories of their experiences with Patriarch Mstyslav.  The hall began to fill as the faithful came in from the hot afternoon air, and searched for a suitable spot to sit, where they could get a good view of the presentation.

His Eminence Metropolitan Antony said the prayer before the meal, prepared by the Pokrova Sisterhood.  Having enjoyed a meal, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel stepped up to the microphone to begin the presentation by first welcoming all the clergy and guests, including Ukrainian diplomats from the Embassy in Washington DC, and the Counculate General of Ukraine in NY; Pani Natalia Kachala, the granddaughter of Patriarch Mstyslav. His Eminence continued by thanking everyone who played a part in making this event memorable including pani Dobrodiyka Oksana Pasakas, Natalia Honcharenko, Michael Andrec, Pani Lydmyla Bezsoniw, Pani Zhenya Babenko who assisted with the exhibit, Pan Petro Rudyy and the seminarians of St. Sophia Seminary, who worked hard making sure everything was clean and in order, and the Pokrova Sisterhood (Pani-matka Lesia Siwko - president) for preparing the delicious lunch.

Before introducing the first speaker, Vladyka Daniel took a few moments to set the stage.  “The history of the Orthodox Church has known many well-known hierarchs who, during 2000 years of Christianity, duly worked for the benefit of the Holy Church, preaching among Christians throughout the world the apostolic sermons, instilling spiritual and moral values, salvific faith and piety.

The Kyiv Metropolitan's See, founded in 988, was headed by great church leaders, - saints, who affirmed by their pastoral activity the Holy Orthodox Faith and the unique Ukrainian Orthodox piety among our people...

Ukrainian history knows a lot of personalities who appreciated the ideals of Ukrainian spirituality and statehood above their own lives. Metropolitan of the UOC-US and the Patriarch of Kyiv and All-Russia-Ukraine Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) – is one of them.”

Following His Eminence, the first speaker was Dr. Andrii Smyrnov, who received his PhD in history from the National University of Ostroh Academy. Dr. Smyrnov has authored many articles on Patriarch Mstyslav and the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.  He began by stating that Patriarch Mstyslav was a profound, controversial, and undoubtedly bright and famous figure in the history of Ukraine.  However, each professor and biographer represents him differently from each other, therefore, Dr. Smyrnov would take a few moments to introduce us to the true history of the Patriarch.

Stepan Ivanovych Skrypnyk was born on April 10, 1898 in Poltava to a religious family of kozak descent.  His mother was the sister of Simon Petlura.  From his mother’s side, seven of his uncles were priests, and therefore, the young boy often found himself visiting churches and monasteries.  His education was interrupted by the First World War.  A young Stepan Skrypnyk joined the Ukrainian army, which led to his arrest along with his uncle, Simon Petlura, and imprisonment.

Everyone sat and listened, many realizing for the first time how active Patriarch Mstyslav was in Ukrainian national affairs.

Dr. Smyrnov concluded taking everyone through the years of World War Two, which led to Stepan Skrypnyk leaving Lviv and eventually led to his first efforts at uniting the two Churches.  For such unifying initiatives, the Germans kept the dangerous hierarch under arrest, from which he eventually escaped to the West, and fulfilled his destiny of playing a pivotal role in the revival of the UOAC to eventually become the Patriarch of Kyiv and all Ukraine in 1990.

Before introducing the second speaker of the day, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel shared how just the other day Metropolitan Antony had given him two CD’s of his consecration to the Episcopasy.  While having read about the Patriarch and knowing his history, seeing him and hearing him through the video brought a new sense of realization. Before his eyes was a short statured elderly man, who was clearly filled with the Holy Spirit, and who became an integral part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, Ukraine and in all the world.

Vladyka Daniel then introduced the next speaker, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, who is the only bishop in the United States, who not only remembers Patriarch Mstyslav but, had the honor to serve with him.  

Taking the microphone, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony stated that he had known Patriarch Mstyslav most of his life.  In 1955, at nine years of age, in his little home parish in Sharon, PA, as a young boy, who spoke not a word of Ukrainian, he first laid eyes on the future Patriarch.  He sat and listened to this man, glued to every single word he said, mesmerized by every gesture he made, and not understanding a single spoken word.  That characteristic, that charisma served him, the Holy Church, and the Ukrainian nation well through the 95 years of his life.

Having been secretly ordained in the lower church of St. Andrew Cathedral, Patriarch Mstyslav became a threat to the German occupiers, who imprisoned him. Having escaped, Patriarch Mstyslav ended up in Germany with many other bishops, clergy and faithful, as “Displaced Persons” in labor camps.  His Eminence informed us that when he and Archbishop Daniel visited these DP camps, many had been converted into luxury condominiums.  However, the first few units had long ago been converted into churches, which are still being utilized today by Ukrainian faithful.

Metropolitan Antony continued to expand upon the early years, and how Patriarch Mstyslav had first gone to Canada, and then eventually found his way to the United States, at the invitation of Bishop Bohdan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America (Ecumenical Patriarchate).   

In the United States, he immediately went to work to unify the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful into a single Church.  Wasting no time, he called for a unifying Sobor, where two diocese agreed to become one.  This would not have happened without his prompting and decisive action.

Only a year later 57 acres of land were purchased.  No mortgage was ever taken, as Patriarch Mstyslav busied himself visiting parishes and collecting funds.  Miracle after miracle followed.  When the little church that had been created out of a mill which had been located on the property burned down, he immediately began plans for building the Memorial Church, in memory of the 7-10 million Ukrainians who were starved to death during the Holodomor.  The faithful agreed to this plan and immediately drawings and plans were made to build the new church.  When it was discovered that basement would sit on the water table, 30 feet of concrete were poured.  It took 10 years and countless donations, but, the church was finally completed in 1965, and consecrated in 1967.

Vladyka Antony explained that everything we have here today is the consequence of a man who had a vision.  A man who had a vision he wished to see completed.  A man who through his talent and compelling personality pulled everyone along, kicking and screaming to the final and successful fruition of that vision. 

Blessing after blessing occurred under the guidance of a man who wished to preserve the legacy and history of the Ukrainian nation and the Orthodox Church.

Many didn’t believe when he said Ukraine would be free and the Church reborn. In 1989 on the eve of President Ronald Reagan’s first summit meeting with Russian – Soviet leader Mychail Gorbachev, the President invited Metropolitan Mstyslav, along with 14 other prominent religious leaders of all faiths, to the White House for a discussion about what would be important to bring up with Gorbachev pertaining to religious matters.  Archbishop Antony traveled to the meeting with His Eminence as translator.  The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room with the President seated at the center and two seats away from him the Metropolitan.  Each speaker was allotted a brief time to speak, but when Metropolitan’s turn came, with the translation involved, he went well beyond the allotted time.  After the third warning, he finally concluded a brilliant statement about Ukrainian Orthodoxy in Ukraine.  He had no fear – even at the highest pinnacle of world power in the presence of the President of the USA – to say what had to be said so that the President new in advance the history of religious oppression and subjugation the Ukrainian Nation and her Church had endured throughout the 74 years of Soviet control.

When at another event he had to speak before diplomats, he was told to keep it short.  Metropolitan Antony was at his side, acting as translator when the officials told him to wrap it up.  However, the patriarch kept speaking.  Ten minutes later they told him he had to stop now, but, he kept speaking.  He had much to say.  He only concluded his speech when he was told they would physically remove him.  This was a sign that the man was fearless, even at the highest pinnacles of authority. He desperately wanted the world to know who we are.

Metropolitan Antony explained how one year when the St. Thomas service was held on the steps of the Memorial Church, Patriarch Mstyslav pointed to the graves behind him saying, “The voices of all those people, and the 7-10 million who died during the Holodomor, are carried by the winds in to the world, in to the hearts and minds of just-minded people everywhere; people who understand the difference between good and evil.  Those voices will make it possible for Ukraine to be free again one day, and for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to one day experience her rightful place among the Orthodox Churches.” 

His Eminence concluded by asking that everyone remember the Patriarch in their prayers, for it is not just the buildings that he built that still stand today, but, the Faith and love that he built, which still stand today.

It is amazing what a 93 year old man could accomplish, how many lives he could affect, and how he influenced entire nations.

Vladyka Antony instructed everyone to “believe and pray”.  When he stepped away from the podium you could have heard a pin drop.  Everyone sat mesmerized, tears shining in their eyes, inspired, and wishing to “do” something to make a difference in the life of the Church.

It was difficult to follow such an inspirational speech, however, Dr. Aleksandr Sagan, a specialist in the history of religion, Orthodoxy, religion and State-Church relations in Ukraine, stepped up to the microphone.  He spoke about the life of Patriarch Mstyslav from the time of his Patriarchal enthronement in St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.  He explained how difficult the efforts were in trying to rebuild a truly Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, with the Moscow Patriarch constantly working to thwart every effort.

1991, 70% of Ukrainians voted in favor of preserving a “renewed” Soviet Union. However, only 8 months after the All-Ukrainian referendum, 90% supported the “Declaration of Independence of Ukraine. Dr. Sagan explained how mistakes were made during the fight for Ukrainian independence, first was appealing to the Moscow Patriarch, ignoring the mother for the Kyiv Metropolitan Church – Constantinople.  The second, the disregard of the appeal (open letter) initiated by Patriarch Mstyslav to the UOC-MP from the Bishops’ Council of the UAOC.

He concluded by stating that the work of Patriarch Mstyslav was an impetus of giving to Orthodox worship a renewed Ukrainian ethos, following years of persecution and manipulations.  Sadly, 25 years after his repose, there is still no unity among the Churches.  We must follow his example, and be persistent in defending the Church, and the nation.

As the applause died down His Eminence Archbishop Daniel once again stepped up to the microphone.  He reiterated the necessity to follow the example set by Patriarch Mstyslav. 

Vladyka Daniel concluded by reading an excerpt from the “Testament” of Patriarch Mstyslav, “Let us not forget our forefathers.  Let us not conceal them from our youth.  Let us call to remembrance, time after time, their glory and not be ashamed of it.  For it is our glory also.  Let us enter the future in wisdom, armed with the knowledge of our forefathers.  We have no future if we downplay the past. In that past we had many wise men, who were like prophets, who loved Ukraine, as they loved God, mother and father.”

Archbishop Daniel reminded us that we are the inheritors of all the work that was done by the Patriarch.  He stated that it takes active participation in the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to keep the legacy of the forefathers alive and growing.

With final instructions and petitions for our active participation, sharing of our talents, making an effort to grow the Church, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel gave the Benediction, and Metropolitan Antony led everyone in singing “Veechna Pamyat/Memory Eternal”.

While the program had come to an official end, those gathered dallied a while, taking time to speak with the presenters, getting books signed and generally discussing about the current situation in Ukraine and what the probable outcome will be.  As the tables were cleared the people slowly began to make their way back out in to the sunshine.

As they walked to their cars, they all took a look at the large cemetery that lay before them.  The headstones and crosses gleamed brightly in the midday sun.  Once again the birds were chirping in the shade of the lush trees. Everyone sighed in relief as a gentle breeze twirled around them in the heat, tickling their cheeks.  If they listened carefully, as the Patriarch had stated, they could almost hear the voices of all the people buried, pleading for them not to forget the struggle.  These whispers, compounded by the words of Archbishop Daniel to “be active and participate”, and Metropolitan Antony’s to “believe and pray”, made a real impact. Everyone slowly departed, with furtive final glances over their shoulders at the tall dome of St. Andrew Memorial Church humbled by the sacrifice of previous generations and inspired to do some real work for the benefit of future generations.

So, "Believe and Pray!"

Text by Elizabeth Symonenko, Secretary of the Consistory of the UOC of the USA

Remembering the Archpastor...

Remembering the Archpastor... - 06/03/2018

Photos by Seminarian Yaroslav Bilohan and Elizabeth Symonenko

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