As the sun rose on a chilly Sunday morning – February 10, 2019, the faithful flocked to fill the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, NJ. Today, they climbed the many steps leading to the church door, reminiscent of how Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree, in order to see Christ and find salvation. The parishioners joyfully joined their hierarchs, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of UOC of the USA and Diaspora, and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy, the clergy and seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, in fervent prayer.
During his sermon Archbishop Daniel stressed that everyone must make an effort and climb their own sycamore tree to find Christ. Zacchaeus, the sinful tax-collector, made the effort and was rewarded by hosting Christ under his roof. By meeting Christ, the man was healed, and he completely altered his life. Instead of taking from the world, he gave back. Half of his wealth he gave to the poor, and whatever he had taken unrightfully from anyone he returned four-fold. His Eminence asked that during this preparatory period, leading us to Great Lent, that we do a self-examination, and follow Zacchaeus’ example, giving to the poor and helping those in need.
As the Divine Liturgy concluded, everyone bundled up and quickly made their way through the cold breeze to the Pokrova Sisterhood Hall, to partake of the Second Annual SOUP-er Bowl fundraiser hosted by the Seminary UOL Chapter. The “SOUP-er Bowl” is a Ukrainian Orthodox League initiative which collects funds towards the Soup Kitchens sponsored by the St. Andrew Society in Ukraine.
Chilled to the bone everyone rejoiced in the warmth of friends, and hot soup. The Seminarians had spent many hours in the kitchen chopping vegetables, frying meatballs, shredding cabbage, stirring hot bubbly boiling pots. With pride in their work, the young men happily donned aprons and got ready to serve the delicious broths. After the prayer, Metropolitan Antony led the way tasting a bit of each soup offered. Ladles clanked as bowls were filled with hot red Borsch, creamy green Pea Soup, lusciously fragrant Mushroom Soup, rich Kapusniak (Cabbage Soup), thick and bubbly ItalianSoup with Meatballs, and Salty Solyanka. The laughter and chatter in the room soon quieted down as everyone got busy enjoying bowl after bowl of soup.
As the guests enjoyed the luscious broths, they gazed down at the elderly, tired faces of the many individuals whom the St. Andrew Society assists in Ukraine. Various brochures and flyers were placed on the tables to inform and educate about the sad situations faced by many in Ukraine. The lonely eyes of the residents of the Mariupol Elderly Care Center portrayed on the brochures, forlornly gazed up at the guests as they indulged in the ample supply of hot soup. The sad look in their eyes made it seem as if they would reach out through the brochure and grasp a hot spoonful of nourishment. The dichotomy in situations was not lost on those gathered, as their own eyes began to fill with tears at the realization of the vast contrast in lifestyles.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel stood and presented a brief overview on the St. Andrew Society and how they benefit the most desperate in society. Vladyka Daniel told of his personal experiences, as he has often delivered funds, purchased coal, food and medical supplies, and delivered them to the elderly who find themselves in desperate circumstances.
As their appetites were satiated, and warmth flowed through their bodies, everyone became somber listening to how others were suffering, and recalling Archbishop Daniel’s sermon that morning about being generous and giving, they realized this was a chance to make a difference. People enthusiastically reached deep in to their pockets and contributed well above the suggested donation amount. They realized that while they sat in a warm room, safely surrounded by their friends and family, enjoying bowl after bowl of hot soup, that there were people in Ukraine, who were lonely, cold, scared, and hungry. What an excellent way to contribute to the comfort of someone else.
Subdeacon Yurii Bobko, President of the UOL Chapter, thanked everyone for their generous donations, which totaled about $1,600! These funds will go a long way in helping the elderly who are in dire need of assistance. In gratitude for everyone’s generosity, the seminarians serenaded the crowd with Christmas Carols. Soon everyone joined in and the melancholy atmosphere transformed to one of celebration and hope.
Truly this Zacchaeus Sunday saw many people “climbing” trees and finding salvation by following the Lord’s directive to help others. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary UOL Chapter SOUP-er Bowl campaign. The funds collected will relieve many burdens, and warm not only bodies, but, hearts.
Photos by Lev Khmelkovsky and Seminarians Yaroslav Bilohan and Myroslav Mykytyuk