Having battled the snowy conditions of the Northern New Jersey, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, accompanied by the seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary Subdeacon Ihor Protsak and Yaroslav Bilohan, with a slight delay arrived to El Paso, TX International airport and later in the day to Las Cruces, NM – the town that embraced the mission of St. Anthony of the Desert – a community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Archpastor’s arrival was scheduled way in advance, so the community might pray together and have enough time for social meetings with their bishop prior to the beginning of the Lenten journey.
Saturday, March 2nd, 2019 – the Memorial Saturday on the ecclesiastical calendar, was truly designated to be a day for prayer and meeting with the archpastor, as the community prepares for an uplifting spiritual journey on Meatfare Sunday when two spiritual children of the mission will be ordained to the service in the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA: seminarian Aaron Nathaniel Halloway – to be tonsured and set aside as Subdeacon and Subdeacon Clinton Kifolo ordained to Deaconate.
On Saturday evening, following Vespers service that was served by the pastor of the mission – Very Rev. Fr. Gabriel Rochelle, Archbishop Daniel offered a short reflection on the spiritual response to a number of social and moral issues of the society in which the Church ministers: the immigration reform, ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine, the most recent decisions in the State of NY that terminates and authorizes further the slaughter on the unborn children – just a few themes that are prevalent in the present day society.
In his concluding remarks, Vladyka Daniel reflected upon the topic of the Meatfare Sunday Gospel narrative, concluding with a reflection about the meaning of the Memorial Saturday of the ecclesiastical calendar.
“…Our Church calendar provides many occasions when we are asked to face up to the fact of death. Great and Holy Friday is one such occasion. So is Pascha/Easter. Sunday is another. Every Sunday is a “little Pascha/Easter” celebrating Christ’s victory over death. On our Church calendar, every year there are special Memorial Saturdays or “Saturdays of the Souls” which provide another opportunity for us to face up to death, i.e, the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent and the Saturday before Pentecost. On these Saturdays the Divine Liturgy is celebrated and special prayers are offered for our deceased loved ones. We pray for the dead especially on Saturdays since it was on the Sabbath day that Christ lay dead in the tomb, “resting from all His works and trampling down death by death.” Thus in the New Testament, Saturday becomes the proper day for remembering the dead and offering prayers for them.
When Orthodox Christians pray for departed loved ones, they focus not only on them but also on Christ in Whom they died: “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith….” (Hebrews 12:1). “I am the resurrection and the life,” He said, “he who believes in me though he were dead yet shall he live; and he who lives and believes in me shall have life everlasting.”
Memorial prayer services which affirm the reality of physical death and also the reality of resurrection into life eternal play a vital role in healing of grief for the Orthodox Christian.
Today we remember all pious and Orthodox Christians who have fallen asleep in the Lord, and also recall the dread Day of Judgment. May Christ our God be merciful to them, and to us. Memory Eternal…” concluded Vladyka Daniel.
With the children holding in their hands a loaf of Memorial Bread, the congregation, holding candles in their hands, as symbols of their own call to holiness and light, chanted the memorial hymn “Memory Eternal!”
The evening concluded with a dinner, prepared and offered by Subdeacon Clinton Kifolo, once again providing an opportunity for the parishioners and their spiritual father to spent time in conversation and reflection.
Addressing everyone in attendance, Archbishop Daniel presented a reflection of the historic decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, thus validating the appeal of millions of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians for the need to pray in their native tongue, to worship according to the ecclesiastical regulations and various traditions of the multi-cultural Ukrainian society.
A number of faithful of the mission community asked questions about the spiritual and physical care that the UOC of the USA provides for the orphans, wounded soldiers and their families in Ukraine. Once again, Vladyka Daniel provided thorough answers, offering practical charitable examples of the spiritual and charitable generosity of the UOC of the USA through the ministry of St. Andrews’ Society, various chapters of the UOL and parish communities of the Church.
The visit of Vladyka Daniel shall continue through Monday, while many opportunities for prayer and discussions will be offered throughout the weekend of the Archpastoral visit.