On Saturday, March 30, 2019 the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania met at the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center for the annual Lenten retreat sponsored by the UOL. Fr. Ivan Tchopko opened the day by leading morning prayers and serving a Panahyda for the late Very Reverend Fr. John Harvey whose presence was missed as this was an event at which he not only participated but also loved.
After the prayer service, opening remarks given by the chair of the event, Marianne Carmack, the president of the national UOL, John Holowko, and the hosting priest, Fr. Ivan Tchopko. As Marianne introduced the three priests who had a major role in the day, Fr. Ivan Tchopko, Fr. Paisius McGrath, and Fr. John Charest, everyone got a laugh at the fact that they all hail from a Saints Peter and Paul parish, but each a different parish. The theme of the retreat was, “Don’t just go to Church, Be the Church…”
Fr. Paisius McGrath was introduced and then began the retreat by speaking about having joy in our own spiritual life. He drove home the point that if we’re not full of joy doing what we do, then we won’t be fulfilled and we won’t be able to evangelize to those who don’t know Christ. Fr. Paisius went on to say that we don’t just need to find joy in our spiritual life, but we need to express it. When he addressed the group regarding evangelism he reminded the participants that they need to meet people where they are. This means using familiar language, supporting dogmas that they acknowledge, and showing them the love of Christ. He reminded the group that while it might feel fulfilling to be joyful about Christ, we must also do the foundational work of bringing Christ to people who are unfamiliar with His teaching.
After Fr. Paisius spoke, Fr. John Charest was introduced and he spoke about what it takes to be an Orthodox Christian. His thesis was that Orthodoxy is a way of life and not a religion comparing, as St. Paul often does, Christianity to being an elite athlete. Fr. John showed a video of persons doing tremendous feats and drove home the fact that the persons in the video not only practiced their craft, but dedicated their lives to being able to do those stunts and reminded the participants that if one is to attain a sense of peace in Christianity then one must always live life like a Christian. He concluded with practical ways that an Orthodox Christian can practice behaving like a Christian and how one can experience the Christian way of life through some of the many programs offered to Orthodox Christians.
After lunch, the schedule was changed because the group was blessed to have a surprise visitor. His Eminence Archbishop Daniel was driving from Parma, OH to Silver Springs, MD after a Divine Liturgy in Parma and decided to stop in to see everyone at the retreat. He bought along with him stories of the myrrh streaming icon he’d been blessed to be with the night before, an icon written on a piece of an ammunition box from the front lines of the Ukrainian defense against the Russian army, and a reminder to all participants that the Christian virtues and values must be worked at. Following His Eminence’s talk, the seminarians with whom he traveled treated the retreat participants to some liturgical music they had been working on. As their voices harmonized in the meeting room it began to feel like a great ending to a great day.
The retreat concluded with Vespers served by Fr. Ivan Tchopko, the veneration of the Holy Cross, and fellowship in the meeting room. Having the concepts of the presentations, the melodies of the seminarians, and the prayers of our Archbishop in their minds and hearts, the participants made their ways home to share their experiences with their home parishes. Many participants left with the words, “see you next year” to one another, and we too, hope to, “see YOU next year.”