As the sun rose on Sunday, July 28th, 2019, the sleepy city of Parma, Ohio, yawned beneath soft white clouds as the bells of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral rang, echoing down the streets of the drowsy town. The faithful of the parish gathered on the steps of the church, happily awaiting the arrival of their beloved hierarchs, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Metropolitan & Prime Hierarch of UOC of the USA and Diaspora; and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy and Consistory President.
Everyone’s joy was palpable as the procession turned the corner and headed towards the church entrance. Joining the procession were seminarians from the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, Yaroslav Bilohan, Ivan Venhryn and Pavlo Vysotskyi. The first to greet the hierarchs was the Parish President Serhij Nahornyj who presented the bishops with a lovely korovay lovingly baked by Olena Vyhovska, followed by the youngest of the flock, the youth of the parish - Julia Hontaruk and Christina Logvynyuk.
Parish Pastor, Fr. Ivan Nakonachny welcomed the hierarchs to the parish, thanking them for attending their 95thanniversary celebration.
As the hierarchs sprinkled everyone with holy water and entered the church, the cathedral choir, under the direction of Markian Komichak burst out in song, their voices spiraling through the cavernous nave to envelope everyone below.
As the hierarchs stood in the center of the nave, flanked by parish priests Very Rev. John Nakonachny, and Very Rev. Michael Hontaruk, Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay declared in a loud and resonating voice that it was time to serve the Lord. As the Divine Liturgy commenced, guest clergy - Very Rev Roman Yatskiv, of St. Nicholas Parish, Monessen, PA, and Very Rev. Dmitri Belenki, of St. Mary Dormition Parish, Lorain, OH, were joined by hundreds of parishioners and guests, who flocked to celebrate the anniversary of this historic parish.
Having heard the day’s reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew 9:1-8 where Christ heals the paralytic, everyone was filled with renewed hope. His Eminence Archbishop Daniel descended from the ambo and delivered a sermon, stating:
“There is a new breed of thieves. They steal the identities of persons. These are people who use the tools of the information age to impersonate other persons, some of them dead, and order hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in their names. I saw the headline in USA TODAY just a few months ago: "IN INTERNET AGE, IDENTITY THEFT HAPPENS 'ALL THE TIME.'"
The article went on to tell of a number of instances in which cyberspace criminals literally stole the identities of living and recently deceased business executives by getting access to bank and credit card account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other vital information, which was then used to carry out wire transfers of funds and order diamonds and Rolex watches, which were delivered to hotel addresses where the thieves picked up their booty. The good news was that two men had been arrested and charged with 29 counts of such theft. The bad news is that "identity experts say this kind of theft is relatively easy and 'happens all the time.
None of us here would want to have his or her identity stolen in that manner. None of us would want to lose the identifying marks of who he or she is in this way. Our identities are important to us, and we want to maintain them.
That is certainly true of us as individuals. I believe it is also true of us in other ways. For instance, I believe that the identity of institutions is also vitally important, and I want to explore with you on this 95th anniversary Sunday some aspects of the identity of this institution we know as St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church. First, a bit about the importance of identity.
Jean Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, could be said to have lived by the philosophy that "to be is to do."Descartes, the philosopher famous for the phrase, "I think, therefore I am,"could be said to have lived by the philosophy that "to do is to be."
It's a basic issue of life:the relationship between "do" and "be" - between doing and being.The question is simple: does our doing reflect our being? Does what we do, how we act, the manner in which we live, truly reflect who we are, our true identity? Are we true to who we are? If not,
it may not be that our identity has been stolen - but that we have given it away.
Have you noticed how often Jesus defined himself not by what he did but by who he was? Look at the numerous times in the gospel of John when Jesus referred to his own identity, his being. He referred to himself in significant ways, saying in these instances, "I am"
-Messiah, he who is called Christ (4:25-26)
-the bread of life (6:35, 41,51)
-the gate for the sheep (10:7 & 9)
-the good shepherd (10:11 & 14)
-the resurrection and the life (1 1 :25)
-the way, the truth, and the life (14:6)
-the true vine (15:1 & 5)
-and, twice to the soldiers looking for Jesus of Nazareth, "I am he." (18:5 & 8)
It is obvious that Jesus regarded his identity as important.
Jesus was also concerned with the identity of his disciples. The gospel text from Matthew makes that abundantly clear. It comes from The Sermon on the Mount. Following the Beatitudes, those pithy summaries of the kinds of living which Jesus tells us characterize lives committed to the rule of God, Jesus gives us two admonitions which are words about identity: "You are the salt of the earth .... You are the light of the world." It's as if Jesus is saying, "You are to flavor the life of the world by your own lives, by your faithfulness to this life of which I have spoken. And you are to bring light to the world by your own lives, your faithfulness to the life I have taught you. The key is whether his disciples remain true to their identities - whether they remain true to their calling. The key is identity. It's another way of Jesus telling his disciples that when they remember who they are the role of God is extended in the world. "Remember who you are! The work of God depends on it.
So I say to this congregation on this anniversary Sunday - as you celebrate 95 years of ministry and step into the next 5 and more: Remember who you are!Hold fast to your identity! Don't let it be taken from you! And don't give it away by simply not remembering! The work of God in this place depends on it. The thing that will keep you faithful into the future is the thing that has kept you faithful in the past! Remember who you are!
And what a marvelous identity it is! You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST!
This congregation, founded in 1924, moved quickly to build this structure in which we are gathered for worship today. Groundbreaking was held and the cornerstone for this sanctuary was laid.
Recently, I traveled on a Mission to Ukraine and had a chance to visit a church that my classmate is building. I met him in a village with a group of members of the Church. They took him to their church building, which was under construction. They were making the bricks for it themselves, and they had already made 60,000 bricks. They had laid the foundation with stone gathered from the surrounding fields, and inside the foundation they had placed dirt and rocks to make the floor. The next step was to be the raising of the walls. They wanted me to pray for their church. I began to bow my head to pray, and they stopped me - until we could all gather INSIDE the foundation. Then I prayed. I have no doubt about the vitality of that congregation. They will never build a structure as magnificent as this one in which we are gathered this morning, but there is no question about the magnificence of their spiritual foundation. It is the same as this one. Two congregations: One in a village in Ukraine, with a hundred persons at the most, in a rock, dirt, and homemade brick building constructed by the worshipers. One on the main street of the Ukrainian Village of Parma, OH, worshiping today in a sanctuary constructed and paid for by persons long since gone to glory. But both of them grounded in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church. You know the truth of what we often say: "The Church's One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord." You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST!
And you are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP!For 95 years you have been nurtured in worship - weekly worship.
Liturgical worship has been called the most distinctive identifying aspect of the church. The worship of God is the one thing the church does that no other institution in our society does. There are other institutions which provide educational experiences. There are other institutions which serve the needs of people. But the church is the only institution in our society which regularly, as part of its identity and life, gathers for the worship of God.
Think for a moment about the power of worship in this place over 95 years. It has not been the same for all those years. The sanctuary itself has changed… The order of service has changed numerous times over the years. There have been changes - these and others. But the essential thing is that there has been worship here at St. Vladimir’s for 95 years, at the center of the life of this congregation.
When in Ukraine a few years ago, I visited a few regions that took care of the wounded Ukrainian soldiers. I saw the elementary and high schools in small towns, and the machine shop where students are taught welding, auto repairs, small engine repair, and where they maintain all the vehicles of the Christian Mission Outreach Center. Then I visited the local hospital - 124 beds, serving 130,000 people in the region of Lviv. One of three physicians who were there at the time was Dr. Rudy from Wisconsin. When he retired from practice in Wisconsin he went to Ukraine, his second tour there. He and the other physicians and nurses deliver babies. The physicians handle the Caesarean and problem deliveries; midwives care for all the rest. There is a "Waiting Mothers Home" with 24 beds for women in the last month of pregnancy. They care for themselves, cooking their meals communally on open air stoves under a covered outdoor shelter. Two of the wards in the hospital deal with tuberculosis; 90% of those patients are HIV positive. Dr. Rudy talked about the shortage of staff, the problem of aging equipment, the challenge of treating patients the majority of whom will die from preventable diseases (AIDS, etc.). I asked him how he coped with all those challenges, and in response he showed me the chapel, where the hospital staff worship together every day from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m. Remarkable! The power of worship to nurture and renew life, to strengthen us for the challenges, to bind us into community.
What has it meant that for 95 years, at this place, the people of God in this congregation have gathered to worship? What has it meant in terms of encouragement for life's challenges, direction in focusing service, nurture in the shaping of values, the deepening of the life of the spirit, the transformation of minds from conformity to the ways of the world to conformity to the will of God, undergirding for families in times of celebration and of crisis? You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP.And the power of that identity promises to continue for the near and distant future. Never underestimate the power of that identity.
You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST.
You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP
And there is one more thing: You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN DEFINED BY MISSION! That is one of the remarkable things about this congregation - your commitment to mission, your commitment to reach out beyond yourselves and touch the needs of persons whom you will never know with the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
Let me go to Ukraine one more time - to the three orphanages that our Church sponsors in Ukraine. I am thrilled to say that you have provided an enormous amount of support for our Church’s work with the orphans: both financially and by sending missionaries from your parish.
I have heard that you are in the planning stages of a new campaign - to repair the parking lot, and other changes, expanding ministries of this church.
How do I respond to hearing that? I said, "Of course! That's who this church is." – a Living Organism and grows and changes, changes, and goes in tact with the times and the needs of the community.
You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN DEFINED BY MISSION
So today we celebrate: 75 years of ministry. We celebrate that past and its identity:
-GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST;
-NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP;
-DEFINED BY MISSION.
Out of that past you will create your future. 'To be is to do?" - "To do is to be?"
What a past to celebrate! What a future to create!
Vladyka Daniel continued by pointing to the children of the parish who were squirming in their fathers’ arms, sleeping on their mothers’ shoulders, or tripping up and down the church aisles. These children are the future of the Church, and as our ancestors worked together to leave us the legacy of this magnificent cathedral, so, now we have the responsibility to preserve this church, and the Holy Orthodox Faith, so that one day we can entrust them to the future generations.
The service continued as prayers were humbly raised to the Lord for His mercy upon the faithful, the parish, and the Church. At the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, having been recited by everyone present in unison, the Royal Gates closed, and the youngest children began to assemble for Communion. The crowd was so great, that the clergy emerged with three chalices to ensure that everyone was able to partake of the Eucharist on this memorable occasion.
The Liturgy concluded with the singing of Bozhe Velykyj Yedynyjand a beautiful rendition of God Bless America, which were followed by Mnohaya Lita, wishing many years to the hierarchs, the parishioners, the cathedral and all those who were named for St. Volodymyr the Great, whose feast day was being celebrated.
Before gathering everyone in front of the church for a group photo, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony asked Fr. John Nakonachny to join him on the ambo. His Eminence praised all the hard work Fr. John had dedicated over the many years of service to this parish. As His Eminence Archbishop Daniel pinned the honorary Centennial Award to Fr. John’s vestments, Metropolitan Antony announced that in gratitude for all his sacrifices, Fr. John would now be elevated to the clergy ranks of Protopresbyter. Once again everyone broke out in a loud and joyous rendition of “God grant you many years”, honoring their parish pastor.
With the conclusion of the service the faithful poured out of the church, exiting below the grand mosaic of St. Volodymyr the Great baptizing his people in the Dnipro River. While some stopped to catch up with friends, others walked around the side of the church, pausing for a moment before the black granite monument erected as a memorial to the victims of the Holodomor, begore finally walking across the parking lot to the parish hall to participate in the celebratory banquet and program.
With the room filled to capacity, the hierarchs took their places at the head table along with the parish priests and their wives.
The afternoon flew by as everyone enjoyed the delicious meal, great camaraderie, and a wonderful program emceed by Lucy Komichak. Parish President Serhij Nahornyj spoke in English thanking everyone for joining in the patronal feast day celebration. He was followed by Fr. Michael Hontaruk who in Ukrainian thanked the hierarchs, clergy, parishioners and guests for their patronage.
During the event a number of awards were rewarded to deserving individuals. Fist was the 2018 Parishioner of the Year Award which went to Alex Pihulyak who dedicates much of his time and talents caring for the parish campus. Additionally, the parish brotherhood awarded scholarships to recent High School graduates – John Meaden, Sophia Shilling and Julia Honatruk.
Having concluded the meal, everyone settled in for the afternoon’s entertainment which consisted of several dances performed by the St. Vladimir Dance group under the direction of Oksana Logvynyuk. Everyone was awed by visiting Bandura player from Ukraine, Oleh Sozansky. He had everyone clapping and crying, as he plucked the strings of his bandura, and seemed to pluck the very strings of the hearts of his audience.
Everyone was once again impressed as three beautiful young women took the stage to sing a number of ballads – Julia Hontaruk, Christina Logvynyuk and Taisa Kulyk. The girls’ sweet voices brought soft smiles to everyone’s lips.
Protopresbyter John Nakonachny concluded the ceremony with a short speech. He took the opportunity to remind everyone how much this parish has contributed to the lives of its parishioners, the greater community, and the Church. He asked that everyone consider donating to ensure the parish can continue its traditions, and service to the public.
At the conclusion of the benediction, everyone slowly began to gather their things, pausing for final hugs and goodbyes before leaving for their homes.
As the last guests drove away, the quiet returned to the parish campus. The sun, now setting in the west, glinted brightly off the cathedral domes. Below, the mosaic of the Baptism of Ukraine seemed to glow in the evening light, the haloes of the saints glimmering gently in the fading sunlight. While the day’s celebrations had concluded, the parish remains robust and full of promise for the future. Tomorrow the sun will once again glisten off the domes, as it will for many years to come, smiling down at the parishioners who will come to the cathedral to worship the Lord, to raise their children in the Faith, and to work towards the salvation of the world.