Архипастирський Візит Митрополита Антонія до Української Праославної Парафії Пресвятої Трійці в Трентоні, Н. Дж.
On an overcast morning, as a light drizzle fell from the clouds, the light shown brightly from the open doors of Holy Trinity parish in Trenton, New Jersey. Standing in the doorway was parish pastor, Fr. Zinovy Zharsky, along with the members of the parish board of administration. Gathered before them were the children of the parish, waving flowers high in the air as they awaited the arrival of their much-loved hierarch. The children on lookout at the top of the steps to the church let out an excited squeal as they bounced back inside letting the others know that procession has begun.
Led by a man carrying a cross, followed by icon banners, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Diaspora, walked along the sidewalk towards the church, to celebrate the parish’s 102ndanniversary. Joining His Eminence were seminarians from the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary - Deacon Myroslav Mykytuk, Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotsky and the Reader Maksym Zhuravchyk. As he ascended the steps the children fidgeted but watched quietly as the Metropolitan was first presented bread and salt, in a traditional Ukrainian greeting, by the parish administrators. Given the cue the children moved forward to welcome His Eminence and present him with the flowers. Graciously accepting the blooms, he shared them back with the children, and then he leaned down and opened his arms. Without bidding the children all ran to him and were enveloped in a warm bear hug from their hierarch. Releasing the youngsters with a smile, His Eminence stepped forward to kiss the cross presented by Fr. Zinovy and took the holy water and blessed all those present, sprinkling them generously with holy water.
Thus, Metropolitan Antony made his way to the center of the Nave, where he stood as the Divine Liturgy commenced. Dressed in golden vestments, amidst the glowing icons, the relics of the Saints, His Eminence stood humbly surrounded by his flock. The faithful, adorned in traditional Ukrainian outfits, their faces covered with masks, nonetheless, reflected their joy on this happy occasion, which was reflected in the sparkle in their eyes.
The reading was from the Gospel according to Matthew 22:35-46, reflecting how a lawyer once approached Christ and asked Him which was the greatest commandment, to which He replied, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Closing the Gospel Book and placing it back upon the Altar table, His Eminence stepped back out on the Ambon and delivered a riveting sermon.
The faithful sat mesmerized as His Eminence elucidated upon the Lord’s Two Great Commandments, driving home the seriousness of them both. The Ten Commandments were given to Moses so he could share them with the people; however, these two were given by God directly to us all. On one hand these two supersede the ten, on the other, if we truly live by these two, we will also fulfill the ten.
“Christ was serious!” His Eminence loudly proclaimed, as he looked the people directly in their eyes to convey the magnitude of his words. He was silent for a few seconds, allowing the message to get absorbed. In the silence, everyone sat up straighter, put down the papers they had in their hands, set aside their phones, and quieted their children. All attention on was the Metropolitan.
He continued, by stressing that when they go out into the world beyond the church doors, they need to live these commandments. When Christ instructed us love our neighbors as ourselves, He was not speaking to love them like we love the person who looks back at us through the mirror in the morning. No. It is not about us, but, about God, and the image of God in each of us.
Every single person has been created in the image of God, and therefore, we are to love them all as we would love God. When we gaze upon the people around us, we are to realize we are gazing at the very image of God Himself. How can we state that we dislike different people, because they black, brown, white, purple, blue, red, or green? We are not to even notice these superficial things. When we look upon another, we need to see God in them, for God has made them, and God loves them just the way they are.
Imagine if we all lived according to these two Commandments? What a wonderful world it truly would be. We would focus on the positive and not the negative. We would accept, help, and love everyone equally. Harmony would prevail. This is achievable only if we all live by Christ’s Commandments, and we must. His Eminence instructed the parishioners to pray for God’s assistance in fulfilling His instructions, and to never forget His words; to put aside all preconceived notions, and truly look upon everyone they meet as if they are looking upon God – to treat everyone they meet, as they would treat God Himself. His Eminence paused one more long moment, glancing around at all the quiet, yet attentive faces, before silently turning back to the Altar and continuing the Divine Liturgy.
The Litany of Fervent Supplication this day was truly impassioned, and the words, “Lord almighty, God of our fathers, we pray You, hear us and have mercy,” held a deeper meaning. Everyone rose to their feet and silently prayed as the choir, under the directorship of Taras Pavlovsky, began to earnestly sing, “Lord have mercy!”
As the Royal Gates closed, the faithful humbly approached to partake of the Holy Eucharist. One by one they stepped up to the tetrapod upon which lay a beautiful Cross, surrounded by lovely blossoms, which was laid out for veneration the preceding Monday – the Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. Toddlers eyed their mothers, who fell to their knees and prostrated before the Cross, themselves toppling to their knees and bowing, their little heads hitting the plush carpet before they arose and repeated the gesture. Young and younger, all took a moment to silently bow low, thanking the Lord for all His blessings, asking for His continued assistance, strength, and protection, venerating His sacrifice and love for them all.
Having humbly and serenely partaken of the Eucharist everyone quietly prayed, as Fr. Zinovy read the Prayer behind the Ambon.
“O Lord, Who blesses those who bless You and sanctifies those who put their trust in You, save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Protect the whole body of Your Church. Sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house. Glorify them in return by Your divine power and forsake us not who have set our hope in You. Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the clergy, to our civic leaders, to the armed forces, and to all Your people. For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of lights. To You we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.”
At the conclusion of the prayer, His Eminence called all the children to step forward. His Eminence sat down in a chair, so that he would be at eye level with the youngsters as he addressed them. Looking them in their shining bright eyes, he instructed them that even though they are young and small, God loves them more than they can imagine, and He expects them in turn to love Him, and thereby, love all the other people in their lives. Metropolitan Antony told them that they are to look upon all their friends, classmates, and acquaintances like God – with love, care, and mercy.
To clarify the ask, His Eminence asked the children if they’d ever been bullied in school. Timidly a few little hands were raised. The hierarch explained that the reason they were bullied is because the bully did not look upon them as if he were looking upon God. He was blind to their true selves. He asked the children how it felt to be bullied. “Bad” they quietly answered, as their eyes gazed down at the ground before them. Metropolitan Antony cleared his throat and asked, “how many of you have bullied other children?” Before they could catch themselves, a few hands jotted upward, and were quickly lowered. His Eminence smiled at the children’s innocence and reminded them that it is never good to bully anyone else. We are never to hurt anyone, not their bodies, nor their feelings. If you do this, you must stop. When you look at another child, stop and imagine you are looking upon Jesus. How would you treat Him? So, treat all the children you meet.
To lighten the moment, His Eminence once again opened his arms, and like moths to a flame, all the children eagerly raced forward and got lost in his vestments, enveloped in a loving and warming bear hug. His Eminence stood and read a prayer of blessing over all the little bowed heads before him, asking the Lord’s intervention in their lives, that He would protect and guide them all their days. They giggled and squealed as Vladyka sprinkled them with Holy Water.
Having taken a group photo, Fr. Zinovy took a moment to thank His Eminence on behalf of all the parishioners for visiting and celebrating their 102nd anniversary with them. Quietly, everyone lined up to get their hierarch’s blessing, and to receive a prayer card which he was handing out to commemorate the day’s events. The children could not get enough of Metropolitan Antony and kept running up for more hugs. The adults smiled, realizing the children had actually listened and absorbed their hierarch’s words to them. Holding the icon cards close, squinting against the bright sunshine that had chased away the morning clouds, like His Eminence’s words had chased away their morning worries and concerns, everyone made their way down the front steps of the church, and proceeded out into the world beyond. As the breeze blew the leaves off the trees, peppering the sidewalk below, the faithful drove away taking the words of Metropolitan Antony home with them, nestled safely within their hearts. They were determined to look upon the world with new eyes, seeing Christ in everyone they met along the way.
With renewed hope and joy, the parish promises to flourish for another century. May God grant them many years!