On a crisp early winter afternoon of December 4th, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, along with Seminarian of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi, arrived in Madison Wisconsin to join in a celebratory weekend.
Madison, is the capital city of Wisconsin, and lies west of Milwaukee. It’s known for the domed Wisconsin State Capitol, which sits on an isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona. The rich farmland is dotted with clear blue lakes and streams throughout. The State of Wisconsin’s motto is “Forward”. True to it’s slogan, the state has moved forward in serving the people of Christ through the Mission Parish of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.
His Eminence was greeted warmly as he arrived to serve Vespers on Saturday evening. This was Archbishop’s first visit to the parish since the start of the Covid Pandemic in late 2019. The parish children eagerly awaited the arrival of their guests, waving flowers, fidgeting, and practicing their words, all of which was forgotten when His Eminence appeared before them. With a huge smile the hierarch dispelled all the anxiety of the little ones, happily accepting their flowers, and gifting them little icon cards in return. As the children breathed a sigh of relief Archbishop Daniel stepped up and was greeted with the traditional bread and salt by the parish administrators. Gratefully accepting the warm welcome, His Eminence exchanged a few words and accepted the cross offered by parish pastor, Rev. Gregory Jensen before proceeding into the nave and beginning the service. Vespers is the first service of the Daily Cycle of divine services celebrated in the Orthodox Church. Because the liturgical day begins at sunset, Vespers is traditionally served in the early evening, and prepares the faithful for the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning.
With candles twinkling upon the darkened altar table, the service ebbed and flowed, as the choir sang and the people prayed. His Eminence delivered a short sermon at the conclusion of the service, expressing his gratitude to once again be able to pray with the faithful of the Mission Parish. It has been a difficult two years, with many changes in the world, and yet the Church has remained the same, and always will be the once constant in our lives. It is through the Church that the faithful meet with their Creator and work out their own salvation.
Before the parishioners departed for their homes, Archbishop Daniel took the opportunity to speak with the numerous young adults who were present for the Vespers service. A parish on a university campus is an important witness not only to the surrounding community but also to high school age and younger parishioners. Establishing a parish on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison helps remind young people that graduating high school doesn't mean "graduating" from the Church.
His Eminence focused on vocations of the college students. Each one of them has a particular calling and mission to fulfill in their lives. As Orthodox Christians, he reminded them that we are to be the Church to those around us, to take the Word of Christ out into the world. It is on each of us to make our communities a better place, alleviating the hardships of others, brining peace to the community, and living with love towards our neighbors.
As the youth departed, His Eminence met with the newly elected Parish Council over dinner. The discussion focused on parish growth and future plans. The newly elected administrative body is responsible to ensure the continuation of the parish, growing the church, and meeting the needs of the faithful.
The following morning, the sun shown brightly, as the faithful once again returned to the church.
The little church filled to capacity, as young and old came to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, meet with God, spend time with their hierarch, and to celebrate their priest’s anniversary.
Before the reading of the Gospel, His Eminence presented Rev. Gregory Jensen an Ecclesiastical Award for his dedicated service to the Christ’s Church. On this day, Fr. Gregory was celebrating 25 years of Holy Priesthood. To honor this momentous occasion, Archbishop Daniel presented him with a lovely jeweled cross, placing it gently around the priest’s neck, and blessing him for a further 25 years of service.
With Fr. Gregory now adorned with a sparkling cross, the Liturgy continued with the Reading of the Epistle and the Gospel. The Reading this day was from Luke 12:16-21. Archbishop Daniel stood amid the faithful, who had settled down to listen to his sermon, and stated that we often, like the rich man, are deluded in what truly life is about, and what makes us happy. The rich man’s lands yielded a bumper crop of grain, yet, instead of being satisfied with keeping the usual yield and giving the rest away to those who hunger, he decided to keep it all for himself, building new and larger barns in which to store the bountiful harvest. He then fooled himself into complacency, sitting back and relaxing, thinking he is set for life, with no financial worries ahead. However, his false joy was short lived, as that very evening, the Lord demanded his soul. The man died, and went before God, leaving behind the barns brimming with grain. The grain was of no use to him now. His Eminence explained, that had the rich man actually shared the bumper crop with his neighbors, with those who were hungry and in need, he would have taken the result of that grain with him before God. In other words, we often focus on this life, and our comfort in it. While we all have bills to pay, and money in itself is not sinful, greed is. The desire by the poor for money to purchase food and pay their bills is one thing. However, the rich who desire riches, not out of need, but, out of greed, are missing the point of the wealth that God has allowed them to accumulate.
Archbishop Daniel concluded his sermon by reminding everyone that in these uncertain times, more than ever before, we have all faced our own mortality. We wear masks and social distance in our desire to preserve our lives, and we should, as life is a gift from God. However, we should also give attention to the health of our souls. It’s not all about us, but, about what we do with the life the Lord has given us. We are to go out and make this world better for us having been in it. Therefore, His Eminence stated, we should all leave today, with a renewed conviction to find a way each day to give of ourselves, and of our assets, to those who are in need. It is for us to shine brightly and fill this world with love.
Concluding his sermon, Vladyka returned to the altar, and continued the Divine Liturgy. Everyone slowly rose to their feet, their brows furrowed as His Eminence’s words sank in, and they began to contemplate their future actions on making a positive impact in the world around them.
Having partaken of Holy Communion the faithful felt reinvigorated and ready to take on the assignment their hierarch had given them. As the dismissal prayers were read and His Eminence gave them the final blessing, everyone came forward to venerate the cross, exchange a few words with their hierarch and accept an icon card from him.
The tight-knit parish family proceeded to the parish hall to enjoy each other’s company and a nice agape meal in honor of Archbishop Daniel’s visit, and Fr. Gregory’s anniversary. After the meal everyone sat around and chatted the afternoon away, as the children played in the corner and ran around playing hide and seek. Time was spent discussing various Church topis with His Eminence and hearing his story of his own journey to Orthodoxy, which inspired all those who listened.
Before the day concluded, the parish granted gifts to their pastor, expressing their gratitude to him and love for him. Laughter echoed through the hall as His Eminence was also presented with a small token of their appreciation from the Orthodox College Fellowship (OCF) Chapter of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the highest ranking national public university. Archbishop Daniel reached into the gift bag and pulled out a red knit cap and gloves with the University mascot, Bucky Badger, on them. Everyone cheered, as in gratitude for His Eminence’s ongoing support, the OCF Chapter named Vladyka an honorary Badger!
Very Rev. Gregory Jensen, Pani-matka Mary, the parishioners of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Mission, along with the OCF Chapter members, extend their gratitude to His Eminence Archbishop Daniel for his visit and wish him many blessed years!
Photos by Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi
Text by Kyra Skoog and Elizabeth Symonenko