The Council of the Metropolia of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA held its annual meeting in the Metropolitan John (Theodorovych) Memorial Library of the spiritual headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA on February 17-18, 2023. The purpose of this annual meeting is to evaluate the life of the Church through reports from all administrative and ministry departments and to set the budget for the fiscal year. The Council is the highest administrative body of the Church between the Regular Triennial Archdiocesan Sobors. The Metropolitan Council is composed of the Hierarchs, Clergy and Lay Members elected by the Church Sobor and the Presidents of the three Church Central Organizations.
In his opening remarks, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony reminded everyone the true purpose of the Council, which was to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, and nurture, support and further build Christ’s Church. It is truly a heavy responsibility, and not to be taken lightly. With Meatfare Sunday coming up and Great Lent quickly approaching, His Eminence read the Proclamation of the Council of Bishops of the UOC of the USA for the Great and Holy Lent, which speaks about Zacchaeus climbing the Sycamore tree to see Christ, only to find Christ already knew him by name, and invited Himself to dine with the tax collector, thereby saving the man’s soul for having heard the Lord’s words, the sinner mended his ways and busied himself by helping the poor. They then heard about the Publican (tax collector) and the Pharisee – one who prayed with pride, and the other with humility; the Prodigal Son – who squandered his inheritance but through repentance was warmly welcomed “home” by his father; and the Last Judgment – the “choices we make in relating to ALL our neighbors and ALL mankind will determine whether we will be judged to be lambs or goats” as our Lord describes in the Gospel reading of Meatfare Sunday. What we learn from this Gospel reading is the importance of our adherence to our Lord’s two Great Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) His Eminence stressed that to love your neighbor means loving them as also being created in the image of God as are you.
The final lesson from the Epistle revolved around “forgiveness”. We must live our lives with love, mercy and forgiveness. These must dictate all our works. “Each time we pray the “Lord’s Prayer” we ask, “forgiveness of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. These cannot be empty words but, rather a heartfelt petition with consequences determined completely by each of us as individuals. If we cannot forgive…neither will we be forgiven. The way we fast is between each of us and God and the way others fast if of no concern to any of us. Forgiveness and sincere fasting enable us to store up treasures in Heaven where we hope to find ourselves after the final judgment.”
With this reflection received, the members of the Council commenced the work of the day in reviewing the Church affairs, permitting the Holy Spirit to guide and direct them in their discussions and decisions for the good estate of Christ’s Body – the Church.
Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy, gave a report on the parishes of his Eparchy. The board members were overjoyed to hear how well the parishes are doing as they move beyond the effects of the Covid pandemic, and how active the faithful are. With the current influx of new immigrants (refugees) many parishes are seeing a resurgence in numbers, allowing the parishes to blossom and provide additional services, hold classes, and have an active parish life.
Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch who oversees the Eastern Eparchy, also reported that his parishes are coming back to fullness of life and worship following the pandemic. Numerous mission parishes have been opened with faithful searching for a new Church home. While some parishes suffer due to location in cities that have seen great decreases of population for various reasons over the last several decades, others are prospering, and the faithful throughout the nation are being served and cared for. The hierarchs discussed specific parishes and missions in detail for the edification of the Council Members.
Some highlights of the work in various departments as presented by the Archbishop – President of the Consistory – include:
- The Office of Stewardship, V. Rev. Fr. Robert Holet, Director. Robert spoke of continued efforts to offer retreats or seminars in our parishes concentrating on stewardship and its meaning for parish and Church life. He spoke at the only such conference in the past year at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Wilmington, DE, where he met with an enthusiastic interest and desire to learn. He continues to be available for such parish or deanery conferences and has a flexible schedule as a retired parish priest. Additionally, he spoke of a new stewardship and charity program called the “Isaiah 44 Project”.
- The Council Members were impressed with all the continued good works and positive reviews of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Thanks to the many years of dedicated service by Mrs. Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon, the ministry has grown and is recognized by other jurisdictions as being one of the best programs available for the education of the youth. Natalie has served on many youth related organization boards as a valuable contributor to youth ministry across all of the Orthodox population in the USA.
- The Liturgical Commission presented the many projects successfully completed over the previous year, and the plans for future publications. These booklets will aid the clergy during numerous services, and will also be available to the laity who can use them to follow along with the various services which are less frequently performed such as Presanctified Liturgy, Compline, various Akathists, etc.
- Ukrainian Orthodox Word (UOW) which has been published only online since 2017 due to the high cost of printing and mailing. A consensus of thought was to reconsider if it is at all possible to return to the print form for the Word, as many of the elderly do not have the capability to read online, and even those who do, often enjoy a paper magazine to read at leisure, and pick up to review certain items at future dates. Various options were considered and will be reviewed in the future.
- The Council also reviewed other ministries including:
- Our St. Andrew Church Goods and Bookstore, which realized record sales for the past fiscal year
- Andrew Cemetery, under the management of Fr. Vasyl Shak, has also recorded elevated income, sadly perhaps due to the Covid virus. The original cemetery surrounding St. Andrew Memorial Church is also slowly coming close to all graves available being sold. It is expected that within the present decade this will occur, and further graves will be sold at that time in the Cemetery expansion, which has already been prepared and plot mapped for future sales.
- Our Metropolitan John (Theodorovych) Church and Seminary Library is administered by Dobr. Oksana Pasakas and continues the complete cataloging of our collection and the digitalization of over 70 years of Ukrainian Orthodox Word – both English and Ukrainian. New books are purchased each year to add to our theological collection standing.
- Religious Education – V. Rev. Fr. Harry Linsinbigler, Director – Fr. Harry reports efforts between Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA toward more parental involvement in parish religious education.
- The Ukrainian History and Education Center was presented by the Museum Staff: Natalia Honcharenko, Director; Dr. Michael Andrec, Archivist; Dobr. Oksana Pasakas, Education Coordinator and Collections Manager and Mia Naumenko, Assistant Education Coordinator. The present exhibit through April of this year is “Ukraine 1933: A Cookbook, Linocuts by Mykola Bondarenko as his response to the Holodomor. The images depict the various plants, animals and insects that people were forced to eat in order to stay alive, with texts that identify the “food” and the “recipe” for its preparation. The next major exhibit will open in May and run through November of this year – “Depicting Genocide: 20th Century Artistic and Societal Responses to the Holodomor”. Artistic responses to the Holodomor by survivors of the Holodomor who emigrated from Ukraine after WWII and also artists who were free to create Holodomor “responses” only after Ukrainian Independence was declared. The exhibit is supported by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. This report to the Council included broad listings of the educational programs, representation at community events, conference and speaking activity of our Archivist and a list of the grants received for 2023 programming. See the website – ukrhec.org – for more information.
- The Office of Archives – Dr. Michael Andrec, Certified Archivist, Director continues to receive deposits from the records of the Consistory/UOC of USA, from parishes and individuals. All these deposits are analyzed and determinations are made as to the proper amount of the material for inclusion in the permanent archives. Of particular interest in this report was the receipt of materials from Archbishop Mark, located in the parish rectory of St. Demetrius Cathedral, Carteret, NJ and the final records of St. Vladimir Parish, Smithmill, PA, which was closed recently after membership dwindled. Dr. Andrec also presented several videos and an audio that have been digitized and available to view or hear at UkrHEC.org/uoc …/uhec and …/audio
- All Saints Camp – Joshua Oryhon, Director. In this report the Council received information about: staffing needs and jobs available for the 2023 camping season; upcoming work weekends for volunteers to offer their assistance; the current “Loving Waters” fundraising campaign to cover the costs of installing a completely new water system at the direction of the PA Department of Environmental – total cost $300,000 of which about 30% has been received and the 2023 camping schedule listing our Church programs and those of outside renters. Go to allsaintscamp.org for further information.
- The Ukrainian Orthodox League report was reviewed in the absence of its President due to illness. Council Member Karen Farrero, Immediate Past President of the League and Chair of the 2023 UOL Convention informed the Council that this year’s annual UOL Convention will take place on July 27-30, 2023, hosted by St. Michael Parish in Scranton, PA and urged the Council Members to participate as leaders of the Church.
- Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay, President of the St. Andrew Society, presented the report for the organization. Protodeacon Ihor explained how the society’s focus which had been on soup kitchens and the poor in Ukraine, has shifted as the needs of the invaded country have increased. The funds still go towards providing necessary food, clothing, and necessities for the elderly, but also in assisting the countless internally displaced persons who find themselves struggling to survive the war. Numerous ambulances and generators have also been purchased and help ease the burden our brothers and sisters are currently facing. The Society continues to ceaselessly provide for the needs of those who suffer in Ukraine.
- Rev. Andrii Pokotylo, President of the Guardians of the Metropolia, the “youngest” of our Church Central Organizations reported that the Church has already benefited significantly with financial support donated to cover some of the specific funding needs in the Consistory. He invited all Council Members to join the Guardians to assist in its support for our Holy Church.
The Saint Sophia Theological Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary is doing well and in the process of fulfilling all the necessary steps for accreditation by the ATS – the Association of Theological Schools in the USA and Canada. The Seminary was granted Associate Status in the organization in 2020. The Seminary has active in-residence student programs as well as distance learning educational programs that require specific periods of in-residence course work. Over the past ten years the seminary has graduated and assigned to parishes 15 priests and 11 deacons with the hope that among these will be candidates for higher degrees in religious education. The accreditation process is a very difficult and labor-intensive effort, which takes up to five years. This is an extremely time-consuming project under the leadership of Archbishop Daniel to whom the Metropolitan expressed the deepest of gratitude in the name of the Council of the Metropolia, the Seminary Board of Trustees and all the faithful of our Holy Church.
Metropolitan Antony conducted a discussion about the disposition of the Davidson Avenue half of our Metropolia Center property as directed by the 23rd Regular Sobor. At the present time the discussions about what the future is concerning the property, have been put on hold due to the Franklin Township’s passage of various ordinances concerning such properties as ours, which have resulted in a number of lawsuits which are in progress regarding those ordinances. At the advice of our Attorney, it is necessary to await the outcome of those lawsuits before we can proceed with any decisions about the future of our property. Eminence also reported that we are in the final stages of receiving coverage for the immense damage caused by hurricane IDA in September 2021 to our property on the Memorial Church/Cemetery side. We have received a loan from the SBA (Small Business Administration) of nearly $500,000 at very low interest rates and we hope to soon complete the application process for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grants to cover the necessary repairs beyond those covered by the SBA loan. It has been a very long and tedious process and the Metropolitan expressed his sincere gratitude to Natalia Honcharenko, Marc Heenan, our contractor supervisor, and Petro Rudyy for their immense efforts.
Review of the Financial Report finished the Friday session. The members reviewed the financial status of the Church, and the previous year’s budget. Taking into consideration the various aspects of influence – such as pandemic, floods, etc. a new budget was proposed. After much discussion, the numbers were adjusted to best fit the needs the Church will face in the coming fiscal year, and the Church goes forth into the future confident that all ministries will continue their important work in the life of the Church, and the faithful will be served on a local level as well as nationally. Much concern was expressed about the capital investments that will soon become necessary on our aging building, especially the Cultural Center, the Consistory and the Seminary. If we have a major emergency in any of them, we will be faced with great financial needs. The Consistory and Financial Officers will be working diligently to determine the ways and means of preparing for the conducting the effort to deal with the needs.
Having discussed the horrific impact of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and various fundraising activities, it was decided that the Board Members would all attend a local charity event taking place at the State Theater in Brunswick, New Jersey, to support the visiting Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, which is on a 40-stop tour through the United States. Dressed in their vyshyvankas the board members enjoyed a quiet evening of classical music, which was concluded with a rousing Ukrainian number. (The Program Director of State Theater participate in the 23 February Commemoration Marking the One Year Duration of the invasion of Ukraine and informed us that this event raised over $25,000 for the Ukrainian Red Cross!
The Board meeting concluded on Saturday morning, as the members once again gathered in the Library for final discussions and round table. As this was the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday, each member was asked to write down the names of their loved ones who have reposed in the Lord, and anyone whom they wished to pray for on this Memorial Saturday. As the meeting was adjourned, the hierarchs celebrated a Litia, praying for all the names that were submitted to them, as the members sang the responses and finished with a soulful Memory Eternal!
Having thus prayed for the peaceful repose of those who had historically supported and built the Church to what it is today and having made plans to ensure the success of the UOC of the USA for the future generations, the Council of Metropolia members departed back to their own parishes, spiritually fortified, and filled with hope for the future.
Photos by Fr. Vasyl Pasakas