“We welcome you with bread – God’s gift to man. We welcome you with salt – a gift from the soil…” – with these traditional words, the participants in the annual North Dakota Ukrainian Festival, Dickinson, ND, welcomed His Grace Bishop Daniel, the ruling hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of the USA. This year’s festival, which took place on July 17-19, 2009, was dedicated to Ukrainian Immigrant Mother – a Nurturer, who often sacrificed her own well-being for her children and family. The Ukrainian community in North Dakota also honored the memory of those who came to settle in the area following the United States government purchase of 827,900 square miles of land as part of the Louisiana Purchase from France. USA President Thomas Jefferson created plans for settling this area with small farms. It was after the Homestead Act was signed into law in 1862 by then President Abraham Lincoln that land was offered at no cost to farmers – “zemlia za durno” – attracting thousands of immigrant and other farmers (homesteaders) to the area and leading to the creation of new states among which was North Dakota (1889).
The Ukrainian community of North Dakota opened its heart to the bishop of our Church, who himself immigrated to the USA just 13 years ago. Bishop Daniel participated in all programs of the Festival, recognizing the legacy of the immigrant homesteaders, including a live history program at Dickinson State University, participated in by 200 people. He met with the administration of the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in North Dakota, sharing his views of the social, cultural and spiritual development of Ukrainians in Ukraine, USA and throughout the world with the membership.
The liturgical services of the Festival weekend included the Bishop’s celebration of memorial services in four local cemeteries commemorating homesteaders and placing wreaths on at their burial sites and Divine Liturgy at Sts. Pater and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox church in Belfield, ND. The parish was organized in 1916 in Ukraina, North Dakota and was constructed in 1917. The church structure, designed by architect Simeon Gulka, was actually physically moved from Ukraina to Belfield. Bishop Daniel, who was assisted by St. Sophia Seminary students Subdeacon Vasyl Pasakas and Vasyl Dovhan, visited with numerous members of the community during the weekend. They also visited St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Following the bishop’s visit to Dickinson area, the Bismarck Tribune’s correspondent Lauren Donovan wrote in her newspaper:
“He came to bless the dead and visit the old. He himself is young, as he would be, having come from Ukraine, where his ancient religion has only been openly practiced since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Bishop Daniel (Zelinskyy) spent Friday afternoon in a Ukrainian settlement area southwest of Killdeer, where he blessed the memory of all the dead buried beneath the green sod in the Korsun Orthodox Cemetery…
“The bishop’s chanted blessing was accompanied by the sprinkling of holy water and the swinging of a censer. It was a stirring moment. The bishop’s voice reached out to those so long gone from the world, his purple vestments and black headdress speaking of a time so long unchanged. The names of the dead on the 40 or so gravestones were familiar to Bishop Daniel. He recognized traditional Ukrainian names of those who immigrated to escape economic and religious repression…
“The countryside around the church is reminiscent of Western Ukraine, ‘though there are no oil wells,’ said the bishop. The immigrants took their homestead claim, and in 1914, built the small church named for St. Pokrova, which was consecrated and used occasionally for about 50 years when visiting Ukrainian Orthodox priests traveled through.
“The Ukrainian settlers lived the remainder of their lives there in the hill country of Dunn County twined through by the Little Knife River. It was hard, but the church was their own.
“‘We must honor the memory of our forefathers on a daily basis…’ the bishop said. He knows what they experienced… He himself was only 19 when he first encountered religion, going at the urging of his mother to the house of a family friend where clandestine prayers were being said for Pascha…”
Concluding his visit to North Dakota, Bishop Daniel challenged the visitors, guests and residents of the area to keep the memory of their forefathers alive. It is a daily responsibility to pray for them, because it was through their efforts that the Word of God was kept alive among the faithful of the Church. The bishop promised to return to North Dakota for the 2010 Ukrainian Festival.