Lazarus Saturday dawned sunny, bright and filled with anticipation as the parish of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Southfield, Michigan, eagerly awaited the visit of their beloved hierarch, His Grace Bishop Daniel. The children of the Lesia Ukrainka parish school milled about in the narthex of the cathedral, flowers in hand, craning their necks to be the first to spot His Grace’s appearance, which was announced by their shrieks of joy. His Grace arrived, accompanied by a seminarian of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary (South Bound Brook, NJ) Subdeacon Vasyl Dovgan, and greeted all the children warmly, gathering an armload of flowers from the little hands, as they crowded around him. The parish pastor, Father Pavlo Bodnarchuk, greeted His Grace with a cross and led him into the cathedral to attend the morning service before lessons began. The children were so excited to have their bishop in their midst that they had difficulty remembering the words to the prayers.
Upon completion of the short moleben, His Grace took a few minutes to explain to them the importance and significance of Lazarus Saturday. Then he blessed them and instructed them to study hard and pay attention in class. As the children begrudgingly filed past, His Grace promised he would spend time with them later in the day.
The faithful gathered with joy for the Divine Liturgy served by His Grace, and listened intently to the Gospel reading which not only told the story of the raising of Lazarus, but, foreshadowed Christ’s own death and resurrection. His Grace, Bishop Daniel gave a moving sermon focusing on proper Christian attitude and humility, and stressed the importance of fasting. He elucidated by stating that a fast from food is not enough for the salvation of one’s soul, if they do not also fast from evil deeds. “For what benefit does your soul reap, if you fast from meat, and then go out and devour your neighbor?“
While the choir sang "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" groups of school children entered single file to light candles and say prayers.
Upon the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy a Lenten meal was served in the church hall. The children were once again delighted to have their bishop with them, as he sat amidst them and chatted with each one. Upon the conclusion of the meal, His Grace Bishop Daniel took the time to answer questions that the children had written down for him. The questions included a wide range of subjects ranging from why he wears the “fancy” robes to how his mother is back in Ukraine.
When all the question were finally answered, His Grace took a moment to admire the display the children had set up showing off the pysanki and crosses they had made the previous week in anticipation of Pascha. Accepting their gift of one of the hand decorated, stone encrusted crosses, His Grace took a tour of the classrooms as the children returned to their studies. Bishop Daniel had such a profound effect upon the students, that one girl was convinced he must be an angel.
Saturday evening, as the sun was setting and the rays of sunlight filtered through the incense laden air His Grace participated in the Vespers Service. The faithful had once again gathered to participate in the celebration and to benefit from Bishop Daniel’s instruction. Those who were present were treated to a session of “Coffee with the Bishop” (which is a part of the ongoing project of the Consistory Offices of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Public Relations) after Vespers, where they were free to ask questions and gain understanding through his answers, all while enjoying coffee and sweets. His Grace was instrumental in explaining various nuances of the Faith, as those present leaned forward in their chairs and hung on his every word. Even though it was already late in the evening and people were tired, they were sad to have the evening come to a close.
A damp and drizzly morning did not deter the faithful from packing the cathedral the following morning to celebrate The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). Hundreds of faithful gathered in line for Holy Confession, led by two girls in white who were to have their first Holy Confession on that day. Elizabeth Powers and Sofia Avrutska nervously wrung their hands as they awaited their turns. Soon all their nervousness was replaced by joy as everyone gathered in the narthex to await the arrival of His Grace, Bishop Daniel. Church Council President, George Korol was the first to greet the Bishop, followed by Georgia Kereliuk, the president of the St. Olga’s Parish Sisterhood who presented the bishop with bread and salt. Little Elizabeth Powers sprinkled rose petals before His Grace as her older sister Lesia Powers, and Natalia Serdiuk greeted His Grace with a bouquet of flowers from the parish chapter of the Junior Ukrainian Orthodox League. Emiliya and Tatiana Smyk, along with Christinka Bodnarchuk expressed greetings from the Lesia Ukrainka School. Bishop Daniel once again found his arms filled with flowers, which he kindly plucked and distributed to the children and faithful within his reach, bringing smiles to all their faces.
Subdeacon Vasyl Dovgan assisted the bishop with his deep purple mantia. While unfurling the many folds, His Grace touched everyone deeply when he explained that the robe is like that of a shepherd, and the many furls are there so that he can spread his robe over all those in the fields and protect them from the elements and all manner of harm.
Once again, church Pastor Father Pavlo Bodnarchuk greeted His Grace at the entrance of the sanctuary with a Cross, assisted by the many altar servers including Andrew and Michael Powers, Andrew Rouditchenko, James Danylo Higgins, Yarema Petrusha, and Denys Slyusar. His Grace, Bishop Daniel entered the cathedral to joyous singing of “Eis Polla Eti Despota”.
Throughout the Divine Liturgy more and more faithful arrived and packed the sanctuary to capacity. The effect His Grace had on them during his sermon was plainly visible as some people nodded their heads in agreement, while other’s wiped the tears from their cheeks. His message, once again, stressed the nature of a true Christian. Too often we blame others for our own bad deeds, and rarely do we take responsibility ourselves. However, during this season it would behoove us to examine our lives and realize where we are lacking, in order that we may cleanse our souls and be not only prepared, but, worthy to greet the newly resurrected Christ in a week’s time. His Grace stood in the middle of the sanctuary and looked each person in the eye as he delivered his message, which touched many hearts, and in truth gave birth to repentance.
Immediately after Holy Communion pussy willow branches were distributed to everyone in the cathedral. The school children assisted in carrying loads of branches to the people. Every hand had a pussy willow branch in it as His Grace Bishop Daniel emerged from the Altar with a willow sprig and an aspergillum that was bequeathed to Father Pavlo by his late father who was a priest in Ukraine. As the bishop recited the prayers of blessing, the parish children, waving their willows, congregated in the main aisle of the church, forming a tunnel of branches. The energy in the cathedral was almost palpable as His Grace proceeded around the sanctuary sprinkling everyone with Holy Water. From the first recipient the energy flowed like a wild fire through the congregation. His Grace proceeded around the perimeter of the church and climbed up to the choir loft, blessing everyone. The choir burst into loud hymns of celebration, as the crowd could no longer contain themselves and burst out in cries of joy, while raising their branches up high. The walls of the cathedral reverberated with the noise emanating from the people as they made a “joyous noise unto the Lord”. Sounds of joy echoed from every nook and cranny. People were once again so moved that tears were streaming freely and unabashedly down their cheeks, washed away by the Holy Water and replaced my smiles. The faithful were laughing and crying all at the same time. The noise and joy was such that one almost expected to see the cathedral doors swing open and Christ enter riding upon the back of a donkey.
Unwilling to part with their shepherd, the flock made its way to the church hall where the St. Olga’s Parish Sisterhood served a delectable lunch of varenyki, borscht, holubtsi with kasha, and fish. As the parishioners broke their fast, seminarian Vasyl Dovgan set up a presentation that His Grace, Bishop Daniel prepared to share with the people of the parish.
His presentation once again reduced the onlookers to tears as he showed slides and told of his experiences while visiting the orphanages in Ukraine. Children climbed onto their mother’s laps and mothers hugged them close, realizing anew how tragic the world can be.
Andrew Smyk presented His Grace with a check from ODYM and PLAST to go towards his charitable works in Ukraine, as did the Sisterhood of St. Olga.
All good things must come to an end, and late in the afternoon the parishioners of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral begrudgingly bid farewell to His Grace, encouraged by the fact that he would return to them for their 60th Anniversary Parish Feast day in October.
Even though the church has now emptied of people, the energy still reverberates from the cathedral walls and will serve to bolster the faithful through the solemnity and sadness of Holy Week into the joyous celebration of the anticipated Pascha.