UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
2011 Annual St. Thomas Sunday Pilgrimage – A Weekend of Spiritual Renewal!
It has been a pious tradition among Ukrainians living in the USA, Canada and throughout Diaspora to visit the monumental St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Cemetery in South Bound Brook, NJ on the first weekend after Easter. It has become known as the St. Thomas Sunday or Provody Pilgrimage during which we gather at the gravesites of our loved ones to share in prayerful unity with them the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As every year the preparations for the annual pilgrimage began weeks ahead. As the early morning sunlight shed upon the center, the first pilgrims started to arrive in order to share the joy of Pascha with each other and the faithful of the Church buried at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cemetery in South Bound Brook, NJ. Each pilgrim was welcomed to the Metropolia center by the members of the Ukrainian Orthodox League that for the past several years have served as a welcoming committee of the faithful to their spiritual center.
St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church was a place of quiet reflection and prayer this weekend. On Saturday morning, the ruling hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of the USA served Divine Liturgy with the clergy of NY/NJ Deanery concelebrating. Later in the day, the Board of Trustees of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary held its annual meeting at the seminary.
St. Andrew Cemetery, which is located behind the Church, was a place of spiritual reunions for many visitors. Hundreds of people visited Holy Resurrection Mausoleum, wherein lies the crypt of His Holiness Patriarch Mstyslav.
The Ukrainian Cultural Center was once again bustling with activity. Numerous Church organizations presented displays about their ministry among the faithful of the Church and in Ukraine. In addition, dozens of vendors offered Ukrainian folk art and other cultural, religious and historical item for sale.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Museum, located across from the Cultural Center, provided hundreds of visitors with the opportunity to come in contact their historical, spiritual and cultural roots. The curator of the Museum, Mrs. Natalia Honcharenko personally provided answers to numerous visitors that showed interest in the construction progress of the Museum.
All the points of interest of the Spiritual Center remained opened for the weekend so that the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, along with the numerous visitors to the center, had an opportunity to partake in the day-to-day life of the National Headquarters of the UOC of the USA, known as a the “Ukrainian Jerusalem” not only here in the USA, but far beyond the borders of our country, including Ukraine.
The Divine Liturgy on St. Thomas Sunday was celebrated by His Beatitude Metropolitan Constantine, His Eminences Archbishops Antony and His Grace Bishop Daniel with the dozens of concelebrating clergy, who remained on the property of the Center for the weekend, sharing in prayers with family members of those that are buried at the Cemetery. At the entrance to the church, the children of Ukrainian Language and Religion School at the Metropolia Center greeted the bishops with flowers and the president of the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God Sisterhood Pani Maria Konyk welcomed the hierarchs with the traditional bread and salt. The pastor of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church, Very Rev. Fr. Yuriy Siwko welcomed the bishops to the church with the words of request to remember in their prayers thousands of faithful of the Church that have dedicated their lives in the service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. In his sermon, Bishop Daniel called to the attention of the faithful, the scars of the wounds on the Body of Christ. “While we celebrate the Glorious and Bright Feast of the Resurrection, we shall not forget the numerous wounds on the Mystical Body of Christ – His Church and her faithful, particularly in Ukraine – scars of persecution are still with us: Genocides against humanity, Nuclear disasters in Chornobyl 25 years ago to the date and in Japan, and the continuing attempts of modern powers and regimes to develop weapons of mass distraction, natural disaster in the Southern states of the United States of America and around the globe, AIDS, the ongoing war with terrorism – all of which, among others, destroy the peace and freedom of God’s creation. In the purity of faith and love in Christ, however, we shall find the path to salvation. No earthly government nor power or material possessions will bring us spiritual comfort and blessedness. Only true sacrificial love, simplicity of human heart and genuine hope will carry us on the road to salvation. It is the quality of our faith, rather than the quantity of our numbers that is most important in the battle against those who would destroy us.”
Following the Divine Liturgy at St. Andrew the First-called Memorial Church – built and dedicated as a memorial to the victims of 1932-1933 Famine in Ukraine – the hierarchs of the Church along with the concelebrating clergy and the Ukrainian-American Veterans of the United States Armed Forces, led a procession to the main Cross of St. Andrew Cemetery, where a Memorial service was served for the victims of the Stalin’s man-made Famine that destroyed over 10 million lives, the victims of Chornobyl, those who served in the armed forces of both Ukraine and the USA and perished in all wars, and those who gave their lives for Christ in defense of His Church throughout history. The faithful stood by that Memorial Cross offering their prayers for the millions of children and adults who lost their lives in all these circumstances.
Following the Memorial service at the Great Cross, the procession moved to the Holy Resurrection Mausoleum, where the crypt of His Holiness, the first Patriarch of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Mstyslav I, is located. The Memorial Service was offered for the Patriarch and spiritual father of the millions of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful and the other hierarchs interred in St. Andrew Cemetery.
Following those memorial services, His Eminence Archbishop Antony and His Grace Bishop Daniel offered their prayers at the graves of the deceased hierarchs and clergy of the Church. Later in the day, joined by members of the United Ukrainian Orthodox Sisterhoods of the USA the bishops proceeded to another monument, placed by the United Sisterhoods, dedicated to the women and children victims of the Famine for another memorial service.
In addition, Ukrainian Cultural Center was the site of an ice cream social event hosted by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the youth that came to visit St. Andrew Center. This was an opportunity for our youth to meet with the hierarchs of the Church. All three hierarchs spent some time with children and distributed the Resurrection icon prints to the youth.
This annual pilgrimage has seen many generations of Ukrainian immigrations visiting the Metropolia Center. The new wave of immigrants from Ukraine joined long time residents and the generations already born in the USA bringing a sense of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. It is so moving to witness an older person telling a young child about the deceased members of their family and their background and roots while standing at the place of repose for their loved ones. It is moving to see that as the older generations pass on, the younger generations readily fulfilling their responsibility in carrying on family and national spiritual traditions.
We hope to see many more of our faithful in future years.
2011 Annual St. Thomas Sunday – A Weekend of Spiritual Renewal! - 05/02/11Photos by Subdeacon Vasyl Pasakas and Volodymyr Syzonenko