UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Archbishop Antony Celebrates 101st Anniversary of St. Mary’s, New Britain, CT!
By Melissa Josefiak Photos by Christine Melnyk & Lisa Kerry
To joyfully begin its second century of serving the Lord, St. Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church, New Britain, Connecticut, Nativity of the Mother of God, welcomed His Eminence Archbishop Antony to celebrate its parish feast day, September 11, 2011. As part of this special celebration, His Eminence placed holy relics of Saint Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates into St. Mary’s altar.
Reverend Fr. Andrii Pokotylo, St. Mary’s pastor, and Father Deacon Anthony Szwez, led their congregation in welcoming His Eminence and three seminarians from our St. Sophia Seminary at the church entrance. President of the parish council Dr. Paul Szwez and five parish children in Ukrainian native dress, Rebekah Bailly, Johnny Dilozir, Stephanie and Anya Melnyk, and Alexander O’Flaherty, presented Archbishop Antony with the traditional greetings of bread, salt and flowers.
Accompanied by the choir’s spirited singing as led by Director Basil Romanyshyn, His Eminence led the congregation in procession and installation of the holy relics into the altar of St. Mary’s. As Archpastor and spiritual teacher, he explained that the Orthodox Church is built upon the bones, both literally and figuratively, of its holy martyrs and forbearers, just as Christ instructed Saint Peter, “Upon this rock I shall build my Church.” So shall each parish contain holy relics to inspire and bless its congregation. His Eminence continued to explain that holy relics, when transferred from one parish church to another, are carried in procession, similar to the processions of Great Friday and Pascha in tracing the paths of Christ’s own body and those of the myrrh-bearing women.
Blessed with a day of gloriously warm and bright weather, the procession made its way outside St. Mary’s onto the streets of New Britain, making one circle around the church building. Led by Archbishop Anthony, who held the veiled holy relics of St. Theodore Stratelates above his head, the procession included men, women and children all holding lit candles or banners and flags. Parishioner Scott Kerry, a Captain in the Westover Air Force Base Fire Department, carried a special candle to represent a solemn aspect of this particular date, September 11th, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on American soil.
As the procession wound its way up St. Mary’s front stairs, His Eminence paused to pray before the church’s closed doors. This portion of the service included a special dialogue between the Archbishop and the people inside, then turning to address the faithful gathered on the stairs and street, he welcomed them back into the church for the final installation. The choir continued its beautiful singing as His Eminence, with the assistance of Fr. Andrii, Fr. Dcn. Anthony and the seminarians, knelt before the altar to physically install the holy relics of St. Theodore inside of the central pillar of the altar table itself.
His Eminence led the congregation in celebrating Divine Liturgy marking the parish’s 101st anniversary. At the conclusion of the joyous service, Archbishop Antony described the life of the Great Martyr St. Theodore Stratelates, whose relics now bless St. Mary’s parish family. In the last days of the Roman persecution in the early fourth century, St. Theodore served as military commander known for his bravery and pious nature, which persuaded many people to accept Christianity. After deceiving the emperor Licinius by smashing pagan idols and distributing the costly pieces to the poor, the emperor subjected St. Theodore to many tortures including crucifixion. An angel delivered the pious man from the cross and he was miraculously healed, inspiring even more people to convert to Christianity. The holy saint then offered himself up to martyrdom by beheading, performing miracles as he walked to his execution. He is commemorated on February 8th and June 8th.
The calendar date of this celebration, September 11th, also proved to be one of profound commemorations as it marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America. Archbishop Antony led the congregants in a Panahyda to remember the more than 3,000 souls that perished in those attacks, especially the brave men and women who lost their lives serving in the armed forces in the War on Terror and the selfless individuals known simply as first responders who sacrificed their own lives for the safety of others. Active firefighter Scott Kerry held the American flag during this moving service as the faithful lined the center aisle of the church with lit candles.
At the conclusion of the services, His Eminence joined the parish for a holubsti dinner in the church hall, which included as its special guests: Fr. Steven Masliuk, St. Mary’s, Bridgeport, Connecticut, UOC Dean of New England; Pani Matka Debbie Masliuk; and Fr. David Koles, pastor of Holy Trinity OCA, New Britain, Connecticut. The memorable day marked a high point in St. Mary’s parish life as it begins its 102nd year serving Christ and His Church.