UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Archpastoral Visit at St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Southfield, MI
By Elizabeth Symonenko
Photos by Seminarian Volodymyr Sukanets Jr and Elizabeth Symonenko
Fidgeting on the steps, with colorful flowers swaying in their hands, the children of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Southfield, Michigan kept glancing furtively up to the heavens Sunday morning, November 17, 2013. All night severe weather warnings had everyone on edge, however, the gusty winds stopped blowing and the deluge had ceased, permitting heavenly sunlight to filter through gossamer clouds as they scurried across the sky. God had once again smiled upon His people, granting them a momentary and unexpected reprieve from the storms.
The parish was eagerly awaiting the arrival of their two hierarchs, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Metropolitan and Prime Hierarch, and His Grace Bishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy, and Consistory President of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. As the adults watched and took photos, the children were eager to begin what would be the culmination of an already unforgettable weekend.
His Grace had arrived that Friday afternoon, and graciously accepted an invitation to spend an evening with the Junior Ukrainian Orthodox League members of the parish. Andrew and Sonia Smyk generously invited everyone to hold the gathering at their home, providing a casual, yet warm and inviting atmosphere in which the children could not only meet, but, get to know their bishop. As the last pieces of pizza disappeared, the meeting ensued with His Grace asking the members how their Fall Family Fun Fest had been, what their goals for the upcoming year were, and how they wished to achieve them. Bishop Daniel took time to listen, give advice and encourage the youth. Before they called it an evening, the children took the opportunity to introduce His Grace to the newest member of the group, Shyshka, a 6 week old hedgehog and chapter mascot, belonging to Milya and Tania Smyk.
The following morning these same children, joined by their friends from the Lesia Ukrainka Saturday School of Religion and Ukrainian Studies, shuffled their feet upon the steps of the cathedral as they all awaited the arrival of His Grace. The little ones squealed with joy, and started hopping around when they saw him approaching along with Adrian Mazur, and Volodymyr Sukanets, seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Bound Brook, NJ. Upon reaching the steps His Grace was presented with the traditional greeting of bread and salt by Tanya Legunyak.
The bread represents hospitality, the warmth of Ukrainian hospitality from the rich black fertile soil of Ukraine. The salt symbolizes friendship, an eternal friendship that will never sour because salt is never corrupted by time therefore, never loses its taste.
Accepting the bread, His Grace explained to the children that it is customary to break off a piece of bread, dip it in the salt and consume it. As Bishop Daniel was still chewing his piece of salty bread, he was inundated with flowers, given to him by little hands as they wished to express their excitement at seeing him.
Upon entering the cathedral, His Grace was greeted by Fr. Paul Bodnarchuk, parish pastor, who then led him and the children in for their morning prayers, before the commencement of their school day. However today, was a special day, and this morning’s service was also special. Instead of the weekly Moleben, His Grace requested that the children gather around him as he stood before the tetrapod in the center of the church. This morning, on the table were placed a loaf of bread, a bowl of fruit, a tray of cookies, and some chocolates. The children were given candles to light and hold during the serving of a short Panakhyda in remembrance of the 11 million Ukrainians who perished as a result of the manmade famine known as Holodomor in 1932-33. This morning’s service focused mainly on the children who had died a slow and agonizing death from starvation as a result of the genocide against the Ukrainian people. His Grace Bishop Daniel prayed softly, but fervently for the souls of those poor children, that God should grant them peace and rest among His saints. At the conclusion of the service, His Grace picked up the tray of fruit and cookies, and squatted down before the children, stretching the heavily laden tray out before them. He reemphasized how those 3 million children had nothing to eat. Nothing to quiet the grumbling of their tummies, nothing to satisfy that gnawing ache in their bellies, nothing to sustain them, nothing to nourish them. In remembrance of those young lives cut short, His Grace asked that each child approach and reverently take a piece of fruit, a cookie, a piece candy, and as they consume it, to think of those children who would have been so grateful for the one grape. Solemnly, without pushing or shoving, the children approached and obeyed, quietly eating their cookies as they left the church to begin their day of studies, still trying to wrap their brains around such a huge number of starved children, that to them seemed impossibly large, and therefore, all the more sobering.
While the students were busy in class, His Grace was greeted by Nadia Pestrac, the director of the school, and escorted on a tour of the classes. Bishop Daniel reviewed the Holodomor with the eldest students, played a game of “Captain’s Gold” with the preschool children, reviewed the geography of Ukraine with the third graders and settled down at the final class to answer a myriad of questions posed to him by the students. The children were so excited to be in his presence and wished to learn all about their hierarch. Some 50 questions later, the lunch bell rang all too soon, as the children grudgingly got up and headed to lunch. His Grace, was joined at lunch by Matthew McCroskery, of the Orthodox Detroit Outreach, who had met Bishop Daniel during his previous visit to the parish. He gave His Grace an update on the activities of the Orthodox organization within the Detroit community, organizing and feeding those less fortunate.
Later that evening, the church doors were once again swung open as the parish awaited the arrival of Bishop Daniel and Metropolitan Antony for Vespers. As the hierarchs joined the faithful in prayer, it seemed as if Heaven and Earth had come together. The candles twinkled softly off the halos of the saints, giving them life as they moved in prayer, shadows dancing across their complexions and softening their features. The hierarchs, Father Paul and the seminarians were joined by Reverend Andrew Rogers, from Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Dearborn, Very Reverend Andrei Alexeiv from Holy Ascension Serbian Orthodox Church in Ecorse, and Very Reverend Archpriest Zivko Kajevic of St. Stephen Dechani Serbian Orthodox Church in Warren. At the completion of the service, everyone quietly made their way to the parish hall for a light repast prepared by the St. Olga Sisterhood. Georgia Kereliuk, sisterhood president was assisted by the other ladies, as they served the hierarchs, clergy, seminarians, parishioners and guests with a delectable array of dishes. More than the food, everyone enjoyed spending time with and conversing with their bishops.
This brings us back to the cathedral steps on Sunday morning and the children, dressed in their finest, awaiting to greet His Eminence Metropolitan Antony and His Grace Bishop Daniel. Anastasia Slyusar who had her first Holy Confession that morning, upon seeing the approaching bishops, began tossing rose petals and leading the way to the church. The faithful had assembled and watched with smiles as the hierarchs were greeted by the members of the parish ODUM chapter Tania Smyk, Milya Smyk and Yarko Petrusha.
Lesia Powers, president of the Jr. U.O.L. and Lily Powers extended warm greetings on behalf of the members of the youth league. Georgia Kereluik, sisterhood president, and Wara Siryj presented the hierarchs with bread and salt, and Olga Liskiwsky, Parish Board President extended a greeting from the parish. Once again, Fr. Paul greeted the bishops in the Narthex and with their blessing led the procession in to the Nave to begin the service.
With the choir, directed by Mykola Newmerzycky, singing like a chorus of angels the service proceeded to touch everyone’s heart and soul. His Eminence Metropolitan Antony delivered a rousing sermon based upon the day’s Gospel Reading about the two sisters – Martha and Mary. He expounded upon the virtues and necessities of both, reminding us that we are called to be both Martha and Mary. To drive his point home, His Eminence shared a story about a young boy whose mother had passed away when he was young. His broken-hearted father became an addict out of desperation to find comfort, and stopped caring for the boy, who eventually ended up living on the streets, and later languished in jail, where he was dead to the world. Only one elderly man paid him any attention in jail, and even though the young man never so much as replied one word to him, the elderly man had a profound effect on him. When the young prisoner heard that the elderly man had died he broke down and cried, because that man had been the only one to show kindness and love to him. He had been the only “Christ” he had known in his life. The heart breaking story left many people with tears running down their cheeks, as Metropolitan Antony drove home the message that we are to always live a Christ-like life, helping, loving and doing good, not just within the four walls of the church building, but, in what we have come to call our “real” lives. It is imperative that we take Christ’s admonition seriously, and that we choose to live a God pleasing life, and that by doing so, we can single handedly alleviate much of the suffering in this world.
As the Liturgy continued, the children in the parish stood with candles during the Little and Great Entrances, and once again gathered in the front of the Nave to sing the Lord’s prayer, led by the school’s choir teacher, Halyna Yalovenko. Their innocent and pure voices echoed not only off the cathedral walls, but in the souls of those who kneeled in prayer.
The hierarchical Divine Liturgy concluded with a rousing rendition of God Bless America, sung not only by the choir, but, also by the parishioners. At the conclusion of the service, His Grace Bishop Daniel awarded Certificates of Honor presented for serving the Church for many years to eight individuals – Lesia Misiong, Olga Maruszczak, Petro Pacholuk, NataliaBirko, Arnold Birko, Natalia Nosenko, Sonia Petrusha, Valentina Shashlo. Little Anastasia Slyusar was also gifted an icon of the Holy Mother of God and a certificate in commemoration of her First Confession.
At the instructions of His Eminence, everyone moved forward to stand for a group photo, which showed the parishioners as they truly are seen by God – as one, happy family. All differences, disagreements, squabbles were forgotten as everyone laughed and smiled and truly enjoyed each other and their unity and membership in Christ’s Church.
After the photo was taken, the entire congregation wound its way down to the parish hall for an elaborate banquet in commemoration of their Parish Patronal Feast Day – The Protection of the Mother of God. As dessert was being served, the school began its program. Directed by Nadia Pestrac, the children recited prayers to the Mother of God, sang, recited poems, and danced to the delight of all those present. At the conclusion of the school’s exciting program, Tanya Smyk took the microphone and read her essay on the Holodmor she had written as a Ukrainian School homework assignment, which she had also shared with her American classmates.
Cultural Chair, Clarissa Prytula introduced the parish children who had attended the Diocesan Church School Camps this past summer (Christine Bodnarchuk, Tanya Smyk, Milya Smyk, Gabriel Poletz, James Danylko Higgins). The children who had attended eagerly came up to the microphone and shared some of their fond summer memories and their path to spiritual growth. This past year, a parish fund was created to award camp scholarships to our Diocesan summer camps, as part of this process, they were asked to complete a form and write an essay. In total, the parish awarded 7 scholarships and Clarissa, who had worked as a camp counselor at All Saints Camp, encouraged more children to consider attending the camps.
St. Olga Sisterhood presented His Grace with a check for $3,000 collected for the orphanages in Ukraine, and an additional $500towards the starting of a Special Needs summer camp at All Saints Camp. ODUM presented His Eminence with a $1,000 check towards the completion of the Ukrainian Historical-Education (Museum) Complex, which is a repeat gift for them, and a cause they proudly support. The children of the Jr. U.O.L. presented Bishop Daniel with a check for $350, which was half of the profits they collected during the recent Family Fall Fun Fest. The other half they voted to donate to the ODO, to help local families in need. Additionally, the Jr. U.O.L. donated $100 to Parish Board President Olga Liskiwsky towards her participation in the 2013 Winter Mission Trip to Znamianka orphanage in Ukraine headed by His Grace Bishop Daniel in December to celebrate the life of St. Nicholas. To supplement their donation, the Jr. U.O.L. members asked that everyone donate as they walked among the tables collecting funds, to total an additional $605 collected to support their parish president in joining this mission trip. To close off the generous giving of the day, Vera Murha donated $1,000 to the Ukrainian Historical-Education (Museum) Complex nearing completion in South Bound Brook, in memory of her recently departed mother, Mila (Matrona) Trypilskyi.
With two talented emcees at the microphone, Andrew Smyk and Vera Petrusha, the banquet and program ran smoothly, with everyone participating and enjoying themselves. As the afternoon wound to a close, everyone crowded around their bishops, to ask for their blessing and prayers. With uplifted hearts and smiles that would last for days on their lips, the faithful went to their homes, remembering His Eminence’s instructions to always be a Christian and do the right thing, to help others, to love everyone and to show them love.
As the day concluded, the skies could no longer contain the rain, and it poured out in buckets as the wind blew with a vengeance. However, this didn’t detract from the joy that still lingered in the hearts of those who had spent a wonderful, fulfilling and spiritually edifying weekend with their hierarchs. Eis polla eti Despota!