In the early 1900’s people from the Ukraine began to immigrate to the US to find for themselves a better way of life. This brought Ukrainian people to the Dixonville area of Western Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines. Because they yearned for their own church in which to pray, a group of Ukrainian men met and formed the first body of our church in 1915. After having services in a local home for four years, they built a temple that was used until 1988. Now a century later, St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Dixonville, PA is ready to embark on the next 100 years of their existence.
Over the past year Protopresbyter Fr. George Hnatko, pastor of St. John’s Church and his parishioners worked hard to plan a celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the church. The whole church family worked together cleaning and painting at the church and hall, organizing meals and decorations, making the commemorative booklet and displays of pictures, rehearsing services, and all the behind the scenes jobs that need done when preparing for such an event. There were those times when we doubted if we would be ready by the time the celebration arrived, but thankfully we were!
Finally with great joy the long awaited weekend commenced on Friday, July 10, with the arrival of His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony and seminarians: Ivan Chopko; Volodymyr Yavorskyi; and Taras Kaluzhnyy. At 6:000 PM the parish faithful, along with many area clergy and friends, gathered for “the Great Vespers of the nativity of the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John – patron saint of the church.
Following the beautiful service a delicious repast prepared by the parishioners was enjoyed by all those present.
On Saturday morning, July 11, we woke to sunshine in Western Pennsylvania. After experiencing a deluge of rain several days earlier that week, the rays of sun made one feel that this was truly “a day that the Lord hath made” to celebrate 100 years as a parish family. At approximately 10:15 AM the procession with the crosses, fans, banners, and flags gathered at the church to go and greet the Hierarches.
The youth of the parish were ready with their baskets of flower petals and excited to also be included in the procession.
Soon the group began to climb the driveway to the church leading the way for our hierarchs, His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony and His Grace, Bishop Daniel.
Upon the Hierarchs entering the church the choir sang the hymn: “From the Rising to the Setting of the Son”. His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony was then greeted with the traditional bread and salt by Edward Oaks, parish council president.
Council Vice-president Michael Lawer followed with his greeting to His Grace, Bishop Daniel, who just arrived from Ukraine earlier that morning.
Fr. George then presented the cross and holy water to our Hierarchs and welcomed each of them to St. John’s Church. He thanked them for coming to celebrate this most important day in the life of ‘his little cathedral in the hills of Dixonville’.
Not only was this a 100th year celebration for the parish, but also the day our brother in Christ, Paul Neal, was to be tonsured a reader and sub-deacon. The seminarians led candidate Paul to the tetrapod where his elevation took place by the Hierarchs.
With this service completed, we transitioned into the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with the following clergy in attendance. Along with Fr. George wee: Fr. William Diakiw of Sts. Peter & Paul, Lyndora, PA; Fr. John Haluszczak of St. Vladimir’s, Pittsbugh, PA; Fr. Andew Gall of St. John the Baptist in Sharon, PA; Fr. Paisius McGrath of Sts. Peter &Paul, Lyndora, PA; Fr. Paul Bigelow of Sts. Peter & Paul’s, Elmora, PA ; Fr. Roman Yatskiv of St. Nicholas in Monessen, PA; and Fr. Matthew Conjelko of Sts. Peter & Paul in Homer City (American Carpatho Russian).
During his homily Metropolitan Antony told the parishioners and their visiting brothers and sisters in Christ the following: “Celebrate this day, my dear friends, by going out and touching someone’s shoulder. Let them know someone cares about them. Follow the example of your pastor, Father George, in service to his fellow man all these years. Be as Christ to the world around you, even to those in the worst conditions. The next person who comes up to you may be Christ Himself!”
His Eminence asked the faithful to remember their ancestors – “those men and women who ‘climbed the mountain” with unquestioning faith to build this parish. The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was the center of their lives, as they had surely experienced the glory of God. Metropolitan Antony remembered climbing all those steps of the old church and stated that “the first parishioners felt as though they could experience the “Blessed Kingdom” by climbing the mountain”. He indicated that “we must reflect God’s Glory for all to see in our daily lives. We should be careful how we live our lives as we may be the only Bible someone else sees”.
When it was time for Holy Communion, it was moving to see many of those present come forth to receive the Holy Gifts from their Archpastors while the whole church was singing the ‘Holy Communion Prayer’.
After the dismissal Vladyka Daniel greeted those present and commented that upon hearing everyone chanting the responses together with the choir during the Liturgy, he felt like he was in a church in a Ukrainian village.
He also told us of his time growing up in Ukraine when going to church was forbidden and his baptism took place in the basement of a priest’s home. He asked us to be thankful that we had ancestors who came to this country and worked hard in order to have a spiritual life and who were able to build a parish that has lasted 100 years.
As Fr. George and Metropolitan Antony intoned petitions for our Church, hierarchs, clergy, and brothers and sisters in Christ a resounding singing of Mnohaja L’ita and Many Years was sung again and again by all present.
At the conclusion of the liturgy Metropolitan Antony asked everyone to go outside for a group picture, and he directed it being taken.
After several ‘sushi’ smiles we finally got it right!
Unfortunately, Vladyka Daniel was not able stay with us for the remainder of the day as he had to immediately return to the Pittsburgh International Airport in order to fly back to Ukraine for more meetings. Prior to his departure Sophia Cann and Molly Beer presented Vladyka with roses and thanked him for coming to pray with us.
Newly tonsured Sub-deacon Paul Neal served as toast master. The meal began after the singing of the Lord’s Prayer and the blessing by His Eminence. Those in attendance were treated to a delicious buffet meal of chicken, ham, roasted potatoes, pasta alfredo, carrots, and of course many wonderful desserts and cake.
As a parish family we are very thankful for the Archpastoral visit by Metropolitan Antony and Vladyka Daniel. We look forward to having them both visit with us again in the near future. EIS POLLA ETI DESPOTA!
We pray that GOD will continue to bestow HIS blessings on them as well as all of us. May HE enable us to continue to serve HIM in such a way that our Ukrainian churches will continue to flourish for many, many years - Mnohaja Lita.