UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Annual Celebration of Ukrainian Independence Day a Family Affair at Metropolia Center, South Bound Brook/Somerset, NJ
Over the past twenty-three annual commemorations of Ukrainian Independence Day at our Metropolia Center in South Bound Brook – Somerset, NJ the celebration took the form of a Moleben following Divine Liturgy in St. Andrew Memorial Church, followed later in the day by beautiful and powerful concerts in the Ukrainian Orthodox Cultural Center. These were traditional celebrations much appreciated by the one to two hundred people who participated.
As preparations began for this year’s 24th anniversary of independence, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, His Grace Bishop Daniel, Natalia Honcharenko-Andrec – Director of the Consistory Office of Cultural Affairs and Dobrodiyka Lesia Siwko – President of Pokrova Sisterhood of the Memorial Church, developed a plan for a different type of celebration that would take advantage of other Metropolia Center facilities. The desire was to create a greater awareness of the importance of the of the independence of Ukraine as a nation, but also to offer the tens of thousands of Ukrainians, both old and new immigrations, living in the Mid-Atlantic area the opportunity to gather and share with their fellow Americans a declaration that Ukrainian independence is not a “temporary” or “transient” experience until once again dominated by one of its neighbors, but rather a vibrant, progressive and important nation vital to Europe and to all the former republics of the discredited, fallen and unrealistic Soviet Union.
This year’s celebration began with Divine Liturgy in the Memorial Church served by First Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA - His Eminence Metropolitan Antony and His Grace Bishop Daniel, assisted by V. Rev. Fathers Yurij Siwko, pastor of the Memorial Church, John Lyszyk and Alexander Yatskiv. The parish choir under the direction of Dr. Michael Andrec beautifully sang the beautiful and traditional Ukrainian liturgical compositions that always remind the faithful of where their roots are and the beauty that the Ukrainian Orthodox religious experience brings to the life of the world, wherever it is shared.
Following Liturgy, Bishop Daniel spoke about the anniversary of independence of Ukraine as she is confronted once again with challenges to that independence. He spoke of his recent visits, along with Metropolitan Antony, to Ukraine especially following the first anniversary of the Maidan, and the determination they witnessed in the citizens of Ukraine concerning the future of the nation – that it would survive any challenge to fulfill its destiny as a nation important to all of Europe and the world. The Bishop recalled offering assistance to Ukrainian soldiers, their families and the survivor families of those who have perished in the terroristic attacks, which have seen nearly 6,900 people die and over 1.4 million displaced from their homes and lives in the Donbas region.
The Bishops had the opportunity to meet during their most recent visit with President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatseniuk and other government officials, including our own Natalia Jaresko – a native American of Ukrainian descent and a member of our Church – who now serves as Finance Minister in the Ukrainian Government. They witnessed the determination at the highest levels of government to stay the course of independence, realizing that all newly independent nations experience great difficulty in the first decades of independence – including the United States of America. The faithful were referred to the “Poslannia” (Letter) of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops beyond the Borders of Ukraine, which is available on the uocofusa.org website.
His Grace then advised the faithful who filled the church to capacity that waiting outside the entrance of the church were helium filled balloons – over 200 of them – waiting to be distributed to all the children and adults present as they proceeded behind the Ukrainian flag to the flagpole near the Monument of St. Ol’ha Baptizer of Ukraine. The excitement – and not only that of the children present – was palpable as the procession approached the flagpole. Once everyone was gathered, everyone sang the Ukrainian National Anthem (see the video included in this article). As the final stanzas of the anthem were sung all the yellow and blue balloons were released and rose rapidly into the sky in a remarkable local declaration of our Ukrainian national pride even though we live and work thousands of miles from Kyiv!
The celebration continued on the grounds of the Pokrova Sisterhood social center located between the Memorial Church and the Fisher House and the Holy Transfiguration Chapel – Gazebo. The sisterhood members, along with any of their husbands, had prepared a wonderful meal, which was served outdoors and the faithful sat at tables or on the lawn with family members and friends to enjoy the fellowship of the celebration. The parish sisterhood’s activities have greatly increased over the past year with an influx of new and younger membership taking over the leadership, under the leadership of Dobrodiyka Lesia, of the organization from the women who for over five decades have supported the maintenance of St. Andrew Memorial Church and many other aspects of our Metropolia Center life. The meal for the present celebration was a wonderful continuance of the sisterhood’s tradition of hospitality to all.
Natalia Honcharenko-Adrec organized a beautiful concert for the independence celebration. The concert took place on an outdoor stage constructed directly in the area where the picnic tables were placed. His Grace Bishop Daniel offered a prayer to God Almighty for the Ukrainian nation beseeching protection for the Ukrainian State and Nation. The State is the political and geographical entity. The Nation is the Ukrainian people who have survived as that nation – a specific identity - even in the face of great challenges throughout its history. Khrystyna Makhno opened the concert singing both the USA and Ukrainian National Anthems to an appreciative audience and later in the program sang several popular and patriotic Ukrainian songs that emphasized the purpose of the day’s events.
Also participating in the concert were the Barvinok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, directed by Grygorij Momot. The ensemble is part of our Metropolia Center and has held all of its practices and rehearsals in either the sisterhood center or the Ukrainian Cultural Center for the past ten years. The dancers performed three dances and concluded the concert with the traditional Ukrainian Hopak. The performers were from the younger of the Barvinok dance groups and all of them show much promise as they prepare to enter the “older” group of dancers.
“Korinya” (Roots) – Ukrainian Folk Band is a family group of musicians and singers composed of two sisters from the Shepko family of Kerhonkson, NY - Sana, Zoya and Stefan, who played the violin, accordion and flute, respectively. These are FIFTH generation Ukrainian Americans who have a rich family history of preserving the traditions of Ukrainian cultural and social life. They sang several songs, all of which were known well by the audience members who sang along them. The fact that these young people obviously know who they are and that they want to continue the ancient traditions as fifth generation Ukrainian Americans offered the people gathered great hope about the future of their own experience of life in the USA and about the future of their native Ukraine.
The celebration of the 24th anniversary of Ukrainian Independence Day at our Metropolia Center was an event filled with joy and fellowship. Throughout the day cars full of people continued to arrive and join those already present. It was estimated that considering the 240 balloons sent up to “announce” the celebration, between the liturgical services and the family celebration over three hundred people participated. Especially noteworthy was the number of children present and participating in the concert – either the official concert – or the “non-official” dance concert presented by all the young children who “performed” on stage throughout the afternoon. These children were very happy to receive the ice cream and candy bars distributed by the Metropolitan and Bishop following the concert.
MAY GOD ALMIGHTY LOOK UPON THE UKRAINIAN STATE AND HER PEOPLE WITH MERCY AND GRACE, GRANTING TO ALL THE STRENGTH, WISDOM AND PATIENCE TO CONTINUE THE DEVELOPMENT OF A TRULY FREE SOCIETY ON LEVEL WITH ALL THE OTHER DEMOCRATIC NATIONS OF THE WORLD. MAY IT BE A SOCIETY REGULATED BY AN HONEST LEGAL SYSTEM AND FREE OF CORRUPTION, WHICH LIMITS “SUCCESS” TO ONLY AN ELITE CLASS OF INDIVIDUALS WHO PREVENT THE ENTIRE POPULATION FROM REACHING ITS TRUE POTENTIAL. THIS IS OUR PRAYER FOR THE AGES AS WE OFFER GLORY TO THE FATHER, AND TO THE SON AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT, NOW AND EVER AND UNTO THE AGES OF AGES. AMEN.