UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Annual St. Thomas Sunday Pilgrimage a Success Despite the Rain and Cold
Braving rain and a cold wind on the Saturday of St. Thomas Sunday, the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA made their annual pilgrimage to the Spiritual Center – Metropolia of the UOC of the USA, especially St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cemetery in South Bound Brook, NJ. Despite the chilly Saturday weather a sizeable group of 2500 took part in the two-day pilgrimage.
This year’s Faith Pilgrimage to Spiritual Center of the UOC of the USA opened on Saturday morning, May 7, 2016, with the Divine Liturgy served at St. Andrew Memorial Church by His Grace Bishop Daniel. A Service of Thanksgiving, Vespers and numerous memorial services at the gravesites of loved ones, and finally the Archpastoral Divine Liturgy – these are only a few liturgical services that were offered to the pilgrims and visitors to the Metropolia of the Church.
On Saturday morning, following the liturgical services, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, His Eminence Archbsihop Jeremiah (Eparchy of South America and Brazil) and His Grace Bishop Daniel visited with numerous pilgrims, sharing with them the importance of this year’s spiritual pilgrimage.
Speaking to some visitors of St. Sophia Seminary, Vladyka Daniel explained, “…A pilgrimage differs from a tour in several important ways. It is a personal invitation from God, comprised of His offer and dependent upon the pilgrim’s acceptance. God’s call may vary but the purpose remains consistent: It is an individual summons to know God more fully. A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to which the pilgrim joyfully responds “yes” to God’s invitation.
Although in previous centuries many trials were intrinsic to a pilgrimage, the modern pilgrim has an abundance of affordable travel options, yet the purpose remains unchanged. It is a journey to a holy, sacred place to usher the pilgrim into the presence of God.
The pilgrim must embark on this journey with joyful anticipation, being willing temporarily to separate himself or herself from the world and to offer himself or herself in humble service to another. A successful pilgrimage involves a commitment to leave behind one’s problems and to focus instead on seeking to learn more about Christ the Savior, making one’s heart full of desire for special graces, praises, petitions and thanksgiving, returning home transformed, renewed and restored by the abundant blessings received.
A pilgrimage is a time of prayer and to witness the miraculous signposts God has left for our return to Him. Ask God to bless you with a heart that will be receptive to the treasure chest of graces He desires to shower upon your pilgrimage. The success of your spiritual journey will depend upon your openness, faith, flexibility, and love...”
The pilgrimage culminated with the Divine Liturgy inside the historic church – St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church, where so many clergy and hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Diaspora have served and were ordained at the Sacred Altar of the main church of the UOC of the USA.
Metropolitan Antony, Archbishop Jeremiah and Bishop Daniel served the Divine Liturgy. The clergy from the Mid-Atlantic States surrounding New Jersey, and some from beyond that area assisted the bishops in celebrating the Liturgy. As the bells of St. Andrew Memorial Church rang, the bishops arrived to the Memorial Church, an impressive monument commemorating the victims of the genocidal famine created by Josef Stalin and his Communist regime in Ukraine during 1932-1933. The choir of the Church, under the masterful direction of Michael Andrec, prayerfully sang the responses to the Divine Liturgy, as well as the memorial service on the deck before the Memorial church.
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-matka Lesia Siwko, assisted by the members of the Sisterhood, and Starosta Dmytro Kozlyuk 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, Archbishop Jeremiah (who is the eparchial bishop of the Eparchy of South America, Brazil and Paraguay) reflected upon the welcoming words of Christ – PEACE BE TO (and with) YOU! Vladyka Jeremiah spoke of the significance of the Biblical Peace as well as the need for peace in the world of the 21st century.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, during which numerous people received the Most Holy Eucharist, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony welcomed the Eparchial hierarch from the Ukrainian Orthodox Eparchy of South America and mentioned to those in attendance that “…while we celebrate the Glorious and Bright Feast of the Resurrection, we also remember during this spiritual pilgrimage the scars of persecutions throughout the ages against not only Ukrainians but humanity in general: Genocides against humanity, Nuclear disasters in Chornobyl 30 years ago to the date and the atrocities that were committed against the nation of Ukraine in the most recent years and months – especially the death of so many young individuals who challenged the injustice and fought for freedom in Ukraine, the continued attempts of modern powers and regimes to develop weapons of mass distraction, natural disasters 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…
…As we gather here at the Metropolia Center of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA for our annual St. Thomas Sunday Pilgrimage, we along with all the thousands of faithful participating in the Pilgrimage, are profoundly saddened to read the continued reports about the horrendous fire consuming Fort McMurray and other communities in the oil sand fields of Northern Alberta, Canada. We express our sympathy to our brother hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada – Metropolitan Yurij, Bishop Ilarion and Bishop Andriy – and to the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful and 90,000 other Canadian citizens directly affected by this tragedy. We understand that so many have lost their homes while evacuating the area – some looking back to see their own homes burn to the ground, from which they had departed just 20 minutes earlier. The evacuation has been complicated by the fact that just one road exists to carry out this mass evacuation and that thousands have been airlifted from the scene at a moment’s notice. We have known so many natural disasters here in the United States of America throughout our history, but seldom have we seen a situation when so many people had to remove themselves from danger in such a short time and with limited ability to do so.
… May our Lord protect them all during the initial shock of having to so abruptly leave all they know behind with little hope of returning to life as it was just hours before. In addition we pray that they will be blessed during the following days as the grief and realization of what they have lost sets in. May our Lord give them the strength to deal with these tragic times in the sure hope that tomorrow will be a better day and that neither He nor the world will not forget how much they will be in need.
We urge all our fellow pilgrims and all the faithful of our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA to share in our prayers and to provide whatever assistance they can to the relief funds being established, especially to the Red Cross, as suggested by the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada…
Following the Divine Liturgy, the hierarchs of the Church along with the concelebrating clergy and the Ukrainian-American Veterans of the United States Armed Forces, led a Memorial service on a platform of St. Andrew Memorial Church, which was served for the victims of the Stalin’s man-made Famine that destroyed over 10 million lives, the victims of Chornobyl at the 30th anniversary, those who suffer the consequences of Canadian fire tragedy, 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.
Following the prayer service, the hierarchs, clergy and the faithful proceeded to Holy Resurrection Ukrainian Orthodox Mausoleum, where the first Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine, His Holiness Patriarch Mstyslav I is interred. In conclusion, the bishops prayed at the monument of Ukrainian-American Veterans, commemorating the sacrifices of men and women of Ukrainian descent that have served in the US Armed Forces.
The pilgrims to the spiritual center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, spent the rest of the day visiting the graves of their loved ones – family members, friends, political leaders or spiritual fathers who repose in the cemetery.
Being at the spiritual heart of the UOC of the USA, the pilgrims had an opportunity to visit numerous sites of the Metropolia Center that remained opened through out the day – the Consistory (main administrative building of the UOC of the USA), St. Sophia Seminary, the Ukrainian Cultural Center, the Holy Resurrection Mausoleum, as well as the exhibits of Ukrainian Insurgent Army and information about the future museum of the Church, which will be a part of the Historical and Educational Complex of the UOC of the USA.
The Ukrainian Cultural Center was the site where dozens of vendors who return every year to offer a wide range of Ukrainian cultural artifacts like pysanky, original oil paintings, ceramics, jewelry, ecclesiastical vestments and vessels, music CD’s and videos. Several of the Offices of Ministry and Central Organizations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA – the Office of Youth and Adult Ministry, St. Andrew Society – offered exhibits about their ministry in our communities, also in the Cultural Center.
In addition, Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary was the site of an ice cream social event (15th annual this year) hosted by the Consistory Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry (OYYAM), under the leadership of Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon, for the youth that came to visit the Metropolia Center. This was an opportunity for our youth to meet with the hierarchs of the Church.
As in the previous years, this annual pilgrimage brought Ukrainians of various generations together to share together their past, present and looking forward to the future. Spiritual pilgrimages and community events like this one are crucial and greatly benefit our Ukrainian community.
Much gratitude is expressed to all those who made the weekend the success it has always been: the Consistory Office staff members and property management staff under the direction of Petro Rudyy, the Cultural Center staff, Memorial Church choir and the members of the Ukrainian Orthodox League who handled the sometimes difficult parking program.
Finally, to cap off the joyful and spiritually uplifting pilgrimage, everybody had a chance to visit the building of Pokrova (Protection) of the Birth-Giver of God Sisterhood kitchen as well as the kitchen of the Ukrainian Cultural Center, where the large crowd was treated to the traditional varenyky, staffed cabbage (holubtsi), hot dogs, hamburgers, home-baked pastries, and warm hospitality.
First-time visitor Markian Swirl, who came on the Pilgrimage with his friends from the local Rutgers University, particularly appreciated the spiritual dimension and hospitality of the Metropolia Center. “I enjoyed the pilgrimage a lot; there was a real sense of community and I was able to feel the bond of spiritual journey that we all are partakers of. It was especially great being with everybody in the late hours of the afternoon on the lawn of St. Sophia Seminary and the Center, being able to even play a quick soccer game with the seminarians. The food was amazing and the place had a really welcoming feel.” When asked if he would do it again next year, he declared, “Yes, in a heartbeat.”
As always, 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 moving to witness as the older generation tells their story to the upcoming generation of Orthodox Christians of Ukrainian-American heritage. It is truly moving to see that as the older generations pass on, the younger generations readily fulfill their responsibility in carrying on family and national spiritual traditions.
We hope to see many more of our faithful in future years!