Early Sunday morning, with the sun shining brightly through the large spruce trees, which towered over the domed church, the parish of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, in Southfield, Michigan, was bustling with activity. As the cathedral doors swung open, the squirrels, with tails waving nervously, scampered up the tall trees to get a better vantage point of the activities below:
Their voices squealing with excitement, the children dressed in their Ukrainian vyshyvanky, came pouring out in to the sunshine, flowers grasped in their hands, and eagerly glanced left and right anticipating the arrival of their much-loved hierarch, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy and Consistory President of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A.
Unable to contain their excitement, the children could wait no longer, and erupted down the steps and ran down the sidewalk in search of His Eminence. Just the day before in the parish’s Lesya Ukrainka Saturday School of Religion and Ukrainian Studies, the young children had gotten a short lesson - “Bishop 101”. They learned the significance of the little round rug (orletz) upon which stands the hierarch (the eagle with spread wings represents the bishop, who hovers over the city (the flock entrusted to him), not only teaching and protecting them, but, leading them upward towards salvation), they learned the significance of the mitre, the dikiri and trikiri candles, the bishop’s staff with the snakes, etc. The little munchkins, with huge smiles came to an abrupt halt when they spotted Archbishop Daniel turning the corner, along with visiting Seminarians Mykola Zomchak and Ihor Protsak, of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Bound Brook, New Jersey. Their excitement, temporarily replaced with a bout of shyness, returned quickly as His Eminence, with his own broad smile, laughed and greeted the youngest of his flock. He graciously accepted their flowers, bestowed his blessings upon their little heads, and with joy shared his newly acquired floral bounty with the little ones, who now with flowers waving in their hands, turned and led Vladyka Daniel to the entrance of the church.
Meeting His Eminence at the foot of the steps, was Olga Liskiwskyi, the Parish Board President, followed by Wara Serij and Georgia Kereliuk, the President of the St. Olga Sisterhood. Having exchanged greetings, and granting them his blessing, Vladyka Daniel turned to make his way up the steps where he was greeted by members of the Jr. U.O.L. and O.D.U.M. youth groups. Entering the narthex, His Eminence donned his mantia, and entered the Sanctuary where Very Reverend Paul Bondarchuk, parish pastor, who was celebrating his 20th Anniversary of Ordination to the Holy Priesthood, greeted him with a Cross. The nave was decorated with Ukrainian embroidered towels hanging from the pews, along the main aisle. These towels were provided by different families of the parish, and therefore, represented the various regions of Ukraine, uniting the individual families as one Parish Family, and uniting the various areas of Ukraine, into one cohesive nation, past, present and future.
Bestowing his hierarchical blessing upon Fr. Paul, the parish and guests, His Eminence entered the church and ascended the kathedra (riser) placed in the middle of the Nave, where he vested. It is important to realize the great symbolism associated with the vesting, which is a ritualization of each Christian’s “putting on Christ.” The hierarch, standing in the midst of the faithful, reminds us all, that “where the bishop is, there is the Church.” The vesting begins with a white robe (Stikhar) which symbolizes the clean white baptismal garment, followed by the Epitrakhil, symbolizing God’s Grace poured out to ordain him, followed by the belt, symbolizing the strength of God and protection from on High. Once the belt was wound about him, the cuffs were tied on, followed by the Sakkos (a wide seamless garment, fastened by bells, representing the seamless garment of Christ, whose priesthood the bishop is a successor of through the Apostles). Next the seminarians hung the Epigonation (diamond shaped cloth) which symbolizes the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” giving the hierarch the authority to go forth and, guided by the Hand of God, uphold the truth with humility and justice. Next, the Archbishop was covered with the Omophor, which represents the lost lamb which Christ, the Good Shepherd, did not abandon, but, went in search of and finding it brought it back to the flock, gently draped across His shoulders. The vesting concluded with Vladyka putting on his pectoral Cross, followed by the Panagia, and finally by placing the Mitre upon his head.
As the vesting was taking place, the Liturgy had begun, and Fr. Paul, the seminarians and the altar servers, leaving His Eminence standing amid his flock in the Nave, ascended to the Altar to serve. Archbishop Daniel was not alone for long, as the young children who had been craning their necks to watch the vesting, awed by the process, acting upon the smile from their Shepherd, joined him in the center of the church, by sitting on the kathedra, at his feet. What a glorious moment, as many of the faithful were moved to tears to see their beloved Shepherd, with the tiniest lambs resting safely and comfortably at his feet.
Upon completion of the Little Entrance, His Eminence ascended to the Altar from which he soon emerged to read the Gospel. As the children stood with candles, His Eminence read from the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30 about the servants being given talents by their master. Having concluded the reading Vladyka Daniel descended to once again stand among the faithful and deliver his sermon. Everyone listened intently as he told a story which explained the deeper meaning of the Gospel Reading. His Eminence emphasized that God has gifted each of us with a talent, specific to us, and that each skill when used properly and multiplied is of great value. Whether we are good at cooking, fixing things, sewing, singing, painting, writing, etc., each talent benefits our families and communities, and each is vital.
With everyone contemplating and trying to deduce what their talent, their gift from God, and their gift to the world, might be, the Liturgy continued. Emotions ebbed and flowed, fed by Archbishop Daniel, whose prayers rose to the heavens, beseeching the Holy Spirit to grace and bless all those gathered in prayer behind him. As a general, standing at the head of his troops, Vladyka, led his army of faithful towards salvation. Soon those who were properly prepared, gathered for Holy Communion, the adults falling in to line behind the youngest of the faithful who gingerly crossed their little arms across their chests and eagerly awaited the opening of the Royal Gates. With smiles on their faces the faithful approached in love, awe, and pure gladness, to partake of the Holy Gifts, presented to them by their hierarch.
Truly, today the cathedral overflowed with the presence of both the faithful, the clergy, the angels and the saints, all praying and worshipping the Lord, as one.
As the people made their way to the parish hall, and settled down for lunch and the afternoon’s entertainment, the curtains opened to reveal the students and teachers of the Lesya Ukrainka parish school, who congratulated Fr. Paul on his ordination anniversary with poetry and song.
Father Paul, surrounded by his family, Dobrodiyka Angelina, daughters Christina and Sophia, and son Gregory, was grateful to the youngest of his parishioners, who had prepared such a sweet presentation for him. In addition to Fr. Paul and his family, Vladyka Daniel was joined at the head table by Very Reverend Dean Protopresbyter Volodymyr Petriv of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Ukrainian Catholic Church in Dearborn Heights, MI, and V. Rev. Laurence and Presbytera Anita Lazar, from St. George Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in Southfield, MI to his left.
Fr. Paul was next greeted by the beautiful voices of the Orthodox Choir of Detroit, under the directorship of Matushka Vickie Kopistiansky. The choir members sang several prayers, and songs dedicated to the Mother of God.
As the crowd enjoyed a tasty lunch, catered by Thibault & Moore Caterers, the Masters of Ceremony Ruslana Proonko and Andrew Smyk efficiently hosted the event, keeping things on schedule and moving along. Everyone wished to express their love and gratitude to Fr. Paul and greet him during his celebration. Fr. Volodymyr Petriv stepped up to the microphone and on behalf of himself and Very Reverend Mario Dacechen, expressed his gratitude to Fr. Paul, who has worked over the years to cement the Ukrainian Community in southeast Michigan. In addition to several parishioners who expressed their family’s greetings, were Mrs. Vera Andrushkiw, president of the Detroit Regional Council of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America and Ruslana Proonko, on behalf of the “New Wave”. Additionally, in the crowd were Andrew Jakymowych, president of the Future Ukrainian Federal Credit Union, in Warren, as well as Oleksandre (Sasha) Darmoroz, who fought on the front lines for Ukraine and lost his leg and sight, and is in the States seeking treatment.
Parish President, Olga Liwkiwskyi, stepped up to the podium, greeted His Eminence Archbishop Daniel and expressed the parish board’s gratitude to Father Paul for his efforts on behalf of growing the parish, educating the faithful and supporting all the parish ministries. She took the opportunity to present Vladyka with $800 collected by the parish, and another $500 donated by the St. Olga’s sisterhood, towards the IOCC Hurricane Relief Fund, and another check for $500 for the needs of the Pokrova Parish in San Diego, which suffered major damage due to Spring floods.
Everyone’s attention once again returned to the stage as Father Paul was honored by a musical tribute from his goddaughter Milya Smyk, along with her sister Tania, who sang and played the bandura, piano and cello. The afternoon’s entertainment continued as the seminarians, Mykola Zomchak and Ihor Protsak stepped up to the microphone to sing several Ukrainian melodies. Soon the entire hall was reverberating as everyone joined in and sang along. The family Zahaiko expressed their gratitude to Fr. Paul by little Ksenia singing Mnohaya Lita, and Katia performing a dance.
As the crowd finished their coffee and cake, once again the stage curtain swung open, this time to reveal a riot of color as the Kolomeyka Dancers, under the directorship of John Zarycky enthralled everyone with their dancing and acrobatics. Many people rose to their feet at the energetic numbers, unable to sit still, their feet wishing to join the dances on stage.
The afternoon’s entertainment concluded with several beautiful renditions by Julian Kytastsy on the bandura. The soft string melodies wound their way through the crowd, working their way around and in to everyone.
With a few final remarks of gratitude and congratulations to Fr. Paul, Vladyka Daniel announced to everyone that in 2018 the UOC of USA will be celebrating their 100th Jubilee and asked that the parish join the festivities in July.
The festivities concluded by 4 PM, and while many were feeling tired by all the excitement, not to mention the delicious meal they had consumed, they were still reluctant to leave, lingering, chatting and wishing to receive their hierarch’s blessing and remain in his presence for just a bit longer. People lined up to personally congratulate Fr. Paul, expressing their own personal stories, important moments and memories of the last 20 years.
From the day’s festivities, the smiles, the prayers, the attendance of the elderly and the young, the laughter, the singing, the shared memories, the new memories, it is evident that the parish of St. Mary the Protectress, in Southfield, MI is doing well in the responsible hands of, and under the solid leadership of Fr. Paul Bodnarchuk, who is not only their pastor, but, their friend, their guide and their mentor. May the Lord bless Fr. Paul and his family, with many more healthy, happy and blessed years, serving in His Vineyard! Mnohaya Lita!