From near and far, people once again began to congregate at the Metropolia Center on a bright Saturday afternoon. “Caroling for Christ” has become an annual event, eagerly anticipated by the local parishes and faithful. Each year people gather at the Ukrainian Cultural Center located on the grounds of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in South Bound Brook, NJ. The event usually takes place in January, however, due to the remodeling of the center the date needed to be pushed back to February. The wait was well worth it as the new renovations added flare to the event, especially the new side lights which glowed a variety of colors, adding a sense of colorful excitement to the occasion.
Awaiting commencement of the program, people milled about the various vendor booths which displayed a myriad of Ukrainian items, ranging from shirts, cups and decals, to CD’s, and books. The St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary booth offered icons, service books, prayer ropes and a variety of religious items for sale. Along the other wall of the Cultural Center the St. Andrew Memorial Church school of Ukrainian Studies had tables set up selling innumerable baked goods. There were cupcakes, tortes, pies, cakes, cookies and almost any type of baked good imaginable - all homemade with love.
As the crowd quieted and hundreds of people settled down in their seats in anticipation of the concert, the hierarchs arrived and found their places in the front, eager to watch the performance.
The official program began with emcee, Olenka Hoshovska-Dorozhynska, thanking everyone for attending and participating in the fourth annual “Caroling for Christ” concert. She asked His Eminence Archbishop Daniel to start the proceedings with a prayer. Vladyka Daniel came out on stage, also thanked everyone for coming to participate in this 4th annual concert at the Metropolia Center. He reminded everyone that in Ukraine it is customary to greet each other with the Christmas holidays all the way through the 15th of February, and therefore, with that in mind he greeted everyone, led those present in the Lord’s Prayer, and opened the stage for the performance to commence.
With Reverend Father Vasyl Pasakas assisting with the English announcements, the first group to dazzle the audience made their way on stage. Very Rev. Todor Mazur’s parish of Holy Trinity Cathedral from New York, NY, with Artistic Director Olenka Dorozhynska-Hoshovska was well represented by a group of young children who sang “Z Kolyadoyu Idemo/We go caroling”. The adorable little children sang loudly as the audience smiled and clapped enthusiastically.
The second set of performers were the seminarians from St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, directed by the instructor of Church Music, Very Rev. Taras Naumenko. The seminarians’ deep voices spun various chords around the onlookers who were mesmerized by the richness of their performance. As their first number, they sang an old Ukrainian traditional carol “Dobrij Vechir Tobi/Good Evening to you” and finished with an American classic of “In the Town of Bethlehem”.
The third number was by the 3rd, 6th and 8th grade classes of St. Andrew’s Ukrainian School, of the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, NJ, under the directorship of Yaroslava Danyschuk. The Artistic Directors Oksana Nalyvajko and Natalia Moroz did themselves proud as the children had the audience smiling as the sweet young voices sang a variety of songs. Impressed with their performance, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel handed each child a paper icon of the Nativity of Christ as they walked off stage as a memento of the day’s event.
The fourth group to stun the crowds were the 6th 7th and 8th grade classes from the Assumption Catholic School Chimmetteers, from Assumption Catholic School in Perth Amboy. Under the tutelage of Art Director Melania Lawrence, the children played melodies on bells including “Silver Bells”, “Jingle Bells” finishing with “Carol of the Bells”, before posing for a photo with Fr. Taras Naumenko, who once attended the school.
The music stopped long enough for the youngsters from St. Andrew Memorial Church to sing a short Christmas Carol “On these Christmas holidays”, declaring well wishes for the New Year, with an added flare of His Eminence Archbishop Daniel assisting the young boy in tossing grains of wheat with well wishes, at the audience members.
As Christ was born to save all nations, many nations and languages were represented in the program. While the audience had enjoyed songs and numbers in Ukrainian and English, they were now regaled with a few songs in Romanian sung by members of the St. Andrew the First-called Apostle, from Jamaica, NY. Joining his parishioners on stage was parish priest Fr. Ivan Protesa as they sang a number of Christmas related songs in Romanian and English. The audience was awed by the beautiful voices echoing off the tall walls. Accompanied by a pan flute, the soprano sang a solo of “O Holy Night” that hushed the room with awe, in addition to “Ce Bucurie Ar Fi, finishing with Pe Stapanul si Arhiereul nostrum (Our Master and our Priest)”.
Sometimes the best is left for last, and this time one of the best performances did come last in the form of a Nativity Play by the parishioners of Holy Trinity, from New York, NY, with Artistic Directors Fr. Todor Mazur and Natalia Maksymyshyn. The audience enjoyed the play with the elaborately costumed performers representing the shepherds, the Magi, Caesar, Roman soldiers, gypsies, etc. Laughing at the comedic performance, with a spiritual undertone, the final number finished on a high note.
At the conclusion of the performance, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony was surprised as Fr. Todor congratulated him on his birthday, the 5th anniversary of his enthronement as Metropolitan and his namesday, while the children came around the corner with a large birthday cake decorated with glitter and reading, “Blessings on the day of your ordination. May Christ, our Lord, bless you abundantly in your ministry.”
Expressing his gratitude for the recognition and the cake, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony walked out on stage to present awards to the performers and their directors. With smiles on their faces, and Christmas Carols on their lips everyone gathered around their beloved hierarchs, Metropolitan Antony and Archbishop Daniel, to take a final group photo.
The crowd was reluctant to disperse, lagging behind to speak with the hierarchs, take photos, and bask in the radiance of the moment. The children ran around regaled in their Ukrainian finery, ribbons flying as they chased each other and enjoyed showing off their costumes. With music still playing in the hall, the vendors were making last minute sales, as the cars began to pull up to pick up family members at the door. With final hugs and kisses, exchanges of addresses and phone numbers, old friends and new parted ways to make their way back to their homes. Tonight, those homes will once again be lit with the Light of Christ, as each person whether aware or not, took a bit of Christmas joy home with them in their hearts, to warm their hearth and their home.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Caroling for Christ - Another Successful Event at the Metropolia Center of the Church - 02/03/2018
Photos & Text by Elizabeth Symonenko