On October 16, 2019 the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, located in South Bound Brook, New Jersey, bustled with activity as final preparations were made, and guests began to arrive for the 22nd Regular Sobor.
The week began with pre-Sobor activities which included meetings of the Consistory Board, the Council of the Metropolia, Seminary Board and Clergy Conference. As the various groups met, the Consistory Staff members were busy preparing for the Sobor – printing handouts, setting up tables, planning meals, and ensuring that everything would run smoothly in the days to come.
The rain fell in buckets, and the wind whipped the trees outside, but, indoors the main hall of the Ukrainian Cultural Center glowed invitingly as the delegates, and clergy, from all over the country began to file in and find their seats. Hugs were exchanged as old friends were found, and new ones introduced. The quiet banter mingled with laughter suddenly ceased as everyone stood to greet the hierarchs who were entering in a procession led by the Holy Gospel. Reaching the front of the hall, they stopped before the icon of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha holding the Church of the Tithes (Dormition of the Mother of God), where a Moleben to the Mother of God was served.
Having concluded the prayer service, the hierarchs ascended to the dias and took their seats. Behind them on the Cultural Center Stage was the large traditional Sobor icon of the Protection of the Mother of God, from whom they had asked for intercession during the Moleben, along with prayers that we might prove faithful to her Son and our God during the Sobor. Before the various icon banners on one side of the stage stood an icon Christ our Lord, gifted to His Eminence Metropolitan Antony at his 70thbirthday celebration by the children of parishes all around the country. The icon was developed by Natalie Kapeluck, Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and was composed of small individual photos of a few hundred children, which were submitted from the parishes. On the other side of the stage stood a horizontal banner with pictures all the bishops of the UOC of USA, from the foundation of our Church through today.
Following the National Anthem of the United States of America and Ukraine, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony called the Sobor to Order under the theme: “LORD, I LOVE THE BEAUTY OF YOUR HOUSE AND THE PLACE WHERE YOUR BEAUTY DWELLS”. He welcomed all the clergy and faithful present and reminded them of their responsibilities during this, the highest administrative body of our Church and asked that we all remember that we are part of the Body of Christ – the Church and that we must act under the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout the Sobor.
Appointed to the Sobor Presidium were: Vice Chairs: Protopresbyter John Nakonachny, Pastor of St. Vladimir Cathedral, Parma, OH and Dr. Paul Micevych, St. Andrew Parish, Los Angeles, CA and Member of the Council of the Metropolia; Secretaries: Rev. Fr. Vasyl Shak, Pastor of St. Panteleimon Parish, Brooklyn, NY and Consistory Staff; Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas, Pastor of Nativity of the Mother of God Parish, South Plainfield, NJ and Consistory Staff; Dr. Gayle Woloschak, Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Palos Park, IL and Secretary of the Council of the Metropolia and Elizabeth Symonenko, St. Mary Protectress Cathedral, Southfield (Detroit), MI, Member of the Council of the Metropolia and Secretary of the Consistory.
His Eminence Metropolitan Antony read a message from His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew who offered his warm greetings and well wishes for the 22nd Regular Sobor, promising continued prayers for the UOC of USA, her hierarchs, clergy and faithful. His All-Holiness spoke to the theme of the Sobor and described the work of the Sobor as “the liturgy after the Liturgy” – liturgy being the Greek word for “the common (or community) work”. The Divine Liturgy is the “communal work of worship” and the Sobor is the communal work of living as those in Whom Christ dwells.
During his message to the Sobor, His Eminence spoke about the theme of the Sobor, in particular about the Old Testament rituals of cleansing oneself prior to entering into the Tabernacle and standing in humility before the Holy of Holies – the place where God dwells as a permanent presence among His people. These rituals were extensive and sometimes took place over lengthy time periods – even eight days – depending on the cleansing necessary for various sins, illnesses, etc. He compared this to the New Covenant cleansing, which is the Sacrament of Holy Penance in order to unite oneself with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, thus becoming the dwelling place of God: “Those who eat My Flesh and drink My Blood abide in me and I in them.” This is the goal of our entire life – to be one with God. Once we realize this to be our goal, we cannot look at one another in judgment or without mercy, we must, rather, see Christ dwelling in each other and “love the place where He dwells”.
His Eminence also expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Daniel for all he as done for not only our Holy Church here in the USA, but for the Church in Ukraine, as well. The Archbishop played an incredibly important role in the church unification process in Ukraine as an Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which led ultimately in a unification Sobor and the awarding of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Constantinople on the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord (Epiphany on the New Calendar) – 6 January 2019 – in the Holy Cathedral of St. George in Constantinople (modern Istanbul). The President of Ukraine praised His Eminence Archbishop Daniel for his powerful role in the whole process at the conclusion of the Unity Sobor in December 2018.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel presented his opening remarks and a report of the President of the Consistory. Before presenting a detailed account about the various ministries of the Church since the last Sobor in 2016, Archbishop stated: “…Reflecting on the ministry of the Church since the last SOBOR of 2016, as stewards of our Metropolia family, we are encouraged to speculate what the future of our Church in the United States of America is going to be like. It must be noted, that this precious jewel – UOC of the USA – is not ours – but Christ’s; however, it was given to us for nurturing and edification.
If we look at our lives globally, we begin to realize that in this time of history - today, humans have acquired more knowledge than any other time in history. Science and medicine are going places never before imagined… We are living in a critical time never before experienced in the history of humankind, and the Church must respond to human’s deepest needs. One question keeps coming to mind: “Who will be the next generation of leaders in our church, both clergy and laity, throughout the future? How will we manage addressing the spiritual needs of our faithful in a world of constant changes and challenges?” Our current parish leaders are getting older. We are in desperate need of new and sound leadership to continue the Master’s work. We need to bring the spiritual experience of our faithful to a new level. It is not only about being a good leader, but most importantly it is about knowing how to follow the Leader – our Lord.
In my final analysis, the church must do away with all and any excuses and continue to prepare young men and women – a new generation to lead the Church into the future.
The previous 6 Sobors of our Church have produced a major shift in the mindset of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. In the past we often preoccupied ourselves and our SOBOR sessions, discussing, at times too much the issues that we have very little control of. The concerns over financial stability impacted in both ways (positively and negatively) the fabric of our Church family. However, the faithful of our Church under the leadership of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, turned their attention and direction to the ultimate reality of the Church – the rededication of our efforts for the evangelization and spiritual renewal of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church and her faithful.
The dynamics of previous Sobors were so evident during the breakout and plenary sessions, - that the Council of Metropolia and Consistory of the Church entered into a new phase of studying this desire of our parishes for a vibrant parish experience and life. About four years ago, Metropolitan Antony granted his blessing to initiate the creation of a “study” group of our clergy and faithful, who worked diligently – learning about the strengths and weaknesses of our Church, listening to voices from our parish families, learning about their dreams, hopes and aspirations. A blueprint was generated that mapped the STRATEGIC PLAN OF THE UOC OF THE USA – concentrating of Spiritual Renewal, Educational Opportunities and truly Responsible Stewardship. The next several days of our SOBOR must provide an opportunity for us to examine, to learn and to decide whether we are willing to act in the Name of Christ and for the benefit of the next generation of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians in the United States of America.”
The only other formal report for this day’s session was the Financial Report presented by Consistory Treasurer V. Rev. Stephen Hutnick and Assistant Treasurer Natalia Honcharenko-Andrec. Following the report an important discussion ensued, which was a primary issue of the Council of the Metropolia and the Consistory for consideration during this regular Sobor. Our hierarchs both expressed their concern about financial trends in both the economy of the nation and that of our Church. Significant time must be dedicated to thoroughly detailing for the delegates at the Sobor and through them for the parishes they represent. His Eminence Metropolitan Antony explained that the Council of the Metropolia needs to hear the thoughts and concerns about the finances of the Church because the Council is the body charged by the Church Constitution with stewardship decisions regarding all aspects of Church life, including finances and property development. A primary goal of any discussion of finances is to protect our Metropolitan Mstyslav Endowment Fund for the future. The discussion of finances was scheduled to continue on the second and third days of the Sobor. At the conclusion of this first part of his report, Fr. Stephen announced that an anonymous individual had made a donation to the Endowment Fund and challenged other delegates to do the same and that individual would match donations up to $1,000. Then another anonymous challenge was stating that it would match donations if they reached the level of $10,000!
Following the recess of the plenary session the clergy and lay delegates enjoyed a wonderful dinner prepared by Maureen Nevins and Troy O’Prandy, children of our long-time caterer, Tom O’Prandy, our original caterer at the Cultural Center. The meals throughout the Sobor were up to the usual standard our faithful have come to expect through several Sobors – no one leaves the Center hungry!
The final gathering of the evening was Three Holy Hierarchs Chapel in St. Sophia Seminary. Whether it was Vespers, Evening Prayers or any other service, the faithful always closed each day in peaceful worship of God in the Holy Trinity, offering gratitude and praise for the guidance so freely gifted to us in the process of the liturgy after the Liturgy during the Sobor. The gathering for worship also took place at the beginning of each day during Divine Liturgy in St. Andrew Memorial Church, during which everyone received the spiritual fortification for the day in the Holy Eucharist enabling each of us to “be Christ” to one another. Archbishop Danial celebrated Liturgy on Wednesday morning, Metropolitan Antony on Thursday morning, Archbishop Jeremiah (Eparchy of South America) and Archbishop Danial on Friday morning and Metropolitan Antony and Archbishop Daniel on Saturday for the closing Liturgy.
The entire morning plenary session on Thursday was devoted to reports. First up was the conclusion of the Financial Report by Fr. Stephen Hutnick. He fielded many questions about specific points in the report with delegates offering suggestions about financial issues. After a thorough discussion the Sobor approved the Financial Report and Elizabeth Davies, St. Job of Pochaiv Mission, Los Alamos, NM, head of the Audit Commission, presented the Audit Report, which found all financial records to be complete and in order. Next came the reports of the Central Institutions and Organizations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Reports were presented from St. Sophia Seminary (Archbishop Daniel, Fr. Theophan Mackey, St. Job of Pochaiv Parish, Los Alamos, NM, Vocations Director); from the Sr. Ukrainian Orthodox League (Karen Ferraro, St. Vladimir Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA, President); the Jr. Ukrainian Orthodox League Alexis Naumenko, St. Vladimir Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA, President); St. Andrew Society (Protodeacon Dr. Ihor Mahlay, St. Vladimir Cathedral, Parma, OH, President); All Saints Camp (V. Rev. John Haluszczak, St. Vladimir Parish, Pittsburgh, PA, Chairman; Josh Oryhon, Manager; Michael Nakonachny, Planning Committee Chairman); Ukrainian History and Education Center (Fr. Stephen Hutnick, board President and Natalia Honcharenko-Andrec, Museum Director); Metropolitan John Theodorovych – St. Sophia-UOC Library (PM Oksana Pasakas, Librarian); St. Andrew Cemetery (Fr. Vasyl Shak, St. Panteleimon Parish Brooklyn, NY, Manager); Ecclesiastical Store (PM Olen Shak, Consistory Staff, Manager); Strategic Planning (Dr. Gayle Woloschak).
Next the delegates heard the reports of the Consistory Offices of Ministry, all included in the Sobor Report Book, with additional comments of directors, if desired: Office of Stewardship, V. Rev. Fr. Robert Holet, St. Nicholas Parish, Charlotteville, VA and Member of the Council of the Metropolia, Director; Office of Religious Education, V. Rev. Fr. Harry Linsinbigler, Protection of the Mother of God parish, Dover, FL, Director; Office of Clergy Development, newly appointed Fr. Theophan Mackey, St. Job of Pochaiv Parish, Los Alamos, NM, Director; Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon, Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Carnegie, PA, Director; Office of Public Relations, Fr. Ivan Synevskyy, St. John Parish, Johnson City, NY, Directo; Office of Liturgical Publications, Archbishop Daniel, Director; Office of External Affairs, Metropolitan Antony, Director; Office of Christian Charity, Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay, Director; Office of Cultural Affairs, Natalia Honcharenko-Andrec, Director; Office of Archives and Historical Information, Dr. Michael Andrec, Director.
Much information about all our Central Organizations, Institutions and Offices of Ministry may be found on our UOC of USA website – uocofusa.org – in many news articles and links to additional websites (under Institutions, Organizations, Metropolia (Offices of Ministry tab) and others. On these pages one can find much, much information about the life of our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and all the activities reported on at the Sobor.
One of the highlights of each Triennial Sobor of our Church is the Grand Banquet, which took place on Thursday evening in a completely transformed Cultural Center – turned into an elegant cocktail and dining environment with decorations and graphics designed by our own Consistory staff and volunteers working diligently: PM Oksana Pasakas, PM Olena Shak, PM Olekasndra Pavlykivsky, PM Alexandra Andrushkiw, Maria and Ihor Morozowsky, Petro Rudyy, St. Sophia Seminarians, Troy O’Prandy, Maureen Nevins and the Cultural Center food service staff.
Special guest for the evening was His Grace Bishop Apostolos, Chief Secretary of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, representing His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Archbishop of America and Exarch of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The Archbishop was unable to join us because he was leading the first session of his Archdiocesan Council since his recent appointment as the Archbishop. He expressed his regret at not being able to be with us and his great joy at the awarding of a Tomos of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine and our Church and its hierarchs’ contributions toward that goal.
A beautiful concert was presented under the direction of Natalia Honcharenko-Andrec and included the talent of our local dance ensemble, Barvinok, centered at the Cultural Center, sisters Lida Dzus and ZinaDzus-De Bole, from Pokrova Parish, Rochester, NY presenting beautiful songs with their sweet harmonized voices and finally, the St. Sophia Seminarian Choir, consisting of the nine full-time seminary residents – Deacon Sviatoslav Hot, Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak, Subdeacon Yurii Bobko, Subdeacon Ihor Protsak, Subdeacon Myroslav Mykytyuk, Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan, Maksym Zhuravchyk, Pavlo Vysotskyi and Andrii Vatrych – singing spiritual and folk selections. The audience truly appreciated these presentations and rewarded the entertainers with abundant applause and cheers!
On Friday morning, the third day of the Sobor, the Cultural Center was amazingly recreated again into the Sobor plenary session room and meal service area. Several final reports were first on the agenda, followed by an inspiring presentation by the members of the Youth Sobor who clearly explained to those gathered exactly what it is the youth of the Church “need” from their adults – love, understanding, a clear explanation of the Faith, and a gentle encouragement from their elders. The Youth Sobor is the fourth conducted simultaneously with the regular Sobor, where young students from around the country are invited to discuss the needs of the youth of our Church and to convey their conclusions to the regular Sobor. The reports presented to our Sobor were pronounced by Metropolitan Antony to be very mature, forward looking and thought provoking. He urged the students to remain strong in their faith and devoted to our Lord and His Holy Church. The Sobor stood to applaud these wonderful students.
After lunch everyone wondered throughout the Metropolia Center, enjoying the Rushnyky exhibit located in the temporary museum exhibition room located in the Metropolitan John Library and the new museum building with its construction completed down to the interior finishes.
A final discussion of the financial report and financial matters of the future filled most of the afternoon of this day’s plenary session. The delegates had obviously spent some considerable time thinking about such matters between sessions, because the discussion was thoughtful and positive in consideration of many possible routes to follow in the future with regard to finances. Metropolitan Antony and Bishop Daniel both expressed the importance of our belief that “God will provide”, with the caveat that we must cooperate with him. The Council of the Metropolia will take all the suggestions heard during the Sobor into serious consideration as they fulfill their obligations over the coming three years.
The Sobor concluded with the election of the members of the various Church Offices, and the Induction Ceremony of the newly elected members of the Council of the Metropolia, Ecclesiastical Court and Audit Commission.
Elected to the Council of the Metropolia were: V. Rev. Robert Holet, V. Rev. Stephen Hutnick, V. Rev. Taras Naumenko, V. Rev. Andriy Pokotylo, V. Rev. Vasile Sauciur, V. Rev. Victor Wronskyj, V. Rev. Gregory Czumak, Mr. John Holowko, Ms. Olga Lyskiwska, Ms. Aleksandra Kocelko, Dr. Paul Micevych, Mr. Howard West, Ms. Elizabeth Symonenko, Dr. Gayle Woloschak, with Mrs. Karen Ferraro – UOL President, and Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay - St. Andrew Society President and automatic Council Members. Alternates to the Council: Very Rev. Fr. Vasyl Sendeha, Very Rev. Fr. Gabriel Rochelle, Rev. Fr. John Charest, Rev. Fr. Mykola Andrushkiv, Rev. Fr. Richard Jendras, Deacon Charles Sanderson, Michael Dobransky, Deacon Valentine Olynyk.
Elected to the Ecclesiastical Court were: V. Rev. Stephen Masliuk, Chair, Rev. Fr. Theophan Mackey, Rev. Fr. Silouan Rolando, Martha Misko, Deacon Michael Abrahamson. Alternate: Christine Charest.
Elected to the Audit-Control Commission were: Elizabeth Davies, Chair, Rev. Fr. James Cairns, Rev. Fr. Andriy Matlak, Tamara Host, Wolodymyr Katolik. Aletrnates: Rev. Fr. Borislav Kroner and Alexandra Stryzak.
Having sworn to do their best in the interest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, with the Lord’s guidance and intervention, His Eminence Metropolitan graced each member with a medal signifying the office, and then blessed the newly elected members, along with all the delegates with Holy Water.
In his concluding remarks to the Sobor, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony called upon the delegates to carry the message of this Sobor home to their individual parishes, to their fellow parish family members. He urged them to realize that the local parish cannot stand alone, that without the nerve center of the Church at the Metropolia Center, it would be naked and incomplete standing before the Lord. He stated that whenever he visits parishes, he very often hears the quote from St. Ignatius that “Where the Bishop is, there is the Church” – without him as the successor to the Holy Apostles – there can be no parish, no Church. The Metropolitan declares, however, that the Bishop without the faithful, also cannot be the Church – alone and with no mission. We, bishops, priests and laity, are meant to do the common work – the liturgy after the Liturgy of church life and worship together. The Metropolitan asked for the prayers of all those present for him and for Archbishop Daniel, for without them, it would be impossible to function.
With the final singing of “It is Right in Truth”, the plenary sessions of the 22nd Regular Sobor concluded. As everyone enjoyed their final dinner together, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel presented a poetry book written by one of the orphans of Ukraine supported by the UOC of the USA. He explained how the girl is wheelchair-bound, however, her mind flies free over Ukraine and she puts her dreams, wishes and love of her homeland on paper, which His Eminence gathered and worked to compile into a book. Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak’s sister, Victoria Zomchak, typed up all the pages, which were then published in a book, and printed by the Church in support of the orphanage.
Additionally, Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan’s mother – Dobrodiyka Iryna Bilohan had created a number of teddy-bears which she donated for auction, with the proceeds going towards the orphanage fund. Many of the bears, named lovingly Antonina, Daniela, Katerina, Maxym, Taras, Ksenia, etc. found new homes, as the orphanage fund grew.
Another powerful presentation was made about the most recent publication of the Church about the Sacred Grounds of St. Andrew Cemetery at the Metropolia Center of the UOC of the USA in South Bound Brook, NJ. Giving a short account about the process of creation the pictorial guidebook, Vladyka Daniel introduced everyone to the author of the publication – Mr. Lev Khmelkovsky, who in turn offered profound historical presentation about the need to tell the story of over 9500 people buried as St. Andrew’s Cemetery, many of whom are religious and political leaders of Ukraine and Ukrainian-American community of Diaspora in the United States of America and beyond.
On a splendidly sunny Saturday, the St. Andrew Memorial Church bells pealed loudly through the crisp morning air, announcing the procession of the hierarchs, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, as they neared the church. The tall, magnificent structure overflowed with clergy and faithful who had gathered on the final day of the Sobor to pray not only for their hierarchs, clergy and the faithful of the Church, but, for the success of all the decisions, organizations and appointments made during the Sobor.
As the choir, under the direction of Dr. Michael Andrec, sang, their voices spiraled to the top of the dome, echoing off the tall pillars, before returning to mingled with the voices of the faithful below.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel once again delivered a sermon that left tears on rolling down the cheeks of the faithful, as he reminded them of Christ’s words, “Follow Me.” His Eminence reminded everyone that the Lord calls to them. Do they hear Him? Do they follow? The time is at hand, and we need to hear His voice, get up, and follow Him.
As the Divine Liturgy concluded, His Eminence Archbishop Antony explained the history of the Pochaiv Icon of the Mother of God which hangs above the solea. Everyone’s eyes shifted up and watched as the glistening gold icon was lowered to eye level. His Eminence explained that we’ve shown our spiritual faith in the Lord by partaking of the Eucharist, and now we would show our faith via intellect as we venerate the holy icon, demonstrating not only a blind faith, but, a faith of understanding and acceptance. Metropolitan Antony stepped up first to venerate the holy icon, followed by Archbishop Daniel who bowed low before the Mother of God. As the hierarchs exited the church, the faithful quietly approached the icon, bowing reverently, kissing, crying, petitioning, and honoring the most Holy Virgin Mary.
The Sobor concluded as the faithful made their way one last time the Ukrainian Cultural Center to enjoy not only delicious food, but, the company of each other. Many of those gathered only see each other every three years, however, their love for another doesn’t fade with time or distance. Everyone felt as if the person sitting on their right and left and across the table, and the room, were like family.
While they wished to linger, everyone realized they had to catch flights and start long drives home. With final blessings, parting hugs and kisses, exchanging contact information, and final handshakes, the members of the 22nd Sobor descended the steps of the Cultural Center, returning to the world.
Having been spiritually enriched, ignited into action, the faithful of the UOC of the USA, descended down from the spiritual clouds and returned to the earth with vigor and renewed dedication to make a difference in the life of the Church, the life of the world and everyone in it. With many thanks to the hierarchs for their constant prayers and hard work on behalf of the Church and her faithful.
By Elizabeth Symonenko, Sobor and Consistory Secretary
Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan and Elizabeth Symonenko