The festive celebration of Theophany turned somber with the setting sun, as under the waning sky His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, joined by the seminarians of the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary ascended the steps of the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, New Jersey.
This day marked a tragic milestone – the death toll from COVID-19 topping 400,000 individuals. On this sad day, His Eminence joined countless others who bowed their heads in prayer and remembrance at 5:30 PM EST.
The Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) announced last week that a lighting ceremony would be held at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting pool, to commemorate the American lives lost to the pandemic. The committee invited all cities and towns throughout the country to take part in the “national moment of unity and remembrance.”
Locally, at the Franklin Township meeting on January 7th, Councilman Ram Anbarasan, invited all residents, businesses, and houses of worship to participate by lighting candles, illuminating buildings, and ringing church bells at 5:30 PM, January 19th.
As 400 lights, for 400,000 dead, illuminated the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the bells of St. Andrew Memorial Church began a slow and melancholy toll, each chime echoing sadly through the Metropolia Center, down the streets of the city and through the backyards of the homes nearby, as one by one, people placed lit candles in their windows.
As the bells sadly tolled, His Eminence’s voice was raised in prayer, as he served a Memorial Service for the 400,000.
“Give rest, O God, to Your servants, and place them in Paradise where the choirs of the Saints and the righteous, O Lord, will shine as the stars of heaven.”
The Orthodox Church upholds the belief in life everlasting through Christ our Lord. The Memorial Service expresses our love for the departed, reaffirming that those who have died, are not dead to us, nor to God. Our prayers for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord, beautifully reveal our understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ both on earth, and in heaven. Sincere prayer unites us to Christ, and our prayers on behalf of the departed helps in their union with the Lord.
At each Liturgy, as we recite the Creed, we repeat that we have hope in the life to come, and therefore, we pray with love, faith, and hope, knowing that death is not the end, and we pray that the Lord will receive the souls of the departed into the company of the Saints in His Kingdom.
As the domes of the Memorial Church lit up in solidarity, the seminarians lit candles inside the church before the icon of the Mother of God in remembrance of those who had died.
Vladyka Daniel’s voice rose, echoing through the dome, in rhythm with the tolling bells as he beseeched the Lord on behalf of the 400,000 souls,
“With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Your servants where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sighing, but life everlasting.”
In the dimly lit church, with the smoke from the incense billowing into a cloud that hung heavily in the air, the candles flickered, like stars twinkling through the clouds of Heaven itself, as His Eminence continued to pray, and the seminarians joined their voices to his petitions,
“You are our God who descended into Hades and loosened the pains of those who were held captive. Grant rest also, O Savior, to the souls of Your servants. Now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.”
Archbishop Daniel concluded the service with: “For You are the resurrection, the life, and the repose of Your departed servants, Christ our God, and to You we offer glory, with Your eternal Father who is without beginning and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. May their memories be eternal, sisters and brothers worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory!”
As the words “Memory Eternal” were sung, the bells continued to toll their sadness across the city, mingling with the bells of other nearby churches.
Having concluded the Memorial Service, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel walked out into the cold breeze, his vestments whipping about him, as the seminarians huddled together for warmth in the chilly evening air. As they descended the steps of the church, the bells grew silent, the resulting hushed silence being even more evident and moving, as they remembered the now hushed lives of the 400,000 souls who fell victim to the coronavirus.
The dark figures slowly disappeared into the darkness of the night, as they made their way back to the seminary, leaving behind the now quiet and somber St. Andrew Memorial Church, illuminated like a candle in the darkness, remembering the dead, giving hope to the living, and proclaiming everlasting life through Christ.