On a sunny Sunday morning, the 1st of August, as the birds chirped in the cool morning air, the faithful of Holy Trinity parish in Seattle, Washington arrived to church. Even though masks were once again required due to the spike in COVID pandemic infections, the masks could not hide the smiles and joy that exuded from the parishioners. This Sunday was like no other. Today, they would witness the baptism of parish pastor Fr. Andriy Matlak and Dobrodiyka Nadiya’s youngest daughter Olenka.
As final preparations were made for the baptism, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, spiritual father of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, vested in golden vestments, embroidered with pink flowers, in honor of little Olenka, stepped up giving the godparents final words of advice. Being a godparent extends further than merely today’s celebration, but is a lifelong commitment before God, to raise the child in the Faith, to love her, care for her, and always be there for her.
Nodding their acceptance of the responsibility, Godmother Oksana Denysovets gently rocked the infant in her arms, as Godfather Rev. Vasyl Pasakas looked on adoringly. Father Vasyl and Fr. Andriy were classmates at the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, graduating in the same year. Their bond of friendship which began as young students, has only grown stronger as both have become priests and started their own families.
As His Eminence read the prayers of Exorcism, the godparents renounced Satan, and accepted Christ on behalf of their goddaughter Olenka, and recited the Creed, pronouncing their, and her faith in God.
As the ceremony proceeded, Archbishop Daniel took the child in his arms and immersed her thrice in the font of blessed water, and lifted her high, water dripping off the astonished infant’s face, proclaimed, “the servant of God, Olenka, is baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
The baby was clothed in a new garment of “righteousness” and anointed with Chrism, before His Eminence tonsured her, cutting little snippets of her fine hair, as her first offering to God, before a cross was placed about her neck. Taking her up to the altar and lifting her high, His Eminence dedicated her to God.
With a new illuminated member of the Church, servant of God Olenka, resting peacefully in her mother’s arms, the time came to begin the Divine Liturgy. His Eminence once again climbed the steps to the church, and stopped in the Narthex where he was greeted by the parish children. Under the loving guidance and tutelage of their teacher, Pani Iryna Pylypovets, the children greeted their hierarch with poetry.
“Our Vladyka came on a plane, and as the doors open, we welcome him!”
Vladyka could not hide his joyous smile at the warm welcome. He took a few moments to greet the children and having accepted the flowers they gave him, he in turn handed each child a flower.
Having been greeted by parish administrators, and parish pastor Fr. Andriy Matlak, His Eminence stepped into the nave of the church and the Divine Liturgy took off as if on angel’s wings. As the choir sang, the prayers were read, and petitions made.
Stepping up to the podium, Archbishop Daniel read the day’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 9:1-8, detailing how Christ had healed an ill man who was brought before Him.
Closing the Gospel and placing it on the Altar Table, His Eminence stepped out on the ambo and delivered a moving sermon.
What is the meaning of love? Love has so many different meanings in this world. We can say that we love a particular dish, which is different than the love of a child for his mother. A young man in love with a young woman, has a different degree of love for her, than he has for his mother’s cooking.
Love demands the best of each of us. It is an expression that is super human. It cannot be restrained by our understanding. It is supernatural.
During the baptism earlier that morning, gazing at the tiny baby, you cannot help but feel God’s love for having created such a lovely human being. Such beautiful innocence and purity.
His Eminence continued by quoting I Corinthians 13—verses 4-7, where Saint Paul tries to explain what love truly is.
“Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. Love does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Referencing the day’s Gospel Reading, His Eminence explained that in Biblical times people viewed illness as being a result of sin. The ill person was considered unclean and was to be shunned. Anyone who came in contact with an ill person, took upon themselves that same uncleanliness, and were also to be shunned, therefore, society ostracized those who were ill, avoiding them, instead of helping them.
We see so many homeless on our streets. For whatever reason they ended up in this state, it is not for us to judge, it is for us to help. We often feel superior, more worthy before God than these lowest in society, but, we are mistaken in this delusion.
Instead of shunning those in need, we are to be like the friends of the ill man in today’s Gospel Reading, and we are to lift them up and carry them towards healing and salvation. The ill man’s friends did not care what others would think of them, in their love for their friends, they were willing to suffer sideways glances and being judged, in order to save their friend. They were willing to sacrifice their own happiness, to help their friend recover and return to his family and society.
We need to be like these men, and take upon ourselves, our neighbor’s troubles. Helping lift them out of the mire, and show them love. Instead of avoiding the “unclean” ones, we need to help them. Make their problem our problem. Bring them food. Give them worth. Help them feel the love of humanity, the love of God. As Christians we are to always to show love.
Love requires our participation. Marital love is not about gifts, diamonds, and flowers. It is about the knowledge and assurance of having the camaraderie and support of one’s loved one.
His Eminence explained that all of Creation has a purpose. Cows give milk, while chickens give us eggs. The purpose of the human is to give love to the world.
Archbishop Daniel retold a story of a couple who had traveled to an orphanage in search of a child to adopt. Having spotted a curly haired boy with shining bright eyes, they went to the administrator’s office and requested that they be permitted to adopt him. The administrator stated that before he will proceed they need to go speak to the child, and see if he was willing.
The couple approached the young boy, and sitting down with him, they explained that they have a lovely home, and he will have a wonderful room, with toys, and clothing. As they watched him eagerly, waiting for him to accept them, he looked at them and said, “I already have all that here.”
They looked astonished at the boy and asked, “what is it that you want?” to which he replied, “I want the love of a mother and father for their child.”
More than anything in this world, we want love. However, do we give love?
His Eminence looked about him, and stated that on this Sunday, as we celebrate the Holy Fathers of the First Six Councils, he calls upon us all to display this same deep love for others. To give selflessly. Put others first. Love without end.
Having recently attended a symposium on International Religious Freedom in Washington DC, Archbishop Daniel explained how saddened he was having heard just how much of the world population is currently being persecuted for their beliefs and faith. He was shocked to learn that in China concentration camps still exist today, and that Christians and Muslims who choose not to reject their Faiths are tortured and often killed.
We need to love our neighbor, not ourselves.
Having given everyone something to think about, and an assignment to spread the Love of Christ in this world, His Eminence returned to the Altar and the Liturgy continued.
As the faithful approached to partake of Holy Communion, first in line was newly baptized servant of God Olenka, who for the first time in her young life communed of the Eucharist. With smiles upon their faces as they watched, the faithful each approached, trying to emulate that same innocence, hope, and love.
The Gospel and the sermon fed their minds, the Eucharist fed their souls, and after Divine Liturgy the bodies were also fed, as the faithful headed to the parish hall for a lovely banquet. Friends sat and chatted as the parish children ran around laughing and playing. The afternoon was spent in good company, with old friends and new, as the faithful glowed with love.
All too soon the hours wiled away, and the faithful began to slowly disperse. However, today would not end with the setting of the sun, for the light of love that was sewn in each soul would glow and illuminate the world, dispelling the darkness for the foreseeable future.