On a sunny Sunday morning of December 12, 2021, the faithful of the St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, Maryland, arrived early to church to greet their esteemed visitors on this momentous occasion. Having participated in Vespers served by His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, the evening before, the people were filled with an overwhelming desire to come and participate in the Divine Liturgy, and be a part of the service commemorating parish pastor Very Rev. Volodymyr Steliac’s 25th anniversary of being ordained to the Holy Priesthood, as well as his 20th anniversary being the parish priest at St. Andrew.
The children gathered in the narthex giggled and squirmed as they held pink and red blooms in their hands, their vibrant Ukrainian embroidered garments making the youngsters themselves look like blossoms in a colorful garden. They all hushed and focused their attention as the cathedral doors swung open and the bright morning sunshine came pouring in. As they squinted, before them, as if coming out from the light itself, were their hierarchs. Joining Archbishop Daniel this morning was His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora. Both hierarchs smiled as the children found their courage and timidly stepped out into the sunshine. Dressed in gold vestments, Metropolitan Antony smiled and accepted the blooms handed to him, as did Archbishop Daniel, before surprising the youngsters by giving them each a flower to keep. Holding their flowers close, the children stepped back allowing the others to greet them, including the parish administrators and sisterhood, presenting them with a lovely round loaf of bread and salt.
Having graciously accepted the warm greeting and offer of bread, the hierarchs entered the Narthex, where they were formally greeted by the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Madame Ambassador expressed her honor and joy at greeting Metropolitan Antony, and Archbishop Daniel. Exchanging a few words with her, Metropolitan Antony stepped forward into the Nave, where he was greeted by parish pastor, Very Rev. Fr. Volodymyr Steliac, who presented His Eminence with a blessing cross and holy water. Sharing a few words and expressing his joy at being present for such a joyous occasion, Metropolitan Antony kissed the offered cross and blessed all those gathered with it.
Flanked by the students of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, Fr. Andrii Drapak, Deacon Serhij Khomitskyi, Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan, Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi, Reader Maksym Zhuravchyk, Reader Andrii Vatrych, seminarian Andrii Akulenko, and seminarian Roman Marchyshak, the hierarchs processed into the Nave, stepping up onto the dias before the Tetrapod.
With the children taking up positions in the front of the church, the Divine Liturgy commenced. The choir sang beautifully, their responses to the prayerful petitions melodic and heartfelt. Upon the conclusion of the reading of the Gospel, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel stepped forward to deliver a moving sermon. Stepping down among the seated parishioners, His Eminence expressed his joy at being at the parish on this day. He then paused a moment, until everyone settled down and focused their attention on the words he was about to speak. Vladyka expounded upon the Gospel that was read this day from Luke 13:10-17. In the reading we all heard how Christ was in the Temple on the Sabbath teaching. There he sees an infirm woman, crippled and bent over so that she cannot even straighten her back. The Lord immediately notices her and realizes her predicament, her pain and eighteen years of suffering. Out of love and compassion, He calls her to Himself. When she shuffles near, He lays His hands upon her, prays, and states, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” The hunched body slowly stretches, and the woman stands upright, no longer suffering, no longer in pain. Rejoicing, she glorifies God.
Stepping up to the children who were seated nearby, Archbishop Daniel pulled out a $20 bill. Showing them the bill, he then crinkled it up, twisted it, folded it, until it was almost unrecognizable. He then asked the children if anyone wanted to bill. All the kids stretched out their hands.
Archbishop Daniel looked at them, and then turned to the seated adults and stated that the children all want the wrinkled, crumpled and scrunched up bill only because they knew its underlying value. $20. However, he continued, the crippled woman in the Temple was overlooked by all who passed her, nobody paid her any attention, nobody aided her, or came to assist her in any way, because they all were blind to her true value. Underneath the wrinkled and scrunched up body was a human soul, a person made in the very image of God Himself. While she seemed invisible to the world, she was not invisible to God, who spotted her and immediately showed her love and compassion, healing her.
His Eminence asked everyone to think if perhaps in their lifetimes, even in the previous week, someone had remained invisible to them. Society tends to ignore all those whom they believe have no value to them. People tend to gravitate to those from whom they expect to get something, someone to whom they attribute some kind of value. However, we often overlook those who are the most valuable, simply because we choose to wear blinders upon our eyes. Archbishop Daniel asked that we remove those blinders and see the value of every single person. If God loves them, who are we not to love them in turn? And if we love them, we will treat them with compassion, and run to their aid when they need it. Therefore, he concluded, open your eyes, and look around, and give value where it is truly due.
With the sobering thought, everyone stood as His Eminence returned to the Altar and the Divine Liturgy continued. Mulling over his words, the people contemplated, realizing that in fact they probably had overlooked many individuals for various reasons, and with prayers on their lips they asked the Lord to forgive them, and to help them in the future see the true value in all those around them.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony stepped out onto the Ambo and greeted the faithful before him. Turning towards Fr. Volodymyr, he congratulated him as he begins his 26th year of priesthood, wishing him continued success, and blessing his ongoing service to the Church. Reaching over to the small velvet box Archbishop Daniel held next to him, Metropolitan Antony presented a lovely, jeweled cross purchased by the parish, which he awarded to Fr. Volodymyr marking his 20th anniversary of service at the cathedral. The choir broke out in a rousing rendition of Mnohaya Lita, as all those gathered joined in, singing joyfully, and wishing their pastor many blessed years!
As the choir continued to sing, the faithful shuffled out of the church and headed to the parish hall for a delicious banquet. As the children squealed and ran among the lavishly decorated tables, the adults found their seats, and after the prayers were said, everyone enjoyed a delicious meal, surrounded by family, and friends.
At the conclusion of the meal, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony stepped up to the microphone, again congratulating Fr. Volodymyr, and then expanding on the life of the parish. A parish is only as successful as the people within it make it. It takes work and dedication to make a church a spiritual home. His Eminence took this opportunity to award several individuals with Blessed Hramoty for their tireless work on behalf of the parish. Additionally, he handed out a number of awards.
Ludmilla Murphy, who also received the St. Olga award, received the Lifetime Achievement Award in appreciation of decades of sincere and tireless devotion to the Parish and Sisterhood activities, as exhibited by participation in numerous community and humanitarian initiatives.
Parishioner of the Year Award was presented to Anya Dydyk Petrenko, in appreciation of sincere devotion to the Parish, sparing neither time nor effort, and using God-given talents to publish an informative and beautiful monthly Cathedral Bell bulletin.
After the formal awards concluded, parishioners approached and presented gifts to Fr. Volodymyr, while others took a few moments to share experiences with their hierarchs. And so the afternoon wiled joyfully away, amidst laughter, jovial banter, and fellowship.
As the crowd began to dissipate, the faithful waved their final goodbyes. However, while they were leaving the church behind, their commitment to be the Church was renewed, as they returned to the world, with eyes wide open in order to notice and give value to the people they found in it.
The clouds scurried across the heavens as the sun began to dip in the western sky, the rays glinting off the golden domes of the St. Andrew Cathedral, which stands as a testament of strength and a pledge to Orthodoxy in America. Wishing Very Rev. Volodymyr Steliac and the parish of St. Andrew Cathedral in Silver Springs, MD, many blessed years as they forge ahead into the future. Mnohaya Lita! Many Years!