The Nativity of our Lord celebrations became more festive and spiritually uplifting for the faithful of Minneapolis Metropolitan area of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church f the USA, as His Eminence Archbishop Daniel visited the parish communities of Saint Katherine Ukrainian Orthodox church in Arden Hills, MN on January 6-7, 2022; St. Michael and St. George Ukrainian Orthodox church in Minneapolis, MN on January 8, 2022; and once again Saint Katherine Ukrainian Orthodox church in Arden Hills, MN on January 8, 2022.
While the temperature outside hovered around 0o F, it was warm and welcoming inside the parish of Saint Katherine Ukrainian Orthodox church in Arden Hills, MN. As the setting sun darkened the church interior, the Christmas lights shimmered and sparkled, reflecting the twinkle in everyone’s eyes, as they gathered, eagerly anticipating the proclamation that “Christ is born!”
As Great Compline commenced, the choir’s voices (under the leadership of Oleksij Khrystych) ebbed and flowed harmoniously, enhanced by the squeaks, giggles and cries of little children. From young, to younger, everyone joined as one, to greet the newly born Christ Child.
As are all Orthodox services, this one was steeped in symbolism and reflected deep spiritual meaning. Parish pastor, Very Reverend Petro Siwko, began the service in the darkened nave standing before the closed Royal Gates, solemnly reading the first of “Six Psalms”. "I lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4) These particular six Psalms are grouped together and are significant, for Tradition teaches us that these will be the Psalms that will be sung by the angels during the Last Judgment. As the words of the Psalms echoed off the cavernous walls, the faithful stood silently and listened keenly to the words, contemplating their own mortality and eternity.
With the completion of the Six Psalms, the choir sang, “God is with us! Understand, all you nations, and submit yourselves, For God is with us.” With this the Royal Gates opened and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, along with Father Petro, Fr. Myron Korostil (pastor of St. Michael and St. George UOC parish in Minneapolis, MN), Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi and seminarian Roman Marchyshak (seminarians at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Bound Brook, NJ), and the Altar Servers proceeded to the narthex. From the back of the church, Vladyka Daniel prayed not only for those present within the church, but, for the entire world.
As the solemn service came to an end, the clergy made their way to the front of the nave, where the tropariоn of the feast was sung, and bread, wheat, wine and oil were blessed, signifying the blessing of all the world's goods: “Lord Jesus Christ our God, you blessed the five loaves in the wilderness and fed the five thousand. Likewise bless these loaves, wheat, wine, and oil, and multiply them in this city and through your whole world. Sanctify your faithful who will partake of them, for you yourself bless and sanctify all things, O Christ our God, and we give glory to you with your eternal Father and your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and forever.”
Having concluded the service, Archbishop Daniel took the opportunity to share some wisdom with those present. He explained that the greatest gift anyone ever received was the gift of the Creator incarnating for the sake of our salvation. While we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on this day, the significance is not only that Christ was born, but, that God took on flesh to save mankind. We often lose focus of this fact and focus instead on gifts and gift giving. We recall the shepherds, the angels singing, the magi traveling great distances, bearing gifts for the newly born King. Yet, we seldom contemplate the deeper meaning behind the Incarnation.
In his sermon Vladyka greeted the faithful of the community on the most glorious Feast of the winter season of the Church’s Calendar – the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, stating: “…Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." These words of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds in Luke’s gospel (2:10) are not referring to the past but addressed to you and to me today. The angel spoke into a world where poverty, injustice, violence, sickness and death were daily present. Has anything changed since then? Are we not despite all the technical and scientific progress suffering the same problems?
…The Savior does not appear as warrior to clean the world with power and might. No, he came among us as a disarmed child – and he remained disarmed until he stretched out his arms on the cross to embrace the whole world in a divine act of love.
The “humility of God” goes so far that saint Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians dares to say: “For our sake (God) made (Jesus) to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, the basic conditions of the world and our daily life may still be the same like at the times of Jesus’ birth. What should have changed in the meantime is the heart of those who listen carefully to the message of the angel and believe in it: “Do not be afraid – a Savior has been born for you… Don’t you think that the world around you would become a little bit better and brighter if you acted with a heart that is really touched by the divine love in the crib who seems to tell us of the Divine reason for His Incarnation... I wish you and your families a Christmas in peace and joy. “Do not be afraid ... a Savior has been born for you!”
Following the liturgical celebrations of this year’s Christmas Eve, Vladyka Daniel joined the faithful of the parish community for a Christmas Eve supper, featuring traditional Christmas Eve dishes. Later in the evening, the youth and parishioners of both parish families presented a Nativity play – “Vertep” to their bishop and the faithful of the community.
The joy felt the night before was rekindled on Christmas day, as everyone gathered once again, in the nave to celebrate the Nativity of Christ.
On January 7, 2022 – the feast day of the Nativity of Christ, His Eminence led a Divine Liturgy at St. Katherine parish, while the pastor Very Rev. Fr. Petro Siwko; Very Rev. Evhen Kumka (pastor-emeritus of St. Michael and St. George UOC parish in Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Fr. Myron Korostil – pastor St. Michael and St. George UOC parish in Minneapolis, MN, with the altar servers and seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary (South Bound Brook, NJ) Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi and Roman Marchyshak concelebrated and assisted the bishop.
The parish temple was prayerfully overwhelmed by the presence of the faithful of the Church who joined their spiritual father and hierarch for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ.
In his sermon Vladyka stated: “Our faith reminds us that the infant Jesus came to share with us more than a smile, and more than a moment of affection. This infant, born of the Virgin Birth-Giver of God, comes full of grace and truth, and filled with enduring love. This infant is here to break down our fears, to overcome our sins, to dispel our apathy, to save us from the brokenness of our world and our lives – and to show us that because we are precious in God’s eyes, although wounded, we are loved. Indeed, through the birth of this infant, we are given the blessed opportunity to come to know the God who has given us life… The times in which we live continue to be filled with challenges, which cause us to search desperately for meaning and purpose, for consolation and peace in our lives. May the blessing of Christmas be that we are not too proud or sophisticated to look upon the face of Jesus and find that for which we hope. Indeed, his plan for us is quite simple. In his birth and in his life, Jesus offers us a pattern for how we are to live. When we are humble and wise enough to follow his example of selfless love and to open our lives in service to one another, God’s love is given room to abound all the more within our hearts, to create therein a true and lasting peace, and to establish the path that leads to our salvation… Thank you for the privilege of serving as your Bishop and for allowing me to journey with you in faith. Thank you as well for your willingness to embrace the life of Christ and to respect and treasure his presence as he comes to us each day in his Word, in the Most Holy Eucharist and in his people: those created in his image and likeness. In so doing, you keep alive the true meaning and the real work of Christmas/Nativity.”
Following the Liturgy, Archbishop Daniel presented Centennial awards of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA to the parish’s choir director Oleksij Khrystych and Pani Halyna Myroniuk for their dedication to the sacred music and Tradition of the Church.
Once again smiles filled the church, as the people, singing carols descended to the church hall for a light potluck lunch. Vladyka chanted traditional Christmas Carols with the faithful and presented them with the Nativity icon cards. While waiting for the bishop, everyone smiled and joked; chit chatted and hugged friends who had come from far and wide to celebrate Christmas together.
Everyone sat for hours after the meal concluded singing carols, laughing, talking and just enjoying each other’s company. The parish truly was one big happy family.
Before everyone dispersed towards their homes, Archbishop Daniel invited them to Liturgy the following day, celebrating the Synaxis of the Birth-Giver of God at St. Michael and St. George Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Minneapolis, MN.
The day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast day of the Synaxis of the Mother of God, when the liturgical life of our Church directs the attention of the faithful to the holy person of the Theotokos. Its goal is to present to us her holy personality and to highlight her great contribution to the salvation of mankind, and more specifically, the important role she played in the mystery of the Holy Incarnation.
Joined by Father Myron Korostil, pastor of the parish community, Very Reverend Fr. Petro Siwko and Very Rev. Fr. Evhen Kumka, Archbishop Daniel celebrated the Divine Liturgy, surrounded by a handful of faithful.
In his sermon the archbishop placed emphasis on the Mother of God, making note of her silence and her love. He stated that nowhere in the Gospel do we hear what the Virgin Mary had to say. She was merely there, having humbly accepted God’s will for her, to care for, nourish and raise the baby she bore, Christ, her and the world’s Savior.
His Eminence reminded everyone of the value and deeper meaning of a mother’s love and the affect her touch has upon her children. He asked that we all, mothers, and non-mothers, male and female, all emulate her willingness to serve, to heed God’s call, and to protect that which is precious. Archbishop Daniel remarked that every newborn child will either cry or smile and giggle. He instructed us to listen for the Christ Child’s joyous giggling and to take that happy sound with us, out in to the world, and share that joy with everyone we meet.
Vladyka Daniel took a moment to thank Fr. Myron Korostil and Fr. Petro Siwko – pastors of both Ukrainian Orthodox parish communities in Minnesota, the parish councils, the choir (under the leadership of Andrii Karkoc), sisterhood, and the youth of the church for coordinating his visit and for working together to make the celebration of the Nativity of Christ truly joyous.
Liturgy concluded all too soon, and everyone was hesitant to leave. Having venerated the Nativity icon, and shared a few final words with their hierarch, everyone bundled up to head out in to the big cold world. However, they were leaving as different people than when they had arrived. For now they carried the happy giggles and laughter of the Christ Child within their hearts, taking it with them to spread the joy to the world beyond.
On the third day of Nativity, the feast day of Protomartyr Stephen, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel visited once again St. Katherine Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Arden Hills, MN.
The Liturgy was served by Vladyka Daniel and the clergy in attendance in prayerful simplicity with the congregation singing the responses to the Litanies under the leadership of Maestro Oleksij Khrystych. After the reading of the Gospel for the feast of Protomartyr Stephen, His Eminence stepped into the center of the church to preach amongst the people, reflecting upon the life and sacrifice of Protomartyr Stephen and how it can be applied to today’s journey of an individual.
The archbishop spoke to those in attendance about the first martyr Stephen and what it really means to be the real follower of Christ, who is willing to sacrifice his life for Christ. He spoke of love which made St. Stephen be able to do what he has done to preach Christ through His life until the very last breath. Real examples of living in the love of Christ were shared by His Eminence. If those people were capable of spreading Christ’s love thorough their actions of compassion, so we too can share Christ’s love with the others by being Christ to those who are in need.
During a luncheon in the parish hall, seminarian Roman Marchyshak presented a short concert of Christmas carols and Ukrainian songs, which brought a generous donation of funds in support of Lewytskyy Scholarship Fund for St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary of the UOC of the USA.
This historic visit by the Diocesan Bishop was also shared with faithful located in far distances from the parish communities via mobile devices, which connected them all by heart and spirit. The joyful memories of this Feast are written in the hearts and minds of those present and will remain for years to come.