Річне Паломництво Неділі св. Фоми зібрав тисячі людей в Духовному осередку
Митрополії Української Православної Церкви США в Саут-Баунд-Бруку, Нью-Джерсі\
As the sun shown brightly upon the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the warm Spring breeze snapped the Ukrainian and American flags which lined the entryway to the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, NJ.
On this Saint Thomas Sunday, the faithful who had arrived to pray to the Lord for peace and good health, and to remember their loved ones who had fallen asleep in the Lord, were greeted with a moving and sobering site.
As they walked towards the tall church which is the first Memorial in the United States commemorating the 10 million lives lost to the Holodomor Genocide perpetrated against the Ukrainian people by Soviet Russia in 1932-33, they were faced with the current Genocide being once again perpetrated by the Russians against the people of Ukraine.
All along the road leading up to the church steps were placards lying upon the ground. The 550 photos were of lives cut short, images of the destruction of a peaceful land, of hopes destroyed, and futures stolen. The images showed death and destruction, tortured bodies, tear-streaked faces, terror, and anguish. In the middle of each set of images stood a candle, made of salt. 225 candles representing 225 children slaughtered by the Russian military. The children were the light and the salt of the earth, and were now being remembered by salt votives, their flames flickering beneath the open sky.
As the faithful, in deep thought, climbed the steps of the church, their melancholy lifting as the gazed upon the children standing near the doorway wearing brightly embroidered Ukrainian shirts (vyshyvanky) and holding red roses. These children proved that all hope was not lost. Squinting against the bright sun the children stopped squirming and gazed intently as their hierarchs arrived, but instead of being dropped off right in front of the church, they decided to get out at the foot of the long drive.
As the bells tolled, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, solemnly walked by the images of war, destruction, and death. As Psalm 22 states, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” so the hierarchs stoically walked through the horrific images, having furtively gazed down in sadness, lifting their eyes upward towards the church, and towards Christ, our everlasting Hope.
As they ascended the steps of the church, they were warmly greeted by the children of the Ukrainian School, who showered them with roses. Exchanging smiles and hugs with the children, the hierarchs entered the narthex and were greeted by Pani Lesia Siwko and Anna Shewchenko on behalf of the Pokrova Sisterhood, by parish Starosta Dmytro Kozlyuk, and finally by parish pastor, Fr. Yurij Siwko. Expressing their gratitude for the kind words and their joy at being with their flock on this joyous St. Thomas Sunday, the hierarchs entered the Nave, paused to venerate the miraculous Icon of the Mother of God (Kardiotissa - “the Softener of Hearts”), before entering the Altar.
As the people crowded into the small church, Metropolitan Antony came and stood in their midst to be vested. The choir of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church (under the leadership of Dr. Michael Andrec) prayerfully chanted the songs and liturgical responses.
By vesting in the Nave, before the people, the hierarch is symbolic of Christ incarnating and being baptized by St. John in the River Jordan. Christ put on “Adam”, so that mankind could put on “Christ”. There are two sets of vesting prayers: those said quietly by the bishop and those proclaimed aloud by the protodeacon. These together illustrate the salvific dynamic of passion and resurrection. The protodeacon proclaims the victory of the Resurrected Christ, for the bishop’s vesting is a ritualization of each Christian’s “putting on Christ.” The prayers said by the bishop are taken from the passion narratives and ritualize that other aspect of our baptism, that we are baptized into the death of the Christ.
The first item is the Stikhar – the white garment worn at baptism symbolizing the “putting on of Christ”, followed by the Epitrakhil, the long stole that hang down from his neck to his feet, symbolizing God’s Grace poured out to ordain him to the priesthood. His Eminence’s waste was encompassed with a Poyas (belt) representing the Strength and Protection of God, and cuffs were tied to his wrists, ritualizing the hands of God in creating and redeeming humanity, and also are reminiscent of the shackles placed on Christ when He was bound and scourged.
The beautiful white damask Sakkos (outer garment) was than put on His Eminence, representing the seamless garment of Christ, whose priesthood the bishop is a successor of through the Apostles, followed by the Epigonation (the square cloth hung at his right side) symbolizing “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” This shield symbolizes that the hierarch is bestowed with authority to go forth, and guided by God’s own Hand, to uphold the teachings of Christ, with humility and justice. A wide cloth was than placed around Metropolitan’s shoulders, the Omophor, which is symbolic of Christ the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost lamb and gently carries it on His shoulders back to the awaiting flock.
Around his neck His Eminence put on a Panaghia, which is an icon of Christ with His mother, or another symbolic icon, along with a jeweled cross. Atop his head then he put on his Mitra, a crown reminiscent of both the mitres of the first Aaronic high priests, and the crowns of victory and life to be bestowed upon all the faithful in the Kingdom.
Also vested in shining and pure white, Archbishop Daniel joined Metropolitan Antony in the center of the Nave as the Divine Liturgy began. The reading was from the Gospel of John 20:19-31 restating the instance when Christ appeared to His Disciples when Thomas was absent and therefore, Thomas did not believe, and stated he would not believe until he placed his hands in Christ’s wounds. When Christ appeared again, in Thomas’s presence, He stated that Thomas now believes because he has seen, but blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe.
Very Rev. Fr. Yaromyr Mykytyuk, the father of newly ordained Fr. Myroslav, gave a moving sermon on the peace of Christ, and the need of peace in Ukraine. War and aggression are not from Christ, and in this Paschal Season we need to redouble our prayers and efforts at achieving peace in Ukraine and throughout the world.
As the time for Holy Communion approached, the faithful filed forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, which was administered to them by Fr. Myroslav on his second day of priesthood. As the Liturgy concluded, Archbishop Daniel directed everyone to step outside to participate in a general Panakhyda (memorial service).
Surrounded by the faithful who stood to either side of the church steps and flanked by the ranks of priests all dressed in Paschal White, the hierarchs stood on the platform before the church and with their voices echoing off the church and carrying on the breeze they called upon God’s mercy. They prayed for all the souls lost during the current aggression in Ukraine, but also for all those souls lost during the Holodomor, and additional genocides in the history of Ukraine, for the souls of the defenders of Ukraine, as well as all the men and women who had served in the American Armed Forces, innocent lives of Chronobyl Nuclear Disaster, for the souls of the family and loved ones who had fallen asleep in the Lord, and for all Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
In his remarks prior to the beginning of the Memorial service, Archbishop Daniel invited all in attendance to walk in silence through the rows of 550 photos displayed, honoring the innocent lives, yet looking at the photos in order to see and comprehend the EVIL of the attempted Russian invasion of Ukraine. Vladyka reminded everyone in attendance that while the buildings are destroyed throughout Ukraine – the freedom loving spirit of the People of God – Ukrainians – cannot be destroyed and taken away from them – thus Russians will never conquer Ukraine, no matter how many times they attempt to accomplish their evil plan. Archbishop spoke of the light of Pascha and how it destroys the darkness of the Evil in the world. The Bright Day of St. Thomas Sunday inspires us - the Ukrainian-Americans – the people of Faith – Ukrainian Orthodox faithful - be stronger in our resolve to help the people of Ukraine to fight the force of destruction. In conclusion of his remarks, Vladyka stated that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA collected over 1.9 million dollars in humanitarian aid and it is actively being delivered to various communities throughout Ukraine.
His Excellency Consul General of Ukraine in New York Oleksii Holubov was in attendance of the Pilgrimage and spoke about the consolidation of the world-wide efforts in order to help the nation of Ukraine. He expressed his gratitude to the Ukrainian-American community for their generous support of the logisitican and humanitarian needs of Ukrainians.
Local NEWS and media sources were present and reported as the hierarchs, followed by the clergy and faithful, came down the steps of the church and processed to the Veteran’s Memorial Monument for a short prayer for our veterans, before continuing down into the crypt below the Memorial Church to hold a panakhyda, and proclaim “Christ is Risen!” at the tomb of Patriarch Mstyslav. Reemerging into the sunlight the group then made its way to the gravesite of Metropolitan John (Theodorovich) of Blessed Memory.
Having prayed for the souls of all those who had reposed in the Lord, the hierarchs returned to the church, as the clergy and faithful spread throughout the St. Andrew Cemetery to visit and pray at the graves of parishioners, family, and loved ones.
Some people wondered the cemetery stopping here and there to remember the person buried there, while others found their way to the Ukrainian Cultural Center to enjoy a bit of lunch and to peruse the items that were for sale by local vendors. Many others congregated in front of the Memorial Church and slowly walked among the images and salt lamps, pausing to contemplate the images, to try and fathom the horror being perpetrated against innocent people, to commiserate with the people pictured, to try and understand the incomprehensible murder of innocent people, men, women, the elderly, the harmless children. The complete destruction of cities, and towns, roads, and thoroughfares, schools, hospitals, train stations. Turning back to the church, the people, tears streaming down their cheeks, looked to God for comfort and crossing themselves mouthed a prayer for the peaceful repose of those whose lives had already been violently stolen from them, and for the protection and safety of all who still found themselves in harm’s way, for the wellbeing and success of the defenders of Ukraine, and that peace be returned to their ancestral homeland.
Sweet endings for the pilgrimage were to be had at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, as the Consistory Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry hosted an “Ice Cream Social”. Young and younger gathered to enjoy a bowl of ice-cream with a variety of sprinkles. As they delighted in the tasty treat, everyone enjoyed each other’s’ company. All too soon, the ice cream was gone, and it was time to leave.
And so, with the words “Christ is Risen!” echoing throughout the Metropolia Center grounds, the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church prayed for all the living, as well as for all who had already departed this world, in the knowledge that this fallen world has been conquered by Christ!
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! Христос Воскрес! Воістину Воскрес!
Photos by Reader Maksym Zhuravchyk and Seminarian Andrii Akulenko