On the sunny morning of June 12, 2022, excitement hovered in the air around the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Ukrainian Orthodox Mission in Sacramento, California. The faithful of the parish were gathering to celebrate Pentecost, which this year marked the fifth anniversary of the mission parish, as well as to greet their visiting hierarch, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
This morning, the church filled early, as the parishioners dressed in traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts and dresses (vyshyvanky), eagerly awaited the arrival of their hierarch. Following the custom, greenery decorated the church. Maple leaves decorated the various icons hanging upon the walls, while others leaned against the iconostas, and decorated the entryway. Some people held branches from maples, tulip trees and oaks, while others held flowers.
The Tradition of decorating our churches with greenery reminds us of Spring and life. As the Holy Spirit gives life, and descends upon the Disciples today, the branch, which seems dry and dead in the winter, comes to life in the Spring, and bears fruit in the Summer. Therefore, the branches remind us of the Creation, of the life God has created, and the birth of the Church as we know it today.
As His Eminence entered the Narthex, dressed in green vestments, over 25 children stepped up to greet him. While some recited poems, all welcomed him with warm smiles and flowers. The joy of the moment was palpable as His Eminence returning their smiles opened his arms and all 25 children ran forward to participate in one massive group hug.
Reluctantly the children released Archbishop Daniel, as he stepped up and was greeted by Mission Community president Yaroslav Drozdovsky with the traditional bread and salt. With gratefulness, His Eminence proceeded into the Nave where he was greeted by parish priest, Very Rev. Fr. Myroslav Turchak, who took a moment to reflect upon the legacy of the congregation which surrounded them.
The little parish was established five years ago, meeting in the home of Yaroslav and Mariya Drozdovsky until they were able to procure a building of their own. Over the years the small parish has blossomed, and the number of faithful attending has multiplied and grown like the flowers in Spring. Fr. Myroslav Turchak, along with Dobrodijka Oksana and their daughter Sophia, have served, encouraged, and watched the parish flourish.
Fr. Myrsoslav asked Archbishop Daniel for his continued prayers for the growth and success of the parish, as well as for the wellbeing of Ukrainians, and a cessation of aggression in Ukraine.
Archbishop Daniel responded with words of gratitude and assured everyone of his continued prayers, as he called upon the parents to raise their children in the Church, nurturing the Holy Faith within them, and to share our beautiful Ukrainian heritage with the next generations.
With these words His Eminence moved forward to stand amid the faithful, as the Divine Liturgy commenced. The prayers and responses were beautifully chanted by the parish choir, along with the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary. After the Little Entrance, holding the trikiri and dikiri candles decorated with greenery, he gave his blessing to all before entering the Altar. As the faithful listened to the Epistle Reading retelling of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the gathered Disciples, they were moved anew by the significance of this Feast Day.
The Gospel Reading was from John 7: 37-52; 8:12, also referencing the Holy Spirit.
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
With these words still hanging in the air, His Eminence gave a moving sermon, reiterating the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the Disciples of Christ became His Apostles. As Disciples they were merely students, learning and studying. But, now as Apostles, they were being sent to teach others what they have themselves been taught, they were now God’s messengers upon the Earth. Once they received the Holy Spirit they were strengthened in their resolve. They were no longer afraid and hiding, but, having been imbued with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, they walked out and immediately set to teaching, converting and baptizing the people they encountered.
His Eminence continued by reminding everyone that the Holy Spirit has also descended upon each of them during their Baptism and Chrismation, and that they too have a mission from Christ to fulfill. Just as the Apostles traveled the world spreading Christianity, so they too are to proclaim the truth of Christ. As the Gospel stated, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them,” John 7:38, this living water which flows within us needs to flow out of us to water those around us.
In this world, which is floundering, we need to use the Fruits of the Holy Spirit and wash away the confusion and darkness, bringing people into the light and the joy of Christ. To reach this end we have also been given gifts of the Holy Spirit, including - charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. With these instruments in our tool belt of life, we can change the world around us.
We are equipped to change the world. Do not be afraid, but, go out there and through your life, your actions, and your words, be a positive influence upon those around you, bringing them to Christ and eternal salvation. It is a great responsibility, and awesome task, and you are equipped to undertake it.
Leaving everyone moved and feeling empowered, His Eminence returned to the Altar and the Divine Liturgy continued. As the time neared for the reading of the Creed, everyone paused, turned to those around them and as the clergy exchange the “kiss of peace”, they too exchanged the gesture with a kiss and a hug, forgiving all from all, and entering this portion of the Liturgy free of angst, anger, and resentment, and filled with love, forgiveness, and hope. The Creed is the one prayer that is recited during the Divine Liturgy from a personal basis. While all other prayers are recited for the benefit of all gathered, this one demands a personal focus from the faithful, as they proclaim their personal belief in the Faith.
When time for Communion approached, it seemed as if the entire congregation shuffled forward. Quietly and peacefully, over 30 communicants partook of the Body and Blood of Christ on this monumental Feast Day. As the final prayers of Dismissal were read, the Royal Gates closed as the Vespers of Pentecost began.
For fifty days, since the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord on Pascha, the faithful have remained standing during their prayers, a gesture of celebration. Now, during the Pentecostal Vespers, the faithful once again returned to their penitential form of prayer, where they heard for the first time since Pascha the prayer “O Heavenly King,” invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit.
As His Eminence called out, “On bended knee, let us pray to the Lord,” everyone fell to their knees together as one, and bowed their heads. Archbishop Daniel, along with Fr. Myroslav kneeled at the Royal Gates, facing the congregation. During the First Prayer the faithful prayed along with their hierarch, asking God to hear them, forgive their sins, grant a guardian angel, and to cleanse them through the Holy Spirit, before rising.
As the Second Prayer was read, the faithful again fell to their knees, and prayed that the Lord grant them discernment and strength before rising. As Fr. Myroslav read the prayer, a young boy came up on the ambo and embraced the clergy, finally settling down and knelling quietly next to Archbishop Daniel. The innocence of the child mingled with the deep words of the prayer, moved many to tears of repentance, joy, and hope.
Kneeling a third time the faithful once again bowed their heads as everyone prayed for their departed loved ones, asking the Lord to grant rest to their souls, write their names in the Book of Life, and forgive their sins. Thus, the three prayers encompassed all of creation – both the living and the dead, asking the Lord’s mercy.
As the service concluded, His Eminence spoke a few words, and then bestowed Blessed Hramotas to members of the choir and the sisterhood, before everyone slowly filed outdoors. The sun shown brightly, upon the scene below as the faithful gathered around the entrance of the church awaiting His Eminence who stepped out and walked towards the street to bless the new sign that had been erected with the parish name and service hours. Having blessed the sign, sprinkling it with holy water, Archbishop Daniel walked towards the crowd and generously sprinkled them, as well, causing laughter and joy as the children squealed and the adults squinted as water ran down their faces.
Wiping water from their eyes, the parishioners all made their way to the parish hall to continue the day’s festivities. Having enjoyed a delicious lunch, everyone settled down to enjoy the program. Parishioners stepped up to sing, recite poetry, and dance. Seminarian Roman Marchyshak dedicated a song to mothers of wounded soldiers, his deep voice bringing the reality of war to the forefront, making everyone grateful for the many blessing, and the peace that they enjoy.
The afternoon was spent in great camaraderie and happiness as the faithful sat enjoying each other’s company. With such love and enthusiasm, the mission parish of Holy Trinity will enjoy many years of growth and prosperity, as her faithful heed their hierarch’s instructions and work on proclaiming Christ to all the world, changing it for the better. Mnohaya Lita!