The XXIII Sobor of the UOC of the USA Concluded at the Spiritual Center of the Church
The XXIII Sobor of the UOC of the USA Concluded at the Spiritual Center of the Church

The Opening Day of the 23rd Regular Sobor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA began on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, under a beautiful blue sky, as the delegates, clergy, seminarians, and hierarchs of the Church processed from the Consistory Rotunda to the Cultural Center.  In procession following the cross and cherubic fans carried by St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary students, walked the delegates carrying the flags of each state represented, followed by the clergy of the Church who carried an icon of the Mother of God, the hierarchs, and finally by the delegates to the Sobor.

As the icon was placed on the center stand located before the dais, the flags were placed in stands along the stage, flanking the large icon of the Protection of the Mother of God hanging on the back wall of the stage, overlooking the entire hall, the faithful found their places.  His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, began the proceedings by leading everyone in singing “Oh Heavenly King” in both Ukrainian and English. Having prayed for the Lord’s assistance and guidance, with everyone still on their feet, Metropolitan Antony turned towards the flag of the United States.  As the Seminarians sang the American Anthem, everyone joined in, hands on heart, before turning towards the Ukrainian flag and loudly singing the Anthem of Ukraine with tears in their eyes.

Metropolitan Antony read the greeting to the 23rd Sobor from His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew:

GREETING OF HIS ALL-HOLINESS ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW TO THE 23rd REGULAR SOBOR OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

To His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the Reverend Clergy, and the pious faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Unites States of America, our beloved in the Lord:  Grace be unto you and peace from God.

It is with much paternal care and love that we address the present greeting to all the participants of the 23rd Regular Sobor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America, which has as its theme, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 50:10), convened during a difficult time for your ancestral homeland of Ukraine, suffering from a foreign invasion for some months now.

While unable to be with you in person, we affirm our presence among you in prayer and spirit and send you our Patriarchal blessing as you gather – humbly requesting the Holy Spirit guide you – at your Metropolia Center in South Bound Brook – Somerset, New Jersey, reflecting on the events of the past few years, discussing the critical issues facing your communities today, and taking the right decisions to move responsibility into the future.

Thus, it is very fitting that the theme of your Sobor is based on this important and well-known Psalm, used regularly during our Holy Church’s daily worship services, where the Psalmist implores God for forgiveness and a new beginning.  During these challenging days, you will look upon the admirable model of your countless devout predecessors, many of whom came to America with nothing aside from their deep faith in Christ’s eternal teachings and example and built numerous Holy Temples and the related infrastructure to glorify the “God of our fathers.”

Nevertheless, as the war ravages Ukraine and threatens homes and countless people’s lives, your courageous labors and tangible support of Ukrainian have not gone unnoticed.  Thus, understanding well the Mother Church of Constantinople’s deep love and affection for all her Ukrainian spiritual children throughout the world and their sovereign homeland, we commend you for your Christian initiatives and urge you to continue in any way you can, first and foremost by caring for the spiritual and pastoral needs of recent immigrants and refugees as they come to the United States and ensuring their smooth integration into your parishes.

Therefore, encouraging you not to remain complacent and to multiply the countless gifts and abundance that the Lord and Savior has bestowed upon you (cf. Mt. 25:14-30), we remain optimistic that the deliberations of your assembly will be productive, guaranteeing that your congregations will continue to be outstanding examples of Orthodox Christianity and our Holy Great Church of Christ for years to come.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, October 12th, 2022

Your fervent supplicant before God,

+ BARTHOLOMEW

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

Metropolitan Antony’s opening remarks were moving as he discussed the theme for the Sobor:  “CREATE IN ME A CLEAN HEART, O GOD, AND RENEW A RIGHT SPIRIT WITHIN ME” (Psalm 50:12) explaining that when King and Prophet David wrote the Psalm he was in the worst spiritual state of his life because of his sinfulness against God and his willful acts of murder and more.  He knew that he could not of his own will cleanse his own heart and could not restore a right spirit – the Holy Spirit – unto himself.  The only source for a clean heart that will turn his sinful and murderous life around and directing it to God rather than to personal gain or pleasure, is God alone. No human being, though created in the image of God, can create within him or her self a new heart.  We who live in 2022 are no exception to this fact.  In order to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit at this Sobor, we must be of clean heart and prepared to hear the Spirit and to allow the Grace we have been inspired with to guide to God pleasing decisions, rather than our own simple desires.  The Metropolitan succinctly explained what has transpired in the life of our Holy Church throughout the previous three years.  Challenged with a pandemic, and now an enemy invasion of Ukraine, the Church has had to devise new ways to of ministering to the faithful.  He openly stated that like individual households, because of the pandemic and the status of the economy, the Church is struggling financially.  However, it is through the Grace of God and the generosity of the faithful that the Church continues to do God’s work.  His Eminence declared that this Sobor would be seriously discussing finances. 

Metropolitan Antony introduced Subdeacon Gary Gebet to the Sobor body and thanked him and his wife, Natalie, for their kind generosity.  Having attended the previous Sobor and hearing of the financial travails of the Church, they decided to do what they could to help and graciously made an incredibly generous contribution which has carried us through the past three years.  As Subdeacon Gary stepped up to the microphone explaining that he was inspired by both hierarchs as he traveled with them to the Holy Land and felt compelled to do what he could.  He feared that if it were made known that such a large amount was gifted, that it might dissuade others from donating, but he asked that it instead inspire others to give, because every amount is of help.

Archbishop Daniel rose to deliver the Report of the President of the Consistory.  He thanked everyone for their attendance and dedication to the UOC of the USA, spoke on the State of the Church, the issues facing our parishes today, the status of the Seminary accreditation, and the hopes for the future.

Before concluding his report the Archbishop reminded everyone that while it is good that the parishes are busy undertaking charitable activities, holding events, and organizing festivals, we must never ever forget out true purpose.  The primary mission of the Church is the salvation of souls, and not to simply be a charitable organization, a soup kitchen, or a second-hand clothing depot.  The Church must bring people to worship God and to bring people to salvation.  Once we fully understand this mission, everything else will fall into place.  The Lord said, “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”  How can we turn our backs?  We have been assigned a sacred task, an exciting task, but not an easy one.  Are we up to the challenge?  We are not a business or a social organization.  We are the people of God – the Body of Christ.  “All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23) This includes facing any challenge or provocation from the secularized world.  All things are possible if we follow the teachings of our Lord by proclaiming the Gospel, revealing His Truth, and healing throughout the world.  This is our Strategic plan in the present, for the future and forever.

Archbishop Daniel began the presentation of the Consistory Offices of Ministry.  First was Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon, Director of the Consistory Office of Ministry of Youth and Young Adults (OYM).  In her presentation Natalie explained the importance of All Saints Camp in the life of our youth, teaching them to pray together and stay together.  She explained the various online classes and events held for the children during the pandemic, showing in her video the excitement in the children’s faces.  The joy the Sobor body saw on the faces of the youth assured them that the Church has a future.  An important OYM program is the triennial YOUTH SOBOR, which is held in conjunction with our regular Sobors.  This year it was held during the Teenage Conference at All Saints Camp because of the expense for the teens to participate in both programs would be too high. The reports of the Youth Sobor have consistently been of the highest quality and inspiration to the regular Sobor delegates, especially through their spiritual insight and the many thought provoking suggestions that the delegates could take back to their parishes and apply to youth ministry in their parishes.

The Sr. Ukrainian Orthodox League report was delivered by Karen Ferraro, Immediate Past President of the Ukrainian Orthodox League, substituting for the newly elected UOL President Laryssa Charest, who was unable to participate in the Sobor.  Karen informed the Sobor about all the good work the UOL has done throughout the years, including the publication of educational materials in both languages, the Metropolitan John Scholarship Fund for our seminarians, the Lynn Sawchuk/Karen Kuzbyt Scholarship Fund for Jr. UOL members enrolled in college or university.  It not only provides education, it keeps everyone working and worshipping together.  The UOL provides Lenten resources and conducts annual spiritual retreats during the Great Lenten season, encouraging the faithful to read Scripture, to fast, to give alms, and much more.  Karen urged all the delegates present to establish local chapters of the League in their parishes so that the parish members can participate fully in all these efforts.  She called upon those present to participate in the retreats and other programs of the UOL to become familiar with the League.

Jr. Ukrainian Orthodox League Board President, Natalie Swan of St. Vladimir Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA, along with Board Secretary, Olesya Korotinsky offered the report of the Jr. League.  Natalie spoke briefly about the on-going programs and projects of the Jr. League, especially the most successful efforts – the Great Lent Give-Away and the Souper Bowl Sunday program.  The Lenten Give-Away benefits a particular charity, such as a new mission parish or a missionary program among many others over the years to receive funds raised by local Jr. UOL chapters as a Lenten project.  The Souper Bowl program takes place each year on Super Bowl Sunday in February.  The local chapters and many, many parishes that have no chapter participate in the program by serving a variety of soups (souper bowls)at a luncheon following Divine Liturgy and accepting donations from those faithful attending.  All the proceeds from the are donated each year to our own St. Andrew Society to support the organization’s soup kitchens and food banks in some of the larger cities of Ukraine.  The Jr. UOL has contributed over $50,000 from the Souper Bowl project over the last ten years.

Metropolitan Antony introduced a new prayer initiative of our Church.  As he invited Council of the Metropolia Member, Archon Howard West, to the podium, His Eminence directed attention to the large icon of the Mother of God, “Queen of All – Vsetsarytsya” or “Pantanassa” located on the stage.  Howard, with the assistance of his wife Dr. Lynda, explained that this was a reproduction of a miraculous icon known for healing cancer and other severe ailments. This particular icon was written by our own renowned iconographer, Michael Kapeluck of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Carnegie, PA.  Howard, also from Carnegie, explained that his own parish family in Carnegie had prayed an Akaphist to this icon during the Dormition and Advent fasts in recent years, and the parishioners had reaped great rewards therefrom. The original icon lives at a monastery on Mount Athos and thousands of those prayed for before her were healed, mainly of cancer, but of many other devastating diseases as qell.  Therefore, he and his wife would like all the faithful of our Holy Church to benefit from this icon, which he had commissioned.  He also sponsored the production of another 100 copies of the icon to be distributed to our parishes.  This original icon at the Sobor will remain in St. Andrew Memorial Church for a monthly national Akaphist to be celebrated and live streamed on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m.  Then To that end, each parish will get a small replica along with an Akaphist booklet in order to celebrate the Akaphist monthly in their churches and also live streaming it for their parishioners, praying for their parishioners who are suffering from illness.  Metropolitan Antony thanked Howard and Lynda for their kindness, generosity and the LOVE with which they offered in this gift to our whole Church. The monthly live streamed Akaphists will make it possible for those who are too ill to  attend in person to experience the prayers being offered in their behalf.

Following dinner, all the delegates, alternates and guests were asked to gather at the steps of the St. Andrew Memorial Church for a Panakhyda to pray for all those who have perished over these past nearly eight months in the genocidal Russian invasion of Ukraine. The main drive to the church was outlined with glimmering salt lamps, gently illuminating the way to the church.  His Eminence Archbishop Daniel expressed everyone’s feelings when he stated that we never expected that Russia would follow through on their threats to invade Ukraine.  He retold how he had just visited Ukraine, and a few days later received texts from his mother who was hiding in the basement as sirens wailed.  These last eight months has seen Ukraine bombed, tens of thousands murdered and millions more terrorized – with over twelve million displaced – either in Ukraine or beyond her borders. 

Metropolitan Antony stated that this is not the first time Russia has attempted a genocide of the Ukrainian people.  In November we will reach 90 years since the Holodomor, and here again, we face genocide at the hands of the Russians.  90 years ago, the reporters were silenced, the world turned a blind eye to Ukraine’s struggles and plugged their ears against her cries.  This time, the world sees the truth.  Even though the Russian propaganda machine continues to churn, social media will not be silenced, the truth will not be hidden, and the world is watching the horrors unleashed upon a peaceful and sovereign nation.  His Eminence asked that everyone now focus on the souls of those innocent people, the majority being civilians who have been killed not in a war, because a war would be fought by two armies.  This is not a war, but an invasion against which Ukraine is forced to defend.  This is an army shooting not only defending military, but even more civilians, aiming their missiles at hospitals, apartment buildings and schools, blowing up innocent people and turning villages and huge cities into desert wastelands.  This is genocide.

As the hierarchs turned to face the Altar which was open and visible through the open doors of the church, the Seminarians began to chant the responses.  One by one the voices of the people standing behind the bishops rose to join the seminarians in praying for the peaceful repose of the departed souls. As Metropolitan Antony prayed, “Give rest eternal, O Lord, in blessed repose, to the souls of Your departed servants, and make their memory eternal,” the people’s voices shakily rose as they sang Memory Eternal/Вічная Пам'ять!

DING rang a lone chime of the church bell, as the singing continued… and after a pause another lonely chime DONG… As the bell solemnly chimed, Archbishop Daniel censed the church, the clergy and faithful, and then descended the steps of the church to cense all the placards that had been erected before the church representing the horrors inflicted upon Ukraine – crying children, bombed buildings, bodies and all manner of horror. As the final notes of the prayer rose to the heavens, Archbishop Daniel addressed the faithful asking them to take a moment to walk among the placards and take a look at the images of horror, terror, and murder.  While we may be tired after a long day, there are men and women in Ukraine at this same moment who are tired, but are fighting for freedom, for liberty, and for life. He invited everyone to pick up the salt lamps that lined the drive and take one home with them, placing it in their prayer corners and as they light them each evening to take a moment to continue the prayers from tonight, and pray for the souls of the those who have been killed during the current genocide against the people of Ukraine.

Slowly the people turned and dispersed among the posters, their candles glimmering like stars emanating from the church.  As they held their candles close to illuminate the images, it was as if they joined the suffering of those who were depicted.  Wiping away tears, walking in silence from one to the next, the faithful vowed to pray not only for those whose lives had been stolen from them, but, to earnestly pray for Ukraine’s freedom and safety of her people.

The second day of Sobor began with the delegates joining their hierarchs at Divine Liturgy. The Sobor delegates first heard the activity reports of the Church Central Organizations and Institutions which were, which were a continuation of the previous day’s reports.  Next on the Agenda were the Consistory Offices of Ministry reports – Office of Stewardship, Office of Christian Charity, Office of Religious Education, Office of Liturgical Publications, Office of Public Relations, Office of Archives, and Office of External Affairs.  The Directors of the Offices of Ministry and Consistory Staff who prepared their individual reports were able to make additional comments to the reports and answer questions from the Sobor delegates. The Sobor Body listened received these reports with much enthusiasm realizing the great accomplishments that have been made.  Many resources were made available through the reports for parishes to utilize in their own local ministries to enrich parish life.  All the reports will be part of the Sobor Minutes and hopefully published in upcoming issues of the Ukrainian Orthodox Word. 

These reports were followed by the Financial Report presented by V. Rev. Stephen Hutnick and Natalia Honcharenko-Andrec.  Crunching the numbers, the delegates became acutely aware of the enormous costs for our Church’s ministry programs. Every corner has been cut by the Consistory and money saving practices have been implemented. Still, funding all the programs requires income.  The Consistory and Offices of Ministry do their best to fulfill all their responsibilities, but this is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. 

During the 22nd Sobor in 2019, the Guardians of the Metropolia, the newest Central Organization of our Church, was established.  Very Rev. Andrii Pokotylo, President along with Mr. Howard West introduced the Guardians Program to the Sobor Body, informing about what the membership requirements are, and what great benefit the organization will be to the Church.  Members are required to contribute or raise specific funds, which are deposited in Guardian Accounts.  At least 20% of funds on hand must be donated to the Consistory for support of the Offices of Ministry and other necessary programs.

After the Lunch Break, the each Sobor delegate chose to join one of four Breakout Sessions: “Our Church Life in Western Society – Is our Faith Strong Enough?” led by Rev. Gregory Jensen (Sts. Cyril & Methodius Mission, Madison, WI); “Our Spiritual Formation – From Baptism to Repose” led by Very Rev. Anthony Perkins (Holy Resurrection Mission, Waynesville, NC); “Our Charitable Ministry – How We Have Gifted and Served – Future Needs and Prospects” led by His Eminence Archbishop Daniel (President of the Consistory); and “Stewards of God’s Gifts – How Do We Produce the Fruits and Harvests Expected by our Lord “Tending and Keeping” (Genisis 2:15) His Creation Utilizing the Talents He has Blessed us with?” led by Very Rev. Robert Holet (retired St. Nicholas Parish, Charlottesville, VA).

These sessions met in various locations throughout the Metropolia Center – the Consistory Conference Room, Library, Rotunda and the Seminary.  The 175 clergy and lay delegates, as well as guests were fairly evenly divided through all four Session.  Following a presentation by the session leader, the participants shared personal parish experiences, offered advice, and brainstormed how the Church, and the local parishes, can improve, grow, and expand in the various areas.  Throughout three hours of discussion and enrichment, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony visited each of the four groups, listening and sometimes offering words of wisdom, but more so, simply enjoying his flock working together for the good of the Church her faithful.  While the participants could have continued for hours, the sessions concluded just in time for everyone to participate in Vespers which at Three Holy Hierarchs Chapel in St. Sophia Seminary. 

As the sun began to set the little chapel, warmly illuminated by flickering candlelight, began to fill.  As Vespers began, served by V. Rev. Taras Naumenko with Metropolitan Antony, with the responses chanted by our seminarians, the sky darkened and the halos of the saints visible through the icons of the chapel glowed warmly, and comfortingly. Joining the seminarians, the voices of the faithful rose, as one they worshipped and glorified the Lord.  People were moved by the overpowering sense of Grace which seemed to fill the room and mystically envelope them. 

“O Joyful Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, the Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ. Now that we have reached the setting of the sun and behold the evening light, we sing to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is fitting at all times to praise you with cheerful voices, O Son of God, the Giver of life. Behold, the world sings your glory.”

Preparing to celebrate the Protection of the Mother of God (Pokrova) at Divine Liturgy in the morning, during the Litya His Eminence blessed bread, wheat, wine, and oil.  This prayer alludes to the miracle of the Feeding of the five thousand, but the bread and wine also suggest to the Eucharist; the wheat symbolizes Christ, Who is the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and grew into the Tree of Life.

The oil refers to the oil of gladness and the anointing we received at our baptism, as well as the oil of healing.  All together these four foods symbolize God’s generous gifts which nourish and sustain us. Concluding the service, Metropolitan Antony blessed all those gathered before him, and expressed his joy at having so many of his flock gathered around him, praying together, singing together, and experiencing God together. 

The Sobor Grand Banquet followed Vespers.  The Sobor General Session and Dining Rooms of the Cultural Center had been transformed into a magnificent banquet hall.  As the delegates and guests took their seats, the members of the Council of the Metropolia entered, leading the way for Metropolitan Antony and Archbishop Daniel, along with Mr. Oleksii Holubov, the Consul General of the Ukrainian Consulate in New York City. The evening’s program began as Archbishop Daniel stepped up to the microphone to introduce the first concert performer of the evening, well known singer from Lviv, Ukraine – ANYCHKA, who beautifully performed several songs to the delight of her audience.  The room grew hushed as everyone was transposed by the beautiful melodies and moving lyrics enhanced by her stage presence. 

As Anychka concluded her program, His Eminence called for the lights in the hall to be dimmed.  Everyone was basked in a soft blue glow in the darkened room, with only the icon of the Mother of God located upon the stage illuminated brightly.  Attention was drawn to the large screen and the hall  grew silent as the horrors of the invasion of Ukraine were depicted on the big screen.  Those present saw the terror inflicted upon their ancestral homeland and experienced the grief right along with the people who were suffering from bombings, murder, torture, and utter destruction of an independent and sovereign nation.  But every dark cloud has a silver lining, and the bright light came from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, who in conjunction with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine worked, and continues to work diligently, offering relief to those who are suffering from the invasion.  The video showed the numerous deliveries of items necessary to sustain life such as fresh fruits, canned foods, pasta, rice, as well as needed medical supplies, clothing, toys for the children, and much needed supplies such as warm socks, vests, and helmet lamps for the military.  Most importantly, however, shown were some of the 70 or more ambulances, trucks and other vehicles for military use.  The video, which featured a short clip of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy concluded with a video of several of the ambulances being bless by Metropolitan Epifaniy in Kyiv and delivered to the various war-torn regions of Ukraine thanks to the generous donations of the faithful of the UOC of the USA and the thousands of American citizens and organizations that have contributed millions of dollars to our Church’s Fund to Aide Ukraine.

As the evening’s entertainment continued, the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary stepped up to the microphone and began their program with a moving rendition of “Plyve Kacha Po Tysyni”.  The song is a lament. It is about a young soldier, a young recruit going off to fight in foreign wars and his dialogue with his mother as he asks what will happen if he dies in a foreign land with nobody to bury him.  It is a poignant and solemn reminder of the ongoing battle Ukraine faces against Russia, from the days of the Maidan to the current unprovoked attack.  As the young men sang, the people rose to their feet and lowered their heads, many wiping away tears, as the children gazed in wonder not sure why everyone suddenly became sad. 

As the seminarians concluded the song, everyone remained in silence for a matter of seconds, before returning to the present, realizing that as they celebrated, people in Ukraine were fighting for their very survival. The seminarians sang additional numbers concluding with a rousing version of “Let my People Go!” which had the audience swaying and clapping along.

A greeting from His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew to Metropolitan Antony on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination was read at this point:

 GREETING OF PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW TO METROPOLITAN ANTONY ON HIS 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF PRIESTLY ORDINATION

To His Eminence Metropolitan Antony of Hierapolis, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America, our beloved brother and concelebrant in the Lord: Grace be unto you and peace from God.

It is with much brotherly love that we address this Patriarchal Letter of Congratulations to you upon learning of the 50th anniversary of your ordination to the Holy Deaconate and the Holy Priesthood.

During this significant period of sacrificial service, you have accomplished much, thanks to your strong work ethic and dedication to Christ’s Holy Church and its mission, especially by ministering to our beloved Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, first as an active parish priest and later as a hierarch, and by nurturing and educating future priests at St. Sophia’s Seminary.

Among your many achievements, we are indeed most satisfied that you and the late Metropolitan Constantine recognized the importance of unifying the divided bodies of the Ukrainian Orthodox parishes in the United States and united with the late Archbishop Vsevolod under the aegis of our beloved Mother Church of Constantinople in 1995. Your exemplary respect for the canonical tradition and integrity of the Orthodox Church, in addition to your unwavering support of the rights and privileges of our Sacred See, not only contributed to healing the above-mentioned wounds and divisions in your context but, undoubtedly, played a significant role in finally finding a solution to the ecclesiastical question in your beloved ancestral homeland of Ukraine.

Therefore, commending you for this special anniversary and wishing you many more years of “peace, safety, honor, and health, unto length of days, rightly teaching the word of the Lord’s truth” as you continue to serve with His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, your beloved clergymen, and pious faithful, we embrace you with a “sacred kiss” and remain with much respect and esteem.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, October 10th, 2022

Fraternally yours in Christ,

+ Bartholomew

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

Archbishop Daniel asked that all the clergy approach the front of the hall to assist him in greeting Metropolitan Antony on the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, 37 of which he has served as a bishop of our Holy Church.  With the clergy gathered round their Prime Hierarch, Archbishop Daniel presented him with a gift from them all – a bishop’s staff (Zhezlo) with gold and gems, an exact replica of the staff of Metropolitan of Kyiv, Petro Mohyla, one of the most important leaders of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in the late 17th century, who is credited with saving Orthodoxy in Ukraine for all time.  As he received this incredible gift, Metropolitan Antony was deeply moved and lifted it high to bless all in attendance at the banquet.  With his arm raised the bishop’s staff high, the image was reminiscent of the staff with a serpent upon it, which Moses raised high for his people to gaze upon saving them from the onslaught of venomous snakes threatening them and for all Christians the elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ upon which we gaze as for the source of our own salvation.

As the clergy broke out in a loud rendition of Mnohaya Lita (Many Years), the clergy wives came forth, wheeling a cart upon which sat an exquisite cake created in the image of a thick tome, a book titled on the binding – “My Spiritual Life” – representing the chapters of His Eminences past 50 years of service. The Metropolitan spoke next of his deep gratitude to everyone present for their kindness in remembering his 50th anniversary.  He shared many interesting stories about important events and influences upon his life by priests and lay people who have greatly strengthened his priesthood.  He spoke of his complete reliance upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout his years of service relying upon the Grace inspired to him at his Baptism and during each of the Holy Sacraments and finally at the moment of his priestly ordination.  This guidance kept him balanced and open to the strength of his life, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Christ abiding within him and he abiding in Christ – always striving to be one with Him and making all decisions in that state.

Metropolitan Antony spoke with much love of Metropolitan John Theodorovych, his life’s personal hero and supporter.  He introduced the Metropolitan John Theodorovych Award which was developed as a form of gratitude to those who have worked in the field of education.  One by one His Eminence called out the recipients – which included the professors and educators at the Seminary and those who support the seminarians in their education, along with other parish educators and staff at the Consistory. He presented the Metropolitan John Theodorovych Medals to twenty-four individuals in gratitude for their service. This celebration of a priestly life was an emotional experience for all in attendance.  His Eminence simply asked for the continued prayers of all present that God in the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – will continue to bless, guide and strengthen him and, most of all, forgive him for his weaknesses, faults, foolishness and sinfulness for as long as he is able to serve.

Early Friday morning, the St. Andrew Memorial Church filled to capacity and beyond with Sobor participants and regular parishioners for Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Pokrova – the Protection of the Mother of God.   Archbishop Daniel preached on the importance of this Feast in Ukraine for her citizens who have always felt the protection of the Mother of God at the worst times of Ukrainian national history.  Her arms are extended, holding her vail high above all Kyivans in the main icon of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, reminding the nation that she always abides with them and intercedes with her Beloved Son and our God for our safety, remission of sins and salvation.  At the conclusion of the service, the Pochaiv.

Following Liturgy and breakfast, the presentations of the four break-out sessions left the delegates feeling re-energized and eager to return to their parishes to make real what they had heard – refocusing their parishes to do the work of Christ on Earth – caring for their neighbors, loving one another, and leading others, young and old, to salvation in Christ.

 The first Breakout Session presentation was from the Our Charitable Ministry – How We Have Gifted and Served – Future Needs and Prospects group, which was introduced by Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay, President of the St. Andrew Society, and presented by Elizabeth Symonenko.  The group had explored the statement of His Eminence Archbishop Daniel who had stated “How do we do what we are?”  We are identified as Christians by our fruits.  To that end the session has agreed to meet and develop a program encouraging individual parishes to enact works of charity both in Ukraine, and in their local communities.  These charitable endeavors should involve the entire parish by the creation of Service Teams composed of the priest, parish board, and laity (including the youth); and be repeated on a regular basis allowing the parishioners to plan for each undertaking, and those in need to anticipate the forthcoming assistance.  The group shared emails and plan to meet regularly to share ideas, stories of success, and to assist and encourage each other as they serve Christ, by serving others.

The second presentation, “Our Spiritual Formation from Cradle to Grave” was introduced by Very Rev. Anthony Perkins who led the session.  Expressing his joy at the fruitfulness of the gathering he introduced V. Rev. John Haluszczak who gave a succinct exposition of their discussion.  There are three main points to successful spiritual formation within individuals. First, start early by providing children with a good example in their homes, as well as by ensuring they understand that they are loved and welcomed in their parishes.  Second point is to nurture time.  We must make time in our busy lives for God.  We need to formulate and adhere to a daily Prayer Rule, partake regularly of the Holy Sacraments, and set aside quiet time to be with God. Thirdly, we must remember that life is a journey and that we must focus each day on becoming more and more like Christ.

The third presentation discussed was Stewards of God’s Gifts – How Do We Produce the Fruits and Harvests Expected by our Lord “Tending and Keeping” (Gen. 2:15) His Creation Utilizing the Talents He has Blessed us with., which had been led by Very Rev. Robert Holet, and introduced by Mr. Jeff Greenleaf from Parma, Ohio.  It was explained that stewardship is what we give back to God.  While we have heard we must tithe 10%, we should begin with a lower percentage and slowly work our way up.  Metropolitan Antony expressed that stewardship is often misconstrued, as it goes far beyond money.  We must concentrate on how we give of ourselves to God in service to Church and mankind.  We must give to God the best of what we hope to be, and the Lord will assist us to become the best versions of ourselves.

The final presentation, Our Church Life in Western Society – Is Our Faith Strong Enough?  having been led by Very Rev. Gregory Jensen, was presented by Very Rev. Gregory Czumak who pointed out that while we may disagree with much of what society preaches, we must learn to live in and with society.   We must discern to where to draw the line so that we live in peace with our neighbors yet not compromise our Faith.  To help us we should always remember that Christ loves each and every person, regardless of how they act, look, or identify themselves.  Furthermore, we must not spew theology at people who are showing interest in the Church, because we will lose them.  Instead, we must return to the basics, and remind them that Jesus loves them.  It is that love that will interest them and entice them to learn more.

These brief summaries do not adequately reflect the depth of discussion and personal sharing that occurred during each of the break out sessions, which continued for three hours!  The participants were moved deeply with the extended opportunity to reflect together on the spiritual issues which provoked much thought and discussion that truly embraced the participants and enriched their spiritual lives.

The major and vital discussion of the Sobor, ensued next on the agenda and revolved around financial status of the Church and Metropolia Center.  Metropolitan Antony presented the facts about our Metropolia Center properties and the funds that will almost imminently be needed to make capital repairs and mechanical installations to ALL TEN of the buildings on our property.  Serious discussion took place with many delegates and administrative officers of the Church about how the Church can best sustain herself, her ministries, and continue to fulfill her holy mission – the salvation of souls and the extension of God’s Kingdom.  The entire Sobor finally concluded that monumental decisions will be necessary in the very near future and charged the Council of the Metropolia to investigate all possible solutions to long developing problem and to make the decision concerning the actions necessary to safeguard the future of the Church.  This was a difficult decision for the Sobor, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the clergy and faithful delegates voted overwhelmingly to pass it.  Metropolitan Antony expressed his deeply felt emotion at hearing the comments of so many of the delegates during the discussion who comprehended the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ and that the members of that Body and the salvation of their souls and those who are searching for God, must be the basis for all decisions made.  The Metropolitan explained that this discussion was a long time coming and that it was crucial that this decision be made at this Sobor.  He reminded all those who will serve on the Council of the Metropolia, that theirs will be a critical effort and that they must be prepared to give the best of themselves in time, talent, treasures and truth so that this effort will succeed.

Following this critical discussion, the results of the elections for the various Church Administrative Offices: the Council of the Metropolia, the Audit Commission and the Ecclesiastical Court were announced.

ELECTED TO THE COUNCIL OF THE METROPOLIA (UOC OF USA BOARD OF TRUSTEES) WERE:

 

CLERGY:                                                                       

Rev. Robert Holet

Rev. Stephen Hutnick

Rev. Taras Naumenko

Rev. Andrii Pokotyly

Rev. Vasile Sauciur

Rev. Victor Wronskyj

Rev. Mykola Zomchak       

                                           

LAY:

George Cepynsky

Rebecca Druash

Karen Feraro

Aleksandra Koselko

Elizabeth Symonenko

Victoria Swindle

Howard West

 

Alternates:

Clergy:                                                             

Rev. Gregory Czumak

Rev. Vasyl Sendeha

Rev. Mykola Andrushkiv

Rev. Richard Jendras

Rev. Volodymyr Steliac

 

Lay:

Michael Dobransky

Matthew Dubas

Scott Kerry

 

ELECTED TO THE AUDIT COMMISSION WERE:

 

CLERGY:                                                                       

Rev. James Cairns                                                         

Rev. Andrew Matlak     

 

LAY:     

Tamara Host                            

Wolodymyr Katolik

Suzanne Marie Mathieu         

                                       

Alternates:       

Rev. Stephen Masliuk

Daniel Petrovich                   

    

ELECTED TO THE ECCLESIASTICAL COURT WERE:

 

CLERGY:                                                                       

Rev. Myroslav Mykytiuk                                               

Rev. Theophan Mackey                                                

Rev. Borislav Kroner

 

LAY:

Gayle Woloschak

Paul Micevych

 

Alternates:

Rev. Robert Popichak

Volodymyr Logvynyuk

Following this announcement, Dr. Paul Micevych presented two Resolutions for consideration, which were inspired by the moving video presentation presented during the Grand Banquet about the abundant assistance our Church has been providing all over Ukraine since the first days of the genocidal invasion of the nation.  The Resolutions were unanimously approved by the delegates of the Sobor:

1. The 23rd Regular Sobor of the UOC of the USA expresses it unanimous support of Metropolitan Epifaniy, the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in tending to the spiritual and physical needs of the embattled peoples of Ukraine during the Russian genocidal invasion.  We pray for the safety, health and spiritual well-being of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people during their time of struggle. We pledge to continue our support to the people of Ukraine who suffer under this horrific invasion.

2. The 23rd Regular Sobor of the UOC of the USA expresses its heartfelt gratitude for the greeting of our Sobor, and support to the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and prays for his safety and continued heroic leadership during this time of struggle against the genocidal Russian invasion of our ancestral homeland. We also pray for the entire Ukrainian leadership, armed forces and civilians. May the Lord God protect them and keep them.

The darkened church, and somber mood, was broken as His Eminence Metropolitan Antony’s voice loudly declared, “Blessed is our God, always now and ever, and unto the ages of ages!”  With these words began one of the most moving services many of those gathered had experienced.  Everyone held a copy of the Akaphist booklet and sang the responses along with the Seminarians, praising the Virgin, entreating her assistance, and declaring her victory.  The praises echoed back and forth through the church with the hierarchs and clergy praying the main verses of the service while the faithful replied with “Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!” and chanted all the various and multiple praises to the Most Holy Mother of God, humbly entreating her assistance.  Well over 400 names had been submitted and passed out amongst the clergy to be read during this service.  Prayers arose for those who suffer cancer, but also for those who suffer any illness of body, spirit, or mind.  While the clergy prayed for those people whose names were written on paper, the faithful prayed in their hearts for all those whom they knew would benefit from the help and intercession of the Virgin. 

At the conclusion of the service, the hierarchs once again thanked Howard and Lynda, for the initiative of this Akaphist prayer effort, stating that it would make a great difference in many lives.  As the faithful shuffled forward to venerate the icon of the “Queen of All”, the hierarchs handed out the smaller blessed icons to the parish delegates to take home with them, along with booklets, to be used to offer this same Akaphist in their parishes.

At the conclusion of the moving service, the members who had been elected to Church administration were called forward and holding candles, were inducted into their offices declaring that they would fulfill all the responsibilities of their office with honor, integrity and diligence, adhering to the Constitution of the UOC of USA. The confirmed their abiding intent to utilize the talents gifted to them by God working tirelessly for the good and the growth of the Body of Christ.

Early on Saturday morning, the clergy and faithful of the Church once again filled the St. Andrew Memorial Church for the final Hierarchical Divine Liturgy of the 23rd Regular Sobor.  The service began with the setting aside of Subdeacons of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA: Seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary: Mykola Stefanyk, Roman Marchyshak, Andriy Akulenko and Yurii Izhyk. 

Following the Divine Liturgy, the worshippers joyously made their way to the Ukrainian Cultural Center for the Sobor Farewell Brunch before departing to their homes throughout the nation.  While the delegates and guests departed, the newly elected members of the Council of the Metropolia met in the St. John Theodorovych Library for their inaugural meeting.  Metropolitan Antony stressed the importance of the Council, and that all decisions must be undertaken with deep thought and humble prayers for the good of the Church. 

Archbishop Daniel, as President of the Consistory, fulfilled his responsibility of nominating those members of the Council he wished to serve on the Consistory:  V. Rev. Victor Wronskyj, as Vice-President; Elizabeth Symonenko, Secretary; V. Rev. Stephen Hutnick, Treasurer; and V. Rev. Taras Naumenko, V. Rev. Andrii Pokotylo and Howard West, Members.  The Council members unanimously voted to elect these individuals to the Consistory.

May the Lord continue to bless the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, her hierarchs, clergy, and faithful throughout the coming years, guiding them in making all decisions to strengthen and grow the Church, to His Glory. 

Photos of the First Day of Sobor

Photos by Fr. Vasyl Pasakas and Elizabeth Symonenko

(139 images)


The XXIII Sobor of the UOC of the USA Concluded at the Spiritual Center of the Church

Photos by Subdeacon Mykola Stefanyk, Fr. Vasyl Pasakas and Elizabeth Symonenko

(170 images)


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