Ukrainian Orthodox Community of Detroit Metropolitan Area Marks 72nd Anniversary of Service

As a thick blanket of fog enveloped the state, the students of the Lesia Ukrainian School of Religious and Ukrainian Studies, affiliated with the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God (Pokrova) Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, in Southfield, Michigan slowly began to arrive for their Saturday classes.  However, today would be like no other day, as today the children were expecting the arrival of a very special guest.  For weeks they had prepared for the visit of His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox of the USA, and today they would final be able to spend some time with their hierarch they had heard so much about.

Archbishop Daniel appeared through the fog, walk with two seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary – Deacon Pavlo Vysotskyi and Subdeacon Roman Marchyshak.  The first to greet Vladyka were two of the youngest students – Nicole and Natalia, who having received his blessing turned and led the way to the church, sprinkling rose petals along the way.  Ascending the steps to the open doors of the church, His Eminence left behind the cold, foggy morning, and entered a warm, candle lit interior, where he was greeted by parish pastor, Very Rev. Paul Bodnarchuk, who presented him with the cross, and parish board president, Mrs. Irene Bickerstaff-Smyk.  Entering the nave Vladyka was greeted by all the children and their parents who stood to either side of the aisle, holding flowers to hand to their bishop. 

Having made his way slowly to the front of the church, stopping to speak with each and every child, His Eminence joined the short Moleben which is served each Saturday prior to the commencement of classes.  Having praised the Lord, thanked Him, and asked for His intercessions, the children all skipped out of the church to find their classrooms.  As they studied Literature, History, Grammar, etc. School Director Mariia Zazulya gave Vladyka a tour of the facility, visiting each classroom.  In each room, he inquired as to what the children were studying, and then he quizzed them on that subject.  Before leaving, he stopped by each child and carefully reached over each tiny head, putting on them a small blessed wooden cross.

In one class the children had been practicing their singing, and joyously sang him “Oi U Luzi Chervona Kalyna” which they were practicing for Sunday’s banquet program.  His Eminence, the seminarians and the teacher all joined in.   With the conclusion of the song, the bell rang for lunch, and all the children jumped up gleefully.  As Vladyka exited the classroom and was walking along the corridor, all the children mobbed him, each handing him drawing, letters, and little projects they had created just for him.  Smiling broadly and tussling their hair, Archbishop Daniel gratefully accepted each item, his arms overflowing with the little gestures of love from the tiniest of his flock.

Having enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by the Parents’ Committee, the children climbed on the stage and held a question & answer session with their hierarch.  His Eminence answered all kinds of questions about his family, about angels, death, kindness, and God.  Their tummies filled, their souls nourished, the children jumped off the stage and returned to their classrooms to continue their studies.

Taking advantage of the quiet moment, Vladyka Daniel met with Fr. Paul and parish administrators before jumping into a car and heading out to visit some of the parish shut-ins.  The elderly individuals were moved as His Eminence prayed over them, sang with them, and swapped stories, before presenting them with Blessed Hramoty for their many years of dedication and service to the Church.  The Archbishop had this day nurtured the expanse of his flock – from the youngest to the oldest. 

As the sun began to dip in the western sky, His Eminence made his way back to the parish in time for Vespers.  The darkened church seemed surreal as the candlelight flickered invitingly, casting shadows upon the saints in the icons making them seem as if they were moving and beckoning to the faithful.  As the peaceful service concluded, Archbishop Daniel walked out and stood in the middle of the nave to address those gathered.    In his sermon he reminded everyone that the Church is not the building in which they now sit.  The Church is the people.  As such it is on the people to portray themselves so that society sees God in them, so that through their words and actions society receives an invitation to join them on their journey to salvation. 

We often forget our mission in this world.  Parishes get lost in the administrative duties and lose focus of the spiritual aspect of the Faith.  Many times, people focus so much on propriety and correctness, that they end up shunning anything that seems odd, or does not fit into their little box of what they understand “church” to be.

His Eminence continued this topic after Vespers as the faithful met down in the parish hall for a tasty communal dinner prepared by parish sisterhood and volunteers.  As the people enjoyed their coffee and dessert, Archbishop Daniel stood amidst the tables, and proceeded to instruct people on how to be good Christians.  We are all to love each other and treat each other with respect.  However, we should also not always focus on others, for it is easy to sit in judgment of other people, but we need to take a good deep look at ourselves.  Are we living the lives Christ intended us to live?  We are all sinful, but are we happy to remain thus, or do we work on cleansing ourselves of sin?  We need to try to raise ourselves out of the mire of sin that holds us bogged down and extricate ourselves from its bonds over us.  We are to die to this world, die to sin, and be reborn in Christ. 

As everyone listened intently, he continued by speaking on the various nuances of society people must traverse today.  As Orthodox Christians we are to accept and love everyone.  Everyone is welcome to come to church and join us in worshipping the Lord.  It does not matter if they look different from us, or if they consider themselves to be something different than what they were born as, or if they wish to call themselves by a different name.  God loves them and so should we.  The dilemma begins if anyone, for any reason demands that the Church change her stance and teachings to fit modern society’s caprices, which change with each consecutive decade and generation.  The Church holds firm, and always will, to the teachings of Christ, and while everyone is accepted, everyone should in turn accept that the Church is what it is and not demand that it change.

Begrudgingly the evening all too soon came to a close, yet the people lingered, glad to spend time with their hierarch.  Some sat in silence contemplating his words, while others stood awaiting a turn to speak with him in private.  For the next hour Archbishop Daniel ministered to his flock, listening with compassion as they shared personal troubles, inquired about various topics, and asked for his prayers.

Even as the parish hall emptied, Vladyka Daniel had one more important task to accomplish.  Each time he visits the Southfield parish, he sees an opportunity to make a positive impact in the local community, by assisting the homeless population of Detroit.  This evening, he, along with Deacon Pavlo Vysotskyi, Subdeacon Roman Marchyshak, joined a small group of parishioners to pack backpacks for the homeless of Detroit.  Each backpack contained a Bible for spiritual nourishments, some non-perishable food items, hygiene kit, antiseptic, Band-Aids, thermal socks, hat, scarf, gloves, a flashlight to light their way, rain poncho, emergency aluminum blanket, hand warmers, notepad, pen, puzzle booklet to keep their minds sharp, shampoo, lotion, nail-clippers, Kleenex, towels, no-rinse wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, and a small plush animal (because everyone needs a friend).  All these items were carefully packed with prayer and love to help the most vulnerable, and often despised, in society.  Having prepared the 24 bags, everyone left the night to get some rest before the morning’s activities.

A thick fog had developed overnight, and the air was heavy with moisture, as droplets of water dripped off the brightly colored autumn leaves.  However, even the dank air could not dampen the spirits of the parishioners of the parish as they came early and eagerly awaited the arrival of Archbishop Daniel.  As he turned the corner, Vladyka paused to exchange smiles, and greet the people who were standing on the steps of the church.  Mrs. Wara Siruj warmly greeted him with the traditional bread and salt on behalf of the parish Sisterhood of St. Olha, while parish president Mrs. Irene Smyk-Bickerstaff greeted him on behalf of the parish.  As he entered the church, he was handed flowers by the children whom he had visited the previous day, from the Lesia Ukrainian School of Religion and Ukrainian Studies.  Very Rev. Paul Bodnarchuk, parish pastor, awaited him inside with a blessing cross, which Archbishop Daniel warmly accepted as he blessed everyone on proceeded inside the cathedral which glowed warmly, as the weak sunshine spilled in through the multicolored windows.

As the people shuffled in from the cold the Divine Liturgy commenced, served by His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, assisted by Fr. Paul Bodnarchuk, with the help of Seminarians Deacon Pavlo Vysotskyi, and Subdeacon Mykola Marchyshak, along with Subdeacon Andrew Stoiko, Andrew and Michael Powers, Danylo Zhuravel, and Denys Slyusar.  With the young children holding candles lining up in the front of the church, Deacon Pavlo read the Gospel in Ukrainian, while Archbishop Daniel read it in English. The Gospel was from St. Luke 8:5-15 retelling of the Sower who sowed seed, some of which fell by the wayside, while some got trampled, eaten by birds, fell among rocks or thorns, with some falling on fertile ground, sprouting, growing, and giving fruit a hundredfold.  As he concluded the reading, Vladyka descended from the solea and approached each child availing them of the opportunity to kiss the Holy Gospel before returning it to the Altar Table.

As the children returned to their parents, Archbishop Daniel came to stand on the rise in the center of the nave and address the faithful.  His sermon revolved around the Gospel Reading, reminding us that it is important to ensure that we are one of the seeds that falls on fertile soil, grows, flowers, and gives good fruit in turn.  Our busy lives are like the weeds and the thorns that pull us away from God, destroying our faith.  Society is like the birds that swoop in and devour us.  Yet, we are created to grow.  However, in order for us to land on fertile soil, that soil must first be made fertile.  As any farmer will tell you this is only accomplished by turning the soil over and adding fertilizer.  For us, this means taking a good look at ourselves and turning our lives over, turning them around, realizing our shortcomings, and working on correcting them.  Only then will the soil be fertile, and the Lord’s word take seed in our hearts and grow.

Reaching down His Eminence grabbed a handful of wheat berries which were before him on a platter, and tossed them to his left, and then to his right, exclaiming that we are to live our lives according to the teachings of God even if the rest of the world thinks we are odd, and calls us crazy.  We are to sacrifice of ourselves. Reaching down with two hands he grabbed more seeds and “sowed” them into the field before him declaring loudly, «Сійте зерно Божої присутності!» “Sow the seeds of God’s presence!”  In other words be the sower of God’s love and presence in others’ lives, spreading kindness, encouraging mercy, defending the helpless, and leading people to salvation through your words, your actions, and your example.  His Eminence concluded his sermon by quoting St. John Chrysostom who said, “You may be the only Bible someone reads today!”  Therefore, be sure that the chapter and verse they are reading will lead them towards salvation, and closer to God.

As the parishioners reached down to pick up grains of wheat off the floor, the benches, and themselves, many placed the seeds in their pockets to be a reminder to them in the future of His Eminence’s words.  Determined to always be open to a good chapter for others to read, the people rose and prayed along during the rest of the service.  Having prayed for the good health and wellbeing of the faithful, Archbishop Daniel stepped out onto the ambo, turned to face the Altar, and fell humbly to his knees as he prayed for the welfare, good health, peace, safety of the people in Ukraine who are currently being terrorized, maimed, and killed during the unprovoked Russian invasion.  The entire congregation joined their hierarch and fell to their knees, bowing their heads, clasping their hands to their breast, as they implored God’s mercy and intervention upon their ancestral homeland.

The service flowed as if on angel’s wings with Deacon Pavlo chanting the litanies, and the choir under the directorship of Khrystina Bilan singing beautifully, the sweet voices gently descending upon the faithful below.  Soon it was time to line up for Holy Communion.  The children of the parish rushed forward jockeying for position, as their parents tried to bring order to the line.  Vladyka Daniel read the Prayer before Communion and proceeded to commune everyone who approached the Chalice with the fear of God, faith, and love.

All too quickly the Divine Liturgy came to a conclusion as Father Paul thanked His Eminence for visiting the parish as they celebrated their 72nd anniversary and patronal Feast Day.  To mark this special day, His Eminence presented Holy Hramotas to parishioners who had through their dedication and hard work served to build this parish and make it the strong House of God it is today.  The honored recipients of the award were:  Barbara Kowalenko, Michael Petrusha, Svitlana Petrusha, Nina Serdiuk, Mary Mykolenko, Nicholas Prytula, Halina Prytula, Olga Maruszczak, Anatoliy Doroshenko, Raisa Doroshenko, and Wara Siryj.  Handing out four of the certificates to those present, Father Paul would deliver the remaining ones later in the week.  The faithful all joined the choir in singing Mnohaya Lita in honor of the hardworking and self-sacrificing recipients of the blessed hramoty.

After taking a group photo, everyone approached to venerate the Cross offered by Fr. Paul, and receive anointing from Archbishop Daniel, along with an icon card to mark this special occasion, before proceeding down to the parish hall for an elaborate banquet.  Having satiated their souls, the faithful settled down in the beautifully decorated hall to now nourish their bodies.  With His Eminence having read the Prayer before Meals and bestowing his blessing upon everyone, banquet emcees Andrew Smyk, and Ruslana Proonko took turns introducing guests, and keeping the presentations and programs running smoothly.  While enjoying their meals, the congregation was entertained by the children of the Lesia Ukrainian Parish School, along with various soloists, and dance numbers performed by the Kolomeyka Dance Ensemble of Detroit.  Throughout the banquet generous donations came pouring in from financial institutions, the parish faithful, and guests in support of the fundraiser organized to replace the parish’s leaking roof.

After taking a group photo, everyone approached to venerate the Cross offered by Fr. Paul, and receive anointing from Archbishop Daniel, along with an icon card to mark this special occasion, before proceeding down to the parish hall for an elaborate banquet.  Having satiated their souls, the faithful settled down in the beautifully decorated hall to now nourish their bodies.  With His Eminence having read the Prayer before Meals and bestowing his blessing upon everyone, banquet emcees Andrew Smyk, and Ruslana Proonko took turns introducing guests, and keeping the presentations and programs running smoothly.  While enjoying their meals, the congregation was entertained by the children of the Lesia Ukrainian Parish School, along with various soloists, and dance numbers performed by the Kolomeyka Dance Ensemble of Detroit.  Throughout the banquet generous donations came pouring in from financial institutions, the parish faithful, and guests in support of the fundraiser organized to replace the parish’s leaking roof.

Archbishop Daniel took the opportunity to once again address those gathered before him, expressing his gratitude for being invited to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the parish with them.  He complimented all the renovations which had taken place throughout the previous few years and reiterated the importance of the continued charitable endeavors undertaken by the parish.  He humbly retold how he had in previous years helped prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pack brown bag lunches for the hungry of Detroit with the school children.  Later he had traveled through downtown, stopping under bridges to visit with the homeless communities, handing them lunches, but also feeding their souls with a hug, a kind word, and a prayer.  His Eminence stressed helping people in need is the true purpose of the Church – to care for those around them, and to be known by the fruits which they bare.

He further assured everyone of the Church’s continued efforts in supporting Ukraine during this unprovoked Russian invasion, by providing the basics of life such as food, water, hygiene items, diapers, matches, and sponsoring over 70 ambulances to be used throughout Ukraine.  Archbishop Daniel shared stories of visiting injured Ukrainian defenders as they lay in hospitals, and how each one had a story that touched his heart.  He expressed how a priest in Ukraine had heard from an old seminary friend who found himself on the front lines of battle, and how that man retold the horrors he had witnessed and only wished for peace and nothing more.  He also told how he had visited the orphans which the Church has been sponsoring for decades.  Due to the invasion those children who could be moved were evacuated to Poland where he was able to visit with them.  The Church continues to support them and ensure their wellbeing in these difficult times.  His Eminence thanked everyone for their ongoing support of the Church Humanitarian Fund and mission to help all who are in need throughout the world.

In support of the Church’s efforts to aid Ukraine during her current struggle with Russia, Parish President Irene Smyk-Bickerstaff, on behalf of the parish, presented His Eminence with a check for $15,000 to help in the purchase of additional ambulances.  Archbishop Daniel gratefully accepted the generous donation which lovingly grew over the previous months via various fundraisers and collections, and promised it would go into use within the next couple of weeks.

After the closing prayer, Archbishop Daniel, gave his blessing to everyone in the room, wishing God’s Grace upon them, good health, and all good things.  The faithful lingered for a while yet, sitting in comfort with each other catching up on family news, and sharing their own stories.  Vladyka visited each group of individuals, listened to their stories, and told of his own experiences.  As the tables were cleared the parish hall emptied, and the faithful returned to their homes energized to do God’s work, and to sow His Presence throughout the world.

While the people returned to their warm homes, with packages of food left over from the luncheon to enjoy for dinner, the backpacks His Eminence had prepared for the homeless were delivered to those who sat beneath the darkening sky, in the cold.  More than one cried when they were approached with a kindness.  One had a fractured ankle and could not move, another was grateful for the handwarmers because his hands get cold at night, the other cried because she was used to the harshness of society, and yet was approached with a gift without having to have even asked for it, while another smiled a toothless grin when he realized the bag contained Vienna sausages which he could enjoy without needing to chew them.

Finally, Archbishop Daniel paid a visit to a long-term Sisterhood member of the Cathedral community – Georgia Kereluik, who with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, was awarded a Centennial Medal of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA for her devotion to the ministry of the parish community.

Thus the celebratory weekend concluded by having ministered to the children of the parish school on Saturday, ministering to the faithful of the parish who came to church on Sunday dressed in their Sunday best and eager to enjoy a lush banquet, and concluding the weekend by ministering to those who sat in dirty clothing, unwashed, cold beneath the open sky or under dark overpasses, forgotten by society, but, remembered by the Church, and all loved by God.  Wishing the parishioners of the Protection of the Mother of God parish in Southfield, Michigan, many blessed years. 

May the parish grow and prosper and continue to produce sweet fruit.  Mnohaya Lita!

Ukrainian Orthodox Community of Detroit Metropolitan Area Marks 72nd Anniversary of Service

Photos by Subdeacon Roman Marchyshak and Elizabeth Symonenko

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