On Sunday June 25th, 2023, the Ukrainian Orthodox parish of St. John the Baptist, located in the sleepy town of Sharon, Pennsylvania, greeted His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. It seemed like just yesterday that His Eminence blessed the new church dome which now gleamed brightly in the morning sunlight and could be seen at a great distance throughout the town. Sharon, PA is located along the banks of the Shenango River along the state line with Ohio, and is steeped in history, with a promising future.
Arriving into this idyllic scene, Archbishop Daniel, accompanied by the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, Subdeacons Maksym Zhuravchyk and Andrii Vatrich, ascended the steps to the church and was greeted by the parish board of administration, and parish priest Very Rev. Steve Repa.
The nave of the church was beautifully decorated with blue and yellow ribbons and sunflowers, which accentuated the brightness and sunshine of the day. Following the Epistle, read by Subdeacon James Cummings, His Eminence read the Gospel of Matthew 6:22-33, where Christ states that the lamp of the body is the eye, and if your eye is “good”, you body will be filled with light. He continued by explaining that nobody can serve two masters, nor should we worry about what we eat, drink, or our clothing, for the Lord knows our needs and will provide for us.
In his sermon, Archbishop Daniel expanded on the understanding of how our eyes impact the state of our being. Our eyes greatly influence us. They allow us to read Scripture, to rejoice as we watch children at play, to find joy in colorful flowers swaying in the breeze, to find solace as we glance at nature, and to find peace when we look upon icons and sacred objects. It is through our eyes that we read maps and find our way to our desired destination. It is through our eyes that we discern those in need and are able to assist. It is through our eyes that we gaze upon the beauty of this world, and in doing so our hearts are light and we are filled with joy, simply by gazing at the beauty the Lord has created.
However, our eyes can also damage our hearts and souls. If we choose to look at immoral things, if we let our eyes search out things that are irreverent, if through them we read things that lead us towards sin and away from God, if we look upon the world with anger and disdain, our hearts become dark, and our soul withers. There is the old story of the bee and the fly. The fly asks the bee if there is any trash nearby, to which the bee replies no, there are only flowers in the meadow. When the bee asks the fly if it knows where it can find more flowers, the fly replies there is only trash. Each one saw what it searched for and was blind to the rest. Therefore, we must ensure that we seek what is good and right. For what we absorb through our eyes, directly impacts on our hearts, which impact our words, our deeds, and our thoughts, which directly affect our souls and our ultimate salvation.
As the choir sang beautifully, the Divine Liturgy continued and soon everyone lined up for Communion. As the young and the young-at-heart approached and were cleansed and strengthened through the Eucharist, they promised themselves to focus their eyes going forward on only things that would bring them closer to God and salvation.
Having prayed for all the faithful of the Church, cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, peace for the world, and God’s blessings upon all, the Divine Liturgy concluded. As the faithful approached to venerate the Cross, Archbishop Daniel took a moment to share a few words with each person, as he gifted them a prayer card with an icon of Christ the Good Shepherd.
The afternoon quickly passed as people lingered to speak with their hierarch, and to catch up with family and friends. Before leaving for their homes, they ensured that their outdoor pantry was restocked with canned goods, and basic necessities for their neighbors in need. With souls renewed, and eyes focused, the parishioners of the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sharon, PA departed for their homes, determined to have lamps of their bodies, their eyes, shine brightly, enriching their hearts, so they would be able to illuminate all those around them, and bring them to salvation in the Lord.