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The pre-Lenten readings of the Liturgical cycle are popular parables that encapsulate how we can be good people, ie: what it means to live in Love. We hear these reminders each year, so that in our Lenten journey towards Pascha, we have the tools and the courage to face honestly our deepest self and how we relate to the world.
The story of the prodigal son is perhaps the most beloved and for me, the most resonant. 3 characters that describe the yearnings, failings, and triumphs, of our human life.
As with all good stories, the meaning is alive, dynamic, newly revolutionizing; and with each reading—forever targets your soul—yours, mine, whosever is open to the Spirit. We know the story well. There are 2 siblings and a parent. Where do I fit in this story?
1. There is the younger son, the prodigal. His actions are clearly reprehensible. He acts out of pure self-interest. But his selfishness does not lead to happiness, health and wealth. Once he cuts himself off from the love he lived in, all goodness is squandered and he is left empty, impoverished in every way. This son, however, is lucky in that he recognizes that the darkness he is in, is due to his own actions. He awakens to his careless arrogance and recognizes the value of the relationships he has abused and taken for granted. He has the courage to admit his fault and face his humiliation. He returns to his family.
This is no mean feat. I used to hear the details of his remorse literally—thinking that only starvation compelled him to remembered his dad, as it were (the phone call home from the student traveller when money runs low). But now I see the archetypal tale oulines the destructive nature of selfishness. The ostensible self indulgence in reality damages not only the self but all others involved. Likely we can recognize this experience in our own lives in different ways.
2. The father: hurt, betrayed, humiliated by his son’s behavior. Seeing this son approaching home, he runs out to welcome him. Does he shame, lecture, punish? Wouldn’t that seem just? This character embodies Love and embraces the son’s obvious desire for reconnection. Love welcomes with joy!
When we are together, when we return to love after any degradation, suffering, or evil, the response is not guilt or recrimination; it is celebration: feast, dance, laughter. Do I?
3. The hard working elder brother: angry, resentful, bitter at their father’s reception of his younger brother. How can this be fair? A party for the profligate such as he, the faithful first born, has never had? At home, the eldest fails to appreciate the banquet of love and wealth he enjoys daily. He wounds his family by rejecting the happiness of reunion. In fact, this brother’s reaction places him in the former sin of the younger son. He is self centred, and thus, cuts himself off from joy: hurting himself and those around him. This brother’s self-righteous indignation may sound too familiar: complaints about paying taxes to support welfare, or immigration, jealousy of others without gratitude for what we have. There are endless examples of how we might reflect the elder brother’s attitude.
There are 2 siblings and a parent. Where do I fit in this story? Where can I fit into this story? Divine Love can’t help but share itself, rejoice in existence, revel in every shared breath.
Every time we turn back from selfishness to others, Love reaches out, grabs us by the hand and calls us to dance. Can you hear the music? If our feet are sore—our hearts will dance.
On February 8th in Kyiv the all-Ukraine forum “Ukraine30. The Coronavirus: challenges and answers” began its work. It is a setting for a societal dialogue on the pandemic and the fight to overcome it. The first day of the forum concluded with a special session: “A conversation among religious leaders of Ukraine,” during which speakers discussed the Church’s position on vaccination against COVID-19 and specifically how their particular religious community influences the faithful on this matter. The Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church was represented at the forum by Fr. Oleksa Petriv, the director of the Department for external relations of the UGCC.
During the session Fr. Oleksa Petriv reflected upon the experience of the UGCC in fighting the pandemic.
“The Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church has tried to adequately and conscientiously respond to the challenges placed before us. Thanks be to God and because of the structure of our Church in 27 countries and on 5 continents, we already had appropriate precedents through which our faithful in various corners of the world responded to such challenges. Therefore we already had a general picture. Even prior to the declaration of a quarantine in Ukraine we had already provided instructions and prescriptions how to adapt the spiritual life of the parishioners of our Church. Further instructions, responding to new demands continued in the same key. As a result, during the first weeks of the quarantine our Church established an anti-crisis committee which was, and continues to be, responsible for developing adequate responses to ongoing concerns. Many things were done to explain to the faithful of the UGCC, as well as persons of good will, how to conduct themselves,” stated the priest.
He further told those present, that His Beatitutde Svyatoslav, Father and Head of the UGCC made clear the position of our Church concerning vaccination at the end of January during the meeting of the All-Ukraine R
“Briefly this position can be characterized with three words: first, voluntary; second, and this is very important, accessible, and third, safe. Abbreviated: VAS. If the processes around vaccinations in Ukraine are conducted in conformity with these principles, our Church’s position is absolutely supportive,” affirmed the representative of the UGCC.
In addition, the director of the Department for external affairs of the UGCC also reminded the participants of the all-Ukraine forum that vaccinations which are now in the centre of attention are not a panacea.
“Vaccinations are only one tool in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, albeit a very serious one. We cannot forget about the other necessities of the battle to overcome the pandemic: wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining distance. And now everywhere vaccination is added, although it is just one step in the battle,” Fr. Oleksa reminded everyone.
“The next step (and this will be the last challenge before us) is the question of new cures and protocols of healing,” noted Fr. Oleksa, echoing the words of the Minister of External Affairs of Ukraine.
Department of Information of the UGCC
The Lord calls us to face our future with prayer. Through prayer we will move to authentic solidarity with our discriminated-against brothers and sisters. Only with the Lord, in Him, and through Him can we overcome the sinfulness of our human nature. We pray and remember, so that we can grow in authentic integrity since “from one ancestor He (God) made all nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26).
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishops of the USA, June 22, 2020
In Ukraine, oppressive regimes of (Russian, Polish) have attempted to obliterate our language, culture, religion, and identity. Many of our people were scattered across the globe as refugees and exiles. Today, Ukrainian migration is voluntary; diasporic Ukrainians enjoy middle class privilege, able to conform to the shape of a Canadian mainstream. As Ukrainians, our own history particularly enables us to stand in solidarity with people who have been robbed of human dignity and social justice because of systemic prejudice and discrimination. With the voice of the Black Lives Matter movement, perhaps more than ever, Canadians are celebrating Black History Month and we, with our Ukrainian heritage, can particularly respond to the need to actively participate in ending discrimination against our Black sisters and brothers. You and I can take responsibility for prolonging or preventing oppression against a population, by reflecting on our own bias. Oftentimes, systemic discrimination happens without thinking, actually without intention, by people who actually mean well. This is “unconscious bias”. In our daily lives and jobs we can begin to stop injustice against Black people by paying attention to the stories and voices raised during Black History Month. Perhaps we have made presumptions about someone’s honesty, integrity, or actions because of their skin colour? As always, we can support leadership and companies that actively work towards bringing justice to black communities that have been undervalued and victimized by the mainstream.
Ukrainians are mobilizing against racism. You can access the UKRAINIAN ANTIRACIST COMMUNITY website here: https://www.ukrainianantiracistcommunity.com/who-we-are
“We are not unique in our role upholding a complex racist society, but we can uniquely fight it. We cannot remain silent. From the neighbourhoods we live in, to the officials we endorse, to the schools we attend, to the police we call, to the businesses we patronize, to the soft attitudes we tolerate, every single person in a racist society has a role in maintaining it. The Ukrainian Antiracist Community therefore joins with countless other communities to dismantle the racist foundations of our Western society”.
When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.
(Albert Einstein in a letter to his daughter)
By this time a container of blessed water from our Jordan Feast may have been delivered to you. Thank you to the volunteer drivers! We have such a treasure in this liquid. How marvelous that we can see in this plain tap water a profound sign of our life—shared with all humanity and the cosmos.
As we carry on through these grey days of this covid winter, much like the flame of the Christmas candles representing Christ’s light, this water speaks of hope. It represents our belonging, our value, our unique role in the universe. We have this water every year to remind us that we take part in the wonder of the Trinity manifested at the baptism in the river Jordan. The entire New Testament exists to demonstrate God as Love. Love cannot be single or static. Love spills ecstatically beyond itself to encompass others to create an ever fresh community that incorporates all life: forever vibrant as breath and the pulsing of blood through our veins. You and I and every stranger to us belong to each other and to the community of God.
In the readings this Sunday, we hear about the start of Christ’s teaching and Paul’s reflection on the gifts of grace that we are given through Christ; we have different gifts, but every person’s gift is to serve others. Very simply—we are here for each other. To understand this is to live in love; to be swept into the dynamic community of God. This is our calling.
The blessed water we have is a rain drop in an ocean: nothing itself; everything united. We are the water. Let’s try to take our disappointments, discouragements, shortcomings and insecurities and toss them into a cleansing geyser of love. Refreshed in our vision of God’s grace, we join in the forces that cherish and protect the goodness and diversity of our world.
“God manifests Himself when mercy appears, because that is His face. Jesus becomes the servant of sinners and is proclaimed the Son; He lowers himself upon us and the Spirit descends upon Him. Love calls upon love. It also applies to us: in each act of service, in every work of mercy we perform, God manifests Himself; God sets His gaze upon the world. This applies to us.” (Pope Francis)
While walking by, a neighbour asked what it was like celebrating Christmas when most others here were finished with it. After epiphany, she said, I’m so tired of all the decorations!
This made me think. Our Christmas season is in full swing—whether or not we have decorations. Of course, trappings may lose their lustre, but originally, they were a reminder of the reason for unending joy: heaven and nature sing!
This Tuesday is the feast of Christ’s baptism. This is our Church’s equivalent to the Epiphany in the Western Christian Tradition. Epiphany means revelation—revealing. This is a rejoicing at the recognition of what this “Birth” actually signifies. We celebrate a grasp of the ungraspable. We recognize this little human, born to impoverished refugees, as God. The 3 wise men see it: epiphany! When John baptizes this same person as a young man, creation sees the Triune God. Standing in the flowing water of the River Jordan, Jesus reveals the sanctity of all that is human. Together with all creation, being human is being included in the Divine Trinity. Water signifies life: without it there can be no life. It constitutes a large portion of our bodies and our world as well. Here we have the epiphany of Christmas: our life is sacred.
On the Eve of Theophany, we would share the Holy supper of Christmas Eve with our Faith Community. We celebrate the Nativity because we recognize its significance—its miracle! Our custom of Kutia on a Sunday is not possible during COVID, but the deep mystery of this wondrous event permeates our hearts. Truly “Christmas” stays with us year ‘round. It is the revelation that, in essence, every aspect of our human life is precious, beautiful—divine. May we honour this in ourselves and in every person we encounter.
The symbol of Christmas—what is it? . . . It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil. (Howard Thurman: 1900–1981)
May the Lord’s peace and love be with all of us and our loved ones, now and forever.
LET US GLORIFY HIM!
Christmas-Theophany cycle of services (all will be available on our YOUTUBE channel):
Christmas Eve (Julian): Wednesday 6.1.2021 9:30 p.m. Great Compline followed by Christmas Divine Liturgy
Synaxis of the Mother of God: Friday 8.1.2021 10 a.m. Divine Liturgy
St. Stephen the First Martyr and Archdeacon: Saturday 9.1.2021 10 a.m. Divine Liturgy
Sunday after the Nativity & St. Joseph’s Day: Sunday 10.1.2021 10 a.m. Divine Liturgy
Feast of the Circumcision and St. Basil’s Day: Thursday 14.1.2021 10 a.m. Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
Eve of Theophany: Monday 18.1.2021 6 p.m. Compline and Great Blessing of the Waters
Theophany: Tuesday 19.1.2021 10 a.m. Divine Liturgy
“. . . Celebrate the birth of Christ by being Christ for others! God has given us the grace to make sure others don’t feel alone despite physical distancing and much more difficult circumstances. Jesus fulfills Scripture through us when we realize more deeply that He dwells within us, helping others believe, sing and proclaim, “God is With Us, Understand This All You Nations! And Be Humbled, For God Is With Us!”
(excerpt from PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF CANADA ON THE OCCASION OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD 2020-2021)
Here we are, beginning the new calendar year in an official lockdown. The pandemic rages and we look to our celebration of Rizdvo without the tumult of gatherings and community at our parish home. This year we reflect on the mystery and miracle of the Nativity in a greater stillness, perhaps even with renewed and deeper gratitude.
As yet, we keep to the Julian calendar—clinging to observances handed down from our ancestors. While we keep to these “old ways”, it is marvelous to recognize that the rituals of old actually carry the same life truths revealed today by our COVID world: irrefutable connection with nature, humanity, past, future, spirit.
Our Sviata Vechera (Holy Supper) incorporates ancient customs from pagan times—when people celebrated light in the depth of the dark winter. As Christians, our forebears recognized Christ as the light of the world. The symbolism of the rituals surrounding Sviata Vechera reflect our participation in the unfathomable mystery of God alive among us.
Perhaps we won’t be able to celebrate as usual, but we can consider the meaning of the traditional Sviata Vechera to honour and appreciate the wondrous wisdom of our heritage. Consider the scene: a seat at the table with an extra place setting—because we know that we are joined by our loved ones who have left this earth or are still to be born into it; a candle in the window inviting any travellers to join in our feast—because no one should be alone/lonely on this Holy Night. A didukh (grandfather; sheaf of wheat) in the corner—because the countless grains are a reminder of the countless souls who celebrate with us tonight. Our agrarian ancestors valued the earth and its fruits as God-given. Grain is a symbol of life.
This night’s festivity is cosmic: shared by heaven and earth. We watch for the first star to begin the meal. Our predecessors told stories of animals speaking and supernatural happenings. Hay under the table and tablecloth—God lying in a manger. We recognize animals and angels intermingled. This is reality. “God is with us”.
The setting of our Sviata Vechera places us in this cosmic event—participants in an occurrence that involves the entire created universe from the beginning to the end of time. It is awe-some and humbling. We can imagine others scattered throughout the world, also preparing their homes the same way—marvelling at the revelation. “understand all you nations and be humbled . . .”
Let’s reflect on the meal itself—the 12 dishes of the Sviata Vechera. While the exact recipes vary according to region and availability, there is meaning in the feast itself: teaching us still today that life is sacred—that we know God through our material existence on earth. Our life-giving food represents our life-giving God. 12 dishes for 12 apostles and 12 months to our year. The food is meatless because we feast on the final day of the pre-Christmas fast. These traditional foods derive from the Ukrainian land, from harvests that were stored and preserved (without electricity) in order to survive long cold winters: grains, mushrooms, root vegetables, dried fruits, fish from rivers or the sea. Common to all regions is the initial dish of kutia and the kolach.
Any animals in the household are fed and cared for before the Holy Supper begins. The kutya, a mixture of grain kernels, poppyseeds and honey, symbolizes life—bitterness and sweetness combined—creating a distinctive deliciousness. The eldest member of the household takes a spoonful of kutya and flings it to the ceiling: a further sign of life’s highs and lows—the more that sticks to the ceiling, the better the year should be! Perhaps another lesson here is that, of course, more honey will create more stickiness (a better year!). Clearly, we should try being sweeter in difficult times!
The Holy Supper begins after the greeting “Christ is born—Let us praise Him” and a spoonful of kutya for everyone. The centrepiece is the 3-tiered kolach, each loaf a braid of 3 strands—a symbol of Trinity, eternity, well-being. A candle rises from the kolach, reminding us that Christ is the light of the world.
The food we savour takes time and work to prepare; the love we have for each other and for life includes the longing for those not with us. Knowing darkness we can appreciate the light. Our Sviata Vechera is a brilliant tribute to the fullness, complexity, and mystery of life.
However we are able to spend sviat vechir—let’s remember that we are part of something bigger than us—we are part of wondrous creation. We are the body of Christ. May we all be born anew in His love this year.
Given the restrictions for the next 28 days public services are suspended. Please join us for our liturgies via the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYRhNyphIOmYr9NIdsmWmww?view_as=subscriber