In St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians he calls us all to “live by the Spirit, . . . keep in step with the Spirit.” (5:25) I think we so underestimate the meaning of these words: “live by the Spirit”. It certainly does not mean that we are perfect, but it speaks to our immense giftedness and so an unimaginable capacity to do the good: to be gentle with one another, to be present for one another, to recognize that we can be instruments of God’s presence in the world. But it does require effort on our part. Not the effort of “doing things”, but before that the effort of “being” a certain way. Pope Francis once reminded us that we are not called simply to be “social workers”, rather we are called to be witnesses of God’s presence in our lives and the life of the world. By doing so, we change the world for the better. This past week’s readings offered us two images for followers of Christ: a tiny seed that falls on good ground, and a mustard seed. Both images speak to our life in the Spirit. No single seed achieves monumental things. But each seed brings forth fruit, each seed becomes part of something greater, every seed by being what it is, is a blessing! So too each of us, called to live in the Spirit, to nurture a relationship with Christ in the Holy Spirit become a wonderful seed. We open ourselves to God’s Word, we inhale the Spirit, we partake of the Eucharist, we grow to truly be who we are meant to be: God’s image and likeness for the world!
In our faith tradition, we, each one of us, are called to be saints. Sure. We’ve heard this before: icons of Christ, manifesting Trinity, revealing God to each other through how we choose to live our lives. In the same way we are called to be martyrs; the hymn of the Holy Martyrs is sung during our sacrament of marriage while the new couple is led around the tetrapod, symbolically led by Christ through their united life. This mention of martyrdom in marriage often elicits chuckles; because fortunately, in Canada, we do not worry about Christian persecutions and sainthood (normally) does not appear on our daily agenda. But the saint, deriving from the Latin word for holy, and martyr, from the Latin for witness, is someone who truly embodies and models Christ for us and inspires us to do the same. That is why we honour saints throughout the Church year.
This initial period after Pentecost is dedicated to Ukrainian holy witnesses of Christ. Likely the mention of saints and Ukraine conjures an image of Volodymyr and Olha, the 10th-11th c royalty, who brought the Christian faith to Ukraine from Byzantium: familiar, yes, but not exactly the people next door. Since that Period of Princes, the Church has recognized the holiness of innumerable Ukrainians. More than can be named have been martyred—within our lifetime and that of recent generations. June 27th commemorated the New Martyrs of Ukraine.
As Western Europe and North America celebrated the end of the Second World War, Ukrainian and Eastern Europe suffered a renewed onslaught of vicious religious persecution by the Soviet regime. Priests, monastics, lay people, children were hunted, murdered, tortured, and starved in prisons and Siberian camps.
People no different from you or me, leading mundane lives: buying groceries, singing in the parish choir, changing diapers, taking out the garbage, meeting up for coffee. . . suddenly faced with unspeakable evil, unimaginable torment. Individuals forced into evil yet maintaining hope, continuing to be kind, loving, generous. We look to these individuals and see God.
Let’s remember them. Let’s honour them and join our prayers and lives to theirs. Let’s follow their example and live as saints and martyrs in our own ordinary lives so that we may actively build a world that opposes evil and persecution of others.
“We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community.”
June 20th marked the UN World Refugee Day, bringing attention to the plight of children, women, and men facing unimaginable hardship in their efforts to escape persecution and violence. Currently, wealthy countries, such as ours, are becoming increasingly intolerant, exclusionary, isolationist. Political leaders who foment fear and division are gaining popularity, feeding what Pope Francis has called a “globalization of indifference” towards the suffering of others. The Pope warns against the present trend of scapegoating migrants and refugees, blaming them for all our society’s problems. He calls us to overcome our fear of otherness, recognizing Christ in the very people whose difference makes us uncomfortable and afraid. [Christ] is the one, said Pope Francis, “with ragged clothes, dirty feet, agonized faces, sore bodies, unable to speak our language”. We should be grateful to the refugee for the opportunity of “welcoming and assisting Jesus”. The migrant/ refugee “problem” Francis contends, is not just about refugees—it is about each of us; it is about our humanity. By giving in to a “throw-away culture” we put ourselves at risk of being excluded and marginalized for not conforming closely enough to an accepted norm. The Pope reminds us that Jesus was a refugee. I think of many of our parents and the influx of Ukrainians to Canada after the 2nd world war. They too came as refugees. Labeled DP (displaced persons) they often encountered ridicule and exclusion from jobs, housing, and schools. As Christians we must be open to not only migrants and refugees but all people in need. Francis tells us that “our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.” This response “enables us to be more human: to recognize ourselves as participants in a greater collectivity and to understand our life as a gift for others; to see as the goal, not our own interests, but rather the good of humanity”.
This is indeed a special Sunday: celebrating our fathers on the Feast of Pentecost! This feast, 50 days after the Resurrection, dates back to the Early Church. Together with Jesus, the apostles and their faith community also celebrated Pentecost—50 days after Passover. They too decorated their homes with greenery, in celebration of God’s goodness in the time of harvest. As Christians we recognize this Divine Spirit as one of the Tri-Une God. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, we—human beings—become temples of God. Paul writes that God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, and faithful! (Gal. 5, 22-23) God is with us and in us. Our task is to be open; to accept that God is in us, no matter who or how we are. With our human failings, it can be surprisingly difficult for us to feel loved, to feel lovable in our deepest core. But God’s love is infinite and unconditional. When we have the security of feeling profoundly loved, it is easier to be generous with our own love. The Spirit is the source of all genuine goodness and love we feel, see, and know. It is not earned, but simply accepted.
Christ demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit through the example of a father. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father embraces his wayward son despite all the wrongs he had done. He demands no payment and celebrates his child’s return to his loving home. This is how our Divine Father loves us. This is how our own fathers mirror Divine Love through the Holy Spirit!
On this day of joy we thank all our Fathers, Grandfathers, and Uncles for their goodness and love. Mnohaja Lita!
“The essence of our Christianity is living in love. The one who loves, lives. The one who does not love is already dead. When we pray, we live and express our love for God and neighbour. The peak of prayer is to express our love to Him. The one who says: “I love you God” that is the person who prays deeply. “I love you not for what you have done for me, nor for the ways I can benefit from you for my needs.” . . . True love is a heart open to God, as the source of our life.
First, I begin my prayer with thanks to God. I am grateful for the gift of life; I am thankful for being able to speak to Him; I am grateful for the new day. I turn to Him in thanks, . . . , for giving me another chance.
The next stage is a prayer of repentance. I experience God’s greatness and my weakness and limitedness.
The next, third step, is to prayer for those around me and for all people. The one who says they love God and do not love their brother is a liar. So, clearly, the next step in prayer is to prayer for our neighbor, as an expression of our love.
The fourth step is prayer for myself. . . I ask for wisdom, intelligence, courage, that I may witness my faith in all I do. That my actions may express my faith in the loving God.
The culminating, fifth step, is prayer which glorifies God.
. . . A Christian is the one within whom lies the Source. The Christian is the one from whom flows goodness, God’s Love, because God has placed Jacob’s well within the hearts of people!”
Our community had the honour of welcoming the Theatre Company from Kolomyya, Ukraine at the morning Divine Liturgy. Established in 1848, the Theatre Company was the first such Company established in Western Ukraine. Their visit to Kitchener was part of their first ever North American tour. The Company performed in the afternoon to a very appreciative audience in the parish’s Ukrainian Catholic Centre. The tour was organized by the Zahrava Ukrainian Theatre Company of Toronto.
Our church is a sanctuary. According to the dictionary, this means a holy place, a refuge. The sanctuary in a church is the holy of holies and to give sanctuary means to protect—as in current Canadian examples where individuals reside in a church in order to avoid deportation. This practice draws on the ancient belief that “normal” rules don’t apply to sacred spaces. A place becomes sacred because it is the dwelling place of God. For the first Christians, the understanding of sanctuary shifted from place to people: “wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there I shall be” (Matt. 18:20). Christ is among us. So together, in our parish community, we ARE sanctuary: we are immersed in kindness, caring, love, at the same time that we practice kindness, caring, love. Why? Because we are the vehicles of Christ; we meet God through each other. Here each and every one of us belongs: just as we are. If we need to sit at any time or throughout the entire service, that’s ok: the pews are there for that. If physically we could use some assistance to improve our participation in the Liturgy, we can let Father or a fellow parishioner know and perhaps accommodations can be made.
On Sundays, when we leave church to return to the “normal” world, I hope we will be a bit more revived, inspired, and at peace, having shared the refuge of the sacred space we create together.
This is the greeting we, Ukrainian Christians (Catholic or Orthodox), have used during the Easter season for generations.
Not surprisingly, with our current immersion in multifarious diversity, this “religious” greeting, together with so many rituals and traditions is fading away—possibly because in our lives of unending choices, we gradually forget “the why” of doing things. We lose the meaning, the symbolism, and ultimately the benefit of a given tradition when it is only repeated because “that’s what Baba did”.
Recently I heard an Indigenous man explain how his tradition teaches an obligation to honour the rituals of the past 7 generations, with the responsibility of passing them on to future 7 generations. I was struck by the similarity to our cultural heritage that also unfailingly encompasses both those who have come before us and those who are yet to come. Our refrain of Vichnaja Pamiat’, our kutia, our pysanky, reflect our practices that, in the here-and-now, at once involve past and future community. With our traditions we participate in a universal reality.
Similarly, our Easter greeting holds so much more than a statement of belief in the miraculous revival of a man. It is a statement of the revival of humanity. The icon of the resurrection conveys the personal relevance of this event: Christ pulls Adam and Eve out of hell; that is, Christ pulls creation out of the depths to a level with Him.
“Anyone who enters into love, and through love experiences inextricable suffering and the fatality of death, enters into the history of the human God, for [their] forsakenness is lifted away from [them] in the forsakenness of Christ, and in this way [they] can continue to love, need not look away from the negative and from death, but can sustain death.” (Jurgen Moltmann)
Our rituals rooted in Byzantine theology contain a treasure of wisdom that, currently, Western theologians are eagerly discovering.
In this way we, next Sunday after Bright Week, will celebrate together, with a blessed Paschal meal, the beauty and goodness of our life in love, shared with God.
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Clare of Assisi [1194–1253] spoke of “the mirror of the cross” in which she saw in the tragic death of Jesus our own human capacity for violence and, yet, our great capacity for love.  Empty in itself, the mirror simply absorbs an image and returns it to the one who gives it. Discovering ourselves in the mirror of the cross can empower us to love beyond the needs of the ego or the need for self-gratification. We love despite our fragile flaws when we see ourselves loved by One greater than ourselves. In the mirror of the cross we see what it means to share in divine power. To find oneself in the mirror of the cross is to see the world not from the foot of the cross but from the cross itself. How we see is how we love, and what we love is what we become. (Ilia Delio, Clare of Assisi: A Heart full of Love (Franciscan Press: 2007), 26)
Please download the 2019 order of services here.