Recently we commemorated the Saints of Ukraine, but very often we are not familiar with contemporary saints. Over the coming weeks in the bulletin we will present the stories of Ukrainian saints: not just those who have been officially canonised, but also those whose saintly lives are already cherished by their communities. The Church’s ancient practice has always been to recognize that local communities and countries will hold dear the memory of saintly persons, not all of whom are canonised as saint for the Universal Church. On Sunday, July 16th we marked the 40th day of the passing into eternal life of +His Beatitude Patriarch Lyubomyr, a saintly person without any doubt. In the coming bulletins we will meet some of our contemporary saints of Ukraine.
Volodymyr Pryjma was a quiet village choir director and cantor. Born in 1906, married with two children, Pryjma worked diligently in Stradch. He generously supported and assisted the village priest, Fr. Mykola Konrad even in the dangerous circumstances of the Soviet occupation 1939-41. On June 26, 1941 he went with Fr. Konrad to the home of an ailing woman who had requested the sacrament of reconciliation. On their way home they were attacked, tortured, and murdered by the NKVD. He was beatified on June 27, 2001.
Sister Maria Shved (1954-1982)
She was simple, good, humble, compassionate; she simply loved people and knew how to accept that which Jesus prepared for her each day. (Sr. Halyna Sovhan)
For those of us who grew up in North America, the 70s and 80s were a time of stability and for many optimism. It is hard to imagine that at that very time people in Ukraine were being arrested, tortured, and even killed for being faithful to our Church. The story of Maria Shved is just one example that brings that awful reality to life. Maria was a young village girl who after completing school went to work in a factory in Lviv. She was quiet, she liked to dress well and as one nun observed, “wear make-up”. Not the stereotypical image of a holy person in the making! But Maria grew up with a strong faith and so she attended Church services as often as possible. Although a Ukrainian Catholic, she availed herself of the fact that the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Lviv was open (unlike our churches which were all closed or declared Russian Orthodox) and went there daily. In the Cathedral she met a number of our clergy and nuns and began to assist Fr. Peter Perizhak in his secret ministry to Ukrainian Catholics. She travelled with him wherever he would go and carry the bag with his vestments and liturgical instruments needed for Divine Liturgy. This way, if he were stopped or arrested, the authorities would have no proof that he was carrying out illegal activities. Although the Sisters of St. Joseph were not accepting new members, her devotion so impressed them that she was accepted into the novitiate. Even as a novice she continued her ministry with Fr. Perizhak. On Sept. 29, 1982 while assisting him she was brutally attacked on the street in Lviv by the secret police and killed! No one was charged with her murder.
Father Evstakhij Smal (1922-1991)
Born into a poor village family, the young Evstakhij’s possibilities for an education were very limited. However because of his clear abilities and interests his parents and pastor worked hard to nurture his talents. Eventually his parents agree to send him to the newly established Redemptorist monastery and school near Lviv. There he is first exposed to the religious order which will become his second family.
Having already demonstrated his love of learning and his desire for all to have an opportunity to learn, Evstakhij chose to join the Redemptorists (an order devoted to teaching). However, with the arrival of Soviet forces in 1939 the monastery school closes and Evstakhij’s education and monastic training is interrupted. In 1950 he is arrested for his activity in support of underground priests and sent to work in the Siberian forests until 1957. Upon his return to Ukraine he is ordained and now sets out to serve in any way the needs of our people. Working in a clinic during the day, his evenings and nights are often spent travelling from village to town celebrating the Divine Liturgy, confessing, and celebrating various sacraments. He went where there was a need: every corner of Western Ukraine, the Baltic countries, even Kazakhstan! As a result, he was given the nickname: Omnipresent. A short, quiet and humble man, but a man of determination, honesty, and above all a deep love of God. His kind smile and wise counsel is cherished by all who knew him.
Sister Maria (Faina Lakher) 1917-2005
-Faina Lakher was born into a Jewish family in Peremyshlyany, W. Ukraine. From a young age she was open to her Ukrainian Christian environment and even fell in love with a young boy, Volodymyr Zaplatynsky. However, because of their different religions they did not want to pursue marriage, but stayed close friends. In 1939 with the arrival of the Soviets, Volodymyr joined the Ukrainian resistance and from that position assisted Faina and her family during the repressions of both the Soviets and the Nazis.
After the Germans entered Western Ukraine in 1941 Faina was, on a number of occasions, almost killed, so that in 1942 her family gave her permission to be baptised. She accepted the Christian name Anna. Young Volodymyr, now a prominent member of the underground, arranged for Faina to live with Studite sisters. Here Faina discovers a vocation to monastic life. Volodymyr is killed by the NKVD in 1944 and when she hears this news, she, now named Sister Maria, commits to daily prayers for him and for Ukraine’s independence. Sister Maria maintains her passion for monastic life throughout the underground period (1946-1989). Studite Fr. Sebastian comments: “you could always learn much from Sr. Maria. . . She helped me establish a strong foundation for a monastic life.” The iconographer Ivanka Dymyd-Krypyakevych wrote that “Sr. Maria Lakher walked on water. Once she had fallen in love with God, she fell in love with the Ukrainian Church, she fell in love with a person who had sacrificed himself on the altar of freedom (the insurgent Volodymyr Zaplatynsky) she discovered within herself the potential of love which could bring warmth to the entire world. This short, ascetic woman with the eyes of the Old Testament Rachel or Ruth had amazing gifts, one of which was to hear and see the person.”
On November 22, 2005 Sr. Maria calmly entered her room and passed on to eternity.