(Текст українською мовою в бюлетені 18.07.21)
How fitting, that from this Sunday, dedicated to All Saints of Ukraine, an icon representing recent Ukrainian witnesses of Christ, will appear in our church of the Transfiguration: the icon of the Synaxis of Ukrainian Martyrs (of the 20th century).
We thank God for the dedication of the iconographer Kseniia Sapunkova and the generosity of the donor Mary Gaida (Steve and Mary Gaida Ohar Foundation), in memory of their deceased parents.
Commonly, the mention of Ukrainian saints evokes an image of the 10thc royals, Volodymyr and Olha, responsible for Christianizing Ukraine: recognizable, yet hardly relatable. Since that time, 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.
As Western Europe and North America celebrated the end of the 2nd World War, Ukraine suffered a renewed onslaught of vicious religious persecution by the Soviet regime. Priests, monastics, lay people, children were hunted, murdered, tortured, and starved in prison and Siberian camps. To this day, the political oppressors of Ukraine continue to target our Church and Faith Tradition as well.
These were 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 faith, continuing to be kind, loving, generous—serving others. We look to these individuals and see God. Let us, each of us, come to know and understand the figures represented, so that we can tell their stories to our visitors, and to our children, so that future generations will find strength and inspiration through these saints of our people.
In the next few weeks, our website will include information on each saint in the icon. Let’s remember them: vichnaia pamiat. With this icon, let’s honour them and join our prayers and lives to theirs. Let’s follow their example and live as saints in our own ordinary lives so that we may actively build a world that opposes evil and persecution of others.
Synaxis of Ukrainian Saints
We first gaze at this icon as if seeing through a window. The gold background and light surrounding the heads of the figures evokes the Pentecostal flame—the divine Spirit envelopes the air around the figures, while their feet are firmly standing on a (very familiar) solid floor. The figures appear alight. In Matthew (5:14-16) Christ exhorts us to let our light shine and not hide it beneath a bushel. The martyrs shine, during and even after their lives were extinguished.
The figures create a domed shape, as if a church. At the top of the dome, the title of the icon and the building forma cross. The church is the Sobor of St George in Lviv, the seat of the Metropolitan. The martyrs represented are from Western Ukraine.
The title, Synaxis of Ukrainian Martyrs, points to their symbolic representation of all untold numbers of Ukrainian martyrs.
As our gaze focuses on the figures themselves we see both religious and lay people forming the body of the Church: the body of Christ.
Directly below the sobor, in the centre, we see a young woman in a kerchief. At her heart we see our Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, who foresaw that our Church would “rise from the grave”. On either side of him we see other church leaders: bishop, monk, nun, priest. The sister and priest hold a palm branch—the symbol of martyrdom. Above are men and women and another nun. We see signs of our Faith: crosses, Gospels, hands in blessing.
First row (left to right):
Sister Tarsikia Matskiw SSMI (1919-1944)
Bishop Nykyta Budka (1877-1949)
Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944)
Archimandrite Klymentij Sheptytsky (1869-1951)
Fr. Omelan Kowch (1884-1944)
Second row (l to r):
Cantor Volodymyr Pryjma (1906-1941)
A woman/жінка representing all unnamed martyred women.
Sr Maria Shwed (1954-1982)
A man/чоловік representing all unnamed martyred men.
Sr Lavrentia Harasymiw SSJ (1911-1952)
The Sisters represent all martyred women monastics.
Maria Shved represents women who served as nuns secretly in the underground church.
Klymentij Sheptytsky represents all male monastics.
Fr. Kowch and cantor Pryjma represent both ordained and lay people who served in the underground church.
Bishop Budka is the first bishop of the UCC in Canada who returned to Ukraine and died in a Soviet camp.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky was the Head of our Church from 1901-1945.
In the coming weeks the website will have the stories of these saints and martyrs.