Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration

УКРАЇНСЬКA КАТОЛИЦЬКA ЦЕРКВА ПРЕОБРАЖЕННЯ ГОСПОДНЬОГО


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Trinity: Immersion in Love

 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)


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Grasping the Ungraspable

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)


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CHRIST IS BORN!

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


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Be Christ for others!

“. . . 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”.

Text Box:    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.


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St. Nicholas: what a wondrous saint

This year, as always in our Tradition, St Nicholas visits our homes. What he brings to your heart or mine depends on our personal situation; what channels have we tuned into? What messages are we open to?

St Nicholas day heralds our celebration of the Nativity—God becoming flesh— a human person like us. To know St Nicholas as a historic living entity emphasizes our knowledge of Christ as the same—a living breathing individual like us.

 We need these crucial reminders to steer us back on to a path of our best selves. YES, we CAN live our lives making choices to act in and with love, in everything we do. We know it’s possible because St Nick is a person who tried to do his job in his community in a way that followed the example of Jesus, who had lived and breathed some generations before him. He took Christ’s model of living to heart and infused his actions with ostensibly “random acts of kindness” that touched others to the extent that we still remember him today! We might think that St Nicholas was extraordinary because he was a bishop, or he was rich, or, or, or (something that makes him special and not like you or me). But the point of his memory is that he lived as a fully human guy, caring about others in the best ways he could figure out, within his particular position. We all know how someone with status can act in negative ways; we know about photo ops and self-promotions and conspicuous charity. But this bishop is known for surprising people with gratuitous gifts—in secret!  When he saw someone in need, he tried to support them in a way he felt they could use. He did this in a way that caused delight. I imagine how much pleasure he himself derived from his secret escapades!

  St Nicholas coming to our hearts before the Nativity is a celebration of human potential for goodness. It’s an affirmation of fun and joy that comes from serving others, caring for others, loving each other because we are fellow human beings, sharing this life and the environment we live in.


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In honour of St. Andrew the First-called

The feast of St. Andrew the First-Called has special meaning for the churches of Ukraine. According to ancient legend, St. Andrew travelled up the Dnipro River and, seeing the hills where Kyiv stands today, he stopped and blessed them, foreseeing that one day a great city would rise there. St. Andrew also became the patron of the Church of Constantinople, the Church from which we received Christian faith. St. Andrew reminds us of our Christian roots and stands as a symbol of the Church united as one in faith: two brothers, Peter and Andrew, embracing in one spirit, one love, one Lord. That brotherly unity was what spurred the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople to heal the wounds of the past and rebuild the Church’s unity. 65 years ago this week Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras issued a historic declaration of regret for past wrongs, offensive words and deplorable events which occurred between their churches. They concluded their statement with these words:

[We] hope, nevertheless, that this act will be pleasing to God, who is prompt to pardon us when we pardon each other. They hope that the whole Christian world, especially the entire Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will appreciate this gesture as an expression of a sincere desire shared in common for reconciliation, and as an invitation to follow out in a spirit of

trust, esteem and mutual charity the dialogue which, with God’s help, will lead to living together again, for the greater good of souls and the coming of the kingdom of God, in that full communion of faith, fraternal accord and sacramental life which existed among them during the first thousand years of the life of the Church.

In that spirit, Pope Francis has called all Catholics to renew their commitment to ecumenism and not fear being the first to extend our hand in love to our fellow Christians. He said “we should not wait for others to first extend their hand to us.” In a letter he reminded the bishops of the Church, that “the service of unity is an essential aspect of the mission of every Bishop, who is the ‘visible source and foundation of unity’ in his own Particular Church.”

  In a letter to the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity Pope Francis wrote: At this moment, my thoughts turn to my beloved Brothers, the heads of the different Churches and Christian communities, and to all our brothers and sisters of every Christian tradition who are our companions on this journey. Like the disciples of Emmaus, may we experience the presence of the risen Christ who walks at our side and explains the Scriptures to us. May we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, as we await the day when we shall share the Eucharistic table together.

  As St. Andrew journeyed up the Dnipro, bringing the Gospel of Christ to all he met, so now Pope Francis reminds us all that we are invited on a journey to rebuild the unity of the Body of Christ and “if we undertake the journey with Christ, He Himself will bring that unity about.” 


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Divinely human

  Many teachers of the Church recognize that the “Kingdom of God,” that Christ spoke of in the Gospels, refers to life now, on earth. We, simple humans that we are, create the Kingdom of God by being human in the way Christ demonstrated we could be. Living in the Kingdom of God is by no means a worry-free utopia where an omnipotent deity runs the show. Christian faith does not demand belief in a sacred dictator and/or adherence to correct rules. When we care about the well-being of others as much as our own, when we seek the sacred in others and in ourselves, when we try to act in, with, and through, love, then we participate in the making of the Kingdom. It’s that simple and that difficult. In trying to live lovingly, we recognize that we can embrace ourselves and our pain, as well as others and their pain, with kindness and patience. This Kingdom is revolutionary. It is the one we approach anew every year during Advent, as we deepen our understanding of God’s incarnation.

  One lesson of the Kingdom, familiar to most, is that when we are hurting the most for any reason, one of the ways to feel better is to do something nice for another. . .   This Friday, just as our community mourns the loss of a dear parishioner, in Ukraine, our girls in the orphanage received our St Nicholas tidings and gifts: sorrow and joy. We can endure and embrace life and death fully only when we share ourselves—generously. Love makes us at once most strong and most vulnerable; it makes us most divinely human. 


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“I can welcome others who are different, and value the unique contribution they have to make, only if I am firmly rooted in my own people and culture”.

Fratelli Tutti (143)

We are continuing to examine the latest Papal encyclical, Pope Francis’s call to us to emerge from the crisis of the pandemic as a better society, a better Church. We must refuse the impulse to desire the former normal and dare to follow Christ’s example. “After the crisis, will we continue with this economic system of social injustice and disregard for the environment, creation and our common home? Let’s think about it.” 

  Our spotlight on the encyclical is to help each one of us assume responsibility, literally, for making the world a better place. Francis reminds us that it is each generation’s task to join in the daily struggle for love, goodness, justice, and solidarity.

 We’ve looked at the exhortation to actively incorporate the teaching of the golden rule and the good Samaritan into our being—our lifestyle. This week we’ll look at the encyclical’s emphasis on the value of our cultural identity and heritage.

Francis describes the hold current demagogues have on populations, driving to “limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism.” (13) The pope points out that the success of these (corrupt) leaders depends on “young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them. He reminds us that our spiritual identity, our independence and moral consistency, our very soul, lies in our inherited history and tradition.We must not abandon our inherited past through apathy or negligence, because—here’s the thing—when we care for ourselves, when we value and cherish our own heritage, we are not threatened by other traditions: “I can welcome others who are different, and value the unique contribution they have to make, only if I am firmly rooted in my own people and culture”. (143)  Furthermore, care for my nation involves appreciating global interdependence: a crisis (be it environmental, economic, or political) in one country ineluctably affects the planet as a whole. Ultimately, I am me through my historical culture, which is connected to all other cultures and geographies. “Each of us is fully a person when we are part of a people; at the same time, there are no peoples without respect for the individuality of each person.”

  Pope Francis, like St Francis and, indeed, Christ, speaks in blatant opposition to popular figures of our day, who isolate us from each other through their discourse of individual freedoms and entitlements. “Good politics will seek ways of building communities at every level of social life, . . .” (182).

  The onus is not only on our politicians and leaders, but on each of us as well. We must be ready to encounter, to listen, to learn from, others—even those with whom we disagree and especially who exist on our margins: “For they have another way of looking at things; they see aspects of reality that are invisible to the centres of power where weighty decisions are made.”

  Always, without exception, as St Paul wrote to the Galatians (5:22), we are to act with kindness. “Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.” (224) Francis emphasizes that being kind does not entail tolerating oppression, and, as Christians, we must take a stand against it. “We are called to love everyone, without exception; at the same time, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable.” (241)

  Likewise, forgiveness still requires justice and measures to prevent repeated wrongdoing. Christian love does not run from or deny social conflict, but stands with the oppressed and the marginalized. We strive to forgive, but never to demand forgiveness. Significantly, forgiveness does not mean forgetting the wrongdoing or the hurt.

  It is imperative to remember past atrocities in order to move forward. Remembering honours victims and creates a social conscience that must try to avoid repetitions of history and justifications for equally violent reprisals. “For this reason, I think not only of the need to remember the atrocities, but also all those who, amid such great inhumanity and corruption, retained their dignity and, with gestures small or large, chose the part of solidarity, forgiveness and fraternity. To remember goodness is also a healthy thing.” (249)

  Pope Francis did not write this encyclical because of the pandemic, but it is especially relevant for this time and for every human being. We, Ukrainians in the diaspora, might be victims or family of victims of Russian, Polish, and German oppression. We might be migrants or refugees or children knowing our parents’ sacrifice so that we could have comfort and wealth. . .

Fratelli Tutti asks us to question ourselves—not as a pious exercise—but as a pressing social and moral obligation.

Do I identify with those who are voicing their oppression here and now? Do I stand with indigenous populations so marginalized that communities lack safe drinking water? Do I stand with those whose skin colour separates them from systemic justice? Do I stand with today’s refugees and migrants, with women, with the ever increasing groups who find themselves devalued in society for being old, different, or disabled?

  With whom do I identify? Why? With whom do I connect as the world recreates to a pandemic normalcy? Whom do I believe? Is my good the collective good? Am I listening to the periphery? Who is left out? What is the new normal that I am creating?

  These are among the questions we must ask ourselves again and again, as we make decisions and form judgements that shape the world.

  Francis writes: “In these pages of reflection on universal fraternity, I felt inspired particularly by Saint Francis of Assisi, but also by others of our brothers and sisters who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.” (286)

  Let’s be sure that we too are guided by those whose example inspires us to live in love for each other and all creation: fratelli tutti.