Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration


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How fitting….

(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.

Now we ask who. Who are these figures, human and luminous?

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.

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Help us have the courage to awaken to greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another.

This past Sunday the Bishops of Saskatchewan released a description of their response in support of the Truth and Reconciliation commission. Please read the letter from our website to better understand the vast issues surrounding Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

In former bulletins we have described the wrongs of the Church in the words of the philosopher Ivan Illich as a “betrayal of relationship,” where desires for power and money have closed the minds and hearts of the hierarchy, and thus communities, to the Spirit of the Divine Trinity. In a reflection on Pentecost and the need for our hearts to be ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit, Brian McLaren writes that over the centuries, since the early Church, “We’ve traded the gentle dove of peace for the predatory hawk or eagle of empire”.

And today’s reading from Matthew calls the Church and us back (as always) to Truth. In this story Jesus tells us to stop our obsession with stuff: clothes, drinks, restaurants, fashion . . . God knows we need these things, but that’s not all there is. Seek first his kingdom and his justice,”

(Mt 6:33) and these other things will fall into place.

Ok, we may not be birds or lilies resplendent without worry about money, but the opposite is seen in human behaviour—when we seek money rather than God’s justice, what is left? We have a world where atrocities are committed by people against people. 

And justice? It’s not revenge, punishment, retribution. “What is God’s justice? It is certainly not our Western image of a blindfolded woman standing with a scale and weighing the different sides. God’s justice is delivered simply by God being true to God’s nature. And what is God’s nature? Love. God is love, so God’s justice is in fact total, steadfast love, total unconditional giving of love. ([aka] … “restorative justice” instead of retributive justice.)” (R.Rohr, 06/07/21) 

 So what do I do? I can recognize the difference between manifesting my faith in words or in actions; I can open my heart to be on fire. I can open my mind and arms to others who are different from me. This is easier said than done. Living God’s love requires patience, endurance, and the discernment of personal prayer, the wisdom of faith tradition, and the shared support of community. Together we are better.

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God is with us

The Synod of Ukrainian Catholic Bishops has designated this Sunday as the Sunday of “The Mother of God of Perpetual Help”. This icon, no doubt, is familiar to us: The Mother of God (Theotokos) holds her son, terrified by the vision of his future. The angels Gabriel and Michael on either side, hold symbols of the crucifixion.

As with all Byzantine iconography, the represented images guide us to contemplation, to a sacred meaning for us, both personally and collectively. This icon illuminates the fact that through our humanity and material reality we encounter God. God in Jesus is afraid of the cruelty and suffering life presents and, as the loose sandal suggests, he runs to the arms of his mother for comfort.

Every human being has a mother. Mary, the mother of Jesus grounds us in the unfathomable notion that we can see God as human. To be human is to feel pain and fear as well as pleasure and comfort. No one can escape suffering in life, yet we can endure so much when enfolded in the arms of someone who loves us. Symbolically, a mother embodies love—creative, selfless, nurturing, unconditional. The life of her son, Jesus, demonstrates that God is love.

  The figures of mother and child in this icon visually suggest a profound bond. They meld into one entity. They are surrounded by horror.

  Oftentimes we may imagine that as people of faith we are to be protected from life’s problems. Pandemic news has been full of stories of churches of various traditions that defy public health policies because they think God will keep them safe. Not surprisingly, time after time these same gatherings have led to viral spread. Where is God? The icon tells us unequivocally: no matter what suffering surrounds us, God is with us. But it is up to us to open our hearts, to recognize love around us and to be its purveyors. In this icon, Christ looks to the signs of His cruel death.

  God’s mother looks at us while clasping her child to her heart. What do we see? Am I the child finding solace in her embrace? Do I turn to the Love of God for my strength and peace? Or am I the threat that drives away goodness? Do I have the consoling arms of a mother? Perhaps in contemplating our Mother of Perpetual Help, I can strive with greater intention to look to her for help so that I too can be an icon of divine help.

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Canada day/All saints’ day

  During the 2nd World War, my mother was a teenager, taken from her village and forced to work in German factories. As with so many of our people, as a “displaced person”, she would never see her parents, or her home, again. Despite the horrors of war and the subsequent experience of prejudice and marginalization during the post war years in Canada, my mother never wavered in her belief that Canada was among the best countries in the world. Her life here was far from easy, yet although she died nearly 30 years ago, her thoughts ring true for me today. Why? Much is wrong. Canada’s systemic destruction of indigenous populations is unfathomable and a betrayal of humanity. The difference, however, between here and so many other places, I imagine my mother would say, is that we can name the wrongs without fear. We can elect leaders who will admit to offenses and injustices and take action to improve and prevent more injury.

  Prejudice against others who are identified as “different” from those in power is easily normalized. Once it’s normal, we may not even recognize that we treat someone in a biased way. For example, when Ukrainians first settled in Canada, the majority of Canadians were British (WASP). Ukrainians were considered backward, uncivilized, and called “garlic eaters” and honkies. Now, when garlic is a standard ingredient and speaking various languages is valued here, Ukrainians are part of the mainstream—no longer “different”—therefore no longer targeted with insults.

  July 1st is Canada Day. Both COVID and recognition of widespread Indigenous suffering is presenting an opportunity to reflect on our role in the spirit of Canada. Do I treat “others” (homeless, racialized groups, various genders or faiths) with dignity and respect? Do I listen to Indigenous voices and try to understand Canadian history?

  Each of us participates in making Canada a better place when we try to treat each other well, when we care about the natural environment, and when we elect leaders who show they care more for the collective wellbeing of all people, than for a balanced budget.

  We have the Gospels to guide us in questioning the status quo and caring for the vulnerable. The Church’s participation in residential schools in this country demonstrates how positions of strength and power can obscure Christ’s ever-present message of love and compassion for all people, regardless of their culture or religion. With Residential Schools, the Church embraced cultural norms, rather than Gospel teaching.

  On this Sunday of all saints, our faith tradition reminds us that we are all called to sainthood: not perfection or miracle work, but the understanding that Christ is in us and around us. As saints, we bring divine love to life here and now, in each act of kindness, compassion, and generous joy.

Here is an article about research looking at Indigenous and Ukrainian settlement on the prairies: Ukrainians have forgotten their shared history with the Indigenous victims of residential schools. We found this article helpful to understand why so many of us have just learned about the residential schools.

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“That they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

This is the first Sunday after the Easter season; instead of greeting one another with the extraordinary exclamation that “Christ is Risen!” we now remain gratefully in wonder: “Glory to Jesus Christ”. 

  What news we’ve had this Ascension week. Canada as a nation finally seems to be awake to the horrors of the Residential School System after the unearthing of 215 children’s graves. Still reeling from the acknowledgment of such recent history, we recoil from the current reality of the London family out for a Sunday stroll, murdered for being Muslim. The Delta strain of COVID, the most contagious and deadly variant so far, has arrived in KW. The gypsy moth infestation threatens the health of our trees and forests.

These are simply a few headlines; no need to touch on other world news to see that there is trouble in the world. How can we feel Paschal joy? What difference does it make to be Christian? Every week our liturgical readings speak to us of these same issues of trouble in the world—and the response needed from us. In short, our Gospel readings grapple with the ever-present dilemma of good and evil in the world.

  In the life of Christ, as written by the evangelists and seen through the letters of Paul, we are given a clear foundational message. We have Christ’s example for living and Paul’s application of Christ’s standard to communities of followers. You know it; I know it. The difficulty lies in applying it to our daily lives in our specific contexts. What is “it”?

God is Love. We are to love one another, treat others as we would want to be treated. God is compared to a loving Father, as in the example of the Prodigal Son. We are all children, no favourites. We are all interconnected. In today’s reading, John describes the relationship of Jesus and the Father as one. Christ prays that we—his followers—”may be one” as God and Christ are one. The prayer concludes saying “1that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

   Ultimately there is joy in Christ, in God, in Love. Yet, we know that Christ’s demonstration of life lived in God’s love led to his torture and death. Somehow, despite our churches, our histories, and our identification as Christians, we blame God for the world’s trouble, like those who encountered the man born blind (see last week’s bulletin.) It is easier to blame God than to recognize human failings.  We prefer an image of God as a vengeful, strict, dictator, demanding sacrifice and doling out punishment, rather than seeing not only that we have free will, but also that choosing to turn away from Divine Love has consequences for individuals and communities and environments

  Paul begs the Ephesians to be “on guard”, because inevitably some will “arise and distort the truth.” Some will speak as Christians for their personal ends. Christ exemplified a radical inclusion, mercy, and empathy, that shattered taboos and undermined popular authority. We are indeed Church only when we strive to be moved by the Spirit in respectful dynamic relationship with others. As we celebrate Pentecost 2021, let’s consider how we can proceed to create a post covid reality where we might demonstrate, as did Paul that “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Through the incarnation, we know God as a human being, and through the Holy Spirit we strive to meet God in our world.

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This divine light shines through us!

The gospel of John was written decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Because readers would have known the content of the earlier writings, John’s writing focusses on the meaning of Christ that has become clearer to him in retrospect. The gospel of John strives to convey that the man Jesus, with whom the disciples ate, travelled, and lived, was, in fact, God incarnate. Consequently, the stories in John are replete with symbol and metaphor.

  This Sunday’s account of the man born blind has John’s typical complexity. While the practice of blindness as a figure of speech has been problematic for individuals with impaired sight, John makes full use of it as a metaphor for being “in the dark.”

Significantly, the man and the miracle are deeply symbolic of all of us.

Christ encounters a man begging, born blind. Immediately the apostles presume the old reasoning that this fellow suffers because of a divine punishment for something he, or his parents, have done wrong. Christ simply dismisses that theory. Christ’s life persistently rejects the notion of God as a vindictive ruler, demonstrating God as Love, yet his disciples themselves are, as it were, still blind. So too, the Pharisees refuse to see Christ, clinging to their power by accusing Him of wrongdoing. In effect, people generally, we included, fail to see the Light of Christ, even though He is with us.

  But what about the blind character? Unequivocally, we hear that the darkness of suffering or disabling illness is not from God; it is not punishment. We end up in darkness of many kinds for many reasons, but God is not to blame. We blame one another, ready to condemn and denigrate. John’s story points out that Christ is the light in the world. This light helps us endure the suffering of life, and this divine light shines through us when we embrace it, uniting us, allowing us to see each other as sisters and brothers, rather than “sinners”. Imagine if we, all people, saw each other and the world through the eyes of Christ. What might we see? How would we treat each other? How would we treat our natural environment?

  Christ’s teaching was revolutionary to old ways of seeing God, others, and creation. Think of mud and spit. This is what we (metaphorically) sling at each other in derision and hate. In this story Christ reverses this process, taking these fundamental elements of the earth (mud) and humans (saliva) and manifesting them as healing. The blind man is able to wash away the dirt to see the light: the truth of Christ. Can we?

  Every moment of our life we make unconscious choices to be in light or darkness. This reading asks us to open our eyes, as it were, to consciously recognise our choices and help each other to see and in fact to be our world transfigured through God’s love. 

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Christ . . . enters into a relationship of mutual respect, honesty, and trust

As the COVID pandemic persists, global inequalities continue to come into the spotlight. Regardless of the constant threat of deadly viral outbreaks, narcissism and greed for power proliferate, fueling political polarization, misinformation, and conspiracy theories that undermine good will and hard work for global health and social justice. Indeed, populism, in hand with racism and misogyny, appear to be burgeoning throughout the world.

While it’s true that people have struggled in this conflict between goodness and corruption, between light and dark as it were, since recorded history, the way to respond has also been open to us and demonstrated by Christ.

Samaritan woman2

This Sunday’s readings speak to this day—how you and I are to be in the world. In the story of the Samaritan woman, Christ comes to rest at an ancient well said to be from Jacob’s time. Being tired and thirsty, Jesus strikes up a conversation with a woman who is there drawing water and asks her for a drink. We know such a public encounter is nothing short of scandalous, since not only does He approach a Samaritan (taboo for a Jew) but also, she is an unaccompanied woman. Even sharing utensils would be prohibited, yet Jesus asks her to let Him drink with her. Naturally her initial response is suspicion, but the Gospel condenses a most beautiful breakdown of barriers. Christ wins her trust through establishing relationship: He requests her service (water) and offers His own too. He wants her to understand Him, but He first recognizes her specific reality. We might think of Christ’s revelation of the woman’s five husbands as a rebuke, yet there is no indication of that in John’s account. Rather, it seems Christ’s observation is a call to honesty and openness. The Samaritan woman is impressed. She welcomes Christ’s conversation and, like the women who ran to tell the apostles of the resurrection, she rushes back to her community and husband and brings them to Christ. She does not keep the wonder of her encounter with Christ to herself, but shares it with those around her. Here we have it.

Christ who is God who is Love enters into a relationship of mutual respect, honesty, and trust with another who is considered “Other” by His own community. This human relationship is the Spirit—the Living Water—that unites all people if we let it. In the reading from Acts, the apostles bring Christ’s message to Antioch—to foreigners. This, it is written, is when they began to be called Christians.  Like the Samaritan woman, through Christ’s example, they recognized no male or female, no gentile or Jew, no slave or freeman; before God, we are one.

What does this mean for you and me today? We, who have been baptized in the “living water” are reminded that we can be like the Samaritan woman, our history, our inner selves known by Christ—and welcomed—and loved. As Christians, we accept this divine love by loving in response, by welcoming those even most rejected by our society, by dismantling barriers of culture, gender, race, or creed. Like the Samaritan woman, we include our circles in our joy

Our humanity is nourished and healed not only by food and drink, but by the nourishment of Spirit through getting to know each other in honest and inclusive relationship.

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The miracle is that love and acceptance heal our soul

This is the Sunday of the paralytic. Whose role are we in? In John’s Gospel, we learn that the one who first enters the pool of Bethesda after the waters are stirred is healed. Jesus and his apostles, who have come to town to celebrate a Jewish feast day, walk through the crowd of people with ailments to reach the Temple. Amongst the crowd, Jesus notices a man who is paralyzed, lying at the side of the pool, unable to get in. The story is well known: Christ heals the man and the onlookers are outraged, not because the man is healed, but because he’s carrying his bed on the Sabbath, that day of rest, when no one is supposed to work. The literal scene is almost comical in that they are so obviously obtuse—scandalized about a technical detail of custom (is lifting a mat for the first time in 38 years work?)—while completely missing the astonishing wonder of the event: a man walking away from his life-long predicament, from his inability to enter the healing pool of his community.   

It seems that the significance of this story is not in miracle making or walking after paralysis. The pool was, after all, one of physical curing. Somehow, we, like those at the pool, still tend to miss the lessons of this account for us here and now. What did Jesus do for this man? Simply he “un”paralyzed him. How? He forgives his sins. But what does this mean? Surely we cannot randomly cure people by forgiving their sins? Or can we . . . ?

  What sins do we hold in our heart that prevent us from relationships and joys we’d otherwise have? Would some’s forgiveness set me free?

This man at Bethesda had no one, no friends, no family to put him in the water. Even amidst the crowd, he was on his own. 38 years, isolated perhaps, because of his sins; unable to move forward in his life; paralyzed because he has been separated from relationships of love and acceptance. He wants to enter the pool, but cannot on his own.

Jesus notices this man whom everyone else ignores. Christ goes to him directly and gives him what no one there has. He gives him attention, respect, forgiveness. He does not interrogate or judge his pathetic plight. Christ gives him, a complete stranger, love. Feeling loved, the man is able to accept himself and rejoin the community. As with all biblical writings, we see the profound depth of symbolism that speaks to all ages. Genuine love forgives our shortcomings and heals our hurts. The miracle is not a physical healing. The miracle is that love and acceptance heal our soul. We need each other, we belong to each other, and only together can we truly be human. Regardless of physical abilities, you, I, depend on each other to enter the healing waters of the pool of life.

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Do not be afraid

 This Sunday and the week ahead is that of the Myrrhbearing Women. The significance of these women to the Gospel message cannot be overstated. Their role in Christ’s mission is revolutionary, yet too often overlooked. Perhaps their story is overlooked because it is so revolutionary; it illuminates Christ’s radical message to each one of us, compelling us to a standard of love that is not comfortable or even reasonable for our individualistic, capitalist society. While we might think that Christ’s example of living was possible because he was God, the women around Him were historical people—female people—living in a time and religious culture that gave them no rights, status, or authority.

 Theologians maintain that the evangelists included the actual names of some of the myrrhbearers, as proof that the resurrection account was real. At that time, no one would think of women announcing anything of public note. If the story was fabricated, men would have been placed in the account to make it more credible. But on the third day after Christ’s death, the men closest to Him stayed hidden together in a locked room. Because of Sabbath rules, the body of Jesus was quickly entombed and the expected rituals of anointing could not be performed until after the Sabbath day. For this reason, at dawn, the group of women who—contrary to cultural norms—had been Christ’s friends and followers, ventured out to fulfill the burial rituals due to a loved one.

 Ordinary women, before sunrise, walking out where both the Roman authorities and their own Jewish community had tortured and executed their innocent friend. Imagine their danger, their vulnerability. Imagine their fear. Imagine their pain and grief.

 Their courage and strength is astonishing. Yet, it is in each one of us. It is generated and fueled by incommensurable love: love embodied in Christ and living in us when we follow His example. Driven by love, the myrrhbearers were first to know that Christ is risen, the first to announce the salvation of the world.

 In this Paschal time, when our world is fraught with division, distrust, and pandemic exhaustion, we can look to the grieving women drawn by love, hurrying towards a tomb in the grey dawn, only to find light, hope, and unfathomable joy.