Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration


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The first among the saints: the Most Holy Mother of God

Our cultural church traditions are replete with symbolic significance that reinforce profound theological truths. Sometimes we may feel the meaning of a ritual without being able to express why or how. When we can take time to reflect on a given tradition, it can speak to us in fresh ways. Although there is no biblical account of the Dormition, this feast day dates back to the earliest church communities in the first century.  The Eastern Church Fathers recount several stories describing the death of Mary as it is depicted in the icon. We say her death is a “falling asleep” to this world, only to wake in God’s embrace. There is a story of her body vanishing from the tomb, replaced by fragrant flowers.  By blessing flowers and herbs on this day, we, in our tradition, honour the mystery of cycles of death and life. We honour the sacred beauty of nature, it’s power to bring healing. When we recognize God in creation, our Tradition demands a deep respect for nature, that expects us to care for the environment and for humanity—because it is sacred.

  Sometimes our church practices, may, on the surface, appear quaint, or antiquated; however, when we seriously think about them, they carry great responsibility. The pandemic has raised awareness of so much divisiveness amongst people, so much fear of otherness. It has uncovered our society’s gross neglect of those who need care: the elderly, impoverished, disabled. It has illustrated the acceleration of the climate crisis. We who celebrate Christ among us, and recognize the fruits of the earth as blessed, are called to experience a dying and rising to new life. We die to our greed, our fear of being different, our impulse to hate, in order to be reborn in love and generosity. This is not easy; it requires effort and commitment. We need each other’s support to care for others. Just as the apostles surround the body of Mary as Christ holds her soul, so too we surround each other so that our souls will live in Christ.     

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Speaking for justice

Our Ukrainian Church has long been the voice crying in the wilderness for JUSTICE. 120 years ago Andrei Sheptytsky was appointed Metropolitan of Halych and so, the head of our Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. For decades he spoke out against injustice calling for freedom from oppression for his people, appealing for a reconciliation between Poles and Ukrainians, defending and saving many, many Jews from Nazi extermination and teaching us all what it means to defend the dignity of every human being–every Child of God. If we are to live his legacy and even more importantly live the Gospel we cannot be silent in the face of oppression and discrimination in our day. An inter-generational group of Ukrainians in North America have launched an antiracist initiative. Please take a look at their website and consider offering them your support: UKRAINIAN ANTIRACIST COMMUNITY.

Also take a look at the St. Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship.


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Presence in absence

This week, Ascension Thursday marks the end of the Paschal Cycle for the year. It is odd, because we’ve not sung “Chrystos Voskres” in church together this year, yet from Thursday we return to the greeting “Glory to Jesus Christ.”

Time does not stop for pandemics!

During the month of May, we’ve been highlighting icons of the Mother of God for our prayer and meditation. Iconography has been established as a form of visual theology in our Orthodox Tradition, in order to emphasize the sacredness of created matter; because of Christ’s humanity, God could be evoked through the representations of life and sacred history on materials of the earth (wood, natural paints, etc.) The style is symbolic to speak to us simultaneously of the combined reality of human and divine in Christ. For some periods in history, icons argued, as it were, for Christ’s genuine humanity, when many doubted that Christ could have been an ordinary person.

But it may be that, for the disciples, the most difficult notion would be that their friend, who discussed issues of the day, ate, drank wine, attended weddings, was God.

Extraordinary as He was, how could He be God?

When reflecting on the ascension, we can imagine how this event might have helped the followers of the man Jesus, to fully recognize His unity with God—God—the one God of all creation; the God of Abraham, David and all the Hebrew texts.

Paradoxically, Christ’s ascension—that physical departure—marked the understanding of God’s presence in us and in all creation. The teachings of the man could become the life force of His followers, including us. Every being has God within them, but we decide to acknowledge this presence or not. When we open ourselves to love in the generosity of Christ, we take part in the Trinity: the community of Love.

That’s why our church communities are so important. We come together to celebrate God in us and among us. Yet God is present in all caring and loving actions, thoughts, and prayers. Through Christ and the scriptures we know that ‘God with us’ does not give us control over life, nor does it mean that we will not suffer or die. God did not create the pandemic and God does not make it disappear. Embracing God in us means that we are never alone in these times of strife. With God we can find strength and peace in any circumstances.

And so, as our economy restarts, despite the continuing dangers of the pandemic, let’s remember that every person’s “care”, whether they isolate, respect social distancing, or work on the front lines, every action of caring is an embrace of Christ. Keeping our places of worship closed is how we demonstrate our care for our human community. At this time, opening our churches would endanger our people and our society. Our parish family can stay together apart and in prayer join the tide of love that reaches out to all people and the environment we inhabit.

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Mother’s Day

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

To our sisters in UCWLC, to all our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and Godmothers too. A Mother’s Day Thank you. Thank you for your example of compassion, courage, caring. Thank you for daring to don the role of caring, even when our modern world praises economic success and wealth above all; even when a feminine role is still questioned as somehow subordinate, equated with domesticity.

Mother’s day is promoted commercially as the day to thank mothers with gifts, flowers, brunch. But I want Mother’s day to be everyday—but not for the brunch (although that might be nice too)! What if every day, every individual recognized the mother’s love he or she carries inside? What if every one of us honoured the Mother of God as an example for us to give birth to the incarnation of love?

My mother died 27 years ago and yet not a day goes by for me without her.

Every human being, including Christ, has been nurtured and loved by a mother. Every human being has a mother in their being. Let’s show it. Let’s acknowledge mothers as those whose gentleness and tears are the powerhouses that drive resistance to oppression, that lay foundations of peace, that oppose the despair of poverty. Let’s remember the movements for justice driven by mothers, by women, in countries all over the planet. Women have banded together to resist tyranny through protest, prayer, through providing food and sustenance. I think of Ukraine, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina. . . the list is endless. Mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, godmothers too; women continue to nurture the world with a leadership that does not turn to violence as the first option. I want to celebrate mothers as examples of strength and courage; because, it takes profound strength and courage to love unconditionally, to love generously, to care for others.

Let’s thank the women of our community for their generous nurturing, leadership, and support of our Church and our parish, for their presence, for their organizing, for the coffee and praznyky and the beauty of our prayers.

Let’s thank our own mothers inside each one of us—by ourselves determining to give birth to more love in the world.

Happy Mother’s Day!