Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration


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May we help one another grow in wisdom

September is often seen as the real “new year”: new beginnings for schools, jobs, travel—and of course—it is the new Liturgical year. Every September 14th, we begin afresh the annual cycle of community prayer and celebration.

This year of pandemic, however, the September new year carries a dissonance that is hard to describe: the air of change and adventure for many is fraught with frustrated expectations, uncertainly, disappointment, as well as anxiety and fear. We don’t know what winter brings when a novel virus lurks about. . .

Thankfully, we can know with certainty what the Liturgical year brings, especially in times of crisis; in it we have an anchor to keep us steady throughout life’s storms. The scriptural readings provide guidance, speaking newly to each situation, year after year. Through Church, whether we attend physically or online, we join in communal prayer, so that we feel we belong and indeed comprise Christ’s body. We are reminded of Christ’s teaching so that we gain energy and inspiration to love and be loved, to have compassion, generosity, kindness, to others as well as ourselves. Especially in this time of pandemic, our Faith Tradition is not only the anchor, but a lighthouse too—a beacon illuminating our journey of peace. With all the questions and fears provoked by Covid, we have only to pay heed to the church cycle to know the answers to the issues around us. In all things, what would Christ do? Always—love, forgive, listen, care, share, be patient, be kind.

In this new year may our children, our teachers, our families remain safe; may we help one another to grow in wisdom, as well as knowledge; may we begin a post pandemic year that normalizes environmental consciousness and respect for all humanity.       

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Today we have an opportunity to build something different.

Pope Francis

The world is constantly changing. Not a day passes without hearing of a new invention. People live in an insane routine of consumption and pleasure which appears to have no limits.

But that is just the impression . . .

A small virus has brought vital corrections to our turbulent lives. People have been given an opportunity to pause and think anew about life’s worth. The entire planet has cowered before such a microscopic, yet global threat. For nearly a year now, eminent scholars of the most advanced nations of the world are striving to find a solution to this virus, but unfortunately there is still no effective remedy.

Could it be that the answer is actually much simpler? Yes, it is necessary and extremely important to find a cure for COVID-19, but, possibly, this is precisely the moment for us to look at the root of the problem . . .

Pope Francis suggests that the problem lies in that “We have broken the ties that bind us to the Creator, other people and all creation.” Pope Francis bitterly observes: “We deplete the resources of the planet, squeezing it as if it were an orange.” Already five years ago, in the encyclical “Laudato Si”, he implored humanity to protect our common home. His prescription for saving the person and the world is simple and effective: renew the lost connections to our Creator and praise God through your life in your treatment of your neighbour and all creation. Living in the spirit of “Laudato Si” will help to free us from many modern-day problems and prevent them in the future.

Bureau of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church for Ecology

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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.