Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration


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PYLYPIVKA (Advent): our road to the Nativity

This past Thursday we entered into a new phase of our liturgical year: Pylypivka, the pre-Christmas fast. Often people associate this fast with the difficulties faced by the Holy Family during their journey to Bethlehem. This is a nice symbolic explanation, but it denies the important liturgical roots of the season. Pylypivka prepares us for a major feastday (just as Great Lent prepares us for Easter). All fasts provide the opportunity to prepare ourselves to accordingly celebrate a feastday. Preparation is important and can take many forms. It is not simply about not eating meat on certain days! Fasts are meant to be periods of reflection, restraint, and good works. They are an extension of our common liturgical prayer, because “liturgy” means the work of the people (that expresses our faith).

Good samaritan

I think we should all be very proud of our common efforts in the parish: our community prayer, sharing over coffee, work in the kitchen, project SMILE, the shipment of winter wear to the Donetsk Exarchate, etc. But each of us can live this fast in our daily lives: perhaps more self control in our conversations, more kindness to those around us, more care in our use of natural resources (for example water or electricity), more intentional spending by buying what we need, not simply what we want. This fast can help us to live out our Christian vocation more consciously.

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November 21: Feast of Archangel St. Michael, patron of Kyiv

The beginning of the Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan in Kyiv

St. Michael's Kyiv

November 21 has long been an important date on the calendar for Ukrainians, but since 2013 it has taken on additional significance. On the evening of the 21st in 2013 over a thousand people began a protest in the central square in Kyiv, condemning the decision of the Yanukovych government to back away from an earlier decision to enter into an Association Agreement with the European Union. This government’s rejection of Europe, back into the arms of Russia, was widely condemned in Ukraine, but particularly by university students who took to the streets. No one expected the first protest to swell into a massive revolution of historic proportions. In a violent attempt to scatter the protesters, the authorities brutally attacked in the night of Dec. 10-11. In support of the protestors the bells of St. Michael’s Cathedral sounded, waking the citizens of Kyiv, and calling them to the Maidan. In response thousands came in support and joined the student demonstrators! A few weeks earlier the monks of St. Michael’s had opened their door to demonstrators offering them food and a place to sleep, but on that December night their care and hospitality took on new meaning: in the middle ages the bells of St. Michael’s had rung to warn Kyivites of oncoming attacks by Tatars – now they rang announcing the need to rise up and claim their rights as free citizens in a free Ukraine!

St. Michael’s patronage over Kyiv could not be clearer!




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The former head of our Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, the blessed metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky died on November 1, 1944 due to complications from the flu. On Nov. 5th he was buried in the underground crypt of St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv. On the eve of his passing, on Oct. 31st he spoke these words to those gathered around him:

“Our Church will be destroyed, devastated by the Bolsheviks. But stand firm, do not desert the faith, the Holy Catholic Church. The terrible experience which will befall our church will be temporary. I see the resurrection of our Church. The Church will be more beautiful, more glorious than before and she will embrace our whole nation. Ukraine will free itself from its fall and will become a strong state, united, great and will become an equal of other highly developed and civilized countries of the world. Peace, prosperity, good fortune, high culture, mutual love and concord will reign in Ukraine.”

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Baptized and Sent

Very appropriately for us in Canada, today is World Mission Sunday. Pope Francis has provided the theme: Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World. As faith filled Christians we are all responsible for living Christ’s Gospel in the world. The Pope says: “ This missionary mandate touches us personally: I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission.” Tomorrow, election day, we have an opportunity to express, through our vote, our commitment to bring Christ to the world. As Christians our faith compels us to live our lives actively engaged with others, our community, our society. Canada has not escaped the growing wave, globally, of intolerance and protectionism, that scapegoats the vulnerable and disregards truth. We are inundated with messaging assuring us that we need less taxes and more dollars in our pockets. It’s increasingly hard to sift through mudslinging, rhetoric, and outright falsehood to be able to make a wise discerning choice.

Happily we have our faith community to keep us grounded.

We vote for good leadership for our collective—for our communities of people. As we’ve seen with the idea of Ubuntu: “I am, because we are.” And so we can remember that without taxes we cannot have healthcare and social services and public education and parks and all the aspects of Canada that make it such a good place to be. How often have we watched politicians, who say they value life, cut back services that support the single mothers who struggle with their children? As we vote let’s think of our theology of icons that reminds us we are, and all creation is, transformed through God’s humanity in Christ. Who of our candidates will honestly act to preserve our environment, to respect all people, not just income generators?

As we cast our vote, let’s remember that Christ was born homeless, in poverty, displaced. Who of our candidates will support and welcome immigrants and refugees?

It is a privilege and responsibility to vote.

May we cast our ballots with care, pride, and love for all humanity.

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Pope Francis: on being a missionary people

On numerous occasions Pope Francis has underscored our need to see ourselves as a missionary people. But perhaps not as we have understood in the past. In three instances this week he spoke of his understanding of mission in our world today. In his letter to the heads of Europe’s Bishops’ Conferences he wrote that mission is not proselytism (forcing conversion), but rather it is about witnessing our faith in love.

The Pope has declared October a month for re-invigorating our sense of mission as a Church. Significantly in the process he has done two things focussed on this theme and with a Canadian connection. The Pope unveiled a new statue in St. Peter’s Square: the “Angels Unaware” is a life-size bronze and clay statue created by St. Jacobs based, Timothy Schmalz. Inspired by the passage from Hebrews (13:2): “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”, it images Francis’ commitment to supporting migrants and refugees regardless of where they are from and where they are journeying.

As another sign of the Pope’s desire that we all recognize our call to live God’s love by being with the marginalized and disenfranchised, on October 5 he made Fr. Michael Czerny, a Canadian Jesuit, a Cardinal. Fr. Czerny has worked tirelessly with and for the poor in Latin America and Africa. He was the co-founder of the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice. Most recently he has led various initiatives in support of migrants and refugees. He will immediately serve as one of the Special Secretaries for the Special Assembly on the Amazon which begins Oct. 6 in Rome. Fr. Czerny’s appointment is particularly historic since he was not a bishop when appointed!

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Caring for the planet is not an option, it is a necessity!

Perhaps we have considered the climate an issue beyond our personal control, understanding, or interest—but our Faith teaches us that God is present in all creation. A Christian responds with love and gratitude to the created world. Patriarch Sviatoslav and Pope Francis are insistent voices among the leaders of all major world religions, urging us to mobilize in action to save our Earth from environmental disaster.

Ignoring our climate crisis cannot be an option for us.

Globally, young people, children, are articulating their frustration with governments that value immediate profit over a sustainable future. Pope Francis has pointed out that youth are not our tomorrow, they are today; they are here and now. We can look to them to recognize that our present lifestyles of “success” will rob their adulthood of clean air and water, the constituents of life itself. Amnesty International has identified the climate crisis as “the greatest human rights challenge of our time. It impacts the right to life, health, food, water, housing, livelihood, security and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Climate change disproportionately affects those who are already vulnerable, disadvantaged or facing discrimination.”

As we know in our parish, together we can make a difference. We can make the world a better place.

The election campaigns are in full swing: who, beyond rhetoric, will respect efforts to fight climate change? Let’s join our Church leaders and youth in taking climate change seriously.

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Live by the Spirit

In St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians he calls us all to “live by the Spirit, . . . keep in step with the Spirit.” (5:25) I think we so underestimate the meaning of these words: “live by the Spirit”. It certainly does not mean that we are perfect, but it speaks to our immense giftedness and so an unimaginable capacity to do the good: to be gentle with one another, to be present for one another, to recognize that we can be instruments of God’s presence in the world. But it does require effort on our part. Not the effort of “doing things”, but before that the effort of “being” a certain way. Pope Francis once reminded us that we are not called simply to be “social workers”, rather we are called to be witnesses of God’s presence in our lives and the life of the world. By doing so, we change the world for the better. This past week’s readings offered us two images for followers of Christ: a tiny seed that falls on good ground, and a mustard seed. Both images speak to our life in the Spirit. No single seed achieves monumental things. But each seed brings forth fruit, each seed becomes part of something greater, every seed by being what it is, is a blessing! So too each of us, called to live in the Spirit, to nurture a relationship with Christ in the Holy Spirit become a wonderful seed. We open ourselves to God’s Word, we inhale the Spirit, we partake of the Eucharist, we grow to truly be who we are meant to be: God’s image and likeness for the world!

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New Martyrs of Ukraine

In our faith tradition, we, each one of us, are called to be saints. Sure. We’ve heard this before: icons of Christ, manifesting Trinity, revealing God to each other through how we choose to live our lives. In the same way we are called to be martyrs; the hymn of the Holy Martyrs is sung during our sacrament of marriage while the new couple is led around the tetrapod, symbolically led by Christ through their united life. This mention of martyrdom in marriage often elicits chuckles; because fortunately, in Canada, we do not worry about Christian persecutions and sainthood (normally) does not appear on our daily agenda. But the saint, deriving from the Latin word for holy, and martyr, from the Latin for witness, is someone who truly embodies and models Christ for us and inspires us to do the same. That is why we honour saints throughout the Church year.

downloadThis initial period after Pentecost is dedicated to Ukrainian holy witnesses of Christ. Likely the mention of saints and Ukraine conjures an image of Volodymyr and Olha, the 10th-11th c royalty, who brought the Christian faith to Ukraine from Byzantium: familiar, yes, but not exactly the people next door. Since that Period of Princes, 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. June 27th commemorated the New Martyrs of Ukraine.

As Western Europe and North America celebrated the end of the Second World War, Ukrainian and Eastern Europe suffered a renewed onslaught of vicious religious persecution by the Soviet regime. Priests, monastics, lay people, children were hunted, murdered, tortured, and starved in prisons and Siberian camps.

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 hope, continuing to be kind, loving, generous. We look to these individuals and see God.

Let’s remember them. Let’s honour them and join our prayers and lives to theirs. Let’s follow their example and live as saints and martyrs in our own ordinary lives so that we may actively build a world that opposes evil and persecution of others.