The Ukranian Orthodox Church of the USA (Ecumenical Patriarchate) – 27/10/16

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As the sun shone brightly, illuminating the golden leaves on the grounds of the Metropolia Center, the faithful began arriving for the XXIst Regular Sobor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. which ran from October 19-22, 2016.

Wednesday morning began with a Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, surrounded by the clergy of our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who had arrived for the Clergy Conference which preceded the commencement of the Sobor that afternoon. It was moving to see the St. Andrew Memorial Church filled from wall to wall with clergy. The priests’ prayers were enhanced by the angelic voices of the Seminarians from St. Sophia Theological Seminary.

While the clergy met at the Consistory Cultural Center, the arriving delegates registered and received their Sobor materials, others took the opportunity to view many of the exhibits which were set up in the foyer of the Center. Represented were the St. Andrew Society, the Ukrainian Orthodox League, the UOC Youth Ministry, All Saints Camp, etc. These displays served to strengthen and encourage the visiting delegates before the meetings even began, by showing them that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is active not only at the Consistory, but, in the parishes, in the local communities, and across the ocean to Ukraine and beyond.

The 21st Regular Sobor began at the Consistory Rotunda, where the delegates, clergy and hierarchs gathered in anticipation of the opening procession. The Church is the Body of Christ, and is composed of those who have chosen to follow Christ and been baptized in to the Church. God is glorified through His Saints – regular people, who were faced with extraordinary circumstances, and had chosen to give of themselves, even onto their very lives, to follow Christ. These same saints, which intercede for us, pray for us, and strengthen us, this year, led the way to the commencement of one of the most highly anticipated and life changing Sobors.

V. Rev. Bazyl Zawierucha and V. Rev. Stephen Hutnick where privileged to carry the reliquary which contained the relics of 48 saints, including St. John Chrysostom, St. Antony the Great, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Olha (Equal to the Apostles), St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Volodymyr the Great (Equal to the Apostles). With Saints leading the way, the clergy fell in line behind them, followed by the delegates. Watching over the flock, and following them to the Cultural Center were our hierarchs present for the Sobor – His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Metropolitan & Prime Hierarch of UOC of the USA and Diaspora, His Eminence Metropolitan Yurij, Metropolitan of Canada and Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, His Eminence Archbishop Jeremiah, Ruling Hierarch of the Eparchy of South America and His Grace Bishop Daniel, Ruling hierarch of the Western Eparchy and President of the Consistory of the UOC of USA.

Once the opening prayer, ceremonies and the appointment of the presidium the Sobor Delegates began a very intensive agenda. Metropolitan Antony presented the formal greeting from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I:

To His Excellency Metropolitan Antony of Hierapolis, First Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, our beloved brother and concelebrant in the Holy Spirit, and to the dear Christ-loving clergy and laity, sons and daughters of the Mother Church of Constantinople: Grace be to you and Peace from God.

It is with great joy and paternal affection that we greet all the participants of the 21st Regular Sobor of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America, taking place in the Metropolia Center from October 19-22, 2016, with the scope of evaluating a Strategic Plan for Church activity over the next five years. For this God-pleasing desire and endeavor, we offer our wholehearted congratulations as well as our prayers for faithful deliberations and for a successful conclusion, which we hope will rejuvenate a deeper love and longing for Christ and His Holy Church.

In our present day, where indeed we see an “increase of wickedness” and secularization as our Lord foretold, we also see that the love of many has grown cold. It is within this context that we are all called to become ambassadors of Christ’s salvific message of love, firstly by re-evangelizing ourselves, and in an honest and humble manner reevaluating what we perceive to be love for God and neighbor. The criterion to love in our day many times is based on sentimentalism; however, true love is something divine and eternal. A contemporary saint of our Church said: “Love for Christ overflows into love for one’s neighbor, love for truth, love for holiness, for the world, for purity, for everything divine, for everything deathless and eternal. All these forms of love are natural manifestations of love for Christ.”

When our struggles and our intentions for the collective benefit of our Church are fueled purely by divine love for Christ, then we can remain assured that we shall reap the benefits of this love, both personally and collectively. For, “true love for man comes from the love for God, and love for God grows in accordance with the keeping of His commandments.” Therefore, our beloved, as you gather to contemplate ways of spiritual and administrative growth, we encourage you in all you do to keep this standard of love in your hearts. Love for God and neighbor grows in accordance with keeping His commandments – for true love springs forth from LOVE itself – that is, from Christ. Learn to abide in Him so that you may learn to love even more, in order that you may with faith, love and the fear of God, truly draw near to Him ad to each other.

With these words of encouragement, we express once again our unending love for you and our desire for your continued spiritual growth and success.

Your Excellency’s beloved brother in Christ, BARTHOLOMEW, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.

Metropolitan Yurij greeted the Sobor body and expressed his great honor at being present once again at the Sobor of the UOC of USA. He confirmed the strong bonds between the Church in Canada and the U.S.A. and about how well the two Churches often work together, supporting one another in a common goal of growing Christ’s Church. He mentioned that this is a critical time in the world, with much discord and disagreement and we, as Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, are called to overcome these issues. We are all called to work towards our salvation, to fix historical errors that have overtaken our homeland of Ukraine, which declared independence over 25 years ago and is still struggling for that independence to be unassailable. We must work towards not only an independent nation, but, an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church within Ukraine.

The delegates also heard the greeting of His Eminence Archbishop Jeremiah, who thanked Metropolitan Antony for his continuous, generous and loving support of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A’s eparchy in South America. He expressed heartfelt greetings on behalf of all the faithful of South America and assured those gathered that they will be his prayers for a successful Sobor, from which many good things will come.

When Metropolitan Antony came up to speak, he compared the new path of the Church, the new Strategic Plan to be discussed to a “renovation”. The following is not the full text of His Eminence’s talk, but the recollection of one who tried to listen attentively:

There was once a church, which was renovated. The faithful collected funds to touch up the icons, replace the carpeting, paint the walls, and make the church building look brand new. However, his question to the parish members was whether or not all that effort make a great difference towards the salvation of the faithful? The word renovation has two definitions. The first, to restore to an earlier condition by repairing or remodeling. The second, is to impart new vigor and to revive. The Metropolitan informed the Sobor body that two years ago a new and exciting process in our Church began. To those involved it was an extremely rewarding process. While over 200 individuals were invited to join this monumental effort, 65 of these and some other volunteers responded positively and came, at their own expense to help in any way they could to revitalize our Church. Just like the 70 Christ sent out in to the world as Apostles to preach the salvation of Christ, so, these initial 70 were just the beginning. The Strategic Plan is a plan for renovation/revitalization, to not only restore our Church to an earlier condition, but to inspire all our faithful to new commitment in her mission of saving souls.

Our once vibrant Church has suffered from the secularism of our world. We have lost too many of our youth for various reasons, which are not just due to outside influences and societal changes, but, because of how we practice our Faith. How we behave in our parishes and how we treat each other impact how our children view our Faith. Our behavior – in any manner – has consequences in the lives of others. We need to impart a new vigor in to the life of our Church through revival in our individual and collective lives.

Renovating and revitalizing our church is meaningless if God is not a part of it. If we fail to allow God to renovate and revive us, then neither the present Strategic Plan nor any other type of “plan” can possibly be successful. We received the fullness of the Holy Spirit at our Chrismation, and the Grace imparted to us at that time will always bless our work, assist us in not only adopting a plan, but, in renovating our spiritual lives, restoring us to the passion of our true calling, which is to work towards the salvation of our souls.

Theosis is the goal of every Orthodox Christian soul. In every relationship, with anyone or anything, we should not let anything distract us. We must become one with God, and all else in our lives will be healed and strengthened. We must see others as being of more worth and more important in reality, than we are. Just as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ viewed us all while voluntarily ascending the Cross for our salvation. The key to surviving in this broken world is not how much we worry, but, how much we trust in God.

We need to put that trust in to action and do that which is possible, leaving the impossible for God to take care of. Today, we need to begin the demolition of our past, and start anew with improved vigor and trust in the Lord, Who is not detached from us, but rather is one with us through our reception of His Body and Blood at the Eucharist and He loves us and works in and through us.

We are called to build up the Church, to work towards our salvation and of those around us. The Early Church fairly throbbed with that understanding, as the faithful shook with excitement. They entered the worship experience to be filled and recharged, and they exited that experience full of zeal with the comprehension they were an important part of the mission of saving souls and convincing the world that Jesus Christ offers salvation to all.

Metropolitan Antony asked us to observe others around us, whose lives touch ours. – to look at their faces, listen to their voices, and note their expressions. Do they smile at each other, do they embrace, are they filled to overflowing with the love of Christ and walking out of the church building with a mission to spread love and joy to the world? What does the outside see when he looks at the faithful leaving our parishes after a worship experience? Would he wish to be a part of what they see? It is our God given duty to help people find peace, wholeness, purpose and joy. This should not be such a difficult concept to grasp, for this is what we are made for.