SOUTH BOUND BROOK, N.J. – Thousands of faithful gathered at the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A., St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church and St. Andrew Cemetery grounds to commemorate the annual St. Thomas Sunday pilgrimage on April 30-May 1 in South Bound Brook, N.J.
A commemorative installation of placards featuring 550 faces of victims of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine were placed on the roadway that leads to St. Andrew Memorial Church. The images showed death and destruction, tortured bodies, tear-streaked faces, terror and anguish. In the middle of each set of images was placed a candle, a candle for 225 children slaughtered by the Russian military since February. The children were the light and the salt of the earth, and were now being remembered by salt votive candles, their flames flickering beneath the open sky.
Metropolitan Antony and Archbishop Daniel solemnly walked by the images of war, destruction and death. As they ascended the steps of the church, they were warmly greeted by the children of the Ukrainian School, dressed in Ukrainian embroidery, who showered them with roses.
Exchanging smiles and hugs with the children, the hierarchs entered the narthex and were greeted by Lesia Siwko and Anna Shewchenko on behalf of the Pokrova Sisterhood, by parish elder Dmytro Kozlyuk and finally by Fr. Yurij Siwko of St. Andrew Memorial Church.
Expressing their gratitude for the kind words and their joy at being with their flock on the joyous St. Thomas Sunday, the hierarchs entered the nave, paused to venerate the myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God (Kardiotissa – “the Softener of Hearts”) before entering the altar.
The choir of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church, under the leadership of Dr. Michael Andrec, prayerfully chanted songs and liturgical responses.
The Gospel reading was from John (20:19-31). The faithful heard the crux of the message that, like Thomas who did not believe until he saw and touched the wounds of the risen Christ, we are also called to not be unbelieving, but believing.
The Very Rev. Yaromyr Mykytyuk, the father of newly ordained Fr. Myroslav, gave a moving sermon on the peace of Christ and the need of peace in Ukraine. War and aggression are not from Christ, and in this Paschal season the clergy reminded their audience of the need to redouble their prayers and efforts at achieving peace in Ukraine and throughout the world.
As the divine liturgy concluded, Archbishop Daniel directed everyone to step outside to participate in a general Panakhyda (memorial service) for the victims of Russia’s latest aggression against Ukraine, the victims of the Holodomor of 1932-1933 and additional genocides in Ukraine’s history, as well as those defenders who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of Ukraine, all the men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, innocent lives lost as a result of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, for the souls of the family and loved ones who had fallen asleep in the Lord, and for all Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
In his remarks prior to the beginning of the memorial service, Archbishop Daniel invited all in attendance to walk in silence through the rows of 550 photos displayed, honoring the innocent lives, yet looking at the photos in order to see and comprehend the evil of the attempted Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The archbishop reminded everyone in attendance that, while the buildings are destroyed throughout Ukraine, the freedom loving spirit of the people of God – of Ukrainians – cannot be destroyed and taken away from them.
Thus, Russians will never conquer Ukraine, no matter how many times they attempt to accomplish their evil plan.
The archbishop spoke of the light of Pascha and how it destroys the darkness of the evil in the world. The bright day of St. Thomas Sunday inspires Ukrainian-Americans – the people of faith, Ukrainian Orthodox faithful – to be stronger in their resolve to help the people of Ukraine fight the force of destruction.
In concluding his remarks, the archbishop said that the UOC-U.S.A. had collected over $1.9 million in humanitarian aid and it is actively being delivered to various communities throughout Ukraine.
Consul General of Ukraine in New York Oleksii Holubov was in attendance and spoke about the consolidation of world-wide efforts to help Ukraine. He expressed his gratitude to the Ukrainian American community for its generous support of the logistical and humanitarian needs of Ukrainians.
Local news and media representatives were present and reported as the hierarchs, followed by the clergy and faithful, came down the steps of the church and processed to the Ukrainian American Veterans National Monument for a short prayer for veterans, before continuing down into Holy Resurrection Mausoleum underneath St. Andrew Memorial Church to hold a panakhyda, and proclaim “Christ is Risen!” at the tomb of Patriarch Mstyslav. Reemerging into the sunlight the group then made its way to the gravesite of Metropolitan John (Theodorovich) of Blessed Memory.
Having prayed for the souls of all those who had reposed in the Lord, the hierarchs returned to the church, as the clergy and faithful spread throughout St. Andrew Cemetery to visit and pray at the graves of parishioners, family and loved ones.
Some people wandered the cemetery to remember those buried there, while others found their way to the Ukrainian Cultural Center to enjoy lunch and to peruse the items that were for sale by local vendors.
Many others congregated in front of St. Andrew Memorial Church and slowly walked among the images and salt lamps, pausing to contemplate the images, to try and fathom the horror being perpetrated against innocent people, to commiserate with the people pictured, to try and understand the incomprehensible murder of innocent people – men, women, the elderly and innocent children. The viewed images of the complete destruction of cities and towns, roads and thoroughfares, schools, hospitals and train stations.
The Consistory Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry hosted an “Ice Cream Social” at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, where young and younger gathered to enjoy a bowl of ice-cream with a variety of sprinkles.
And so, with the words “Christ is Risen!” echoing throughout the Metropolia Center grounds, the faithful of the UOC-U.S.A. prayed for all the living, as well as for all who had already departed, in the knowledge that this fallen world has been conquered by Christ!