Saturday’s clouds and rain had washed the world clean, leaving heavy drops of rain clinging to the tree branches, sparkling in the sunlight. The sparkle just added to the already joyous atmosphere as the parishioners of the Protection of the Mother of God Cathedral in Southfield, Michigan, gathered on the steps of their church, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their much-loved hierarch, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel.
As the youth representing the Junior Ukrainian Orthodox League and ODUM stood with flowers awaiting their turn to share a few words with His Eminence, the youngest children, including those who were having their First Holy Confession heard this, led His Eminence to the church, strewing rose petals before him.
As His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, rounded the corner, accompanied by seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary – Subdeacons Mykola Zomchak, Ihor Protsak, Yurii Bobko and Ivan Venhryn, the gathered crowd began to stir, breaking out in smiles and joyous laughter.
Greeting His Eminence from the St. Olga Sisterhood was Ruslana Zogaiko, followed by parish board president Olga Liskiwskij. Parish pastor Very Rev. Paul Bodnarchuk expressed his delight at the hierarchs visit. Taking the offered cross Vladyka blessed the crowd, then sprinkled Fr. Paul with holy water, giving a foretaste of what was to come today.
As Archbishop Daniel ascended the steps to the church, he was greeted by Lily Powers from the JrUOL, and Milya Smyk from ODUM. Accepting the beautiful flowers they offered to him, he hugged each one and then entered the church and ascended the kathedra (riser) placed in the middle of the Nave, where he vested.
As the young students of the Lesiya Ukrainka School of Religion and Ukrainian studies filed in beside him, the subdeacons assisted His Eminence with vesting. The children watched in amazement as Vladyka Daniel was transformed before their very eyes. The young children had been prepared for the visit of their hierarch and were well versed on the symbolism associated with the vesting, which represents the “putting on of Christ.” Archbishop Daniel stood in the midst of the faithful, reminding us that “where the bishop is, there is the Church.” The vesting began with the white robe (Stikhar) which symbolizes the clean white baptismal garment, followed by the Epitrakhil, which symbolizes God’s Grace poured out to ordain him, followed by the belt which represents the strength of God and protection from on High. Once the belt was wound about him, the cuffs were tied on, followed by the Sakkos (a wide seamless garment, fastened by bells, representing the seamless garment of Christ, whose priesthood the bishop is a successor of through the Apostles). Next the subdeacons hung the Epigonation (a diamond shaped cloth) which symbolizes the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” giving the hierarch authority to go forth and guided by the Hand of God, uphold the truth with humility and justice. Next, the Archbishop was covered with the Omophor, which represents the lost lamb which Christ, the Good Shepherd, did not abandon, but, went in search of and finding it brought it back to the flock, gently draped across His shoulders. The vesting concluded with Vladyka putting on his pectoral Cross, followed by the Panagia, and finally by placing the Mitre upon his head.
Fr. Paul, the subdeacons, and altar servers all retreated in to the Altar leaving His Eminence alone for the time-being on the riser. However, he was not alone for long, as one by one the children who had gotten to know and love their hierarch the day before as he visited them and spent quality time with them, approached him and quietly sat down at his feet.
There, in the middle of the crowded nave, stood the shepherd, the found lamb upon his shoulders, surrounded by the youngest lambs of his flock, who trustingly and happily sat at his feet.
As the children sat down and audible “aww!” was heard throughout the nave as women and men were moved by the simple gesture of the youngest and most innocent souls. If only we all trusted and believed as they do.
As the Divine Liturgy continued the children held candles as His Eminence read the day’s Gospel Reading about the entrance of the Lord in to Jerusalem (John 12:1-18), after which he gave yet another thoughtful and soul-searching sermon:
"…The Gospel crowd was enthusiastic. They waved palms, cried Hosanna, and hailed the Messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem. As the prophet Zechariah had foretold in the ninth chapter of his Book, the Savior came meek, riding on a donkey. That is why when we bless palms (or willows) we HOLD them in our hands, pointing out to the person we praise and glorify – towards the altar – the symbol of Christ’s presence in this sacred temple!
The world was being turned upside down. The time of the Messiah was here. But he was a very different type of Messiah.
Today’s liturgical celebration contains a huge contrast.We begin this morning with the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. WE join this morning with the crowd in proclaiming “Hosanna!” We follow our traditions and exclaim “Glory, Praise and Honor”, just the way it was done during the old Roman times, welcoming victorious military leader, following a successfully concluded battle….
Jesus with triumph entered the city in a humble way, on a donkey. But he was not a military leader… A few days later - He would be forced out of the city in an even lower way, carrying a cross.
Suddenly, later in the evening tonight, the mood changes. The clergy will change their bright colors to a solid black. We shall hear the readings of the suffering servant.
Way too often we e are tempted to consider Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, but ignore His exit from the city. It is SO easy to join in the joyful celebrations of our faith…
…We go to Church on Christmas and Easter and leave full of warmth. We go to confession or receive communion and feel His love within us. We present our children for baptism, communion and confirmation, and overflow with love for them and the God who calls them to Himself. We attend a retreat or conference and have a deep experience of the Lord’s presence. And so we say, “Isn’t it great to be a Christian? An Orthodox Christian?”In these and many other ways we join the crowd welcoming the Messiah into our city, into our lives.
Then we realize that the palms are followed by the passion.And the joy of experiencing the Presence of the Lord is followed by His demand to join Him in the journey of sacrificial love, in the journey up to Golgotha.
And this is difficult, at times even overwhelming. We know that we are called to stand apart from the immoral aspects of society.
We know that we are called to be holy. But we are continually drawn in to join those who don’t for a second care about God. Certainly they see no relationship between their actions and their own Creator. They are the vocal majority. They host the best parties with all the worst elements. They confuse freedom with recklessness and extravagance. They tell us to abort the childand join the party.
They laugh at our decision to care for a special needs child. “Look at all you are missing,” they say. And we can be overwhelmed by our decision to choose the Lord rather than go along with the crowd.
But then we look at the cross. And we say, “Look at what you all are missing,” We see how much our God loves us.
We shout out, “It is good for us to be here,”not on the Mountain of the Transfiguration, but on the Mountain of Calvary - Golgotha.
And YES, today we experience the joy of following Him, following Him not just in the triumph of the palms, but also in the triumph of the cross. We walk away from the immoral crowd and walk with Jesus. He draws us to Himself, to His cross. And in this way He frees us from enslavement to sin.
This Sunday appears to be about two events, the entrance with palms into Jerusalem and the exit with a cross to Golgotha.
But it is really about one event: the call to follow the Lord wherever He leads us in joy and in sorrow.
May our celebration of Holy Week and Pascha/Easter lead us to a deeper personal experience of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection."
Vladyka charged us this week to be the harbingers of change. To be the light in the darkness. To be the bringer of peace. He asked us to be patient, not get aggravated by someone cutting us off in traffic, hold our tongue when we are upset, and instead of saying something hurtful in retaliation or out of annoyance with our spouse, to simply let the moment of anger pass unnoticed, in silence. He asked us to nurture peace and tranquility in our own lives, for until we have ourselves under control, we will not be of benefit to anyone. Be the change. Be the Church. Be the light in the darkness.
With those stirring words, His Eminence walked back in to the Altar and fervently prayed for the health and well-being of the His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, for all the clergy, monastics, faithful, the government officials, armed forces, and those injured and killed in multiple blasts in Sri Lanka this morning.
As Archbishop Daniel continued to pray, Fr. Paul Bodnarchuk was busy hearing the confessions of three young children, who this day partook of the Holy Sacrament of Confession for the first time. All dressed in white the children stood like angels before the icon of the Nativity, with the Mother of God bathed in various hues from the stained-glass windows gazing peacefully down upon them.
It took almost a half an hour for the hundreds of faithful in line to partake of Holy Communion, after which they felt the joy of Christ permeating every cell of their being, and joyously began to wave their pussy willow branches in anticipation of the coming blessing.
His Eminence read the prayers standing on the riser in the midst of his flock which filled the nave to capacity, before taking up the aspergillum (the whisk like mini-broom) and blessing the pussy willows and those holding them. To say he “sprinkled” them with holy water, would be an understatement. His Eminence made certain that those standing near and far were well blessed with the water. As joy and peals of laughter filled the nave, Vladyka Daniel walked around showering blessings left and right and over.
With pussy willows waving in the air and water dripping down their faces and backs, the faithful overflowed with happiness as they made their way down to the parish hall to share a delicious meal with their hierarch prepared by the St. Olga’s sisterhood, who also sponsored a raffle with proceeds going to the orphanages in Ukraine.
Conversation was lively over borsch, varenyky, fish, salad and sweets. Once their appetites for nourishment was satiated, they now wished to satiate their curiosity about the granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. His Eminence Archbishop Daniel had them spellbound as he described the proceedings, all the nuances, and the resultant decisions and actions. People took turns to view a copy of the Tomos, which His Eminence brought with him and displayed on a table, along with various items from the Autocephaly process, including a newly minted commemorative coin.
As the afternoon continued, the parish presented Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak with a check to help defer the cost of his participation in the UOC of USA Mission Trip to Ukraine. Joining him this summer will be a young man from the parish, Andy Powers, who took the microphone and thanked those gathered for their support in previous years.
Concluding the evening was the announcement of the winners of the raffle, which resulted in a donation of $600 to His Eminence for the orphanages in Ukraine.
Tired, but, overflowing with emotion, slowly the faithful began departing for their homes. However, His Eminence’s work was not yet completed.
On Lazarus Saturday, in anticipation of Palm Sunday and the people eagerly awaiting the arrival of Christ to Jerusalem, His Eminence had preached a moving sermon, asking why we stand and happily await His arrival? Why do we not go and meet Him on the way? He suggested that everyone not merely come to church looking for Christ, but, that they go out in to the streets of their cities and meet Him there.
There is no better way to teach than by example. Therefore, as the people were leaving, Vladyka Daniel and the seminarians got busy filling backpacks with items that would be of benefit to homeless individuals. These items included the bare essentials such as undergarments, socks, wipes, chapstick, bandages, hand warmers, Kleenex, scarves, blankets and protein bars.
With the bags filled, the Seminary van traveled down the famous Detroit “8 Mile” to the Woodward bridge and the homeless that seek shelter beneath it. Archbishop Daniel and the seminarians poured out of the van and went to meet the homeless veteran, William, who was so pleased to see them. Next came up Alexander, followed by Kevin who stated all he really needs is prayer. With Sparky, their guard dog barking in the background, the homeless were overjoyed to spend a few precious moments with a bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. While they often get a few dollars tossed their way, or a bag of food (preparation of which was coordinated by Elizabeth Symonenko) handed out a window, it is rare that anyone actually stops and makes “contact” with them, looks them in the eye, shakes their hands, hugs them. They appreciated the physical touch, which touched more than their skin, but, their hearts and souls.
Before leaving them, Archbishop Daniel gifted each man a small icon of a Guardian Angel with the intention that the angels keep them safe from harm. With final hugs and well-wishes, the van pulled away, with the homeless watching, smiling and waving, still amazed that an actual bishop took the time to meet them.
His Eminence’s actions not only touched the homeless, but, everyone who drove by and witnessed his selflessness. This day the darkness of poverty, hopelessness, and desperation was dispelled by the Light of Christ which shown through His emissary, Archbishop Daniel.
May we all emulate Christ, following the example of our hierarch and live as he teaches us to “not only go to church, but, be the Church”.
Text by Elizabeth Symonenko
Photos by Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak and Elizabeth Symonenko