Pilgrimage in Ukraine (1999)

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage in Ukraine
16-31 August, 1999
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 1999/2000]

The Canadian pilgrims (from several parts of the country) arrived in Lviv, Ukraine on 17 August, 1999. This small aeroport was still in its early days of receiving international flights. The arrival was taken up with simply settling into the hotel and unpacking.

Ukraine is a land of sharp contrasts, both in its geography and its people. The contrast is found not only in the Carpathian Mountains, the steppe, the great rivers, the woods, the open land. It is also found in the people : the very rich, and the very poor, the very believing, and the unbelieving. It is so within the Church’s life also.

In places like Chernivtsi (Bukovina) and Kyiv, bishops live in normal circumstances – for them. However, where there is strong pressure against the Orthodox Church, it is different. The Archbishop of Lviv, Avgustin, is forced to live completely in his office (as he has done for 6 years so far, and he is not permitted to build any Temples in the city. He and his people everywhere in his diocese must build new Temples with their meagre resources because they have been expelled from the existing ones. This is the case also in Ternopil. There, Archbishop Sergei lives in a small house in a hamlet on the outskirts of the city. He and the believers had been expelled from 2 other church-buildings. This has been possible because, since communist days, all such lands have been owned by the government (even the whole territory of the Kyiv Caves Monastery). In Ternopil, after many delays, permission was eventually granted to construct a new cathedral and diocesan office-building on territory owned by the Church herself. This construction was enabled to begin and to progress with our help, and that of others. In another case, in Kamenets-Podilsk, Bishop Feodor lives very modestly because it is a newly-created diocese. This happens through the division of a very large diocese into 2 or more dioceses as a part of an effort to make the diocese more manageable pastorally for each bishop.

The canonical Church in Ukraine is striving very hard to minister to the faithful, but there is much difficulty in simply existing. This is the fruit of several schisms in Ukraine, most of which arise from an ultra-nationalistic disposition. There is also the aggressive revival of the Unia in western Ukraine, helped by large infusions of cash and resources from the West. Nevertheless, one can see signs of reconstruction and restoration amongst the Orthodox everywhere. Just as did our own Orthodox Christian pioneers in Canada, people there are putting the Church first. Often, they are building with their own hands for little or no pay. We have such people in Canada today (but not very many).

This pilgrimage took us through much of western Ukraine. It was clearly with God’s blessing, for many good things occurred, despite some obstacles and temptations. The weather was good, and everywhere were bazaars. We travelled in an aged bus, which was not as comfortable as might be, but which kept us from being noticed and disturbed by certain dangerous elements.

On Wednesday, 18 August, we enjoyed a brief visit with Archbishop Avgustin of Lviv, the dynamic leader and shepherd of his flock. He has various responsibilities with the Holy Synod, and he is the head of the military chaplains. Vladyka Avgustin showed us the evidence that he is currently learning to fly a jet (a helmet with an air-hose). He, like many other bishops, encourages his youth, involving them in work close to him.

On Thursday, 19 August, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration in the village of Kolomeya, in Ivano-Frankivsk province. The Temple was only partly built when we last visited 5 years ago, after the clergy and the people had been expelled from other Temples. Now, this Temple has been actively used for more than 2 years, and the total congregation already numbers 20,000. There are 5 priests serving in this community, and the faithful feed the poor daily. The singing was beautiful in Galician chant, sung by 3 choirs. There were more than 4,000 persons attending on this mid-week work day. The blessing of fruit afterwards took more than half an hour. The baskets were on the ground encircling the whole Temple, and they were several rows deep. Present was the Myrrh-streaming Icon of the Theotokos from the monastery in Boian in Bukovina. Part of the parish includes an old wooden Temple, in which myrrh seeps from its walls. People come from all over Ukraine to this holy site, where many are delivered from evil possession.

On Saturday, 21 August, we passed briefly through Yaremche in the Sub-Carpathian mountains, near the source of the River Prut. In local humour, it is the only breakable river, because Prut means “willow”. We passed also through Kosliw on our way to Horodenka.

The following morning, Sunday, 22 August, we drove to Chernivtsi, where we served the Divine Liturgy together with Archbishop Onufry in his cathedral. Afterwards, while the pilgrims in our group went on to see other places, I was taken that day to 2 monasteries : one for men and the other for women.

The next day, Monday, 23 August, we first went to the monastery in Boian, near the Romanian border. The energetic young monks care for 50 orphans. Here again was the Myrrh-streaming Icon of the Theotokos, in her usual residence. I learned that this icon is not a painted icon, but that it is only a decorated print, from which myrrh comes forth from the eyes of both Christ and the Theotokos. Then we visited other monasteries of men and women in the area. These monks and nuns work very hard at building and renewing Christian life.

Tuesday, 24 August, was Ukrainian Independence Day, and we drove to Kamenets-Podilsk to celebrate the name-day of Bishop Feodor in his cathedral. There was again a good attendance for the midweek Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, which was followed by a moleben and a procession. There were also serving with us Archbishop Sergei of Ternopil, Archbishop Avgustin of Lviv, and Archbishop Niphont of Lutsk. Late in the afternoon, I went to Ternopil. Our other pilgrims had already arrived there, although I was employed by Archbishop Sergei on a different programme.

On Wednesday, 25 August, there was an early Divine Liturgy, which was served by our Father Nicolai Nikolaev, at the newly-built (but not yet complete) diocesan headquarters. Afterwards, we were given a tour of the developing cathedral of Saint Sophia and her Three Daughters, in which at present regular services are held in the unfinished basement. The upper Temple urgently needs water-proof cupolas. Because of this, there will soon be a collection taken amongst us, in order to help. This congregation faces very many obstacles and delays. Nevertheless, the construction which we saw has been done in less than 3 years, with much love offered by the people.

During our visit to Kremenets on Thursday, 26 August, we were amazed at the beauty of the restored Temple of the women’s monastery, at the increase in their numbers, and at the extent of the repairs to their quarters. In a part of their newly-returned buildings was formerly an interior domestic Temple which, like so many others, had been used as a social club in soviet times. Already, it has been emptied, and it is being readied for reconstruction. Nearby is a school for cantors, with 100 students who live in primitive, crowded conditions. Sadly, a huge building nearby has been given by civil authorities to schismatics, although they have few students. From there, we drove the 18 km to the Pochaiv Lavra of the Dormition of the Theotokos. There, we met Archimandrite Vladimir, the hard-working abbot of the monastery.

On Friday, 27 August, I attended Matins and Divine Liturgy, which began at 0500 hrs. The Temple was full of pilgrims, many of whom had walked 300 km (and yet others more than that) for the Feast of the Dormition. Afterwards, we met Archbishop Niphont and Father Peter Vlodek who had come by bus from Lutsk with 300 children. The work of the abbot is revealed considerably in the renovations of the lavra, as well as in the cemetery and the skete nearby.
Later that day, in Ternopil, there was a great presentation at a project of Child Care International which gives support to needy children. One project already exists in Ternopil, administered by the daughter of a priest. It is expected that soon there will be one in the village of Holoby, and also in the city of Lviv, administered by the church there. This is an important project for us to consider, and more information will come later. In the evening, I served the Vigil of the Feast of the Dormition for a congregation of nearly a thousand in the Ternopil Cathedral’s basement Temple. We left before the conclusion, and we hurried to catch the train to Kyiv.

Arriving in Kyiv at dawn on Saturday, 28 August, we were quickly taken to the Monastery of the Caves for the Divine Liturgy of the Feast of the Dormition. This Divine Liturgy was served outdoors by Metropolitan Volodymyr, Bishop Paul, Bishop John, me, and many priests and deacons. There was an ordination to every rank of the clergy (except bishop). Before our eyes was the almost half-completed reconstruction of the Dormition Sobor which had been destroyed in World War II. Then followed a procession around the monastery, with Gospel readings and blessing with water. By this time, the congregation well exceeded 10,000. After dinner, Bishop John and I served the Vigil at the Trapeznaya Sobor.

On Sunday, 29 August, I served alone as a bishop in the Trapeznaya Sobor, along with numerous archimandrites and igumens. I was also asked to ordain a deacon (Alexander Tkachuk, from Bukovina). Then in the evening, with Metropolitan Volodymyr and other bishops and clergy, we served the Service of the Burial of the Theotokos. This service is much like the Service for the Burial of Christ. Again, a great throng of believers were in attendance. In the course of things, I also met a young man from Edmonton, Jaroslav Boychuk, who is presently staying in this monastery, with the blessing of Archbishop Mark.

On Monday, 30 August, the other pilgrims travelled around Kyiv, visited various notable sites, and saw other sights of the city. Meanwhile, I was taken to see several newly re-opened monasteries. Some of them are remote on the outer edges of Kyiv. Because of this remoteness, they suffer greater poverty and difficulty (because of few visitors). Nevertheless, the monks and nuns faithfully persevere and struggle, and God blesses their offerings. That evening, we all prepared ourselves for an early departure on Tuesday, 31 August.

It is amazing to see how God distributes gifts according to the needs of the Church. Many are able administrators, such as Archbishop Onufry and Bishop Paul (who have both visited Canada), and like many heads of monastic communities. Others have a more clearly spiritual accent, like Archbishop Sergei and Bishop Feodor, and like other monastic leaders and parish clergy I met. They all seem able to work together with their various gifts for God’s glory and the building up of the Church. Certainly sin exists, but repentance is also abundant. The current relative poverty of the Church and of believers presents an opportunity for strengthening faith and mindfulness of God. In the days to come, when unity is restored, I believe that these faithful will be ready to undertake the great work ahead. Let us always keep these Ukrainian believers in our prayers. They always ask for us to pray for them, so let us pray for them with fervent love.