Pilgrimage and Compassion 2006

Bishop Seraphim : Report
Pilgrimage and Compassion
Pilgrimage in Ukraine
28 May - 13 June, 2006

Since 1994, it has become my custom to lead a pilgrimage to Ukraine every 3 years. This year it took place from 28 May to 13 June. As usual, our tour organiser was Savelia Curniski of Saskatoon and Andrei Romanov of Kyiv. Besides them and me, there was our Chancellor, the Archpriest Dennis Pihach ; the Archpriest Robert S Kennaugh and Matushka Dianne ; the Archpriest Peter Bodnar and Matushka Cynthia ; and 20 others from Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto, Wakaw, Winnipeg, and Merrillville, Indiana. The previous 2 pilgrimages had certainly been pilgrimages, and a blessing as such ; but they had also included making a difference through contributions to humanitarian works in Ukraine, through the agency Christian Childcare, Canada.

After our arrival (together with Father Dennis and Mark Petasky) on Monday, 29 May, I went to the Kyiv Caves Lavra in order to talk with Archbishop Mitrophan. He takes care of many of the present necessities of the Department of External Church Relations for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, since the Chairman, Metropolitan Makary of Vinnitsia (who once served in Edmonton and in New York) is now confined to a wheel-chair, and can no longer manage the active requirements. Together with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, our Archdiocese has many links with, and concerns in Ukraine. After this meeting, we rejoined the other pilgrims, who had meanwhile visited the Far Caves. We then visited the Vvedensky Monastery, where we venerated the icon of the Theotokos which had copied itself by etching itself onto the glass that had formerly covered it. Indeed, this has happened twice. There is a possibility that this wonder-working icon of the Theotokos could be brought to Canada, should we be able make the arrangements. It is now for us to see whether the Lord blesses this proposal. We also venerated the relics of Saint Dimitra, the founder of the community. Her relics rest in a basement chapel of the main Temple.

On Tuesday, 30 May, we visited the very old and historic monastery territories of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. We then visited Saint Michael’s Monastery, which faces Saint Sophia’s, across a very large quadrangle. We also visited the lively Florovsky Women’s Monastery, and the Temple of Saint Andrew. Then we went to the podolia, which could be called “lower-town”, to visit the Temple of Saint Ilia, not far from the Dnieper River, where Rus’ was chrismated a millennium ago. The original building of this Temple was built by Saint Olga.

The next day, Wednesday, 31 May, we had a long bus trip past Poltava to the Transfiguration Cathedral in Sumy, in Eastern Ukraine. There, I served the Vigil together with Archbishop Mark (Petrovtsi). Many will remember him, since he served for the Moscow Patriarchate in Edmonton for 10 years. Bishop Iov, who has taken his place now in Edmonton, was formerly the hierarch of this diocese of Sumy and Akhtirke.

The following day, Thursday, 1 June, the Feast of the Ascension, we travelled west to Romne. At the mid-morning Hierarchical Divine Liturgy there, Archbishop Mark elevated our priest Robert S Kennaugh to be an Archpriest (in accordance with the recent decision of the OCA’s Holy Synod), and I was asked to ordain a deacon for the Diocese of Sumy. This often happens in the Orthodox world, as a sign of the bonds of unity in Christian love and mutual prayer between our dioceses and peoples. In the late afternoon, most of us went to Akhtirke, the second cathedral town of the Sumy diocese, which is about an hour’s drive to the south. There, in the Cathedral of the Protection, we served a moleben. Sumy, Romne and Akhtirke all have wonder-working icons of the Theotokos.

The next morning, on Friday, 2 June, after bidding an early farewell to Vladyka Mark at McDonald’s (yes, you read it right !), we set off for an all-day bus ride to Rivne (not far from Pochaiv), where were our accommodations.

The next day, Saturday, 3 June, there was time for a little rest and some shopping for the pilgrims in the morning. Meanwhile, Mark Petasky and I were collected by a van from L’viv, and we were driven to Pochaiv, where we arrived by mid-afternoon. We were shown to our rooms, given a small meal, and then taken to the Uspensky Sobor for the Vigil of Sunday, which I served together with Bishop Vladimir (the namestnik, that is, Vicar-Abbot, under Metropolitan Volodymyr). Afterwards, we took supper (which as usual was accompanied by a lively conversation) with Bishop Vladimir in his abbatial quarters. We learnt from him that there are currently over 200 students at the Pochaiv Seminary (just outside the monastery walls), and that there is a similar number in Lutsk. That seminary is presently celebrating its 200th anniversary. When I first visited the Pochaiv Lavra (in l994), the monks there numbered about 60 ; now they number more than 300.

On Sunday, 4 June, Bishop Vladimir and I (along with many priests and deacons) concelebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Uspensky Sobor of the Lavra. In advance of this, we venerated the Footprint of the Theotokos, the Wonder-working Pochaiv Icon of the Theotokos, and the relics of Saints Job and Amphilochy. The other pilgrims arrived from Rivne in time for the Divine Liturgy, and Mark was able to gain access for them both to the Footprint, and to the relics in the lower church. After the Liturgy (about 5,000 attended, not an unusual number in the summer), the clergy and readers of our group were taken to the monastic brotherhood’s trapeza for dinner, while the remainder of the group went to the newly-built monastery hotel to eat. The Pochaiv Monastery itself is in extremely good condition, with many renovations still in progress. After speaking with many people, we took our leave and drove to Chernivtsi.

On Monday, 5 June, there was a city tour of Chernivtsi, which included the university. In former times, the Romanian-style buildings that contain the theological faculty there also included the headquarters of the metropolitan. In communist times, the whole theological faculty was closed, and these buildings were added to the university. This manoeuvre saved both the buildings and the Temple. Now, the complex again houses the theological faculty and belongs to the Church. We toured the botanical garden attached to the complex, and we were shown a very old buk tree. This type of tree seems to be a relative of the black poplar or perhaps the beech tree, and this sort of tree gives its name to the area known as Bukovina. We also saw several old and restored halls in the main building. That day, we also visited Metropolitan Onouphry’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, and then Saint Nicholas’ Sobor (about a kilometre distant). We venerated the relics and icons in both Temples. Next to Saint Nicholas’ Sobor are the official episcopal residence and the diocesan offices. In this complex of buildings, we also had an opportunity to go to the diocesan church-goods shop. There, we greeted Metropolitan Onouphry, who had just returned from some pastoral visits.

On Tuesday, 6 June, Metropolitan Onouphry sent the pilgrims a van and a driver-guide, in order to take a small group to Romania, to Suçeava and Radauti (from where Matushka Dianne Kennaugh’s ancestors came a century previous). Some others visited their own relatives, while I went to the diocesan centre for conversation with Metropolitan Onouphry. We were joined for a time by Protodeacon Nazari Polataiko (originally of Chernivtsi, now of Winnipeg, and the Consistory Goods Store of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church). We talked about the move of Metropolitan John from Edmonton to Winnipeg, in preparation for his enthronement on 23 July. Metropolitan Onouphry, Archimandrite Miletii and I then drove to the nearby town of Boian, where we venerated the Wonder-working and Myrrh-giving Boian Icon of the Theotokos, and then toured the women’s monastery where the nuns care for orphans. After this, we drove to the Annanina Monastery in the area of Kitsman. Here, we viewed the various new buildings which resulted from the abbess’ earlier eremitic and ascetic life. For three years, she had dwelt in a cave in the hill-side. She had dug the cave herself. Soon, others came to live near her, and this resulted in an above-ground monastic community of women. After enjoying the nuns’ hospitality, we returned to Chernivtsi, and we joined those returning from Romania, where they had venerated the relics of Saint John the New in Suçeava, and visited the Monastery of Voronet.

On Wednesday, 7 June, we went to Kolomeya, where we visited the Transfiguration Temple. We saw the new parish house, where thirty needy persons are fed twice weekly. We visited Father John who (along with the other clergy) has a varied ministry to the poor. The priests serve prisoners in a nearby prison (where those incarcerated voluntarily built their own Temple, the upper part of which can be seen above the walls), and these priests also serve as exorcists. This latter ministry arose from the healing character of a 400-hundred-year old wooden Temple in the village. In this Temple, both healing and deliverance come from the walls to those in need. In mid-afternoon, we departed for the retreat-house in Kostiw, where we were to rest for the night.

After breakfast on Thursday, 8 June, we drove to the village of Yabluniw, where there is an Internat (government, state-operated orphanage). This is one of the orphanages through which children are supported mostly by Canadian sponsors through Christian Childcare International (CCI) (http://childcareinternational.ca/), a Roman Catholic social-service agency. It must be emphasised here that, although we have widely publicised this programme of child-sponsorship amongst the Canadian Orthodox believers, and although this programme greatly benefits needy Orthodox children in Ukraine, the great majority of sponsors of Orthodox children in Ukraine are Roman Catholic Canadians. Thanks be to God for this, but I hope that we can do better on our own part. Less than $30 per month helps not only a child, but the whole family, and beyond that family, too.

During the out-of-doors programme of instrumental and vocal music and recitations given for us by the children of this Internat, the 80-year-old grandmother of one boy spoke movingly about the importance of his being sponsored, since in this family, only the grandmother is alive and available to care for him. As in all Internats, children are sent out into the world to fend for themselves at the age of 15 or 16. The result is that many of them end up in the sex-trade, in theft, or even in slavery. Of course, the final result is often prison, disappearance, deadly illness or death. Both CCI, Christian Childcare International (www.ccare.ca) and NASHI - Our Children (http://www.nashi.ca/home/) are trying to improve the possibilities that at least the children being sponsored may have better life-opportunities and hope of not falling into the hands of the predators waiting for them. It was a big scandal earlier in this year, for instance, that at the Foot-ball World Cup games in Germany, there was a government-supported sex-village for the athletes, to which at least 4,000 young girls were sent in slavery, from Ukraine alone. It seems that annually, at least 100,000 young girls and women are abducted from Ukraine, and sold in human trafficking into slavery. In addition to this, there are boys who suffer a similar fate. Many of these persons arrive in Canada (5,000 annually !) and in the USA.

From this moving encounter, the pilgrims went on to Yaremcha, farther into the Carpathian mountains, to a school in Khlibichen where many of the village children are supported through CCI sponsorship. There, we heard many moving stories from the in these children : a balance of a natural shyness, along with a healthy self-confidence. children about the effect of this support for their families, and about the opportunities provided for them through this support. It is important to comment on the balance that I perceived This was revealed in their disposition during the moving speeches they made about their very difficult lives, and in how they played the sopilka (a wooden fife) in several groups, and in how they sang.

On Friday, 9 June, we departed from Kostiw for Kolomeya. There, Father John met the bus, and Father Dennis Pihach, Mark Petasky and I were taken by taxi to L’viv. We had been asked by Archbishop Avgustin to arrive early in the afternoon, because of the special celebration of “Russian Day”. It is important to understand that the Canonical Orthodox Church in L’viv receives a considerable negative pressure from both other Christians and the civil authorities there. Vladyka Avgustin lives in very difficult, constrained circumstances, although he is also the head of Ukrainian chaplaincies to the military, police, hospitals and prisons. His office is also his living-quarters.

At the cathedral, we met Metropolitan Onouphry of Chernivtsi, as well as Archbishops Avgustin, Symeon of Vladimir Volynsk, and Varfolomei of Rivne. Later, at the opera house, the Russian General Consul welcomed the hierarchs, and showed us to our seats. After several speeches by him and other politicians (from L’viv and from Moscow), we listened to a lively concert by performers from the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow. Afterwards, we returned to the diocesan centre, and we spoke with Archbishop Avgustin about the work of the CCI’s Pochaiv and Ternopil Projects, and about NASHI (headquartered in Saskatoon).

On Saturday, 10 June, while some pilgrims remained in L’viv to greet the arriving group of NASHI volunteer workers, a small group of us went with Archbishop Avgustin’s entourage to Chervonograd (near the Polish border) for the Divine Liturgy to be served at the new Protection Temple, which was packed with people. This Temple is built in the shape of a ship. We brought relics of Saint Barbara with us from L’viv. At the end of the Liturgy, Vladyka Avgustin and I talked to the faithful about the similarities between our two dioceses, in terms of being a minority, and about the missionary challenges we face. After dinner, we stopped at the village of Veliki Moster for brief prayers, for veneration of the relics and for similar talks. At each village stop along our way, Archbishop Avgustin distributed gramotas to children who had participated in a competition, and he gave chocolate bars to all the children present. In all these parishes, the priests seem to be visionary, energetic, pastoral and hard-working.

I should note that everything is very difficult for the Canonical Orthodox Church in this diocese, because about 15 years ago they were expelled from almost all their Temples, and they have had to rebuild on property now privately owned by the Church. In all Ukraine, most of the older church buildings are owned and controlled by the government, and the building of new ones is regulated by the government also, sometimes with the introduction of great obstacles.

On Sunday, 11 June, we were again with Archbishop Avgustin, first in Sulimiw for the Divine Liturgy, near Zhovkva, and then in Soposhyn. In both places, there was the veneration of Saint Barbara’s relics, and an educational, informative talk. We ended the day in the L’viv cathedral. Since there are so many direct connexions between Canada and L’viv, and since the Archdiocese of Canada is so involved in social concerns that are focussed on and serviced from L’viv, Archbishop Avgustin raised the possibility of more intense co-operative involvement between our two dioceses, an idea that remains to be explored. He also introduced the superior of a new women’s monastery which is located in the cathedral precincts. Two of the nuns had come from the Unia. He told us that this is the first Orthodox monastic community to exist in L’viv in 300 years.

Early on Monday, 12 June, we went to the edge of L’viv, to the headquarters of the Pochaiv Project (part of the work of NASHI), known locally as Svit dlia detei (light for children). I was impressed by the fact of growth. During my last visit, there were a dozen or so children there, and now there are well over 100. The overall visible condition of the children and their families was much better than three years earlier. We blessed the new workshops for older children, which is part of the NASHI preparation for establishing a trade-school for L’viv. In this area, girls will be taught sewing, and the boys will be taught woodworking and other manual skills, while both will learn computer skills. The hope is that by learning these manual skills, the children (many of whom are slower learners, or simply very deprived of resources) may become employable, and avoid the dangers awaiting most children when they leave the orphanage.

In addition to the trade-school project, NASHI is also organising working groups that will come from Canada to Ukraine, in order to begin the renovation of the apartments of poor people. After doing part of the work, and after demonstrating the technique, these groups leave materials behind for the remainder of the work, so that the dwellers themselves may complete it (see their website : www.nashi.ca or www.nashi.ca/blog/journal/default.asp). NASHI is a non-government organisation, which raises money charitably for the purpose of supporting children and trying to further their education. The work of Savelia Curniski and of Betti Lawrence in particular in this area (both of whom are from Saskatoon) has been publicly recognised by the Governor General of Canada, and by the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. CCI (website : www.ccare.ca), and NASHI are presently taking care of about 3,000 children in the Pochaiv Project, and they are helping the children to learn to help themselves in the areas of L’viv, Holobi, Lutsk, Ternopil, Kolomeya, and Sniaten. What they learn helps other members of their families, and other children as well. However, there are still about a million homeless children in Ukraine. Alcoholism afflicts about 70% of men, and 20% of women in a population of which 93% live in poverty, with an income of less than US $50.00 per month. There are no support activities at all at this time in Eastern Ukraine. Another pending hope is to find, purchase and establish a safe home for girls.

An important new fact for us to learn is that the L’viv diocese has established a social service department which is connecting with this work. That afternoon, at the hotel, there was a meeting at which were present Father Dennis Pihach, Father John Bilavus (director of the Social Service Department, and Chancellor of the Diocese of L’viv), Savelia Curniski and me. We discussed various possibilities of working very concretely with concerns about drug-trafficking and AIDS.

The L’viv Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has for a long time been feeding the hungry. It was, in fact, the activities of the cathedral in L’viv which, seven years ago, gave the impetus to develop our participation in Childcare International, and then in NASHI. It was 7 or 8 years ago that the orphanage next to the cathedral ran out of supplies for the children, and the children were encouraged to beg the grandmothers at the cathedral to take them into their homes for July and August of that year — which they did. The care of the cathedral family for the children was an example which compelled Savelia, Father Dennis and others to try to do something from Canada for the orphans.

Childcare International, operated by many volunteers in a Roman Catholic village parish in Nova Scotia, enabled this (with minimum administration costs). Ultimately, however, it must be again stated that it is to our shame as Orthodox that the vast majority of Canadian supporters of orphans are Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox supporters are relatively few. Part of the problem is finding an adequate way to help our faithful have access to information, and more importantly, to trust the organisation. Perhaps with the developing of more concrete links with the L’viv diocese, this may be helped.

At present, the developing trade-school in L’viv has already begun to produce items for sale, and the proceeds are used to fund the needs of the school and of the students. Also recently, a CD of Christmas Carols in Ukrainian was produced. The carols are sung by a special choir of the best singers from several of the orphanages. The CD is sold to help fund the needs of the children. In these ways, too, the children are learning to help themselves.

I was greatly impressed by the apparent development on every level of the condition of the children and their families over the past three years. Three years ago, our pilgrimage group had made a first visit to an Internat in Sniaten, and the pilgrims were overwhelmed by the need, and also by the resourcefulness of the director, teachers and workers. The land around the orphanage was being farmed by the staff, in order to provide the maximum amount of food for the children, for the least cost. The buildings were old, and in poor condition, but they were clean and clean-smelling. The laundry was being done in very old, rusted machines, and often by hand. Members of the group, on returning home, made substantial contributions to CCI. They also provided many different tools, supplies of various kinds, and new washing machines. Some dreamed of providing a tractor, but the process of providing that proved to be too complicated. With the newer supplies that had been provided, many daily tasks became easier for the staff, who are sincerely caring for the children as if they were their own.

During the course of our whole pilgrimage, we travelled by means of an older, local bus, so as not to attract the attention of certain unsavoury elements. This sort of bus was, in the past, dubbed by some of the locals as the “Pakistan Express”. Had we travelled as tourists in modern luxury-buses, negative attention would have been attracted by potential robbers or the like. It was particularly astonishing to local people to see an Orthodox bishop descend the steps of such a bus along with the other Canadian pilgrims. One still sees many domestic animals on the verges of the roads, often tended by children or by senior persons. There are still very many horse-drawn carts, which one may see everywhere. This is not surprising, given the general economic conditions. It was well into haying season in most of the places we found ourselves, and there were many people at work with scythes. They were haying by hand, and stooking the sheaves, and in many cases hanging the sheaves on special poles so as to dry quickly. After this (as we used to see in Canada), the sheaves would be piled into haystacks.

I have every intention of making this pilgrimage again in 3 years’ time, as usual, God willing ; and I, along with others, also have the intention of making a first pilgrimage to Russia (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) in 2007, if God blesses. Such pilgrimages are not easy, but on each of them which I have made, some participants have been eighty years old or more. To receive blessings from the holy places, and to receive the blessing from worshipping with the faithful there, it is well-worth all the difficulties encountered in travel. It is worth it also, because wherever we visit, our encounters give our fellow Orthodox Christians renewed hope, as well as renewed energy to persevere in Christ. Being with them does the same for us. God is merciful. Let us fulfil another part of our Christian responsibility by trying to make such pilgrimages, and to give glory to God for everything.

On Tuesday, 13 June, we began our journey homewards, which included the usual pauses. With God’s blessing and help, we arrived in Canada later on the same day.