Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Enjoying God`s grandeur in cottage country

Summer getaways offer us a chance to relax and have fun. They can also be a time for spiritual rejuvenation. Ontario’s cottage country, with beautiful lakes, beaches and wilderness, offers an opportunity to marvel at God’s grandeur. In the Georgian Bay region vacationers can also be spiritually enriched at a number of historic and sacred sites.

Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church
This parish dates to the 1950s, when Ukrainians began building summer homes near Cawaja Beach. Liturgies were first served in the open air. Two philanthropists, M. Gerus and M. Dejnega, donated land for a church. The community raised funds, and a Hutsul-style church designed by Toronto architect Ihor Stecura was built. In 1989, Bishop Isidor Borecky officially blessed Sts. Volodymyr & Olha, at Cawaja Beach. The parish welcomes visitors to Sunday liturgies and fellowships afterwards. See:

Ste. Marie Among the Hurons
Not far from Cawaja Beach, in Midland, is Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons. This National Historic Site is a reconstruction of ¨Fort Ste. Marie,¨ a 17th-century French Jesuit Mission to the Huron people. The graves of Jesuit priest, St. Jean de Brébeuf, who wrote the popular Christmas hymn, a "Huron Carol" and fellow martyr, St. Gabriel Lalement are in the wooden church of St. Joseph at the site. This church was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1984. See:  www.saintemarie

Martyrs' Shrine
Also in Midland, across the highway from Ste. Marie Among the Hurons, Martyrs' Shrine honours the eight Jesuit missionaries martyred during the Huron-Iroquois wars and later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Collectively, these martyrs are Canada's Patron Saints. The Shrine, which includes a ceiling shaped like an overturned canoe, has daily masses and the relics of St. Jean de Brébeuf, St. Gabriel Lalemant, St. Charles Garnier, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha for public veneration. It is a Canadian National Shrine. See:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The meaning of Pentacost in our lives today

On the 50th day after Easter, we celebrate Pentecost (May 27/ June 3), commemorating the Holy Spirit’s descent onto the Apostles.

Jesus remained on Earth with His disciples for 40 days after His Resurrection then ascended to heaven. The Bible’s Book of Acts tells us that 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension, the Holy Spirit, came onto the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, accompanied by a rush of wind, empowering them to speak in foreign languages and enabling them to preach the Gospel in different lands.

 A large crowd witnessed this amazing event. The Apostle Peter urged them to turn to Christ. Many did so. Therefore, on Pentecost Christians celebrate both the feast of the Holy Spirit and the Church’s birth.

Pentecost is colloquially referred to in the Ukrainian Catholic Church (UCC) as Zeleni Sviata (Green Holidays). Symbolically, green is the colour of life, so on Pentecost churches (and homes) are traditionally decorated with green foliage and priests wear green vestments. It is a custom for families to gather at the graves of their loved ones on this day to pray for those who have passed on to eternal life.

On Pentecost, we do not simply celebrate a past event, but also that which happens to us in the Church today. We, as baptised members of the Church, have received in the Sacrament of Chrismation, “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Pentecost happened to us! That means that we, like the apostles, are called to preach the Gospel. One way that we can do that is to live our daily lives according to Christ’s teachings.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The joy of Easter continues in Bright Week and beyond

Chrystos Voskres!/Christ Is Risen!  On Easter Sunday (Pascha) we repeatedly sing this jubilant refrain in church, proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection and triumph over death. The joyous mood permeates Bright Week (the week following Pascha) and continues through the entire 40 days of the Paschal season.

Church services during Bright Week reflect the joy of the Risen Christ in a distinctive way. All the doors of the iconastas are left open symbolizing Jesus’ open and empty tomb. If any funerals take place, the Paschal Canon replaces the usual funeral text and “Chrystos Voskres” (Christ Has Risen) replaces Vichnaya Pamiat’ (Memory Eternal).

On Bright Monday, after Divine Liturgy, the clergy lead the faithful around the church in procession (Khrestnyj Khod), stopping at its four sides to proclaim the Resurrection Gospel, blessing the faithful with Holy Water, as a reminder of the Lord’s command to "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…"  (Matthew 28:18-20). On this day, young people playfully douse each other with water. This tradition, which likely originated in pre-Christian times as a rite of purification, is now symbolic of the new life that Jesus’ Resurrection and baptism bestow.

On Bright Tuesday, the faithful in parts of Ukraine observe the custom of sharing a celebratory picnic of blessed Paschal food at the graves of their loved ones, remembering them with joy in the knowledge that all who live the life of Christ will be reunited in the eternal life made possible through Christ’s Resurrection.

As Christians we’re encouraged to live joyfully not only in the Paschal season but through the year, bringing joy into our personal, professional and social relationships. Our joy in living the life of Christ, can awaken in others a desire to seek the same for themselves. In this way, we become true disciples of Christ.

"He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart and there find Him." – St. Augustine

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gathering spiritual strength for the Lenten journey

The Divine Liturgy – centered on the consecration and reception of Holy Communion, is a joyous celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Not being compatible with the penitential mood of the weekdays of Great Lent, the Liturgies of St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom were in 363 AD forbidden by the Church to be served during Lent, except on weekends and on the Feast of the Annunciation.

On weekdays, the faithful were no longer able to receive Holy Communion, which had previously given them spiritual strength to rise up to the Lenten challenges of fasting and intensified prayer.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (compiled in the 6th century) was developed to provide the faithful with the opportunity to receive the Holy Mysteries on weekdays. It consists of Vespers, additional hymns and litanies, but no consecration of bread and wine, thus no celebration of the resurrection. The Eucharist offered is consecrated in advance on the previous Sunday and reserved for these weekday liturgies.

Today, this ancient and beautiful Liturgy, with its unique hymns and melodies, is usually served during the Great Fast on Wednesday and Friday evenings and on Monday-Wednesday during Holy Week. The faithful, at the end of a day of fasting, are able to receive Holy Communion.  Spiritually strengthened for the continued Lenten journey, they are also reminded that being in communion with Christ demands prayer and sacrifice.

"Nothing, how little so ever it be, if it is suffered for God's sake, can pass without merit in the sight of God."   --  Thomas a Kempis

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gospels to consider before committing to Lent

The Gospel passages read in Church on the four Sundays before Lent are not chosen randomly. Each contains lessons that prepare us for the Great Fast.

Zacchaeus Sunday (Luke 19: 1-10)
 Zacchaeus, a tax collector and widely despised thief, climbed a sycamore tree (considered “unclean”) to better see the Lord. Jesus did not shun this sinner, but called out to him, saying He’d visit him. We learn that like a physician who heals the ill, Jesus has come to heal all sinners.

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee (Luke 18: 10-14)
Jesus’ parable tells of two men praying in a temple: one is self-praising; the other humbly asks: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  Jesus says that the latter went home justified. We learn that we must approach spiritual struggles during Lent with humility.

Sunday of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
Jesus tells the parable of a wealthy landowner’s son who leaves home and squanders his inheritance. When he returns destitute but contrite, the father joyfully welcomes him, causing resentment in the dutiful brother. The father explains that a celebration is warranted for “your brother, was dead, and is alive again.” We learn that God, like a loving parent, is merciful and forgiving, that reconciliation with Him is a gift. We should not judge others, but rejoice when a sinner returns to His fold.

Sunday of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-36) 
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that although Jesus came quietly
at his Nativity, at the Second Coming “He will come from heaven with supernatural wonders and manifest brightness.” We are reminded that the goal during the Great Fast, and ultimately our lives, is to prepare for the Judgment, to repent, to rid ourselves of vices and to cultivate virtues.

After hearing these Gospels in Church, ask what they might be saying to you on a personal level. Their lessons on forgiveness and repentance can guide and strengthen you as you undertake the sacrifices, actions and special disciplines during your Lenten journey.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season

The Christmas season is rife with commercialism. Ads urge us to buy expensive gifts, radios blare out songs about reindeer and movies feature a jolly fat fellow who lives in the North Pole. Social gatherings, with much carousing and merry-making, abound. Unfortunately, there are often only scant traces of the true meaning of the holiday, the celebration of the birth of Christ, our Saviour.

As Christians who want to avoid the trappings of the "holiday season" we may yearn to retreat and simply observe the religious holiday. But, better yet, we can help keep Christ at the centre of Christmas by actively working to penetrate through the commercialism. Here are some suggested ways to do that:

Gifts: Give gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day and spend Christmas morning at church. Choose modest gifts and cards with a religious theme for family and friends.

Charity: Give to the needy, and teach children to do so too. Remember those who are alone and in need of love. Invite them to join in the Christmas celebrations with your family.

Music and Entertainment: Sing and listen to koliady (Christmas carols) on your music-listening devices. Meditate and ponder over the words and their theological message about the incarnation, Jesus' birth when God becomes man in the birth of Jesus.  Consider taking time to attend a Nativity Play or concert of sacred music.

Decorations: Place an icon of the Nativity in your prayer corner or a prominent place in your home and display a Nativity scene.

Socializing: Remember to greet people with a hearty "Merry Christmas!" or "Chrystos Razhdaetsya! (Christ is Born!)"

“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you. Yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand. --Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Singing carols is more than making music

Koliady (Christmas carols) are a form of prayer. By caroling we worship and praise God and also learn about our faith.

In Ukraine, academics, monks and poets wrote koliady that helped to teach people about the Nativity.
Carols of other countries have an educational role too. For instance, the English carol Good King Wenceslas has catechetical lessons that are fitting for the Christmas season.  

The carol tells of a good king who, on the “Feast of Stephen,” goes with his helper on a cold wintry night to bring food and firewood to a poor peasant.

St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated by Western Christians on Dec. 26. (The origin of the “Boxing Day” holiday.) In the Byzantine rite, St. Stephen is venerated on Dec. 27/Jan. 9.

St. Stephen’s name comes from the Greek “Stephanos”, meaning “crown.”  He is called the Protomartyr as he was the first martyr of the New Testament. An eloquent speaker, he was tried for blasphemy, tortured and stoned to death in 34-35 AD. While on trial, he saw both God the Father and the Son.

The popular English carol is about another saint, Saint Wenceslaus I (907-935).   One of his biographers, in 1119, wrote:  “Every night from his noble bed, with bare feet…he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty.”

Like St. Nicholas about whom we sing the much-loved Ukrainian carol, “O Khto, khto Mykolaja liubyt,”, St. Wenceslaus offers us a noble example of Christian love and charity.