Christ is Risen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Risen Lord, I often hear people say, “I don’t have to go to church to pray, God is everywhere; I can pray at home.” Or “we don’t need traditional worship, holy icons, sung liturgies, vespers, matins or other services. Just the Divine Liturgy – the ‘Mass’ will do, just make sure it’s not too long!” These musings reflect an ignorance of our orthodox faith as should be lived in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. They reflect a denial of the necessity to live our lives within a fully worshiping community, strengthened by the Sacred Tradition that is passed to us from Jesus to the Apostles, the Holy Fathers and Sacred Councils through countless generations. They reflect a faith that focuses on accommodation with a secular world, the importance of self over community and makes us prioritise worldly matters ahead of the divine.
- Pastoral letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to youth on Palm Sunday
- Easter Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav
- Bishop Peter’s Easter Message – April 2019
This may seem a harsh assessment. But we should look at it as a challenge, not a criticism. We should always be challenging ourselves to do better. To develop a deeper understanding of our faith, the Church, and her sacred traditions.
Saint John Chrysostom teaches us, “You are deceiving yourself; of course you can pray at home. But it is impossible that you can pray there as in a Church. Where such a multitude of hearts are lifted up to God, merging into one unanimous cry. You will not be so quickly heard when you pray to the Master by yourself, as when praying together with your brethren, for here in Church there is something greater than in your room: unanimity, agreement, a bond of love.”
It is the place where we ask for heavenly intercession, give thanks for the graces received and most importantly, worship God in the Holy Trinity.
Our full participation in the liturgical life is vital for our salvation.
For in church we find a refuge from the vanities and the storms of the world around us. The Church becomes the safe harbour for our souls, and an anchor of hope. The Church is the place where we get food for our soul and can “drink of the living water.” The Church is the place where the gifts of the Holy Spirit are dispensed and our soul is cleansed. The readings, prayers, singing, together with the treasures of sacred icons and ancient rituals, allow us to find the true nobility of our souls, detached from the vanities of the world around us. In Church we find our true relationship with God, especially in the partaking of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), it is the place that we find the true relationship, with our family and our neighbours. The Church is the earthly heaven, a place where we find union with God. Our liturgical life and tradition is a school that prepares us to become citizens of heaven. It is the place where we ask for heavenly intercession, give thanks for the graces received and most importantly, worship God in the Holy Trinity.
There is so much of our liturgical patrimony that we have forgotten or ignored. A huge treasury of theology, poetry, art and music has fallen by the wayside as we have abbreviated our liturgical life to attending “Sunday Mass” and little else. I appreciate that we can’t participate in every liturgical service, but what sort of effort do we make? Our participation in divine worship in all its forms cannot be seen as a appendage to our daily lives, but as an integral part of who we are, orthodox Christians, baptised members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Holy Week and Easter provide us with an opportunity to fully live the liturgical life even if only for a week.
This year we will be adding some services over the first three days of Great and Holy Week, Matins (Morning Prayer) on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and the Liturgy of Anointing the Sick (Holy Unction) on Monday.
Holy Week and Easter provide us with an opportunity to fully live the liturgical life even if only for a week.
Great and Holy Week presents us with themes based on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. The story of the Passion, as told and recorded by the Evangelists, is preceded by a series of incidents located in Jerusalem, and a collection of parables, sayings, and discourses centered on Jesus’ divine sonship, the Kingdom of God, the Second Coming and Jesus’ castigation of the hypocrisy and dark motives of the religious leaders. The observances of the first three days of Great and Holy Week are rooted in these incidents and sayings. The three days constitute a single liturgical unit. The Scripture lessons, hymns, commemorations, and ceremonies that make up the elements in our traditional services highlight significant aspects of salvation history, by calling to mind the events that anticipated the Passion and by proclaiming the inevitability and significance of the Second Coming (Parousia).
The Matins of each of these days is called the Service of the Bridegroom.
The name comes from the central figure in the well-known parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The title “Bridegroom” suggests the intimacy of love. It is not without significance that the kingdom of God is compared to a bridal feast and a bridal chamber. The Christ of the Passion is the divine Bridegroom of the Church. The imagery connotes the final union of the lover and the beloved. The title Bridegroom also suggests the Parousia. The tropar “Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night…”, which is sung at the beginning of the Matins of Great and Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, relates the expectation that we all have: watching and waiting for the Lord, who will come again to judge the living and the dead.
The prayer of Christ that God’s will be done, always remains as the proper context of the Sacrament.
The Mystery of Holy Unction – Anointing of the Sick, is a rite that traditionally takes place on Holy and Great Wednesday afternoon or evening, but taking advantage of the public holiday on Monday we will celebrate it a 10.00am.
This Holy Mystery (sacrament) is offered for the healing of soul and body and for forgiveness of sins. (Confession is required before receiving the Mystery if one is not in a state of grace). At the conclusion of the service of the Mystery, the body is anointed with oil, and the grace of God, which heals infirmities of soul and body, is called down upon each person. The Mystery is performed by a gathering of priests, ideally seven in number; however, it can be performed by a lesser number and even by a single priest.
When one is ill and in pain, this can very often be a time of life when one feels alone and isolated. The Mystery of the Anointing of the Sick, reminds us that in our pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with us through the ministry of His Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death.
I again remind you that we do not have to be afflicted with a physical disease to receive Holy Unction
Oil is also used in this Mystery as a sign of God’s presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of Epistle lessons, Gospel lessons and the offering of prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil. Our Ukrainian Catholic orthodox faith does not view this Mystery as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit. Christ came to the world to “bear our infirmities.” One of the signs of His divinity was to heal the sick. The power of healing remains in the Church since Christ himself remains in the Church through the Holy Spirit.
The prayer of Christ that God’s will be done, always remains as the proper context of the Sacrament. This means that it is not always the will of God that there should be physical healing, but it is the clear intention of the Mystery that through the anointing of the sick body the sufferings of the person should be sanctified and united to the sufferings of Christ. In this way, the wounds of the flesh are consecrated, and strength is given that the suffering of the person may not be unto the death of his soul, but for eternal salvation in the resurrection and life of the Kingdom of God.
I encourage as many of you as possible to receive the Holy Mysteries of Healing. I again remind you that we do not have to be afflicted with a physical disease to receive Holy Unction. It is for the healing of soul and body and by receiving this Mystery we live our faith and celebrate Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection strengthened with hope that the Holy Anointing gives us.
Let us be open to broadening our spiritual horizons by experiencing the beauty of our full liturgical patrimony
My Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us be open to the transformative power of God’s grace. Let us be open to broadening our spiritual horizons by experiencing the beauty of our full liturgical patrimony. Let us never think that just because we never celebrated this or that service, as per often used Ukrainian phrase “It was never like that before”, that we can’t change and grow for the better. The power of Easter is the power to change our lives and grow closer to God.
I look forward to seeing you this Great and Holy Week and Easter, to pray with you and for you, as we lift our prayers and voices to God and proclaim His glorious resurrection.
With all my blessings for Easter and the year ahead.
(Very Rev) Simon Ckuj VG. EV
This post is also available in: Ukrainian