On the 15th January2020 Pope Francis appointed Rev. Fr. Mykola Bychok CSsR bishop of the Melbourne Eparchy of Sts. Peter and Paul of the UGCC.

His consecration as bishop Eparch took place in the Archcathedral Sobor of St. George in Lviv. Principal consecrator was His Beatitude Sviatoslav, head of the UGCC and the co-consecrators were Metropolitan Archbishop Ihor Vozniak of the Lviv Metropolia and Bishop Petro Loza, Auxiliary bishop of Sokal-Zhovkva eparchy. Bishop Mykola anticipated from this moment in Ukraine the possibility of departure for Melbourne Australia, the seat of his new mission. This possibility, governed as it was by quarantine restrictions imposed by the Australian Government, was as a result subjected to constant delays.

Finally, on the 24th of May 2021, the joyful communication from Bishop Mykola filled the hearts of not only the faithful of the Eparchy of Sts. Peter and Paul in Melbourne but all of the faithful of the UGCC. Therefore, let us endeavour with this exclusive interview to discuss with Bishop Mykola his experience of waiting on the will of God, the unknown yet most endearing paths of the Lord, but also about his plans, expectations and first steps in a different corner of this planet Earth.

Your Excellency, first of all with what feelings are you setting out to another continent in which you have not yet set foot, at the other end of the planet you could say?

In our life, we constantly open up something new and unknown to us at that moment. Certainly, at this point various emotions and feelings fill us: fear, joy a certain rapture or disappointment. I come to a new continent, previously new and unknown but a feeling of deep gratitude to God fills my soul for His unbelievable gifts for us sinful people.

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My journey to Australia took 30 hours and only then did I feel that this was the endpoint of the planet. In human reasoning I still do not understand why the Lord chose me for this service. However, entrusting myself to God’s Providence, I believe that the Heavenly Father will not leave me and most certainly will lead the Eparchy of Sts. Peter and Paul through my person.

To be honest, it would have been known to you about Australia from the moment of receiving news of your appointment for service there? In what way has your acceptance of your appointment to that continent changed in the interim period of time?

At the moment of appointment as bishop, January 2020, Australia was in the throes of fire. In that time, I joined myself in prayer for that country that at first glance appears foreign to me. On the other hand, that is precisely where the Lord is sending me to serve in Christ’s vineyard. These were the first and tragic as well news items from this continent. At the same instance, Australia from my studies of geography at school was for me a green continent, filled with many animals especially kangaroos and koalas. When they appointed me bishop, I also began to learn more about this country, about its culture and its traditions. It is after all my country now, my second home. I also wished to honour particularly this country in my bishop’s coat of arms. When you look at it, on the left hand side, you see a green portion which symbolizes my new place of service.

An interesting fact aside, when I departed Ukraine practically in summer time, I arrived in Australia in their winter time. So, my imagining of this continent changes continually, especially at the time of arrival.

Your departure to Australia was indicated by an extended period of time due to quarantine restrictions imposed by the Australian government. Can you in greater detail tell us about what exactly constituted problems about the arrival?

According to pre quarantine times, I was supposed to be in Australia last May. My enthronement was planned for June. No one knew or could imagine that the coronavirus could affect and paralyse the life of the world and of the church. I did not become the exception. Every government brought in various quarantine restrictions. Australia chose the path of total isolation from the rest of the world. This became the reason that for a whole year I could not access the country in which I was to serve. The government would not grant a visa to any foreign national.

How did you accept this period of waiting in a spiritual sense? Perhaps, you were preparing yourself in a certain personal way for this new mission?

The state of waiting for the opportunity- it is always a certain feeling of something new, which is still hidden from you. On one hand, you are appointed pastor for our faithful in Australia, and on the other, you are unable to depart and must remain in Ukraine. However, I understood one thing- The Lord has his plans, even in such unknown and difficult times. It was this that gave me the hope and the inner strength, that the time will come for the borders to open up and I shall be able to reach my appointed eparchy.

I tried to put my free time to maximum use. Throughout my time in that period in Ukraine, I succeeded in visiting almost all seminaries and gave retreats, speaking of my missionary work, sharing my thoughts and experiences .As well, I succeeded in preparing two video series of reflections in Ukrainian with English sub titles:  “5 steps to Christmas” and “Ask the Bishop”. It was through you tube channel of our Eparchy in Australia I maintained direct contact with my faithful.

In conjunction with such unforeseen circumstances and in the face of unexpected changes which you had sufficient number in your life (service in Ukraine, in Russia and in turn in USA) please share with your readers your secret of trust in God’s Providence and His direction?

The secret of any success for a believing person, and even more for a person consecrated to God – is to be a good instrument in the hands of God. It is not always easy to achieve but it is imperative to constantly work on oneself, sometimes it is necessary to “shatter” one’s plans and one’s life. On the contrary, it is in this way that we allow God to make use of us, as we read in the Gospel of Luke17,10: “Thus and you when do all, that is asked of you, say: we are useless servants, we carried out, that we were obliged to do”.

Perhaps, thanks to mass media communication platforms today you have succeeded in a contemporary manner to participate in the life of the eparchial community in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. Not so long ago we had the opportunity to learn about the retreat where you led our priests in prayer and reflection there. How did your communication with the faithful and the current Eparch Peter Stasiuk proceed?

Really, thanks to current technologies, it was possible to connect and unite with the clergy and the faithful of our Eparchy. We had a meeting via Zoom with our priests each month. The last meeting in that series of meetings was the-one day retreat with the clergy of our eparchy, which I led. This day of spiritual renewal was held on the eve of Holy Thursday According to the tradition of the Church, Holy Thursday- this is the day of the institution of the sacrament of Priesthood and the most Holy Eucharist. Therefore, we reflected upon his great calling from God to become priests, to be this great instrument in God’s hands that He might proclaim His Heavenly Kingdom by means of us. I also had the chance to talk with my faithful several times. One eminent example in this series of meetings with the faithful was the celebration by zoom, as a result of the strict lockdown in place at the time, of the cathedral feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on July 12 last year. Our faithful because of the lockdown could not participate actively in liturgies in the church in Melbourne and in all churches in Victoria. However, we succeeded in meeting via zoom and united in prayer in the celebration of the cathedral feast.

It is also worthy of mention that I have and continue to be in constant contact with Bishop Peter Stasiuk who is presently the Apostolic Administrator of our eparchy in Australia. Bishop Peter, for me as a young bishop, is a vivid example of how not to fall in spirit in any circumstances of life. In particular, there is so much that I have learnt from him throughout this last year of contact.

Your Excellency, when we speak of your service, we automatically imagine the Australian continent. However, you are also the spiritual father to our faithful in New Zealand and Oceania which for us remain “terra incognita”. Can you tell us something about mission in these lands? What are the countries of Oceania?

The official name of our eparchy is: “Eparchy of Sts. Peter and Paul for Ukrainian Catholics in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, Melbourne, Australia”. From this fact we deduce that the bishop is obliged to care for our faithful in New Zealand and in Oceania. I would not say that these countries remain “terra incognita”. In as much they have been visited from 2015 onwards till 2018, our priest also a Redemptorist Fr. Ihor Kolisnyk was present in New Zealand to care for our faithful. He cared for three communities: Christchurch on the south island and Auckland and Wellington on the north island. Right now, there is no priest unfortunately in New Zealand. This is a fundamental challenge for me as the new bishop. When we speak of Oceania – we are dealing with several islands such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and some others. To this day, there is no priest stationed there, as are also very few details about any faithful. Therefore, it remains to” open up” in the spiritual sense of the word the part of the eparchy called Oceania.

In conclusion, with what expectation are you setting out? Do any certain drawn up plans exist at this stage? What kind of first steps will there be? Perhaps, you can already say something about the enthronement of the third eparch in Melbourne, Australia?

I am setting out for Australia deeply grateful to my two predecessors the late Bishop Ivan Prasko and the current eparch Bishop Peter Stasiuk. I wish to mention the titanic efforts of our faithful who through busy work managed to build churches, maintain them and form living communities.

I wish to share with you an interesting story which took place during my journey, at Frankfurt airport as I was awaiting transfer to Singapore. Then, as I sit and await the ongoing flight, I hear my name called out loudly for all to hear in the airport, inviting me to approach the desk of Singapore Airlines. When I came there, they started to check my documents, visa etc. At length, the woman asks me “Are you a sailor?” I reply “no, I am a bishop” “Who, who are you? She asks me again. I answered again “I am a bishop.” However, she did not know what that was. In time I asked her “Do I look like a sailor?” To which she replied “No, I am sorry, but many men who travel from Ukraine to Australia and New Zealand are sailors.

Eventually, I reflected on this conversation and remembered the calling of the apostles, who cleaned their nets because they were fishermen. At that moment Christ calls them to follow Him. The calling of a bishop and priest is to be “a fisherman of peoples’ souls” according to the example of the apostles, which we read in the Gospel of Luke 5,10. Then I thought that I still have something in “common’ with the sailors.

At the present moment I am staying in Sydney for a 2-week quarantine period. As regards certain plans and steps into the future- that is synonymous with a ceremony of enthronement, after which I shall continue this work which has been done prior to my coming to Australia.

I sincerely thank you for performing your work and for this interview!

Source: synod.ugcc.ua