Over 800 people gathered in Saint Mary’s Catholic Cathedral last Thursday night to offer prayers for a peaceful resolution to the worsening situation in Ukraine. Members of Sydney’s Ukrainian Community were joined by the broader community in an ecumenical service presided over by Bishop Terry Brady, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney. He was joined on the sanctuary by Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic Clergy as well as clergy from Melkite, Romanian, and Polish communities of Sydney.

The service was organised by Fr. Simon Ckuj, Administrator of St Andrew’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish, Sydney at the request of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations and Sydney Majdan Support Committee chaired by Mr Jaroslav Duma OAM.

In his welcome, Mr Duma acknowledged the presence of Senator The Hon Concetta Fieravanti – Wells, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, with special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services. the Chair and deputy Chair of the New South Wales Community Relations Commission, Representative of many communities including Italian, Polish, Croatian, Jewish and representatives from the Baltic States amongst others. He also read a letter from the Premier of New South Wales, The Hon Barry O’Farrell in which the Premier expressed his condolences to the Ukrainian Community for the tragic loss of life and his desire that a peaceful resolution be found. Mr Duma then proceeded to outline the current crisis in Ukraine and the ever present threat of Russian intervention.

In welcoming the large congregation, Bishop Brady reflected on his personal experience with the many Ukrainians he had met in Sydney. He reminded the congregation of the deep faith of the Ukrainian people in times of great difficulty and persecution. He pointed out his own Irish Australian heritage and the long struggle of the Irish people for freedom.

The service began With Fr Michael Smolynec from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Fr Simon Ckuj, praying the Great Litany of Peace. The responses were sung by the Choir of St. Andrews Ukrainian Catholic Church directed by Mr Vasil Opryshko.

Following the Gospel from St John, which was sung by Archdeacon Anthony Laurence, of the Melkite Eparchy, the homily was preached by Fr Ckuj.

Drawing from the Old Testament’s book of the Prophet Joel, who lived in Jerusalem at a time of great national crisis. Fr Simon said, “Joel called the people to repentance, to a change of heart, to seek forgiveness and to be reconciled with the Lord our God! Such reconciliation is vital for the People of Ukraine”. He went on to reflect on the amazing sight of so many clergy ministering on the Majdan square, “The images of the Majdan in Kyiv have inspired and disturbed us. The sight of so many ministers of God, be they Catholic or Orthodox, Lutheran or Baptist, Jewish or Moslem standing with their people. Standing between the oppressors and the oppressed, mediating, comforting and consoling in the midst of gunfire and violence and reminding them that God is with them! Lest they ask; “Where our God?”

Reflecting on the tragic loss of life, Fr Simon stated. “We give thanks for those, who in the face of brutal and criminal acts stood strong and were not afraid to remain on the Maidan. We commend their souls to God and remember the prophetic words of the great Ukrainian Poet Taras Shevchenko; Oh bury me, then rise ye up, And break your heavy chains, And water with the tyrants’ blood. The freedom you have gained. And in the great new family, The family of the free, With softly spoken, kindly word Remember also me.  We also pray for those who grieve and those who are injured, that they will find comfort in the peace of God.”

Fr Simon concluded by asking for prayers for peace, especially with the threat of Russian intervention, “Alas, even today, armies are gathering on the border and threats are being made by those who cannot accept that Ukraine is a free and sovereign nation. A nation in which all people, all faiths and ethnicities can stand on the golden fields under the bright blue sky as one nation united under God. So let us pray for peace, for justice, for basic human goodness to prevail. Let us pray that we learn from the mistakes of the past and are given Divine wisdom not to repeat them! Let us pray for strength in times of weakness and hope in times of despair. Let us pray that hearts be changed, and forgiveness be asked for and given.”

Following the Homily Fr. Michael Smolynec of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church read a letter from His All Holiness Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople, assuring the Ukrainian people of his prayers.

The Liturgical service continued with prayers for Ukraine, her people and government, the fallen and for Australia. The prayers were offered by all the clergy present.  The service concluded with the singing of the Prayer for Ukraine, “Oh God, Almighty and Only”. A few tears could be seen, as the choir sang with such profound feeling, the music echoed thru the vast space of St. Mary’s.

After the final blessing by Bishop Brady, Senator Concetta Fieravanti – Wells addressed the large congregation and expressed condolences on behalf of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and the Australian Government she expressed the hope that Ukraine could lean from Australia, that it is possible to live in a diverse society peacefully.

Sydney, Australia 28 February 2014 by Ivan Prisutny