Fr. Olexander Kenez, a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saint Peter and Paul in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, is unable to continue in his role as Port Chaplain due to ill health. He has worked in this post from 1998 to until recently. He told us how began this work as Port Chaplin of Melbourne.
“It is very interesting. It was Resurrection Liturgy. It was Easter. We had finished Liturgy and had sat down to breakfast when the phone rang. On other end of the phone line someone said that a vessel in the Port of Melbourne, with a Ukrainian crew wanted a priest to come and bless the pascha for them. I had never been to the Port before, I never met such a group people.
I came and blessed the pascha for them. Then I began to talk with them. After that I began to visit them often, approximately once a week. I simply began to visit them. The Australian dockworkers that worked there said to me why do you visit only Ukrainians but never us. It was spread in this way simply through an accidental conversation.
The whole work had as its basis simple open conversation with Port workers: wharfies, drivers and other people who worked in Port and also with the sailors who worked on these vessels. There was one interesting occasion. I came in and saw people with very long beards. I asked them where they were from. They answered they were from Vladivostok. Then I guessed that they were old-believers. They said to me “Father (they addressed me like an Orthodox priest “Batyu shka”), How do you cross oneself?”.
It was the test. They had a specific method of crossing. I have done it. Then they also asked me “How do you put down the blessed altar cloth when you serve a Liturgy?” They asked me very specific questions. We have very similar liturgical rules as old-believers because they accepted me very well; we also had very good relations.
Once there was a very interesting Chinese crew on a Chinese vessel which was very large, but it was not loaded. There were many stairs, in particular there was one with approximately a hundred steps. I went up and I reached perhaps the 80-th step. There was a room where were near 30 Chinese who looked at me. A chair and a cup of tea awaited me. The person who gave me the cup of tea said to me that he earned good money because of me because he had bet that I would reach the top of the stairs but some people said that I would not.
If you are not known as someone, the Chinese invite you to the place where they have a meal. They give you chopsticks for eating to ridicule how a white person will use these chopsticks to eat. I do not remember when I learned to use chopsticks for eating, therefore when I ate with them and holding the chopsticks correctly (chopsticks must be kept at the tip by the fingers) they looked at one other and I understood that they were ashamed.
What was the main goal of the work with sailors?! It is same as the priest visiting parishioners in their homes, talk with then in a simple way, because the vessel becomes a home for the sailors for a long time. The one feature of their home is that their home sails through the world.
The work of the sailors is pleasant and difficult at the same time, but it is well paid work. The sailor consciously chooses this work and he understands that he will be absent at home for a long time; consequently his children grow up without a father. The sailors often sign a contract, in accordance with it the sailor is present at home only 6 weeks per year. The family live relatively well. He is a dad for children but he is not a father for them. The tragedy is that he understands that”.
This post is also available in: Ukrainian