July 12, 2021, the feast day of our Cathedral Parish of Sts Peter and Paul, will be written into history as the day that the third Eparch for Ukrainian Catholics in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania Bishop Mykola Bychok CSsR was installed. A day filled with joy and hope.
“My heart is filled with gratitude to God for the gift of my vocation to religious, priestly and episcopal ministry.” Bishop Mykola Bychok
A Ukrainian Catholic Church was formed in Australia over 70 years ago, and its Cathedral consecrated 58 years ago continues to be relevant, alive, and having a bright future.
On this day, a new 41-year-old Ukraine born member of the Redemptorist order, ordained as a priest on May 3, 2005, having in his short lifespan amassed worldly experience as a priest in Ukraine, Siberia, and the United States was installed as Eparch.
- Bishop Mykola’s Episcopal letter
- Bishop Peter’s farewell speech
- Archbishop Comensoli’s homily at the Rite of Enthronement for Bishop Mykola
In January 2020, Pope Francis announced Fr Bychok as Bishop. The Ukrainian Catholic Synod headed by Patriarch Sviatoslav had ratified his nomination. The Universal Church working to ensure the flock in Australia received its next Shepherd.
Twenty-eight years ago, his predecessor Bishop Peter Stasiuk AM started his journey in Australia after arriving from Canada. He expanded the Church’s role, strengthened the position of our Church within the Australian Bishops Conference, established the Statutes, actively participated in the community’s life at large, and headed the process for the UGCC in writing a new Catechism. He was the pastor of his sheep. His mitre is a sign of this.
His predecessor, the late Bishop Ivan Prasko MBE, set the foundation and expanded a small community known as an Exarchate into a more significant structure, now an Eparchy. There is little in community life in 2021 that Bishop Ivan was not either an instigator of or played a role in forming.
For our new Eparch Bishop Mykola, the challenge will be to drive the Church further, build, renew, create, and, as he has said on many occasions, lead the Church to God through prayer and hard work.
Bishop Mykola’s mannerisms, attitude, ability to connect with people, and infectious smile place him well in being an effective third Eparch and leader of the Church.
His travels to Australia have been a challenge. COVID impacted on many fronts. On January 15, 2020, Pope Francis announced Bishop Mykola appointment as Bishop for Ukrainians in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. Plans for his ordination as Bishop had to be changed. A delegation from Australia was heading to Lviv. The trip was called off. Finally, the ordination happened in June 2020 on Pentecost Sunday in Lviv.
Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Bishops Wozniak and Loza officiated at the ceremony in the historical St Georges Cathedral in Lviv No doubt a proud moment for his parents, brothers, and their families.
Australia’s sole representative was a Sydney parishioner Lesia Holubko, who happened to be in Lviv. But through technology, Australia and the world watched the service on ordination
Over the journey, Bishop Mykola kept in touch with his Australian flock, with numerous Zoom sessions with families, parish councils and parishioners. Zoom meetings with Bishop Peter and the clergy were regular. He knew us well before he set foot on Australian soil. He wanted to be connected. His regular social media posts, his teachings on Facebook kept him in touch.
During all of this, there was much happening in getting a visa, a travel exemption. After nearly twelve long months, Bishop Mykola hit terra firm in Sydney, quarantined in Sydney. After 14 days, Rev Fathers Simon Ckuj, Oleh Stefanyshyn and Justin McDonald were outside the quarantine hotel.
But God works in mysterious ways – His first Liturgy was at St Andrew’s in Sydney, an opportunity to meet with Parishioners then fleeting visits to Newcastle, Canberra, Wodonga Parishes.
Why in mysterious ways?– Due to COVID restrictions, the NSW -ACT contingent could not attend the installation – However they had the first opportunity to be with Bishop Mykola.
Having arrived in Melbourne, the planning started for the big day. Together with members of the installation Organising Committee Peter Duma and Juliana Hassett and our two Bishops, the Cathedral Parish Council explored the scenarios.
By hook or by crook, full Cathedral or COVID restricted numbers – The installation would happen on July 12, 2021, the Feast Day of Peter and Paul.
Invitations to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Comensoli, Bishops of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, Politician, and Ukrainian community leaders went out.
JULY 12, 2021, THE DAY HAD ARRIVED
SBS called in the morning saying they will cover the event and wanted an interview with Bishop Mykola before the service. Some would say not an interview 20 minutes before the big event! In his call, an enthusiastic yes – Dressed in his vestments, in the Church Hall with many Bishops and clergy preparing for the service in the background, he gave the interview responding to questions.
The time had arrived. Fr Andrij Mykytiuk, the MC for the day, gave instructions on how the procession will form, which Bishops were to stand where, which priests to go were!
The processional order settled – altar server’s clergy – 10 Bishops in line, the cross-bearer leading the procession started – Closing the ranks were the Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli, Bishop Peter Stasiuk and Bishop Mykola.
A wonderful and proud moment for our Church. The Universal Church – the two lungs East and West coming together to install a new brother Bishop.
Entering a full Cathedral George Fedyszyn Chair of Eparchial Pastoral Council, Mrs Marta Fedyszyn greeted our Bishops with the traditional bread and salt, welcoming them into our Cathedral and wishing Bishop Mykola every success.
The procession into the Cathedral was enhanced by the singing of the Cathedral Choir conducted by Prof Volodymyr Holovko.
Members of the Victorian Parliament – The Hon Bruce Atkinson, Former Speaker of the Parliament, Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism Neil Angus Victorian Multicultural Affairs Commission Vivienne Nguyen, together with the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Australia Most Rev Michael Solomko and his wife Katia, The Ambassador of Ukraine Mykola Kulinich, the Chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations and 1st Vice President of the Ukrainian World Congress Stefan Romaniw and his wife Anastasia, Slawko Kohut, President of the Association of Ukrainians in Victoria and Mrs Maria Kohut represented the community sector with other community leaders. Collectively they all showed support for the new young Church leader.
The moment everyone was waiting for had arrived. Bishop Peter Stasiuk commenced the enthronement rite leading Bishop Mykola to the Archbishop with the words …. Here stands before you Most Rev Bishop Mykola Bychok to be enthroned
The Archbishop responded Let the Papal Bull be read followed by Let the decree the Synod of Ukrainians Bishops be read
Rev Father Brian Kelty read the decree, Fr Ihor Holovko held up the Bull for the congregation to see.
In the response of the Archbishop – Bishop Mykola read the Confession of Faith.
The prayers and responses followed, and Bishop Bychok pledged his commitment, whilst the Archbishop fulfilled his role in empowering the new Bishop to be the Eparch.
Axios! Axios! Axios! Rang throughout the Church – One could sense the joyfulness, the pride, and God’s blessings on the face of the new Eparch, his brother Bishops and clergy and the congregation.
Ukrainian Catholics now had their third Eparch installed. The road was long, but this part of the journey was completed, and the new journey was beginning.
Bishop Mykola addressed those present at the end of the service, thanking all those who influence his life – His opening remarks were
“I bless the Lord always. His praise is always on my lips.” (Ps.34.1) The words of the psalmist best describe the state of my soul today. The Lord, out of His great love, has chosen me as his instrument. Through me, He can be served among God’s people. I thank God for the gift of life, and at the same time, I thank my parents, who received the gift of giving life from God and passed it on to me. Even though they are far from me today in Ukraine; however they are joined to me in prayer. My heart is filled with gratitude to God for the gift of my vocation to religious, priestly and episcopal ministry.
The service finished with any renditions of Mnohay Lita – many happy years and an emotional singing the Hymn for Ukraine.
The new Bishop has been installed!
CELEBRATING THE EVENT
Melrose Receptions was the venue where over two hundred parishioners and clergy ventured to mark this wonderful occasion.
Under thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Bishop Mykola and Bishop Peter entered the hall.
One could feel the warmth and jubilation that filled the venue.
It was evident from the looks on their faces both Bishops were seated amongst their brother Bishops and fellow clergy and their families. They were also filled with joy and satisfaction.
MC’s Peter Duma and Juliana Hassett led the program, which included the Cathedral Choir opening the event and the blessing -“the fruit of thy gifts which we are about to receive through Christ our Lord ….”
A welcome to country was performed by Indigenous leader Prof Mark Rose who spoke about the similarities in tradition and struggled that both our cultures should. He welcomed Bishop Mykola to this land and wished him well.
Most Rev Taras Horpynyak congratulated the new Bishop on behalf of the clergy, wished him well, assured him that the clergy is ready for the new journey and tasks ahead. It was a powerful message of unity.
Cultural Performances by Lehenda and CYM Verchovyna Dance Groups, greetings by Slawko Kohut from AUV and Stefan Romaniw AFUO and Parish Council followed.
Bishop Peter addressed those present. He did this as a real Statesman – a person who came with a vision, worked hard, opened doors, and worked with his Church and community – had achieved a great deal and was now handing over the reigns to his successor. He called on all to support YOUR NEW BISHOP – I will always have a special place in my heart for the Church and Community in Australia. His comments were met with a standing ovation!
Throughout the night, Bishop Mykola visited every table, spoke to all those present. Again, the buzz in the room was electric.
Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for. Bishop Mykola expressed his feelings and thanks to God, his parents, his educators and all who helped make this day memorable for him. The response was rapturous applause!
He called on all to pray for him, to support him. He expressed his need to work hard to make this one of the best Eparchies in the world. But he needs for all to pull together.
Towards the end of his address, he said he has a duty to carry out on behalf of our Patriarch Sviatoslav to bestow a Certificate of Thanks and Acknowledgement on Stefan Romaniw for his work in Ukraine, the community and our Church. Father Ihor Holovko read the commendation, and Bishop Mykola presented the framed certificate.
The night continued with a raffle organised by Eugene Hawryszko.
No one was in a hurry to get home – Discussions continued around tables, Bishop Mykola interacting and making himself known, being asked for a photograph with individuals and community organisations.
It might be best described in the simple words of one person on the night –
He’s not a bad guy, is he? It looks like we are in for a great ride!
It is evident that in Bishop Mykola, Bishop Peter has an excellent successor who, in a noticeably short time, has endeared himself to his flock. He has indicated that he has a plan and, most importantly, wants to work in partnership to deliver his mission. That is to do God’s work and promote our Ukrainian Catholic values and traditions.
He has quickly assessed the environment he has found himself in and will undoubtedly cut the cloth to make things fit and work.
I conclude my word of thanks with a prayer to the Mother of God, “Mother of Perpetual Help”:
“I stand today before you as a bishop. I beg you to envelop with your holy protection my episcopal ministry and entreat from your Son and our God, Jesus Christ, the grace to be a good shepherd in Christ’s Vineyard. In a special way, I offer to you the Eparchy of Ss. Peter and Paul, Melbourne in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, which has been entrusted to me. I pray that it grows in holiness through the growth of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love!”
“Most Holy Mother and Theotokos, save us!” Bishop Mykola Bychok