“The most important thing  in life is to feel a sense of a vocation, because if you don’t have a vocation, you won’t be able to fulfill your duties well”. An interview with a young Ukrainian, Vitalii Stochanskyi, an Altar Server at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Melbourne

Unfortunately, in today’s world, fewer and fewer people, especially young people, go to church. Citing various reasons. However, there are some, who despite their young age, do not miss the slightest opportunity to be close to God. There are many such young people at the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in Melbourne. One of them is Vitalii Stochanskyi, an altar server, an active young Christian. We talked with him about his life as a Christian, in particular about his service as an Altar Server, which he faithfully performs without missing a single Sunday or feast day.

– Vitalii, tell our readers about yourself.

– I’m 18 years old. I am from the city of Stryi, in the Lviv Region. I lived in Stryi with my mother, father, and older brother, who is 21 years old and is studying in Lviv. I am part of the Altar Servers at the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in Melbourne. Before that, from the age of 5 to 14, I served in the church of Saints Volodymyr and Olha in my native city of Stryi. Later I taught serving to younger boys.

– When did you arrive in Australia and do you like it here?

– I arrived in Australia on May 8 last year. Now I am studying: I finished the 11th grade, and I will start studying in the 12th grade from the beginning of February. The teachers are very friendly here.

I like Australia very much. I am glad that there is a Greek Catholic Church and a Ukrainian community here. I also have Ukrainian friends here who also recently arrived and one very close Australian friend whom I made friends with at summer camp. I can say that I have good company: we usually go for a walk, and now – in the summer – we often go to the beach.

– Tell us about your experience at CYM and Plast.

– In Stryi near the church of Saints Volodymyr and Olha, CYM often organized meetings, sometimes I participated in camps. In Australia, I took part in the Self Development Program, which was organized by CYM in May-June last year. It was an interesting experience, because I was in a group of my peers and it was interesting to meet everyone, make friends, in addition, we studied banking literacy in depth, learned a dance for a performance, and had dinner together for us and our families. I found many Ukrainian friends there. Also, in December-January 2022-2023, I was a participant in a camp organized by Plast.

– Vitalii, we observe that every Sunday you perform a special service in the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul – you are an altar server. How do you feel when you stand so close to the altar?

– First of all, I remember from childhood that my parents took my brother and I to church every Sunday, we went to catechism, which was conducted by priests. I started serving when I was 6 years old. Once I arrived in Australia, I was in the “Trembita” cafe, which is attached to our Cathedral and Deacon Myroslav Vons told me that he was gathering newAltar Servers and asked me to join them, to which I gladly agreed.

For me, sAltar Serving is awe-inspiring and majestic, because I can be closest to the bishop, the fathers, and, first of all, to God; to witness something glorious. I love God and it is a great honor to serve and participate in the Liturgy.

– Who encouraged your love for the Church?

– In my family, all ancestors, grandparents, parents always went to church. Even in Soviet times, when there was propaganda against the church, none of my relatives supported such a policy. They took part in the Liturgy, baptized their children, my parents took me and my brother to church from a young age. And I am very grateful to them for that.

– You are now 18. However, most boys of your age are interested in something else: sports, entertainment, games, and gadgets, and they do not have enough time for church. Therefore, it is really surprising and commendable to see young men in the church who would have the desire to serve as well. Do you ever have that desire disappear, or instead of waking up on Sunday morning to go to church, you want to get a good night’s sleep?

– Well, it’s really hard for me sometimes. For example, I also watch late-night movies or European sports on Saturdays, which are usually broadcast at night Australian time. After that, it’s hard to get up in the morning, but I set the alarm and know that I have to wake up early. I don’t have the opportunity to sleep because, apart from the alarm clock, my mother always wakes me up. I’m also lucky because my grandmother and I go to church by car, and it saves a lot of time. Of course, I want to sleep longer on Sunday, but I feel responsible for my service in the church. Therefore, if I agreed to it, I had to do it responsibly, without missing the Liturgy.

– How long does it take you to go to church?

  – About 20-25 minutes by car.

– What time do you wake up on Sunday?

– I usually wake up at 8:10, do morning rituals, and at 9 o’clock we leave.

– Do you have friends from church or Altar Servers?

– Unfortunately no. Many of my peers, even those who came from Ukraine, rarely go to church or don’t go at all. I would like to have friends who share Christian values, love the church, and go to it.

– Why do you go to church? As a young man what do you find interesting?

– First of all, I understand that this is necessary for my soul. There is always an opportunity to go, if necessary, to Confession, to receive Communion, to receive the Holy Mysteries. It’s interesting in the church. I especially love when the choir sings.

– Who taught you these truths?

– I think it started when I went to the First Confession. We were also taught this at Catechism classes. Fr. Roman Stoyko, who serves and conducts catechesis at the church of Saints Volodymyr and Olha, taught that it is extremely important for a Christian to receive the Holy Sacraments and if the church provides such opportunities, then one should use them.

– Maybe you feel called to the priestly or monastic life?

– I sometimes think about it. In 2020, many in the parish community and I participated in an Ignatian Retreat at the Monastery of the Incarnate Word, near Ivano-Frankivsk. It was an important experience for me: several days in silence, reading the Holy Scriptures, meditating on the Word of God, and reflecting on my spirituality.

At the moment I’m not sure if I want to be a priest or a monk, I haven’t felt a very strong calling yet, so I’m still figuring it out. Father said that the most important thing in life is to feel a vocation, because if there is no vocation, then you will not be able to perform your duties well.

– And if not the priesthood, then what would you choose?

– While studying at school in Ukraine, I liked the History of Ukraine subject. I even thought of choosing a specialty related to Law, History, or Archaeology. But I’m still thinking because I still have a year of school.

– You have a unique experience of serving in the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and Australia. Do you see any differences?

– In general, there is one difference: in Stryi, the bishop presided over the Liturgy only a few times a year, mostly on major feasts, in our church there were also no deacons and, usually, the father served alone. In the Cathedral Church in Melbourne, everything is more solemn, it was necessary to get used to it because new nuances appeared in the service. However, in general, everything is very similar.

– In your opinion, what does the church need to do, in particular in Australia, so that young people are interested here?

– Answering this question, I will give an example of my church in Stryi, which I have already mentioned several times – here every Sunday during the Liturgy, men held processional crosses, and young girls – banners, because they cannot serve in the altar, so people are more felt like a part of the church community. And, of course, it was more solemn.

There is also a great lack of youth communities, especially catechesis. I would be happy to join such initiatives. In Ukraine, my brother and I always visited such Christian communities, where we talked about the church and its history, explained the Gospel, and taught the structure of the Liturgy – in a word, deepened our understanding of our faith.

– In today’s world, it is fashionable to advertise everything – advertising is almost at every step. And now I offer you a task: advertise the church in such a way as to interest as many people as possible.

– First of all, I would start with the Holy Scriptures. I would advise reading the Word of God to all Christians, even those who are not very close to the church. After all, when you read the Holy Scriptures, try to understand more deeply what the Lord speaks to you, it will help you better understand your faith and why it is important to go to church, and not just pray at home. This would be the first stage, and I think the Lord will speak to the human heart and reveal many secrets.

– I see that you have a very mature understanding of faith.

– Yes, it is important to devote at least an hour or two a week of your life to God. This is necessary for our personal growth.

– I understand that you read Holy Scripture quite often?

– I remember how Fr. Roman Stoyko explained at catechesis that the Bible should not be read as a work of art. In order to better understand it, it is best to read one chapter at a time, but at the same time analyze and reflect on what you have read. As for me, I try to read the Word of God at least several times a week. I have the Holy Scriptures in English, which were given to me at a summer camp, but recently my grandmother found a Bible in Ukrainian.

– Do you read only the New Testament, or the Old as well?

– I have not read the Old Testament yet, but I remember that when I was younger, my father read it to me.

– And what is your favorite book from the Holy Scriptures?

– I love the Gospel of John the most because it best describes the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

– Also tell us about your spiritual practices: what prayers do you pray and do you get up together with your family to pray?

– I have a rosary and I try to pray on it every day. In Stryi, I was a member of Marian Group, and we prayed the rosary together every Saturday. Bishop Mykola Bychok recently gave rosaries to the Altar servers, so I already have a mini collection. In our family, ever since my brother and I were small, every morning and every evening we would stand up for prayer together with our parents. Usually, the following prayers were prayed: “Our Father”, “Hail Mary”, “Under your mercy”, the Symbol of Faith, “Heavenly King” and a prayer to the Guardian Angel. Now, since my father and brother have stayed in Ukraine, my mother and I always pray before going to bed.

– This is very commendable. That is, you were also a member of Marian Group in Stryi?

– So. In addition to the rosary, we also formed lists of those on duty near the Holy Shroud on Easter, and organized “Holidays with God” not only at our church, but also at other parishes. When I was 13-14 years old, I was a participant in the camp, and then an animator.

– I must say that you have a lot of experience. Would you like to serve the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Australia with your skills and abilities?

– Yes, with great joy.

– Vitalii, our conversation is drawing to a close: Thank you for the wonderful insights. I pray that the Lord would guide you on the path of discerning your vocation and that you would be open to His will and service to His church, which in principle you are doing. Thank you for the fact that, despite your young age, you set an excellent example of a mature Christian not only to your peers but also to many Christians.

  – Thank you very much for the conversation and wishes. I dream and strive to fulfill God’s Will as best as possible.