As the dark sullen clouds slowly sailed across the sky, the bells of the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church in the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, in South Bound Brook, NJ, began to slowly toll the hour. Inside the memorial building, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, turned to open the Royal Gates and begin the Divine Liturgy.
A quick glance around the nave made it evident that today something extraordinary was taking place. As faithful crowded in, they found a spot to stand, while each holding a small poster with the photo, name, and description of one of the fallen heroes of Ukrainian’s Revolution of Dignity, which occurred in the Maidan of Kyiv, in February of 2014.
As the Divine Liturgy began, the voices of Archbishop Daniel, Very Rev. Fr. Yuriy Siwko, Very Rev. Fr. Ivan Lyshyk, Rev. Fr. Andrii Drapak and Rev. Fr. Mykola Zomchak, echoed inside the tall walls of the church, the petitions to God holding a deeper meaning today.
“For the peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.”
Peace and unity, and the stability of the Holy Church of God, were at the forefront of the revolution eight years ago, and now the peace in Ukraine is challenged by the aggression of the Russian Federation. Eight years ago, the entire situation arose when then President Yanukovych of Ukraine, announced the suspension of plans to have Ukraine join the European Union, in exchange for a pro-Russian agenda. The people, who yearned for freedom, poured out into the streets to calmly demonstrate against the government, which was acting against the interest of the populace, in favor of a few. Three months later, security forces mounted attacks on the peaceful protestors gathered on Maidan Square in central Kyiv, mercilessly killing the unarmed individuals, most of whom were shot by hired snipers. These fallen heroes, who gave their life defending freedom, are now lovingly known as the “Heavenly Hundred”.
“For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.”
The day’s Gospel Reading, in preparation for Great Lent, was the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In his sermon, Archbishop Daniel explained that salvation is attained through spiritual accountability, maturity, humility and faith.
It is through the simple displays of faith, getting on our knees in our icon corners, bemoaning our sinful natures, and asking the Lord’s forgiveness as did the Prodigal Son in today’s Gospel Reading, that we can attain salvation. For even if we follow all the stipulations of the Faith – fasting, tithing, praying… if we do not do it earnestly, from a pure heart, humble, and standing only in judgement of ourselves, and not others, the Lord will not accept our prayers. We need to be like the Tax Collector, like the Prodigal Son, and having reviewed our life, realizing the sins we have committed, humbly, and meekly ask the Lord to forgive us, and to strengthen us so we can abstain from future sins.
Before concluding, Archbishop Daniel brought everyone’s attention to the faces of the Heavenly Hundred which were found around the church. He stated that these individuals’ lives were cut short due to human greed, and a pharisaical outlook on life. The same attitude of “I am better than him” is behind much of the evil in the world.
As Ukrainians, it is our duty to remember the souls who gave up their lives in an attempt to cement freedom for their loved ones. While the world remembers numerous genocides, wars, famines, and holocausts, the crimes perpetrated against the Ukrainian nation and her people, are all too often erased from history, or rewritten. While we work to ensure these tragedies do not reoccur, we must always ensure the historic truth is preserved.
Eight years after the Maidan, Ukraine is still engaged in a real war with Russia, which illegally seized Crimea and continues a simmering conflict in the eastern region of the Donbas. These actions go against any number of treaties and memorandums which were signed in good faith, and yet the world has turned a blind eye. The current war cannot be reduced to an internal disagreement, a civil war of sorts. If we do not remember, if we do not proclaim the truth, the truth will be obliterated before our very eyes. Therefore, His Eminence asked that we pray for these hundred souls, not just today, but, throughout the year, and let them remind us to be faithful to the truth, and to uphold the dignity of humanity, and the fight for freedom, not just in Ukraine, but world-wide.
As the Divine Liturgy continued, even though the faithful rejoiced in the Lord, the mood was melancholy, as they glanced around them at all the faces of those who had died to preserve their right for freedom. Later, approaching to partake of Holy Communion, the young children stopped to look at a particular photograph, or point to another one across the aisle… the young, too innocent to yet realize why these faces stood before them, were nonetheless mesmerized by the display, realizing from the demeanor of the adults around them that this was something special.
Nobody complained of aching feet as the service, already two hours long, continued after the Divine Liturgy, with the celebration of a Panakhyda (Memorial Service) for the peaceful repose of the souls of the Heavenly Hundred.
Tears flowed freely as seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary of the UOC of the USA, stood in the nave and began to sing “Plyve Katcha”, a song now synonymous with the Maidan. It is a lament. A sad retelling of a young soldier, who is going off to fight in foreign wars, and his final conversation with the mother he is leaving behind.
"My dear mother, what will happen to me if I die in a foreign land?"
Dozens upon dozens of people were killed by snipers in Maidan on February 18th and 20th, 2014 and were buried and mourned in a mass funeral on February 21st, with this song being used to memorialize their lives.
The silence of the church was broken by the low melodic tone of the male voices humming the lament, as the deep voice of seminarian Andrii Akulenko sang out the refrain. Goosebumps arose on those who were standing with candles in the church, and those who were watching the service over the live broadcast via Facebook Live feed.
Trying to hold back tears proved futile, as memories of the images of that day arose in everyone’s mind… the innocents with nothing to defend themselves with against the violent onslaught of the riot police. Images of the unprovoked vicious and violent beatings… bodies dropping under the onslaught of sniper’s bullets… as the bells of the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery bells rang out in the middle of the night, waking the populace in an ancient medieval method of raising the alarm… four hours the bells rang, warning the people of the danger, raising them from their beds, and calling them to arms. Many of the injured fled to the monastery where they collapsed for the night, lying unconscious before the icons of the saints and angels who seemed to spread their wings over them, while the priests and monks stood in corners and prayed fervently throughout the night for peace. All these memories came flooding back and overflowed as tears at the injustices of this world.
The panakhyda continued with His Eminence praying for the souls of the departed, reading out each individual name, not only praying for them, but, acknowledging appreciation for their ultimate sacrifice.
“With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Thy servants, where there is no pain, nor any sorrow, nor is there any sighing, but life everlasting.”
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel added some incense to the censer and beginning in the front made his way around the church, censing the images of the faces of the departed souls. Once again, the faithful broke out in tears, as the incense formed clouds, enveloping them, and thinning the lines between the living and the dead, as they all stood together, humbly before the Lord.
Having concluded the solemn and heart-wrenching service, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony (who was in attendance) thanked all those who had joined in prayer, especially those who had joined via the Livestream from all over the world, while calling upon all people of good will to do everything in their power to stop the war in Ukraine.
Final words of the prayer service: “In a blessed falling-asleep, give rest eternal, O Lord, unto Thy departed servants, and make their memory to be eternal…” – the choir of St., Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church (under the leadership of Dr. Michael Andrec) responded: MEMORY ETERNAL!
Yuriy Verbytskyiuk, Pavlo Mazurenkouk, Serhiy Nigoyan, Roman Senyk, Bohdan Kalyniak, Serhiy Synenko, Serhiy Bondarev, Valeriy Brezdenyuk, Serhiy Didych, Antonina Dvoryanets, Oleksandr Kapinos, Volodymyr Kishchuk, Andriy Korchak, Volodymyr Kulchytskyi, Volodymyr Naumov, Oleksandr Plekhanov, Ihor Serdyuk, Serhiy Shapoval, Vyacheslav Veremiy, Yakiv Zaiko, Andriy Chernenko, Yuriy Paskhalin, Dmytro Maksymov, Vitaliy Vasyltsov, Serhiy Baidovsky, Serhiy Bondarchuk, Mykola Dziavulsky, Ustym Holodnyuk, Eduard Hrynevych, Serhiy Kemsky, Ihor Kostenko, Ivan Kreman (Panteleyev), Andrii Movchan, Roman Nikulichev, Dmytro Pahor, Yuriy Parashchuk, Anatoliy Korneyev, Andriy Sayenko, Yosyp Shylinh, Viktor Chmilenko, Vitaliy Smolinsky, Bohdan Solchanyk, Igor Tkachuk, Bohdan Ilkiv, Roman Tochyn, Oleksandr Tsariok, Oleh Ushnevych, Roman Varenytsia, Nazar Voytovych, Anatoliy Zhalovaha, Anatoliy Zherebnyh, Bohdan Vaida, Volodymyr Chaplinsky, Ihor Dmytriv, Andriy Dyhdalovych, Roman Hurik, Vitaliy Kotsyuba, Oleksandr Khrapachenko, Vasyl Moysey, Valeriy Opanasyuk, Volodymyr Pavliuk, Leonid Polyansky, Oleksandr Shcherbaniuk, Maksym Shymko, Ivan Tarasiuk, Ivan Bliok, Mykola Pankiv, Vasyly Prohorskiy, Viktor Shvets, Volodymyr Zherebniy, Liudmyla Sheremeta, Yevhen Kotliar, Ivan Horodniuk, Andriy Tsepun, Maksym Mashkov, Maksym Horoshishin, Georgiy Arutiunyan, Volodymyr Melnychuk, Victor Chernets, Oleksandr Scherbatyuk, Volodymyr Topiy, Volodymyr Zubok, Viktor Khomyak, Viktor Prokhorchuk, Andriy Zhanovachiy, Volodymyr Boykiv, Oleksiy Bratushko, Ihor Batchinsky, Mykola Tarshchuk, Mykola Semisiuk, Ihor Pehenko, Vladyslav Zubenko, Artem Mazur, Taras Slobodian, Mykhailo Kostyshyn, Artur Khuntsaar, Yuriy Nechiporuk, Anatoliy Kurach, Oleksandr Badera, Oleksandr Baliuk, Reshat Ametov, Vyacheslav Vorona, Vasyl Aksenin, Olha Bura, Vasyl Sheremet, Ivan Nakonechny, Petro Hadzha, Dmytro Chernyavskiy, Roman Olikh, Zurab Khurtsia, David Kipiani, Mikhail Zhyznevskibe.
May their memory be eternal!
Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan
Text by Elizabeth Symonenko