May 22, 1983

Address at Great Famine service on remembering our national tragedy


Below is the text of the address delivered by Archbishop-Metropolitan Stephen Sulyk of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States at the solemn observances of the 50th anniversary of the Great Famine that were held at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle on Sunday, May 15.

The holy scriptures describe the vision of the prophet Ezekiel. “The hand of the Lord,” says the prophet, was upon me and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones…And He said unto me: Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered: O Lord God, Thou knowest.” (Ezekiel 37: 1,3)

This grim prophetic vision appears before us today in our imaginations as we pray to mourn the millions of our brothers and sisters – progeny of the Ukrainian nation – who 50 years ago died as a result of the brutal and criminal famine organized by the occupying regime. It is almost as if the holy prophet, in depicting this sad scene, had in mind our Ukrainian land, our broad steppes, our flower-filled villages and towns that were covered with the corpses of the sons and daughters of our mother Ukraine. Over 7 million martyrs died in this tragedy.

Today we still hear the mournful wail: “A black raven crows in the field, a whirlwind drones in the valleys, it is not the mother crying at home, it is mother Ukraine crying…” Ukraine cried, and the world remained silent: Western Europe remained silent, the press remained silent, there was no one to offer sympathies, no one to extend a helping hand to our nation. The wise words of Shevchenko come to mind: “Ukraine, my beloved, innocent country, why does God punish you, punish you severely? And you prided yourself on your well-being and splendor! Arise from the dead, mother! And return to the house, rest.”

Recalling this national tragedy today in our prayers, our hearts are torn by the horrifying memory of national grief, and a pleading moan emanates from within our chests: “Quiet world, dear land, my Ukraine! Why have they ravaged you; why, mother, are you dying?” At the sight of the penetrating horror of this tragedy of our nation in the years 1932-33 we are mute with pain, and we ask: Why, merciful Lord, did You allow such misfortune to befall our land? Why didn’t the Lord’s right hand punish the malicious red Babylon? Why does an innocent nation suffer, while evil, malice and coercion triumph? Why are truth, virtue and love disregarded at the feast staged by injustice and lawlessness? Why?

We Christians have an answer to these questions. Christ the Lord Himself taught us that suffering is not always a punishment for sins. He told us that, very often, suffering is an indication of special divine providence, of a special mission.

The apostles once asked Christ about the man who was born blind: “Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered: Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:2-3) If God’s works are to be made manifest in our nation, then Christ’s words apply to us also: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

The holy apostle clearly states: “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth…” (Hebrews 12:6) “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, said the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts,” the Lord says in Isaiah. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

To be sure, the Lord does not enjoy the moans and tears of his dear creatures. To ensure eternal happiness, to open heaven to people, Christ the Savior Himself accepted harsh suffering in order to ease the fate of those who must carry the heavy cross of earthly life. He endured the worst sufferings, mockery, degradation, crucifixion, treachery of his friend and treachery of the nation, beatings and scorn. Our suffering is but a drop in that ocean of pain endured by Christ on the cross. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy,” says the Apostle Peter. (I Peter 4:13) Our nation’s way of the cross has a sacramental mission in the plans of divine providence – a mission unknown to us, but one that will soon be revealed. “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” says the apostle. (Romans 8:28) Our national suffering is a powerful sermon, a sign from heaven, that we should ponder, deeply ponder, the necessity of unity, harmony, and love of God and neighbor, and that we should rid ourselves of that which disunites us.

In the years 1932-33 over 7 million of our dear brothers and sisters died in Ukraine. And they died only because they were Ukrainians, because they loved our Ukraine. They died of starvation because the enemy considered them opponents of the godless invader.

In our Ukraine no candles burn before tabernacles, because there are none. The roads to our Zion are overgrown. But, within our hearts burns the inextinguishable flame of love for our national Jerusalem. We are left with the most powerful weapon – prayer. It sustains our nation and is a companion in prisons and in exile that no one can take away. My nation, be steadfast in faith and hope in God’s help. The Lord is all-powerful. He rewards good and punishes evil. And the inevitable punishment will come. The Ukrainian earth, so tightly packed with corpses, saturated with blood, calls to heaven for help. Let us have faith in God’s help, because on this Golgotha of our nation will come resurrection. Let us direct our efforts at bringing brotherly love into our midst so that it may unite us in Christ and his Church, so that the testament of our fathers – so clearly expressed in the acts of January 22 of 1918 and 1919 – are realized. Let us ponder well these important matters which determine whether we become the masters of our Ukrainian nation’s God-given homeland.

Let us return to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel: “Therefore prophesy and say unto them, thus saith the Lord God: Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves…And shall put My spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it, saith the Lord.” (Ezekiel, 37: 12,14)

What comforting words of the Lord. He is the creator of nations. He allocated to each nation a land. He wishes all nations to live freely in their homelands. That is why he will look down upon the suffering, tears, blood and destruction, and primarily upon the tortures of those who died of starvation in the brutal famine. He will hear the sound of the prayers of our faithful of the Church in the Catacombs of Ukraine. Let us add our prayers. He will revive heroism, the strength and power of our ancestors, and then our blue and yellow flags will fly over our free Ukraine.

We pray to you, Lord, hear us and have mercy. “For blood, for tears, for ruin, return to us, God, our Ukraine.” Amen.

The Ukrainian Weekly, May 22, 1983, No. 21, Vol. LI