SOUTH BOUND BROOK, N.J. – Hundreds of pilgrims visited the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. (UOC-U.S.A.) for the annual St. Thomas Sunday weekend pilgrimage on May 8-9 at the Metropolia of the UOC-U.S.A. in South Bound Brook, N.J.
Visitors come every year to St. Andrew’s Cemetery, on the weekend following Easter according to the Julian calendar, to pray at the gravesites of those buried there. This year restored the tradition that was unfortunately unable to be held in 2020 due to the pandemic restrictions in place at the time. With restrictions relaxed this year, the annual pilgrimage took place.
Divine liturgies were celebrated at St. Andrew the First-Called Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church. The service on Saturday was led by the Very Rev. Yurij Siwko, parish priest at St. Andrew Church. The prime hierarch of the UOC-U.S.A., Metropolitan Antony, was present and presiding during the service. The Very Rev. Siwko was the primary celebrant of the liturgy and was joined by the Very Rev. Ioan Proteasa, St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Parish in Jamaica, N.Y.; the Rev. Milorad Orlic from the Serbian Orthodox Church; the Rev. Vasyl Pasakas, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Parish in South Plainfield, N.J.; the Rev. James Cairns, St. Demetrius Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Carteret, N.J.; the Rev. Richard Jendras, Protection of the Mother of God Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Allentown, Pa.; the Rev. Sviatoslav Hot, Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Parish in Maplewood, N.J.; and Deacons Myroslav Mykytyuk, Mykola Zomchak and Ihor Protsak of the Metropolia Center of the UOC-U.S.A. The St. Sophia Seminary Student Choir sang the responses during the liturgy.
In his sermon, Metropolitan Antony noted the importance of taking the faith seriously, approaching with open hearts and souls the principles of the Christian faith given by Christ Himself. The hierarch urged everyone to reflect and pray for those who have eternally departed and are buried at St. Andrew’s Cemetery or anywhere else in the world. The Metropolitan also spoke about the first Prime Hierarch of the Church, Metropolitan John (Theodorovych), who fell asleep in the Lord on May 3, 1971, and was interred in St. Andrew Cemetery, immediately behind the Memorial Church, on May 8, 50 years ago to the day. Metropolitan Antony recalled Metropolitan John’s loving spiritual guidance and credited him as the reason he stood in church at the 50th anniversary as a priest and bishop. Metropolitan John, he added, will be remembered as a loving bishop who was able to embrace all the faithful of the Church, regardless of their origin or the language they spoke and still remains a worthy example of hierarchical and priestly ministry.
Following the conclusion of liturgy, Metropolitan Antony, joined by the clergy, served a memorial service over the grave of Metropolitan John.
On the same day, a large number of people were at the cemetery, where they together with the priests had memorial services over the graves of their loved ones. The sunny weather made it not only possible but also very pleasant to hear the many versions of “Christ is Risen” repeated throughout the day.
On Thomas Sunday, Metropolitan Antony celebrated an archpastoral divine liturgy, assisted by the Very Rev. Siwko; the Rev. Volodymyr Muzychka, St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in New York; the Very Rev. Todor Mazur, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in New York; as well as the Rev. Pasakas, the Rev. Hot, and Deacons Mykytyuk, Zomchak and Protsak of the Metropolia Center of the Church. The choir of St. Andrew’s Memorial Church, under the direction of Michael Andrec, complemented the archpastoral liturgy with beautiful singing.
Metropolitan Antony spoke of faith in his sermon, saying that when the Lord spoke to Apostle Thomas, He was and is also speaking to each of us: “Do not be unbelieving but believing.” (John 20:27) And further: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Jn. 20:29).
Metropolitan Antony stressed the need for faith in the path toward salvation. Belief, faith and trust in the Lord and the grace He has inspired us with can carry us worthily through our life, he said.
Following liturgy, Metropolitan Antony was joined by clergy and all the pilgrims in front of the Memorial Church for the Memorial Service dedicated to all those who have died. In particular, during the memorial service, Metropolitan Antony commemorated all the departed Orthodox patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops and bishops who are buried at St. Andrew’s Cemetery, all those who gave their lives for the freedom and independence of the United States and Ukraine, as well as all those who died during Holodomor and the Chornobyl disaster.
Although the pilgrims were not able to visit all of the buildings of the Spiritual Center due to this year’s pandemic, such as the Ukrainian Cultural Center, St. Sophia Seminary, the Mausoleum of the Holy Resurrection or the Consistory Building, they were able to come and pray over the graves of their loved ones, to greet them during the joyous time of Pascha as everyone continues through the difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic.