By Jayne L. Buryn, Communications Coordinator, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton

June 5, 2018: On Sunday, May 20th the Ukrainian Catholic community in the Edmonton Eparchy celebrated Pentecost, Zeleni Sviata (Green Holydays). Traditionally, a new day begins at 6 p.m., therefore on the evening before, Saturday, May 19th, a Divine Liturgy at St. Josaphat’s Cathedral was concelebrated by Bishop David Motiuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton and several priests from the Eparchy and overseas.

R to L: Rev. Anton Tarasenko, Pastor, St. George Parish, Edmonton; Rev. Janko Herbut, Pastor, Holy Cross Parish, Edmonton; Rev. Ivan Nykyforuk, Pastor, St. Vladimir Parish, Edmonton; Rev. Mihajlo Planchak, Pastor, Holy Eucharist and Protection of the Mother of God parishes, Edmonton.
-Photo: Jayne L. Buryn

Not only did this Divine Liturgy usher in this very important feast day in the liturgical calendar, but it also launched a special celebration of the 25th anniversary of immigration to Canada of Ukrainians from the former war-torn Yugoslavia.

The celebration held special meaning for several priests in the Eparchy who themselves were immigrants from that region. The Ukrainian priests from the former Yugoslavia include Fr. Julian Bilyj, his brother Stanislav Bjeli,  Frs. Slavko Dumec, Janko Herbut, Mihajlo Planchak, his son Roman Planchak and Anton Tarasenko.   

“How very appropriate,” noted Bishop David, in his homily, “that we celebrate the Descent of the Holy Spirit as the Breath of Life that renews the Church.

“Breath equals life.  No breath, no life,” he pointed out. “The breath that God breathed into the disciples on Pentecost is the Holy Spirit.  On Pentecost the disciples received the Holy Breath of God to bestow upon them the life and power of the new creation.

“On the journey of life we are alive only because of the breath of God.  Just as Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, so today he continues to breathe the Holy Breath of God into us today, to fill us with the life of God.”

L to R: Rev. Peter Babej, Pastor, St. Josaphat Cathedral; Rev. Julian Bilyj, Pastor, St. Nicholas Parish, Edmonton; Andrij Nykyforuk, Assistant Pastor, St. Josaphat Cathedral; Protodeacon Mihajlo Ljahovic, St. Nicholas Parish, Toronto; Francois Provencal, Pastoral Intern, St. Josaphat Cathedral.
-Photo: Jayne L. Buryn

Twenty-five years ago, the same Breath of Life gently touched the hearts of Canadians to sponsor the immigration to Canada of numerous Ukrainian Catholics, out of the country torn apart by ethnic strife.

“The Bosnian war started in the spring of 1992,” stated Luba Kowalchyk, Dobrodijka (wife) of Fr. Michael Kowalchyk and Executive Director of the Ukrainian Canadian Social Services at the time.  “Parish priest Fr. Mihajlo Stahnek with his parishioners of the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Greek Catholic Parish in Kozarac, Bosnia, were faced with the difficult decision what to do next.”

The Ukrainian Catholic community and its neighbour Muslims, Serbs and Croats had lived in peace throughout the First and Second World Wars, “respecting each other’s religions and nationalities.” However, the 1992 conflict changed all that. “I was contacted by one representative of Kozarac Ukrainian Community to help them to come to Canada,” Luba shared.

The Holy Spirit, the Breath of Life ensured resources were found to draw our Ukrainian brothers and sisters into our midst. The bishop of the time, Myron Daciuk, pledged $800,000 for sponsorship of the immigrants. About 150 families were fortunate recipients of this largesse. Included were the priests who concelebrated the Divine Liturgy, as well as Stanislav Bjeli (brother to concelebrant Julian Bilyj) who also became a priest in the Edmonton Eparchy, and several other priests and their families.

Bishop David explained that we begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit at many services or feast day celebrations in the Church, as the Holy Spirit is always with us. He presides at our baptisms, weddings, funerals, Divine Liturgies and on many other occasions.

“Pentecost was not just an event that occurred 2,000 years ago, but lives on in our day through our baptism and through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Christian tradition teaches us of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives according to the great virtues of faith, hope and charity (1 Corinthians 13:13); the seven gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2); and the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).”

Bishop David urged Divine Liturgy participants to pray for a renewal of the Holy Spirit’s Breath of Life in our parishes and in each one of us.