By Beth Griffin
NEW YORK (CNS) — Ukrainian Catholics in New York celebrated Easter with prayers that Christ’s triumph over death will also signify victory over everything evil happening in their home country.
Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut, was the main celebrant for the Easter Divine Liturgies April 24 at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. The parish celebrates services according to the Julian calendar.
On the 60th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Bishop Chomnycky said the situation there is coloring the whole Easter feast, as a cloud hanging over everything, but there is reason for hope. “In the resurrection, not only did Christ defeat death, but he also defeated violence, evil and mistruth,” he said.
He said all Ukrainians are “putting our trust in the resurrected Christ that he will defeat evil in our country.”
He also read passages from the Easter message of Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Writing from Kyiv, Archbishop Shevchuk compared the passion of Christ to the war in Ukraine. “We have become aware of how human nature remains fallen, how the devil continues to control human beings who have no God in their hearts. He who sows hatred and instigates war against one’s neighbor opposes the almighty.”
The archbishop said the power of the presence of God is a miracle demonstrated in underground shelters. “In his resurrection, Christ emerges not only from the empty tomb but from the depths of hell and from deadly captivity for humankind … taking with him the hand of soldiers, volunteers and the civilian population who have seen the hell of the Russian occupation,” he wrote.
More than 1,500 people attended two back-to-back concelebrated Easter Divine Liturgies at St. George. Many worshippers at the two-hour services wore Ukrainian blouses, shirts or dresses embroidered with traditional designs. Prayers were said in Ukrainian. Bishop Chomnycky and four concelebrants read the Gospel in Greek, Latin, Old Slavonic, English and Ukrainian.
In the sanctuary, hydrangeas in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian national flag served as a backdrop to Easter baskets delivered before and during the liturgy. Bishop Chomnycky blessed the baskets at the end of the services before they were collected by the families that brought them forward.
Andrij Dobriansky, director of music for the parish, told Catholic News Service the baskets typically contain hard-boiled eggs, sausage, fresh bread, butter, cheese, horseradish and beets. He said they are reminiscent of a time when congregants fasted from Good Friday until the end of the Easter Vigil service and broke the fast by eating from the blessed baskets.
St. George has been at the center of neighborhood efforts to provide spiritual and temporal aid for Ukrainians overseas and in New York. Father Peter Shyshka, a parish priest, said they are sending three shipments of food and supplies each week to aid monasteries, orphanages, soldiers and civilians in Ukraine, as well as helping new arrivals and those who were stranded in New York when the war broke out.
The priest, who was born and grew up in the parish, told CNS the Holy Week and Easter liturgies drew 40 percent more people than usual.
Dobriansky said the Marian Sodality group at the parish is collecting funds and has organized the humanitarian aid shipments. In addition, members have established a schedule for the continuous recitation of the rosary since the Feb. 24 start of the invasion. The parish is working with local civic and religious groups to open a welcome center for anticipated new arrivals from Ukraine.
He said approximately 30,000 Ukrainians were in the United States on Feb. 24 and as many as 60,000 Ukrainians may qualify for Temporary Protected Status, granted by the Department of Homeland Security to eligible foreign-born individuals who are unable to return home safely.