At the Sobor: Day 5, Entry 1

September 4, 2015

At the Divine Liturgy on Thursday morning, we experienced a truly extraordinary moment in the life of the Living Church of Christ. The sermon was delivered by Most Rev. Stephan Meniok. He is the bishop of Donetsk Exarchate that includes the two eastern war torn provinces (oblasts) of Donetsk and Luhansk. He is presently "in exile" living in the cities of Zaporizhya and Dnipropetrovsk. Eleven of his priests were forced out of their parishes, many after arrest and/or physical beatings. Even in such times one can find humour... Bishop Stephan told the story of one of the priests that was abducted right off the street. He was chloroformed and only came to in some unfamiliar location. [They interrogated him and heaped upon him unspeakable verbal and psychological abuse, but he heard his captives (members of the self-named “Russian Orthodox Army”) say, "but nobody beats him! Who's going to carry the big *#@% afterward!?" (The priest was apparently extremely overweight at the time)].

Three of his priests remain in the terrorist-controlled zone of his Exarchate. They are in constant danger of arrest and even death. Churches and communities have been, persecuted, destroyed and disbanded. This is a social and spiritual tragedy for the people of that area.

How incredible it was to hear an Apostle of today's Church sharing with followers of Christ from around the world about the reality of the persecution and hardships that are experienced by faithful Christians in many parts of the world – including eastern and southern Ukraine. He asked not for concern or pity, but that we would keep them in our prayer. After his presentation, the Divine Liturgy continued as glorious as ever, but the tone noticeably changed from triumphant to fervent and humble prayer...

At the beginning of the morning session the texts of the proposed letters to the President of Ukraine and to the Faithful of the Ukrainian Catholic Church were read for our consideration, as were the 2nd of three sets of resolutions. We were told that we may propose changes to the central editing committee, but to do so without unnecessary delay as we would vote on the texts at the plenary session at the close of the Sobor.

The theme of this day was, "Service of neighbour and leadership."

Among the morning speakers was the vice president of "Caritas Ukraine", Fr. Andrij Nahirnyak, who gave a presentation on the wide range of activities that Caritas is involved with. This covers just about every possible social challenge from the homeless, to orphans, to those suffering from AIDS to refugees and the victims of the war and their families and much more.

The President of Caritas-Ukraine, Andrij Was'kovets, gave a brief but rousing speech about Catholic Social teaching and what should be the response of the Church to the needs of society. He received a sound round of applause on a few occasions during his talk and at the Q&A session afterwards.

The small-group discussions after lunch - the last of the Sobor - were very lively as the delegates were not only completely comfortable in sharing their opinions, but everyone wanted to ensure that the proposals of their eparchies were properly noted and included.

There was a very short coffee break, and then we made our way to the main theatre for the plenary session.

Watch this site for updates on the activity of the Winnipeg delegation to the 6th Session of the Patriarchal Sobor on "The Vibrant Parish - The Place to Encounter the Living Christ" in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. 24-28 August 2015.

Fr. Michael Kwiatkowski

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