As night fell on the chilly winter day, as the world celebrated St. Nicholas Day, fluffy white snowflakes danced on a cool breeze as the first stars of the evening began to twinkle in the heavens. The darkening landscape of the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA was a beacon of light in the growing darkness, as the deep blues of the evening were illuminated by a warm and welcoming glow of lights from the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary building. Among the softly glowing colored Christmas lights that cheerfully decorated the outside of the building, the windows glowed with a warm and welcoming brightness, as sounds of joy and laughter could be heard emanating from inside.
Standing tall in their cassocks were six of the resident seminarians: Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan, Subdeacon Myroslav Mykytyuk, Maksym Zhuravchyk, Mykola Stefanyk, Matvii Blyzniuk and Andriy Akulenko, as they sang “Rejoice, O Earth, for Christ is Born!”.
Concluding the Christmas Carol they all looked about realizing that they were missing two of their class-fellows. Suddenly, there was a commotion behind them, as the window opened and climbing in through from the outside were Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi and Andrii Vatrich who had been helping Saint Nicholas, and were delayed in joining their seminary brothers.
Making their grand entrance, Pavlo and Andrii, dressed in their embroidered Ukrainian shirts looked around and gestured for the young men to remove their cassocks and relax as they sang more casual Christmas tunes. Heeding their advice, the young men removed their formal black cassocks, and stood resplendent in their colorful vyshyvanky, representing not only their Faith, but pride in their heritage, as they loudly belted out a traditional Ukrainian tune – “Dobrij Vechir Tobi, Pane Hospodaru” (Good Evening to you, Lord of the house). This carol is customarily the first one sung upon entering someone’s home at Christmastime, as the lyrics greet the homeowner with the Nativity of Christ and foretell the preparation for the upcoming seasonal festivities and celebrations – Feast Day of St. Basil and Theophany.
“Dear brothers and sisters, as the brightest and most joyous holiday approaches, the birth of Christ, a holiday when the world overflows with love, we know that the Star of Bethlehem’s light will illuminate our souls, renew our hope, strengthen our faith, igniting the rays of love within our hearts. On this glorious occasion,” continued Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan, “ we wish everyone to fill their lives with positive thoughts and the realization that Christ is born!”
As he wished everyone good health, the choir broke out in a joyous rendition of “Oy, Khto, Khto, Mykolaya Lyubit” (Oh, Who, Who, Likes Saint Nicholas).
Andriy Akulenko proclaimed that the star in the heavens glowed brightly, greeting everyone with the birth of Christ. He stated that faith and hope were renewed in everyone’s hearts, and that as the shepherds prayed that night, the Christ Child this evening visits every household, granting gifts to enlighten and fill everyone’s souls with joy everlasting.
With smiles, the deep voices of the young men resonated through the building as they sang “Dnec Poyushche” (Sing Today).
Today we sing here boldly performing,
The King that has been born, let us all do praise Him.
Singing out, Glorifying
"Glory in the highest" - all singing out.
Andrii Vatrych expressed his wishes, that everyone’s homes be filled with the joy of Christ’s Birth, as the seminarians sang a heartfelt “Nova Radist Stala” (A New Joy Has Come).
A new joy has been revealed,
That never has been before,
Above the manger there's a bright star,
Shining through out the whole world.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, and the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Seminary, joined the seminarians, thanking Fr. Taras Naumenko of St. Vladimir’s Cathedral in Philadelphia, PA, who instructs them in “Sacred Music” for doing such a fine job.
His Eminence expressed gratitude to everyone for finding the time to join the Seminary Concert, especially the over 100 individuals who were currently watching over the Facebook LIVESTREAM. He also expressed his gratitude for the Lewytzkyj Scholarship Fund, named for Very Rev. Volodymyr and Dobr. Halyna Lewytzkyj, administered by Luba Lewytzkyj. This fund offers scholarships and permits many of the young men to follow their calling to become clergy in Christ’s Holy Church.
Vladyka continued by again expressing his heartfelt welcome to everyone who was joining the evening of Christmas Carols, on this Saint Nicholas Day, and took the opportunity to introduce the seminarians, who all come from various areas of Ukraine. He stated that we pray with them every day – morning and evening prayers, and now we have the chance to meet them.
With the conclusion of the introductions, Mykola Stefanyk, recited a Christmas poem, expressing good tidings of the Birth of Christ, which was followed by a moving carol – “U Viflyemi Novyna” (There is news in Bethlehem).
Subdeacon Myroslaw Mykytyuk recited a Christmas poem:
Bright Christmas star shines on high
Golden stars in the winter sky
Christmas candles, In windows bright
Send warm greetings into the night…
The seminarians then sang, “Starij Reek Mynaye” (The Old Year Passes) as Pavlo Vysotskyi expressed his greetings for good health and a prosperous new year.
As the hymn “Heaven and Earth” was sung, reminding us that both the angels and all creation rejoices as the Lord incarnates for the salvation of man, voices were heard throughout the land, as all those watching the livestream joined in… from their homes, their cars, their offices… from every corner the sounds of joy echoed, reaching the very heavens.
Matvii Blyzniuk read a heartfelt poem on doing good deeds in the coming year, as the seminarians finished the evening with the words “and with these words, remain healthy, Oh Rejoice! Rejoice Oh Earth, for the Son of God is born!”
Before concluding the program, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel gestured to the numerous packages and boxes that were stacked in the seminary, thanking all the donors who had sent gifts of love and supplies for the Seminary.
- John the Baptist Parish (Portland, Oregon)
- Peter & Paul Parish (Wilmington, Delaware)
- Holy Ghost Parish (Coatsville, Pennsylvania)
- Assumption of the Virgin Mary Parish, Senior UOL Chapter (Northampton, Pennsylvania)
- Myroslav Schirta and family
- Vasyl and Dobrodijka Olena Shak, and family
- Yurii Bobko and family
- John Shandruk
- Iryna Bernhardt
- Vera Debuchananne
- Dejneka Family
- Bruce Macgioan
- Anita Anderson
- Michael Ratai and family
- Feodora Sedlock
- Svetlana Osadtsia (Zabava Banquet Hall)
- Pasakas family
- Rev. Volodymyr and Panimatka Halyna Lewytzkyi Scholarship Fund and Luba Lewytzkyi
- As well as all those who donated items that are in transit, and those who will donate in the future
His Eminence explained that the Seminary currently has 30 students, the 8 resident students from Ukraine that everyone just met, plus another 22 Distance Learning students from various parts of the U.S.
Archbishop Daniel held up the newly produced Seminary Christmas Carol CD, explaining that all the songs heard this night, plus many more, are available for purchase via the website. While all the American Christmas Carols are nice, there is something special to sing the ages old, traditional Ukrainian melodies, sung by our ancestors.
As the camera panned out, the seminarians voices softly sang “Nova Radist Stala” (A New Joy). Softly their voices faded, as the camera focused on the twinkling star shining brightly above the Christmas Tree.
As the program concluded, the songs remained in the air… being sung by all the listeners for the rest of that evening, and playing again in their heads as they drifted peacefully off to sleep, dreaming of peace on earth, and good will towards men.
CD may be purchased online: www.uocofusa.org/stsophia