The second day at the Znamyanka Orphanage, found Fr. Volodymyr Muzychka, joined by the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, gathered in the great room at the crack of dawn for Morning Prayers. Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, opened his service book and began to pray, as a few of the orphans showed up and awkwardly stood among the seminarians, glancing at the service books they held. Teenager Sasha, a longtime resident who is familiar with the Mission Team, boldly stepped forward and came to stand next to His Eminence, who smiled and moved to share his service book with the boy, tracing the words with his fingers to show him where they were in their prayers. The young man stood straighter and actively participated.
Each seminarian, and some of the children, took turns reading the prayers, asking for God’s blessings upon them as they go through their day.
Almighty God, our Help and Refuge, the Fountain of Wisdom and Tower of strength, who knows that I can do nothing without Your guidance and help. Assist me, I pray You, and direct me to divine wisdom and power, that I may accomplish this task, and whatever I may undertake to do, faithfully and diligently, according to Your will, so that it may be profitable to me and others and to the glory of Your Holy Name. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Милосердний Боже, Отче і Господи, дай мені жадати всім серцем тільки того, що потребує від мене Твоя Свята воля. У всякому ділі дай мені силу шукати перш усього сповнення Святих Твоїх Заповідей. Настав мене на Твою праведну путь і навчи у всякій потребі не сходити з неї. Створи моє життя таким, щоб я міг (могла) робити все з волі Твоєї, дай мені силу виконувати Твої Святі Заповіді. На всіх стежках життя мого підтримай мої слабі сили, оборони від лукавої спокуси і поблагослови на все добре, чисте і святе, щоб і словами уст моїх, і всіма ділами життя мого я прославляв (прославляла) Святе Ім’я Твоє, Бога Великого, для нас, людей, Милосердного Отця і Сина, і Святого Духа нині і повсякчас, і на віки вічні. Амінь.
Having concluded their prayers, the children laughed and bounced away to the other side of the building, as the mission team made their way to the small kitchen to enjoy their modest breakfast. As they crammed into the small room, they were grateful for all the fresh food they were served, much of which was locally grown and organic. Fresh cucumber slices, tomatoes, and eggs, served with freshly baked bread. As they relished the meal, and enjoyed the hot tea, His Eminence took a moment to ask each seminarian about their impressions from the previous day, and to mention what one thing struck them the most.
Swallowing a mouthful of buttered bread, one seminarian said that he was humbled by seeing the deformities these children had. He had no idea that there were so many disabled people in Ukraine, and it broke his heart, especially when he realized there is no infrastructure in place to help them.
Another stated, that he was amazed and blessed to see the smiles and the pure innocence and joy on the children’s faces. Even though they are struggling, some unable to walk, others unable to talk, they seem filled with joy. They readily smile and laugh when given the slightest attention.
The third young man was moved by how much the children crave to be loved, to be remembered, to be noticed. He explained how he was standing near a child sitting in a wheelchair. He wasn’t paying attention to her, as he was watching some boys throwing a ball around, when suddenly he felt her hand reaching for his own. He glanced down and patted her cheek, and she smiled and began to cry. The simplest touch moved the young child to tears.
Another of the seminarians noted the camaraderie between the children. While there must be cliques, even though he’d not seen them yet, for the most part he was moved by how the older children care for the younger ones; and how the less disabled ones take care of their disabled friends by helping feed them, playing with them, lead them by the hand, or happily pushing their wheelchairs.
His Eminence turned the situation into a teaching moment. If you see and appreciate these things in the youngest and most innocent of children, be sure that you emulate these behaviors in your lives. By the Grace of God, we live in communities that are fairly well off, but that does not mean we are not able to show such compassion to others, help the elderly, smile at the person in the checkout line behind us, take a moment to greet the person who walks by you. Your kindness may be just what that person needed at that moment, just like the girl who cried at having her cheek touched. There are so many simple ways we can “touch” the lives of others every single day.
With the Archbishop’s words safely tucked away in their hearts, the team members got up from the table, thanked the Lord for the bountiful breakfast, and prepared to for the day’s activities. They once again headed for the rooms of the bedbound children, to spend some quality time with them. From room to room they wondered, settling down quietly in one room with the boys who could not sit up but had the most infectious smiles upon their faces when tickled. In the next room the kids grabbed them and they all danced around. In the next room the kids were sitting behind desks having lessons, putting together puzzles, repeating their numbers, and reading simple phrases. They boys squatted down by each and helped them with their reading and enunciation. Fun was had by all in the arts and crafts room, as the seminarians complimented all the lovely handiwork the children had made, and sat down with them, grabbing brushes and paint, and helping them create masterpieces of art.
They spent the rest of the afternoon in this manner, slowing down and spending quality time with the children, making them realize they are loved and are worthy to be loved. The rehabilitation room was filled with all manner of exercise and strengthening machines, designed to help the children strengthen their crippled limbs. Here the boys helped the little ones by holding their hands as they tried to balance on balls and pull on workout bands.
After a quick bite to eat for lunch, everyone headed outside to bask and play in the sunlight. The children once again grabbed onto the seminarians who twirled and whirled around to the glee of the little ones. As they danced, and ran around, a soccer ball appeared, and the children laughed as they played a game of soccer with their visitors.
Tired from all the sports and running around, everyone returned inside to catch their breath. Settling down in the great room, the children gathered and began to sing. The seminarians found themselves enjoying a concert as the music teacher, Tetiana Andriivna Valko led the children in song. Clapping and tapping their feet in tune, the guests were enthralled by the talent of the children, and the dedication of their teacher who was able to train them so well.
After the concert the mission team followed some of the children to the kitchen to watch how well they were able to cook and bake. These life skills are crucial, and are taught with patience and love, with hopes that as they grow into adulthood the orphans will be able to care for themselves as much as possible and lead an independent life.
After supper, as the temperatures outside cooled, some of the older orphans joined Archbishop Daniel and the seminarians on a small outing to the local store near the train station. His Eminence made sure the children who could not walk were secured in their wheelchairs as they were pushed along the avenue, while the others shuffled behind them. He kept a close eye on them, making certain they were safe from the light traffic along the street.
As the little parade of wheelchairs made its way along the bumpy road, the cars slowed as their passengers stared at the unfamiliar site. Having reached the store, His Eminence directed the seminarians to take the children inside and buy them some treats. The simplest purchase meant the world to these kids.
Settling down outside to enjoy their ice cream, the seminarians noted how the other people stopped and looked, or tried to avoid them all together. Now they understood why Archbishop Daniel had insisted on taking the children out “into the world to be seen.” It was important that the populace be exposed to the disabled orphans, so that they were aware of the difficulties some people had to endure, and that they in time would make life easier for handicapped people by building ramps, rails, and other amenities to aid the disabled. His Eminence stated that one day he didn’t want people to be uncomfortable around the disabled, but to be familiar with the fact that people need wheelchairs, and instead of staring at them, they would come up and help them.
While the children lingered outside and enjoyed their sweet treats, Archbishop Daniel went back inside and purchased 200 kg of sugar and flour, 2,500 diapers, and additional arts and crafts supplies that the children could use to create more artwork.
As the group returned to the orphanage, the crescent moon began to rise in the east, and the crickets began to chirp happily in the tall grass along the roadway. The mission team, along with the orphans once again gathered in the great room, and as they had begun the day, they ended it in prayer. The youngsters, even though tired from their busy day, stood and took turns praying along with the seminarians, and asked for His Eminence’s blessing before retiring to their beds.
As darkness fell, the building became quiet except for the faint light that spilled out through an open doorway into the hall. Archbishop Daniel sat drinking hot tea, along with Fr. Volodymyr, and the facility manager, as they made final arrangements to provide new electrical cables for the orphanage. Earlier in the day they had noticed that there were issues and decided that the Church would sponsor new cables to ensure a safe environment for the children. Additionally, as they had spent hours playing on the grounds of the orphanage, they had noted that the fence which enclosed the facility was in disrepair. The fence is critical as it ensures the children do not wonder off, and that they are safe when they are playing outdoors. Therefore, His Eminence informed the administrator of the orphanage, that the Church would help finance the purchase and installation of a new fence around the orphanage.
Satisfied that the orphans were now well taken care of and would be safe for the foreseeable future, everyone retired for the night. Silence settled over the building. The children smiled in their sleep, as they dreamt of ice cream cones and candy. The angels in the heavens smiled as they looked down upon the orphanage and the people slumbering within. It is these little things, these moments spent with a helpless child, these kind words spoken with love and compassion, these smiles and hugs, that make the world a better place. Everyone rested peacefully, and re-energized for the next day’s adventures.