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The third morning at the Znamyanka Orphanage began on a bright note.  As the sunshine began to peek through the colorful lace curtains of the great room, the Mission Team members opened their prayer books.  His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA began the prayers, while the orphans quietly entered and mingled among the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary. Everyone took turns reading the prayers and asking for God’s blessings and protection throughout the upcoming day.

As the final “Amen” was sung, the children could no longer contain themselves and began to run around and play with Fr. Volodymyr and the seminarians.  The next half hour was lost in games, dancing, and frivolity, until the youngsters were called away.

The Mission Team disappeared down the hallway to enjoy a quick and simple breakfast, as His Eminence met with the leadership of the Znamyanka Mayor’s Office.  Sitting down to an informal meeting, Archbishop Daniel took a few moments to express his gratitude to the officials for their cooperation in installing a new sidewalk in front of the orphanage.  The restoration of the pavement is a huge help and makes the lives of the disabled orphans so much better, as they are now able to easily maneuver their wheelchairs over the surface without fear of getting stuck, or worse, flipping over.

The amicable meeting lasted almost an hour, as the participants exchanged local news with His Eminence, shared stories of local life, and inquired about things in the U.S.  As they got up to leave, they shook hands with the hierarch, expressing their gratitude with his taking the time to meet with them, and stated that they looked forward to many years of working together in the best interest of the innocent children housed in the facility.

While the guests were preparing to leave, the children began to gather in the great room.  Their caregivers wheeled them in and arranged them in rows along one side of the room in preparation for the afternoon’s entertainment.  The kids squirmed in their chairs in anticipation of the concert, as the seminarians stood up and began singing for them.  The orphans sat silently mesmerized by the strong voices, as the young men sang religious songs.  Changing their demeanor, relaxing, and smiling, the seminarians continued singing several Ukrainian Ethnic songs.  The children began to clap in tune, and then joined in as they were also familiar with many of the words. 

As the seminarians finished and stepped to the side, the young audience squealed with joy as several whimsically dressed characters came rushing into the room.  With big ears, floppy hats, and bright red hair, members of the local theater group performed a skit to the delight of the youngsters.  As the characters tromped around in their oversized shoes, tripping over themselves, the kids laughed with glee.  One by one some of the children rose to their feet, swaying in time to the music.  Before too long, as their wheelchair-bound mates watched and laughed, they took over the main floor, tossing and catching toys, dancing in a conga line, and chasing each other around.  The room exploded in laughter when the main character pulled out a bubble wand and began waving it around created ginormous bubbles.  As the ethereal creations glimmered and undulated, the children reached out to pop them, squinting as the soap splattered all over them.  Suddenly there appeared more bubbles, slowly floating throughout the room, and drifting over the children in the wheelchairs, as the other performers joined in.  Everyone had their hands up and were laughing and catching bubbles.  Such a simple thing as a bubble of soap, can bring so much joy.

Members of the public filtered in slowly, oohing and aahing at the lovely array of desserts, deciding which their families would love more.  As the cookies flew off the trays, the locals hurried home eager to enjoy their purchases.  Some people having spotted the children sitting in wheelchairs watching, paused and came up to speak to them.  Archbishop Daniel stood and watched, pleased to see that the residents were getting used to the disabled children, and they were becoming accepted members of society.

As the dinner hour approached, the leftover pastries did not go to waste, but were handed out to the children to enjoy.  They had worked hard preparing them, decorating them, and trying to entice people to buy them.  The funds they collected would go towards the educational programs of the orphanage and they would all benefit from them.

Tired from the day’s excitement and activities, their tummies full, the usually boisterous children were sleepy-eyed and yawning by the time for Evening Prayers rolled around.  Some of the younger ones fell asleep on the couches which lined the great room and were carried off to their beds as the older children joined the Mission Team in thanking the Lord for a day well lived, and asking for His protection in the night as they slumbered.

Archbishop Daniel prayed softly, his voice barely above a whisper so as not to awaken the sleeping youngsters.

May Christ our True God, through the prayers of His Most Pure Mother; of the Holy, Glorious and All-praised Apostles, and the Holy Seven Maccabees, of the Holy and Righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; and of all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is Good and the Lover of all mankind.

Covering their own yawns as they responded with a quiet “Amen”, the seminarians approached their hierarch for his blessing and quietly retreated to their own beds.  It had been a long day, but much good had been accomplished.  Tired to their bones, the mission team members having made the sign of the cross upon their beds, laid their heads down upon their pillows and quickly drifted off to blissful sleep. Tomorrow, the start of the Dormition Fast, would be a day filled with more activity as the team continued to spread the love of Christ, sprinkling it over the children like sugar upon the sweet treats at the market.

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