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Having completed Morning Prayers on their fourth day at the Znamyanka Orphanage, the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, retreated to prepare themselves for the morning’s activities with the children.  With broad grins on their faces, they rummaged in the chest of costumes, pulling out scarves, oversized shirts, wigs, and all kinds of props as they got ready to entertain the young audience that was already gathering in the great room.

The space overflowed with wheelchairs, and all the seats along the walls filled as the children gathered and eagerly awaited the program to begin.  Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi entered the room, and with great fanfare told them to prepare themselves for the most entertaining rendition of the “Turnip/Ріпка”, presented this day by world renown seminarians from the St. Sophia Seminary.  As the narrator of the play, he retold the story of the grandfather, played by Reader Andrii Vatrych, who planted a turnip.  On cue, Reader Andrii entered wearing a long white beard, and as the grandfather planted the turnip, played by Reader Maksym Zhuravchyk, who sporting a bright green leaf atop his head squatted down as he was planted in the ground.   The root vegetable grew and was ready to be  harvested.  The grandpa tried to yank it out of the soil but was unable to, so he called out to the grandmother to come and help.  Here enters seminarian Mykola Stefanyk, wearing a skirt, his head covered in a scarf.  As the grandmother, he joins in trying to dislodge the turnip.  However, the plant refuses to budge.  What to do?   They call for additional help, this time imploring the orphans to come and assist.  One by one the line grows as more and more people join in the attempt to harvest the turnip.  Finally the plant gets overpowered and pops out of the ground causing all those pulling to tumble and fall.

The room exploded in laughter, as the seminarians and orphans tumbled around.  The helpers were rewarded for their assistance in extricating the turnip, as was the audience, with slices of sweet cool watermelon.

As they sat munching on the sliced fruit the seminarians performed an additional skit, the Dumpling/Колобок.  Everyone laughed and enjoyed themselves as they watched the story of the dumpling that escapes the house of grandmother and grandfather.  The fairy-tale's plot describes Kolobok's repetitive meetings with various animals (rabbit, wolf, and bear) who intend to eat it, but Kolobok cunningly escapes. With each animal, Kolobok sings a song in which he explains, "I got away from Grandmother, I got away from Grandfather, and I will certainly get away from you!". Much to everyone’s dismay, the fox eventually manages to catch and eat Kolobok by distracting him by praising his singing.

The afternoon whiled away in this jovial manner as the orphans lingered in the great room after the main performance, singing songs and playing games with the seminarians.  While the youngsters spent a leisurely afternoon in the company of the mission team, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA met with the State’s Commission on Handicapped Individuals.  Vladyka took this opportunity to compliment the steps that have been taken in improving handicap access, but, stated that there is much still to do to enable not only the orphans, but, the elderly, and disabled to have a better quality of life. 

Additionally, His Eminence met with Serhiy Yamanayev, a young man who as an orphan had lived out his childhood at the orphanage.  As of two months ago, he was able to move out and live on his own.  All the life skills he was taught at the facility have come in handy in allowing him to be independent in his adulthood.  However, even though he has left the orphanage, and lives on his own, his body is still in need of support, as the young man undergoes weekly dialysis for both of his kidneys.  Nonetheless, it was reassuring to see one of the orphans that His Eminence has known from childhood, enjoy an independent adulthood.

With his goal accomplished, Archbishop Daniel returned to the great room as the festivities began to wind down.  Spotting him, the children told him they had something for him.  With a smile upon his face, he watched as one of the orphans came up and on behalf of all the children presented him with a embroidered image of Christ reaching out His arms to the peoples of the world.  Humbly accepting the kind gift, he hugged and thanked the girl before turning to give a few words of thanks to those gathered, expressing his joy at once again seeing these children whom he has grown to love over the years of service.  He told them that these annual visits mean so much to him, and even though the mission teams leave, they never truly leave the children behind, as they take them nestled in their hearts home with them.  His Eminence expressed that everyone constantly inquires after the children and wishes to know how they are doing, and before posing for a group photo, he reassured them that they are in his, and every team member’s daily prayers.

As the children basked in the warmth of Vladyka’s reassuring words, they were treated to an icecream social.  Licking their fingers as the sweetness melted and dribbled down their hands and chins, they all laughed and joked.  Sprinkles were liberally added, and then more sprinkles were added.  Chocolate syrup flowered freely, as more bananas were sliced.

As the children took their midday rest, recuperating from all the icecream, the mission team went out on an important errand.  While sweet treats are appreciated occasionally, the children need a good healthy diet to sustain them, and to nourish their bodies.  In addition to the dry supplies purchased the day before, this day they went in search of meat.  Since many of the children are immobile, it is critical that their diet support their damaged muscles and twisted bones.  Meat provides many essential nutrients their bodies need, such as iodine, iron, zinc, vitamins and essential fatty acids. 

Having purchased an entire freshly butchered pig, the team hauled it back to the orphanage’s industrial kitchen and helped prepare the meat for canning and freezing.  All in all, the team was able to provide the facility with over 145 kilograms of pork. This meat will nourish the children for weeks to come.

Having completed their major task for the day, the seminarians once again gathered up the older, more mobile orphans, and took them out for an evening stroll.  The heat of the day had been replaced by a gentle breeze which made the grass sway and the trees rustle, as it tickled the children, gently tussling their hair.  Once again, the little group visited the local store, this time purchasing ribbons for the girls’ hair, and little knickknacks for the boys, some balls, toys, and caps, as well as more arts supplies.

Before returning to the orphanage, the group stopped to play with the local cats and dogs.  People were out walking their pets, and seeing the children’s excited smiles, they came up to them and allowed the youngsters to play with their puppies.  It is unclear who had more fun, the children who squealed with glee, or the puppies with wagging tails who jumped up on their laps for more cuddles.  Everyone was smiling and enjoyed the peaceful and calm evening before returning to the facility just in time to read the Evening Prayers as a family.

The Mission Team was honored to sit down to a late dinner this night with the orphanage administrator Tatyana Valko.  As they enjoyed fresh potatoes sprinkled with dill, and fresh green salads, the team reminisced about the week’s activities.  The seminarians shared their impressions concerning the education of the children, their wonderful manners, and polite demeanor. They laughed about the skits, and the slippery floors after the bubbles from the previous day.  Each took turns thanking Pani Tatyana for her hard work and dedication to these young innocent children.  In appreciation for their visit, donations, and love expressed for the orphans, she in turn thanked them by presenting each team member with a diploma of gratitude.  With mutual respect and thankfulness, final words were exchanged as the seminarians tried to cover their yawns, betraying their weariness, as they stood to retreat to their rooms.

With the day’s excitement behind them, the children settled down for the night.  The peals of laughter which had echoed through the building all day long died away, and were replaced with silence, broken only by a child giggling in their sleep.  As the breeze faded away and stillness engulfed the town, the moon rose in the sky, keeping watch over the occupants of the orphanage as they slumbered.

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