It has been a week of new experiences in Ukraine for both of us. The newness may come in subtle ways or be an entirely new experience.
A new experience for us was to attend the pilgrimage service at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church in Schoensee last Saturday. We had been invited by our friend Father Peter to join them in the culmination of this event. The pilgrimage started on Friday in the city of Melitopol and wound its way over 50 km (30 miles) through many former Mennonite villages to end up in the restored former Mennonite church in Schoensee. This was done over two days with the pilgrims spending a night in the former Mennonite village of Ohrloff. They were scheduled to arrive Saturday evening at 6:00 PM and join the locals in a special celebration.
We arrived to find the church grounds busy with preparations. There was a large tent with mattresses for the pilgrims to spend the night. A large group of people were busy with food preparations for the feast after the church service. The evening started off with the locals all gathered in the church. We then walked out together and marched down the road singing to meet the pilgrims arriving from Melitopol. As the two groups got closer they joined in the same song until they met in a warm embrace of each other.
|Clergy Leading us out to meet the Pilgrims|
|Pilgrims Arriving at Schoensee|
What struck me was the number of young people participating in the event. There were also many young priests in their clerical gowns. A number of them could speak English and we had some interesting conversations. Brother Vlad proudly introduced us to his lovely girlfriend. Priests in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church are allowed to marry unlike their counterparts in the Roman Catholic Church. He also explained the significance of the pilgrimage. It was a re-enactment of Jesus’ walk to the temple with his parents at the age of 12 where he got separated from his parents because he was too busy interacting with religious leaders of the day in the temple. You can read all about it in Luke 2: 41-52. Knowing the context of an event really makes one look at the day very differently.
All locals and pilgrims came back to the church. We were too busy taking pictures and watching that we were late entering the church. All the seats were taken. One of the locals must have recognized Mary and made a special effort to find a seat for her. He directed her to a lovely upholstered seat right at the back of the church. Mary was quite comfortable there. The service started with a special blessing from the Bishop. After he finished he came to the back and Mary suddenly realized from the horrified look of the people around her that she was sitting in the Bishop’s chair. I guess that is a bit like going to England and accidently sitting in the Queen’s chair at an event. I regret not getting a picture of the people around Mary as that event unfolded.
|Bishop Addressing Congregation|
After a long service (I have never seen a short church service in Ukraine) everyone came out for the feast of soup and sandwiches. I even ate some food that I could not recognize, which is unusual for me. The evening concluded with a concert featuring the best Christian rock group in Ukraine. They were loud and they were flashy and the audience seemed to appreciate them. The lead singer was a young lady. She spoke with great sincerity and shared her story with the audience. It included a reference to relatives being banished to Siberia. It is a story that many Mennonites could truly relate to.
|Best Christian Rock Band in Ukraine|
On Sunday evening we drove to Zaporozhe in order to spend some time looking at projects in that area. On Monday morning we toured the occupational therapy ward of the Zaporozhe Oblast hospital (the major hospital for the region). They are completing a plan for their area and we are anticipating that we will receive some requests for assistance. Mary, being a nurse, observed things that I would not have noticed. For example, she found the hallways quite pleasant but the rooms were desperately in need of some paint and general upkeep. The hospital was very proud of two beds that the Mennonite Centre had paid for. These special beds were adjustable and had a patient lifting device that Mary informs me is referred to in Canada as a “monkey bar”. These beds were so special that they could only be used on a doctor’s special orders. Mary was unimpressed with the special beds. The adjustments were all manual, the mattress was split to make it accommodate the adjustment, and the mattress was quite thin. The special bed did look better than the regular beds which had an even thinner mattress and needed plywood under the mattress to keep it from sagging.
Our visit to the ward included a view of their rehab pool. The glum look on the three men floating rather aimlessly in the water was worth a picture. It was described as a treatment for their backs.
We had a pleasant visit to the farm of Kolya and Ira Prudnikoff. This was a young couple with three children who fled from Crimea right after it was seized by Russia. They came from Crimea with whatever possessions they could squeeze into their old Lada. They left a successful honey and nursery garden in Crimea. With the assistance of the Mennonite Centre, they have set up a similar operation near Zaporozhe. They supplied the honey that was sold as a souvenir to visitors to the Mennonite Centre. They are also supplying florists in Zaporozhe with cut roses for their stores. They have worked hard and are determined to pay back to the Mennonite Centre all the money that they have received from us.
|Kolya and his Roses|
Kolya encouraged me to try eating a honey comb. He said it was just like chewing gum. I tried it. Yes it was just like chewing gum while tasting the sweet honey residue that was still in the combs.
A year ago we had visited a warm friendly lady living in the former Mennonite village of Neuendorf. Her name is Elena and she lives in a former Mennonite house. We had promised her that we would come again and have tea at her house. Not only did we have tea but she also served us a complete meal. Last year she had told us how Mennonites had saved the life of her grandmother during World War II. She had the chance to share this story with other Mennonite tourists who visited her house this summer. I understand that it was a very emotional experience for her to share with total strangers and that it was the highlight of the trip for some visitors.
|Elena Mary and Alvin|
George Dyck, a FOMCU board member from Canada, is visiting with us for 10 days. He has participated in all discussions and decisions we have to make over here. That has been good and his insight has been appreciated. On Sunday we have been invited to the Tokmak Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to participate in a round table discussion. We have no idea what to expect but are looking forward to the event.
If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/ or follow our daily activities on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Mennonite-Centre-Ukraine-735361069838076/