Let the bells ring! (A meditation on the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War)

Growing up, I never really could appreciate how close history was to me, especially if those events and circumstances that made that history happen almost a century ago; like the First World War.

Separated by two generations from that dreadful conflict, and born some 50 years after the end of the “war to end all wars”, I generally presumed that the only place I could ever encounter the people, stories, victories and defeats was in books or over drinks with others whose departed families shared their experiences.

This changed when I was hired as an art teacher at the Perley Rideau Veterans Health Centre in Ottawa in 2009.

I would lead painting, and collage classes for the residents of the centre (along with some of the most amazing and caring staff) and get to know these veterans and seniors. That history became something that I could engage first hand.

In my blessed time there I heard stories from veterans that broke my heart, and brought me to tears, stories that made me offer thanksgiving to God, and stories that made history — even if it was a century old — something I felt that I could almost be there at the time.

Although there were no veterans from the first world war, there were a few men that were old enough to remember when the war ended on that fateful day of November 11th. One such resident was a veteran named Ernest (or as he liked to be called Ernie).

Ernie was the son of a French/German family that stetted in Sydney Mines Nova Scotia (in Cape Breton) in the late 1800s from the Lorraine region of France/Germany. One day when I was making my rounds asking people if they wanted to join me on a painting project, we started talking about his family in Sydney Mines; how his father and uncle were carpenters for the mines, and his loving mother was a laundry maid. Some how the conversation turned to talking about the Great War. Although his family has been restricted from service (no doubt due to the importance of working for the mines, and maybe because of his semi-German heritage) he noted how he remembered the Armistice. I was sort of amazed in that I had never heard a first hand account of that day. Ernie was at that time a hundred and four, and would have been 14 years old when the war ended. He then went on to describe with absolute clarity the events of that blessed day.

It was an ordinary Monday despite Sydney Mines having been hammered with a late fall snowstorm. Ernie was at school doing “normal school stuff” when church bells started ringing, no one really took notice of it, but more and more bells started ringing thoughout the town. Despite the insistence of his teacher to keep on task, the class stopped as his class-mates wondered what was happening that every bell in the city was ringing and ringing. At some point someone came excitedly into the school-house and proclaimed that the war was over, and an Armistice had been signed.

The class was never formally dismissed, but the children started going home to their families and friends to celebrate. His mother came to pick him up in a horse-drawn sleigh, and took him home. He went on to say “My mother gave me fifty cents,” stretching out his weathered hand as if to receive the money, “and told me to go to the general store and buy as many Union Jacks as I could… and I thought she was crazy giving me all the money in the world!”. With this statement we both broke out laughing.

As he told me all this, Ernie’s countenance changed from a centenarian veteran to a young boy full of the kind of excitement one expects from a child on Christmas morning.

As I was leaving to get back to my painting class, Ernie noted that it “wasn’t the peace and victory everyone thought it would be” as he would go on to serve for Canada in the Second World War. He paused for a moment in thought, and then smiled saying “but the ring of bells still sounds like victory and peace.”

One could say that the sound of church bells ringing, the sound that brought joy to Ernie — even after the better part of a century — proclaimed a blessed of a hard-fought-for peace, also rings out the proclamation every Sunday of Christ’s Resurrection.

A victory, not over this nation or the other, this system or religion over the other, but profoundly the victory of life over death, love over enmity, of unity over division. One could say that the ringing of those church bells a hundred years ago proclaiming victory and peace, were but faint echoes of Christ’s eternal victory every Sunday, as crystal clear and distinct as if you were the one ringing the bells themselves,

A victory shared by the Grace of the Holy Spirit with all humanity, where the clanging of metal upon metal, becomes a soothing and melodious new song “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Thankfully we have a bell at St. Nicholas (that might have been rung a hundred years ago on this day). Although it is impractical to stop our Liturgy at the traditional time a minute of silence would follow (11:11 am), we will ring our bell once for every year since the end of that dreadful conflict: in thanksgiving for victory of the Allied forces, and those who sacrificed so much, thanksgiving for peace, and profoundly in thanksgiving for the Lord’s saving victory over sin and death.

By this may our hearts be warmed and made as youthful as Ernie’s in the assurance of that final Victory and that Peace which knows no end.


Blessing the Red River.

Why would you bless the Red River?
I was asked this a few weeks ago, and my response was “because it needs it”.
This river (especially), all rivers, oceans, seas, lakes, streams and springs have for generations provided water, food and transportation; being cornerstones of civilization, and life. They sadly have also become a toilet (literally) for waste, sewage, chemicals, and even human misery. These waters, that were once sources of life, are now blights that mask and disfigure the importance of water in our lives. No one will ever confuse the a nice glass of water from your tap and the water that runs through Winnipeg. In this context it is not a far stretch to see some sort of connection between what our water has become, and the plight of humanity.
Like the water that courses through our rivers, humanity was meant to be a source of love, mercy and grace; to be life. Our humanity created to be robed in righteousness, (Isa. 61:10) has become  masked by the rags of sin. Where once it brought life and hope, it now brings decay and sickness and even death. For this reason the Lord acts to save us, becoming like us in every way (except sin) even dying on the cross that he might restore and renew our polluted and stained nature.
That as the Lord of Glory descends into our polluted and sinful humanity, and by the cross restores humanities’ vocation to be life bearing, we bless even our most polluted waters, commending their water to His saving and purifying grace.
The Red River needs to be blessed, in the same way we need to be saved. That we, like those waters that have cultivated life throughout the ages, might cultivate real life, now and in the age to come.
At 2:00 pm tomorrow (Saturday Jan 7th), we will be blessing the Red River at the end of Magnus Ave. at Prichard park. Not the Redwood boat launch (way to much snow there).
There is parking on the street, and  a few pathways down to the river, without having to scamper down a embankment.
Not to worry we won’t be venturing out to far on the ice.
This service is not for the faint at heart, or those who don’t like the cold, so please dress in layers!
As many come are invited by to the Scratches  to warm up after the service

Dec. 26th Liturgy canceled

Dearest all.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

We all love a white Christmas, but when it is expected to exceed 25 cm it can be a bit to much. So I thought it best that we cancel the service tomorrow (Dec. 26th).

The Henderson Hwy, can be a little touch and go at times, not to mention any snow fall can make a normal half hour trip feel like a journey to Steinbach.

Have a blessed feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, shovel well tomorrow, and enjoy your families.

See you on Saturday evening for Vespers and prayers for the new year.


+ Archimandrite Alexander.

Fr. Alexander and myself having a conversation at the Archdiocesan Assembly in Victoria in 2010
Fr. Alexander and myself having a conversation at the Archdiocesan Assembly in Victoria in 2010

On Saturday night I usually pack my pipe and go for a walk to fine-tune and shape my sermon, in an attempt to avoid rambling on and on (as I am prone to do). That morning I had been informed about the sudden repose of Archimandrite Alexander (Dennis Pihach), and it had weighed heavily on my heart throughout the day. I was working on my sermon about St. Tikhon (whose feast day of glorification it was this past Sunday), yet every time I would go over my sermon, I would get lost in thoughts of Fr. Alexander. I would re-focus and get back to my sermon only to slip back into thoughts about Fr. Alexander.

This went on for a bit (well, two hours) as I considered the many humble works St. Tikhon did in this country and province: serving immigrants from Ukraine, preaching the Good News, building churches, babysitting children while their families were in the fields, or helping push wagons out of the mud – all for the Glory a God. then it dawned on me that Fr. Alexander not only continued this work, but also was transition between the world of St. Tikhon and our 21st century Canadian culture; between a culture steeped in a millennium of Christianity, and a world thirsting for meaning; between a cultural Orthodox tradition, and the convert experience.

He always gave honour to the blessed gift of Orthodoxy, the inheritance of those saints and pioneers who brought with them the “Faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Whether it was taking young converts with him to bless homes in rural Manitoba for Old Calendar Theophany, immersing them in the festive life of the Church as lived out in the homes of the faithful, or giving a feast for the servers of the Cathedral in Ottawa on the occasion of his Namesday, and serving at the OCA representation Church in Moscow (a Bukovinian boy from the prairies in Moscow, -how is that for irony); or whether it was his willingness to be “all things to all men that some might be saved” (1 Cor. 9:22 ) applying the fluidity of the Gospel that witnessed the saving love of Christ, and not simply moral piety: he worked to help others find a their way as Orthodox Christians within a culture that gave no room for either tradition, or conversion.

This was truly his witness and his suffering. To some he was  a traitor, and to others a one-track- minded traditionalist, but to myself and to many in the Archdiocese of Canada, he was a voice of reason and clarity.

It was not that Fr. Alexander re-invented Orthodoxy, or that he  made it a new, purer expression of Christianity, or that he crystalized the life of the Church into some relic of distant lands and ages. What he did was continually to bear witness to the living Faith: the love of God the Father, in His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, made real in the Church, regardless if it was expressed in Slavonic, Ukrainian, English or French, served on the old or new Calendar, or in full or abbreviated services.

His legacy will not simply be the men, women and families that he brought closer to Christ, or the men he inspired to serve at Christ’s Altar (myself included); or the churches he built, and the parishes he healed. Rather, like St. Tikhon’s legacy, the seal of his legacy is that he cultivated the hearts of the faithful that they might hear the voice of the Shepherd, Christ our God, calling each of us to peace, mercy and grace in a very turbulent and trying time.

The question now for us is  what do we do? how do we serve? What do we proclaim? Do we cultivate the world around us to hear our own voices, or the voice of the one Shepherd who calls us by name? Is it our own word that we bear witness to, or the divine Word, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon all creation?

If we are true to the work of St. Tikhon and holy men and women who have served the Lord in Canada (like our beloved Archbishop Arseny); and if we are true to the memory of Fr. Alexander, our proclamation will be of the Lord’s saving mercy poured out onto a new land, a proclamation that cutting through the noise of sin so that the hear voice of God calling us to life eternal.

May His memory be eternal.

Looking forward through a hundred years.



No one comes into this world as blank slate, or is born into a vacuum. Who we are, our stories, where we live, our families, friends and works, are the fruit of history, whether good or bad.

We are given an inheritance, the witness of those men and women whose stories, homes, families, friends and works were also inherited from generations past, marking our days with anniversaries of the mundane, and the profound. Some of these  stand out like mountains in our collective consciousness, and others are like the dust that settles in the corners of our homes, but all of them become part of our stories.

It is what we do with those anniversaries that shape us, and influence the stories of our children and their children for generations to come. They are the foundations that we continue to build upon, or tragically destroy. Our history and anniversaries are those intersections that we either look forward or retreat.

This is something to consider as this month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our diocese as the first ecclesiastical presence in all of Canada.

Although there had been Orthodox Christians from Ukraine in Canada since 1879, and Churches were established across the country (including ours in 1911), the establishment of a vicar diocese for Canada in 1916 marked the continuation of the Church’s mission of witnessing to the saving love of God, as encountered in the Church, His Body. But more profoundly, it marked the continuation of the work of the Apostles who in those early years of the Church would establish communities, and bishops (overseers) to serve them.

Now it might seem strange (even lofty) to consider the continuation of this Apostolic ministry in Winnipeg, and Canada of all places, especially considering the weighty challenges and hardships that debilitated the effectiveness of the diocese throughout its 100 years. Yet throughout it all there still remains a diocese, and communities that carry on the work of the Church, and that live its mission, proclaiming the Good News.

The witness of those immigrants who came from Galicia and Bukovina 125 years ago, who brought with them a Faith brought to them by St Vladimir, and the saints who manifested the life of Jesus Christ in Kyivan Rus, has been an inheritance that is our story. The work of the Apostles, whose “proclamation has gone out to the ends of the universe” (Ps.18:5 ) is our proclamation, and the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3 ) is what we now deliver as an inheritance to the world around us.

This is the challenge we consider as we give thanks to God for the past 100 years of our diocese: that we look toward to the future, building upon what has been given to us. In the same way that an astronaut, as he/she rockets upwards, doesn’t look back at the distant earth, marveling on what he/she has accomplished or where they started, but rather looks in wonder towards the heavens and magnificent,  splendor; we in the Church now look to the world around us, to our families, friends, and even strangers, considering not simply where we started but rather  humanitie’s vocation to be in communion with Him, the Lord God.

Regardless if we are Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Greek, Syrian, or converts or the children of converts, this anniversary is our story, a precious one that should inspire us to continue the work offered by the Apostles, by those great missionaries, who preached the Word in foreign lands, by St. Tikhon who ministered in North America, by the blessed Archbishop Arseny whose words brought consolation and peace to his flock in Canada, and all the saints known and unknown who offered thanksgiving and praise to God for His mercy and love.

May we, like those blessed founders of this diocese, continue to look towards the heavens, as we live out our service of witnessing to the Faith within the Church the Body of Christ.

Change of Plans, services for this coming week.

Dearest all. 

We had been working with the Mission of the Theotokos of the Live Giving Springs this summer alternating our weekend vespers, but as there will be no services at the Mission this weekend, Great Vespers will be held at St. Nicholas tomorrow evening (Saturday Aug. 13th) at 5:00 pm. Not at the Mission as was noted on our calendar. 
Sorry for any confusion.
On Sunday we will be serving Divine Liturgy at 9:30 am and that evening at 6:00 pm we will be serving Great Vespers for the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
On Monday morning (Aug. 15th) we will be serving the festal Liturgy for the Dormition of the Theotokos at 10:00 am.
On Monday evening at 6:00 pm the patronal feast (The Icon of Christ not made by hands)  for the Winkler Mission will be held, followed by a feast.
On Tuesday morning the festal divine Liturgy of the Icon not made by hands, will be held at St. Nicholas in Narol at 10:00 am.
A busy first part of the week, but one that is full of blessings and mercy.
By your prayers.


Alternating Vespers services.

Given how precious and short our Manitoba summers are, it is not unusual that people take advantage of season and get away on holiday, or to a cottage. Understandably Church attendance suffers, in particular attendance at Saturday evening Vespers.

Although it serving Vespers with two or three people isn’t the end of the world, it makes no sense that other parishes are hobbling along serving the same service with the same kind of numbers at the same time.  Some parishes justifiably cancel Vespers, but thankfully we are in a situation where we can provide an alternative.

Given the relationship we have with the Theotokos of the Life Giving Springs Mission, we decided to combine our efforts for the Summer Vespers services, alternating each week between our parishes.

Sat. July 16th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

Sat. July 23rd – St. Nicholas, Narol.

Sat. July 30th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

Aug. 6th – St. Nicholas, Narol.

Aug. 13th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

Aug. 20th – St. Nicholas, Narol.

Aug. 27th – Theotokos of the Life giving Springs, 240 Tache.

All services are at 5:00 pm

Enjoy the beautiful weather, and time with family and friends. See you at some Vespers services.


Funeral arrangements for Sophie Barchyn

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
By God’s mercy and grace we will be serving Prayers for Sophie at Cropo Funeral Home (1442 Main St.) on Sunday May 29th at 6:30 pm.
The following morning (Monday May 30th) at St. Nicholas in Narol, we will be serving a memorial Liturgy at 9:30 am followed immediately by the funeral and interment (the funeral should start around 10:30 am).
There will be a memorial meal at St. Nicholas following the service, all are welcomed.
May her memory be eternal.