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.