The anticipation and excitement filled the air as the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA eagerly gathered at the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, New Jersey, to celebrate the birthday, Saint’s Day, and Enthronement Anniversary of their esteemed and beloved Prime Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony. The sense of unity and fellowship was palpable as 24 priests, and two deacons from local parishes, joined His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of the USA, to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Antony. Under the directorship of Deacon Roman Marchyshak, the seminarians of the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary chanted the responses and sang the hymns, transporting those congregated to the heavenly realms.
Having prayed for the wellbeing of all, and for peace in Ukraine and in all the world, Metropolitan Antony raised his eyes to the heavens and prayed for the peaceful repose of his consecrating hierarchs and his mother, Dorothy.
“Again we pray for the repose of the souls of the departed servants of God, and that they be pardoned all of their sins, voluntary and involuntary. That the Lord God establish their souls where the righteous repose.”
As the Royal Gates closed and the clergy communed of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, the faithful prepared themselves, quietly stepping forward. Before getting in line, they approached the tetrapod upon which lay three icons. Rightmost was the icon of Saint Anthony the Great who was being commemorated this day. In the center and to the right were two visiting icons - Kardiotissa, “The Tender Heart” and the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. Our Lord placed these miraculous icons under the loving care of Very Rev. Fr. Mark Leisure, the pastor of St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, PA, who brought them with him as he joined in the day’s celebration, knowing Metropolitan Antony's devotion to the Mother of God. The faithful reverently approached and venerated the icons as they approached the Holy Chalice for the Eucharist.
As the Dismissal prayers were concluded, Archbishop Daniel stepped down into the nave to deliver a moving sermon. Gesturing towards Metropolitan Antony, who was seated on the ambo, he spoke of the great impact His Eminence has had not only on himself, but on all the people with whom he interacts. His vast experience and God granted wisdom has preserved the integrity of the Church and traversed the muddied waters of today’s society, to shine brightly as a beacon of hope and direction.
Archbishop Daniel revisited the allegory of the carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean, using the metaphor of a simmering pot of water to represent life's trials and tribulations. In this tale, he unfolded the narrative of a person confronted with adversity, symbolized by the boiling water. The three components – a carrot, an egg, and coffee beans – symbolized distinct responses to life's challenges.
Initially firm and unyielding, the carrot softened and became pliable when exposed to the boiling water. Vladyka Daniel drew parallels between the carrot and individuals who, when faced with adversity, may lose their strength and resilience, allowing external circumstances to fundamentally alter them.
Conversely, the egg, when subjected to the same boiling water, hardened. The archbishop drew a comparison, equating this response to individuals who, in the face of challenges, might adopt a defensive and closed-off stance, allowing hardship to embitter and render them inflexible.
The coffee beans, the third element in the parable, added an uplifting twist to the story. When introduced to the boiling water, the coffee beans didn't merely succumb to the heat; instead, they transformed the water itself. In this symbolic metamorphosis, Archbishop Daniel emphasized the capacity for individuals to positively influence their surroundings, turning challenges into opportunities for growth and positive change.
Once again motioning towards Metropolitan Antony, Archbishop Daniel concluded that by his life, his actions and leadership, the Metropolitan has led us all by example and by his life he encourages us all to be like the coffee beans, to remain intact in the face of adversity, to add flavor, joy, meaning and usefulness through our own reactions to the difficulties we face in this world.
Turning to the Metropolitan, Archbishop Daniel greeted him on behalf of the members of the Council of the Metropolia, the Consistory, clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora. He assured His Eminence of his and the entire flocks continued prayers for his good health, happiness and leadership for many more blessed years.
Stepping forward, the seminarians of the St. Sophia seminary expressed their own greetings and well wishes to their beloved Metropolitan and presented him with a gift of bright new episcopal vestments so that he would shine like that beacon of light that he truly is.
The celebration of the Divine Liturgy is never merely a ritualistic observance; it is a heartfelt expression of the deep connection that exists within the Church community on earth and in heaven. This day the clergy and parishioners, young and old, united in the shared joy of recognizing the contributions and guidance provided by their beloved hierarch. The occasion became a time of reflection, a moment to acknowledge the wisdom and compassion that the Church leader has bestowed upon his flock. Everyone was emotional, as they came forward to venerate the cross and express their own well wishes to their beloved Metropolitan, as he joyfully anointed each babe-in-arms, each toddler, adult and elderly member of his flock with the fragrant myrrh emitted by the miraculous icons of the holy Mother-of-God.
The joyous celebration continued well into the afternoon as the faithful gathered in the Consistory Rotunda for a luncheon served in honor of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony. With the Christmas tree joyously twinkling in the center of the room, covered in ornaments lovingly created and sent in by the children of the Church, the festivities continued. As the guests enjoyed the delicious lunch, they were able to share stories, catch up with parish news and events, and make plans for future collaborations. Metropolitan Antony smiled warmly and was heard laughing as people approached him with their greetings, handing him gift bags, bouquets, and warm hugs. Everyone cheered as the tall blue birthday cake was presented by Fr. Vasyl Pasakas. The smile on the Metropolitan’s face competed with the brightness of the sparklers which glistened and shimmered atop the tall cake. After a rousing rendition of Mnohaya Lita which echoed around the Christmas Tree, and through the hallways of the Consistory building, the seminarians began to joyously sing Christmas carols. With broad smiles one by one, everyone soon joined and raised their voices in glorifying Christ’s Nativity, singing of the joys of the Christmas Season, and in the Ukrainian tradition, singing of hope for peace and prosperity.
In this collective celebration, the diversity of the gathering became a source of strength, as individuals from various walks of life united in prayer and love to create a harmonious and inclusive atmosphere. The joy emanated not only from the festivities and expressions of goodwill but also from the profound sense of spiritual unity that permeated the gathering. The shared values, beliefs, and common purpose that bind the community together were magnified during this celebratory occasion, creating lasting memories that strengthened the foundation of the Church.
As Christmas Carols of praise and gratitude resonated within the sacred space, the birthday celebration transcended the physical realm, becoming a spiritual communion that nourished the bodies and souls of the faithful. The joy of coming together to honor their Metropolitan’s birthday was a testament to the enduring power of faith, community, and the profound impact that their spiritual leader has had upon the lives of those who seek his guidance and the solace that is to be found within the embrace of their Church family. It is thanks to the wise leadership of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony that countless faithful call the UOC of the USA their spiritual home where they are able to build upon their faith and work out their salvation under the competent guidance of God anointed hierarchs that lead the way.
May the Lord grant Metropolitan Antony good health and happiness as he continues to guide the faithful towards Christ. God grant him many blessed years! Mnohaya Lita! Многая Літа!