The new St. Elias.
At the start of October, I flew from Washington to Toronto for the consecration of the new temple of St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch of Kyiv and Halych. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that St. Elias was destroyed by fire two years ago, a tragedy from which this resilient community quickly rebounded with the help of friends and supporters in Canada, Ukraine, and around the world. As a student of theology in Toronto, I worshipped regularly with the people of St. Elias for two years in the old temple and then served them as a deacon and as a priest during the two years that they met for Sunday services in a high school atrium while a new church was being built. Given my relationship with the community, I knew that I ought to return for the consecration of the new church. The weekend was a whirlwind of activity and a time of much grace and consolation, and the difficulty of finding words to capture the experience is one reason that I haven't written about it on this blog until now - indeed, even though it's been a bit more than three weeks since the event, I'm still not sure that I can summon adequate words to describe it.
To give a sense of what the consecration of the new St. Elias was like, this video by Markian Radomskiy offers some highlights of the four-hour consecration liturgy, compressed into about thirty-five minutes. Particularly worth watching and hearing is the very eloquent homily given by Patriarch Sviatoslav, mostly in English but with some Ukrainian, beginning around the 19'09" mark. Though nothing can compete with the experience of actually attending such a liturgy, the Patriarch's warmth and charisma and the joy of the assembled congregation are palpable even through the mediation of technology.
Though the consecration liturgy was beautiful, in some sense for me the liturgical highlight of the weekend was the celebration of regular Saturday evening vespers later the same day. In contrast with the boisterous and exuberant consecration liturgy, the service of vespers was quiet and meditative; having attended vespers regularly in the old church, doing so in the newly-consecrated temple felt to me like a sort of homecoming - a sign that the parish had truly returned to the place where it belongs again after a time of exile. Even though the new church building remains relatively spartan and unfinished, at times during vespers that night it felt like the last two years had somehow been cancelled and that we'd never really left the old church.
I can't write as articulately or eloquently as I would like about the consecration weekend and what it meant for all involved, but I can share one more video that captures an important facet of the experience. Psalm 104 (numbered Psalm 103 by the reckoning followed at St. Elias) is always sung at the start of the Byzantine service of vespers, and the version heard here is the one normally heard at St. Elias. I shot this video with my phone, and I'll admit that the picture quality isn't the best; this was a candlelit service in semidarkness, so you really can't see very much. Rather than focus on what you can't see, pay attention to what you hear - this, for me, is the sound of St. Elias, and hearing it in the new temple was a blessing that I'll never forget. I pray that the graces of that weekend will remain with all who experienced them for years to come, and I hope that those who read this post can perceive some fragment of those graces as well. AMDG.