Clergy and Parishioners from the five states that surround the Metropolitan New York area battled the snowy day of February 20th, 2019 in order to join the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in the solemn Memorial Service, commemorating the sacrifices of the HEAVENLY HUNDRED – the young men and women that in February 2014 lost their lives on Maydan in Kyiv.
The Memorial Service and program was made even more solemn, as the local Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic community learned that the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, who was in the US during a working visit, would take part in the memorial service for the deceased Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred.
Over four hundred people arrived to the spiritual center of the UOC of the USA in South Bound Brook, NJ for the memorial service and the ability to personally welcome and greet the President of Ukraine.
His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora along with His Grace Bishop Paul Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, CT and Archbishop Daniel of the UOC of the USA as well as the clergy, representing both Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic Churches, greeted the President of Ukraine as he arrived in front of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church – the very first memorial built to the victims of the Artificially Created Famine in Ukraine of 1932-1933.
Prior to the beginning of the Memorial Service, Metropolitan Antony addressed the congregation in attendance, stating: “As we mark the fifth anniversary of the still incomprehensible murder of over 100 Ukrainian citizens on the Maidan in Kyiv – simply because they stood for the freedom of choice in their nation without control or manipulation from other nations – we your hierarchs state without any reservation that by all human calculations, Ukraine should not even exist today having suffered cataclysm after cataclysm after cataclysm throughout her history during which so many millions of people perished and millions more who were never born because those who perished were unable to give them life. How can a nation continue to exist and endure if its population cannot grow through the birth of successive generations? It is by the Grace of God that Ukraine exists. Once again, we encourage you all to pray fervently for Ukraine, especially to the Mother of God who has always extended her veil of protection over her people.
We awaken each morning over the past years asking ourselves: how can this be happening to Ukraine again? How is it that a nation already independent for twenty-four years cannot be accepted as such by her neighbors? How can those neighbors still claim to have “rights” to any part of Ukraine that have no moral, legal or logical foundation? What is important to remember at this first anniversary of the Maidan murders as we commemorate these fallen heroes is that they were not simply following the example of earlier martyrs for truth in Ukrainian history. They were standing firm for truth and human dignity in response to the circumstances of today – standing against those who would sell Ukraine’s independence once again to foreign invaders.
None of them expected or wanted to die. None of them expected that their very deaths would be the catalyst for abrupt change in the life of their nation – with a corrupt “president” fleeing from the knowledge that his corruption was about to be revealed, abandoning any possible claim to his presidency or legitimacy before the world community. But, their very deaths were the last straw that changed the life of the nation instantly. Their deaths forced a corrupt government to realize that its days were over and that it could no longer squander the wealth of the nation – of the people. Their deaths resulted in a new government leadership placing very surprised members of the Verkovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) in authority and finally in the election of a new President and Rada, which leads the nation today. Their deaths provoked a self-examination of the membership of the former ruling party, finally bringing on the realization that they were on the wrong side of “truth”.
What the world needs to comprehend is that, which the people of Ukraine have known for generations: “Heroes do not die!” (“Heroyi ne vmirayut!”) They live on in the collective memory of the nation and give rise to future heroes who will continue to stand firm in “truth”. We ask all of you, our faithful spiritual children, to remember that such heroism is never wasted or useless. It reaches not only the minds of the nation’s population but the minds of the world – in particular the czars, the commandants, “unidentified” invaders and even the presidents who refuse to accept the new world reality and want to recreate empires. They speak to proclaim: “we will not die!” No longer will you be free to murder millions of us through starvation, by freezing us during long cold winters or dropping your abundance of destructive bombs. Beneath all the attempts to wipe the Ukrainian nation out of existence and off the world map, the Ukrainian self-identity has survived and always resulted in the rebirth of a stronger nation. “Heroes do not die!”
Following the Ecumenical Memorial service, the responses to which were chanted by the choir of St. Andrew Memorial Church, Metropolitan Antony formally welcomed the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to the Spiritual Center of the UOC of the USA.
The Head of Ukrainian State remarked that the days from February 18 to February 21 had entered the history of Ukraine forever, when five years ago, pursuant to the criminal order of the former authorities, fire was opened at the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred.
"What did our heroes give life for? The Revolution of Dignity began in November 2013 because of a very simple reason - Ukraine no longer wanted to live under the Soviet or Russian yoke. The Ukrainian people sought to return to the European family of nations. And it united us. Why were we winning all these 5 years? Because the nation was united," the President said.
The President remarked that representatives of the whole Ukraine were among the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. "What did the heroes, who gave their lives, strive for? They loved Ukraine very much, they loved Ukrainians very much. And that is why it is so important for us to always remember this, to pray, to value the great responsibility they put upon us with their death. So that we do not waste time. So that we never allow to destroy our unity. So that we know where we are going and win on this path," Petro Poroshenko said.
The President stressed that Ukrainians had undergone tremendous challenges - revolution, aggression against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. "This very date (February 20, 2014 - ed.) was scratched on Russian medals distributed to the Russians and collaborators in honor of the Crimean occupation," the Head of State added.
The President emphasized that over the past 5 years Ukraine had been established, because genuine independence had been gained not only in 1991, but also in 2014. In addition, we managed to build a spiritual foundation by obtaining autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
"I want us today to pray for the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred and pay tribute to those who gave their lives for freedom and independence of Ukraine. Ukrainians are such a nation that can never live without freedom," the President said. He also thanked Ukrainian soldiers, who are now defending the Ukrainian land at the front, rebuffing the Russian aggressor, as well as Ukrainians of the United States for a joint prayer and daily prayers for Ukraine.
In response, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony called for prayer for Ukraine. "The world should know that the generations of Ukrainians remember that Heroes do not die ... They continue to live in the memory of the nation and be an example for future heroes who make history," he said. Metropolitan urged everyone to remember this heroism.
"These fallen heroes appeal to all of us - nobody can torment us with hunger or other terror anymore. Despite all the attempts to wipe Ukrainians off the map, Ukrainian self-identity has been preserved in the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian people. It has always been an impetus for the revival of the nation. Heroes do not die!" Metropolitan Antony noted. He thanked the President of Ukraine for his efforts to protect and develop Ukraine. "When five years after the tragedy on Maidan, aggression and suffering, I visit Ukraine, I see many positive changes under your leadership. Thank you for your leadership," the Metropolitan emphasized.
President Petro Poroshenko noted the important role of the Ukrainian community in strengthening the international support of Ukraine.
The Head of State stressed that Ukraine finally had its independent church. He thanked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leaders of Ukrainian churches, Patriarchal Exarchs (Archbishop Daniel of the UOC of the USA and Bishop Ilarion of the UOCC) due to the efforts of which this historic event came true.
According to Petro Poroshenko, today Ukraine is united. "Despite all Putin's attempts to split us, undermine stability from inside, destabilize, spread lies, sow hatred in the hearts of Ukrainians ... That is why Ukrainians are strong now, that's why the whole world supports us," he added.
The President noted that he had begun the day with a meeting with the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations and had the honor of speaking on behalf of Ukraine at the debate on the situation in the occupied territories.
"In the UN hall, the invader is called the invader, the aggressor is called the aggressor, the seized territories are called the territories occupied by the aggressor. This is the result of a global solidarity with Ukraine," he said.
The Head of State stressed: "Why was it possible? Thanks to the Ukrainian community. For no one can stop Ukrainians who are defending their land, defending their faith, defending their own state, defending their people".
He especially noted the importance of meeting with the Ukrainian community of the United States. "I want to thank everyone for a joint prayer. I want to thank for these five years of unity of Ukrainians in the world. I want to thank for a strong willingness to continue working," the President added.
At the same time, Petro Poroshenko stated we should not assume that we have already gained victory. "We have a lot of work ahead. And we need to keep that unity. For these children. These are young Ukrainians. I emphasize that these children love Ukraine, and when they grow up Ukraine will be a member of the European Union, a member of NATO".
He stressed the necessity of hard work for making our country better. "I am convinced that we will definitely win, because the truth is with Ukraine. God is with Ukraine. And the Lord hears our prayers, despite the fact that he gives us very difficult trials. But finally, after hundreds of years of trials, the Lord sends us victory. We stopped the Russian aggressor, we created a Ukrainian church, we entered the world Orthodoxy. We are building and changing our state," Petro Poroshenko emphasized.
Following the formal address, the entire community, under the leadership of the hierarchs, chanted the most spiritually sobering MEMORY ETERNAL –remembering by name every person of the HEAVENLY HUNDRED that offered their lives in the service of Ukraine.
Once the Memorial Service concluded, President Poroshenko paid a short visit to the crypt underneath the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial church, where the remains of Patriarch Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) of blessed memory found their final rest. The student choir of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary chanted the responses to a short Memorial Lytia in the crypt of the Ukrainian Orthodox hierarch of both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Coming outside, into a snowy stormy weather, the President of Ukraine was treated to a profound welcome by the numerous parishioners and visitors to the Spiritual Center of the UOC of the USA. With a prayerful greeting “Glory to Jesus Christ!” and joyful “Glory to Ukraine-Slava Ukraini!” the community embraced the leader of the Ukrainian State, wishing him success in navigating through the task of rebuilding the nation, as the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation continues to impose danger to the Eastern part of Ukraine and Crimean peninsula.
Departing the spiritual center – Metrop0lia of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, President Poroshenko personally reached out to the people in attendance and asked them to pray for the nation and the people of Ukraine – the ancestral home of many Ukrainian-Americans.
Photos by Seminarian Yaroslav Bilohan