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Volume 45, Number 2
26 October 2012
Mariya Tytarenko

The choir is an important part of the community at the Armenian cathedral in Lviv, Ukraine. (photo: Petro Didula)

While reporting on an Armenian Apostolic congregation rebuilding church and community in Ukraine, ONE contributor Mariya Tytarenko got to know many colorful characters. Below, she profiles one woman from the community.

When I called Laura Arzumanian and asked her to talk about the Armenian community in Lviv and her life, she gladly agreed. We met at her friend Mykola Kocharian’s restaurant Krakivska Brama (The Krakow Gate), located about 30 yards to the right of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Lviv. It was not easy to refuse Mykola’s kind and compelling offer to have a traditional Armenian dinner during our interview, but we agreed to have a cup of coffee instead. Armenians, in general, are a very hospitable people — a careless refusal may even offend.

Sixty-five-year-old Laura was wearing heavy jewelry and glasses attached to a chain set with stones. While she was taking off her scarf, a brooch fell down and she said nonchalantly: “Oh, never mind; it happens all the time.”

Laura and her then-9-year-old son David came to Ukraine in 1995 after a long journey that started in Yerevan, Armenia, and took them through Moscow, Minsk and Moscow again before ending in Lviv. “We left Yerevan, since it was under blockade,” she recalled. “There was no light, no water and, sometimes, no hope, even though we weren’t poor.”

“Mom, Lviv is so beautiful, isn’t it?” Her son had asked when they saw the city for the first time. Before buying their own dwelling, they rented an apartment for eight years — by which time Laura realized that, despite her own desire to move to Prague, her son would never leave the city.

As newcomers, they found their neighbors very helpful. “I was lucky with my neighbors,” she said. “Not only did they help me with the Ukrainian language, but they also introduced me to the Armenian community in Lviv.” Laura learned a great deal of Ukrainian from watching movies — she would write down new words and learn them after her neighbors translated them. As a former director of a school and a historian, learning had always been a major part of her life.

After half a year, Laura was still not acquainted with any Armenians in the city. It was during Easter when her Ukrainian neighbors, who had now become her best friends, gave her the idea to go to the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. She took their advice. There, she finally met the Armenian community. “I didn’t expect there would be so many highly respected people: professors, bankers, and our wonderful bishop, Father Natan Ohanesian!”

After that Laura became an active part of the Armenian community, sent her son to Sunday school, and started her own business. She remembered many vivid and funny stories from that time. For example, when Pope John Paul II visited the church in June 2001, behind her all-white outfit, she had been holding a dirty rag; a few minutes before the Pope’s visit, she saw that part of the floor was dirty, so she quickly wiped it up herself.

Laura tries to live according to an old Armenian proverb: “Do good and throw it into the water”; when the good evaporates, it will fall from the sky on all people.

Laura and her son, who is now a dentist, have obtained Ukrainian citizenship. Ukraine is their new homeland, although they speak Armenian at home and maintain Armenian traditions. “Our Armenian church is our guiding light,” Laura concluded. “With faith and their traditions, Armenians will preserve their identity wherever they are.”

Tags: Ukraine Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church Eastern Europe Lviv

10 October 2012
Mariya Tytarenko

Colorful murals and icons adorn the nave of the Armenian Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. (photo: Petro Didula)

In the September 2012 issue of ONE, Lviv-based journalist Mariya Tytarenko wrote about an Armenian Apostolic congregation's efforts to rebuild church and community. Presented below are some of the thoughts and impressions she recorded on site.

After the Divine Liturgy in the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Lviv, I was invited to join the choir in the church sacristy for a special event.

“Don’t even hesitate,” Andriy Shkrabiuk, a chief cantor of the choir said. “You’ll have a chance to get some extra information for your article that you’ll never get just by interviewing us!”

I was curious. When it’s cold in the church, Father Thaddeos Gevorgian, whom everybody calls in Armenian ter hair, conducts a homily after the Divine Liturgy in the much warmer sacristy. Since there had been a homily during the Divine Liturgy, I assumed this would be something else.

I followed the choristers, who had accepted me into their little “family” the first time we met, last Sunday. That was 26 February — Mardi Gras, or Bun Barekendan in Armenian, which marks the beginning of the Lenten fast.

Romana Melnyk was carrying a hyacinth in a flowerpot. “It’s Yulia Tsviakh’s 23rd birthday today, and this is her favorite flower,” she whispered as we entered the sacristy.

Romana, 35 years old, is Ukrainian, but her husband is Armenian. Her parents still have not accepted her husband, whom she married against their wishes. “I’m very stubborn,” she had remarked on the circumstances of her marriage, as well as her first impression of the church choir in May 2001: “I was born to sing here!” Since then, she has been a soloist in the choir.

Archbishop Grigoris Bouniatian, the Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Eparchy of Lviv, is inside the sacristy speaking with Karlo Sargsian, the president of the Armenian community in Lviv.

“You’re lucky,” Andriy said, “Although Lviv has a cathedral for the Armenian Apostolic Diocese in Ukraine, Archbishop Grigoris is a rare guest here since he is usually away traveling to other regions of the country. He almost lives in his car.”

We all stood around a large table, and everyone greeted each other in turn in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and Armenian, along with translations from Armenian into Ukrainian, since many of us, including Yulia, didn’t know any Armenian. There are only five Armenians in the 12-person choir.

Yulia looked very happy, especially after Archbishop Grigoris and Father Thaddeos had given her their blessings. She treated everyone to cake and drinks — juice, in observance with the Lenten fast.

“I’m Armenian; that’s why I’ve never raised a toast drinking juice in place of cognac,” Karlo joked, raising a toast to Youlia’s health.

“Oh, I’m used to drinking juice,” 26-year-old Solomiya Kachmar responded cheerfully. She was in her seventh month of pregnancy. When I asked her whether it was not too cold for her to sing in the church during the two-and-a-half-hour Liturgy, she answered: “Not at all! Just the opposite — my blood circulates better when I sing!”

“It’s because Solomiya is pregnant,” 25-year-old Marichka Dolna interrupted. “I get cold really quickly, whether I’m singing in the choir or playing the organ.” Marichka said she plays organ for the church every Saturday from 3:30 to 5 PM.

Another Marichka — 20-year-old, half-Ukrainian and half-Uzbek Marichka Rubaieva — didn’t sing today because she had been away for a year, and Andriy didn’t allow her to join the choir without a rehearsal. When I asked her how she felt today, standing outside the choir, she answered: “I realized how much I missed all this.”

When I was about to leave the company of this wonderful Armenian-Ukrainian group, Andriy said to me while putting on his favorite Stetson hat: “I bet you’ll soon be singing in our choir!”

Tags: Ukraine Armenian Apostolic Church Prayers/Hymns/Saints

9 December 2011
Mariya Tytarenko

Subdeacon Yuriy Ostapyuk (left) plays games with the children at Druzhba Camp.
(photo: Petro Didula)

It is 10 a.m. Photographer Petro Didula and I are attending a liturgy in the Druzhba Camp for children and teenagers in the village of Svirzh, about 39 miles from Lviv. We were invited by Yuriy Ostapyuk, a recent seminary graduate and subdeacon, whom I had never met before and whose cheerful voice on the phone (we had to call him a hundred times to find the camp!) surely indicates his friendly and easy-going personality.

Surrounded by children, a young man of medium height with light hair is speaking into a microphone in a loud voice. This man, who we discover is none other than Yuriy, welcomes and introduces us to the children as journalists from Lviv. All the children turn their attention to Petro’s huge camera; their heads follow him like sunflowers following the sun. The liturgy starts.

All together, 140 orphans and children from low-income families and 16 deaf-mute children are now staying at the camp. Approximately half of them attend the liturgy, which takes place in a small, shadowy yard in front of the main camp building.

The children are praying, yawning and whispering. Some of them furtively say “hello” to me and touch my clothes. No one dares to go to confession until Father Roman Prokopets says in his homily that during confession they will be meeting directly with Jesus Christ.

In response, a line forms to Father Bohdan Kulyk, who is sitting on a stool, hearing the children’s confession. One boy near me asks his friend whether Father Bohdan is Jesus, and they both join the line.

Yuriy, his friend Volodymyr Chuprin, and a deacon Nazar Balinsky assist with the liturgy. “What beautiful voices,” a teacher exclaims, and then asks the older boys to stand up from their bench.

Now it’s the time for the celebration of the Eucharist. Some children make faces, indicating they are not fond of the taste of the sacrament. Yuriy explains to the children that they should swallow it immediately and not hold it in their mouths until the end of the liturgy as happened last time. That made me smile.

The liturgy ends and all the children gather around the chaplains to play some long-awaited games. First they sing a few Christian songs with Deacon Nazar. I have the opportunity to meet Yuriy, and I realize I’ll be able to interview him and his friends only after all the activities, lunch and the after-lunch portion of activities – probably not until around 5 p.m.

Now, the children are having their “time to shine,” and Yuriy is a brilliant cheerleader for them. “He always feels what children need at any given moment,” says Father Roman. “Yuriy knows the games they will be able to play and which ones they won’t. Our secret in working with these children is simply in trying to be simple like they are.”

In 2009, Subdeacon Yuriy and Father Roman founded the Center for Orphan Care, located in the Mriya Rehabilitation Center in Lviv. Today their Center is managing three boarding schools and two orphanages for preschool children in Lviv as well as five boarding schools in the town and villages of Briukhovychi, Chervonohrad, Livchytsi, Zhovtantsi and Zhuravno. It also publishes a four-page quarterly called Visnyk (or, The Herald, in English). The chaplains usually conduct liturgies in different chapels in or near the orphanages, centers and camps. If there is no such place, they improvise, as they did today.

Their hard, day-to-day work brings them a great amount of joy, but also numerous challenges.

For more, read Answering the Call, from the November 2011 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ukraine Children Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

5 December 2011
Mariya Tytarenko

Petro Moysiak is ordained at the Church of the Transfiguration. (photo: Petro Didula)

While preparing Answering the Call, her article appearing in the November 2011 issue of ONE, Mariya Tytarenko attended a Ukrainian Greek Catholic ordination. Presented below are some of the thoughts and impressions she recorded at the midsummer event.

July 12, 2011, The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in Ukraine

9 AM

After almost five hours in photographer Petro Didula’s old gray Zhiguli car, we finally arrive in the town of Kolomyja in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, some 124 miles from Lviv. It takes us a while to find the Church of the Transfiguration, where the subject of our story, Petro Moysiack, will be ordained as a priest. Thankfully, we arrive just in time.

The liturgy is conducted in the church basement, since the church is under repair. Although it is a weekday (Tuesday), the church is overcrowded with parishioners because of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and also because of the rare ordination event.

During the 90-minute-long liturgy, I try to guess the character of Petro just from his looks and behavior. I had never met him before. He is slim, not tall, with a short haircut, and wearing glasses with tinted lenses. At one point he forgot the words to the Symbol of Faith prayer; I assume he is more than a bit nervous!

After the liturgy, I learn that Petro’s birthday was yesterday and that today is the birthday of his spiritual counselor, Father Petro Holiney (also named Petro!). By coincidence, it is their saint’s name day, too. “Too many Petros and holidays for one day!” I exchange smiles with the one other Petro – the photographer – while he takes his last picture in the church.

12 noon

We are already one hour and 25 miles away from Kolomyia, in the small old village of Deliatyn, where our central character is from and where he is celebrating his first liturgy as a priest in the little chapel of Saints Peter and Paul. There are so many people that those who came late are standing behind the chapel fence along the road, right under a huge nest of five beautiful storks.

All the village parishioners are in their Sunday best, many of them wearing Ukrainian embroidered shirts, including Father Holiney and Father Moysiak – the former is wearing a black shirt with black embroidery, the latter a white shirt with white patterns.

After the Divine Liturgy and before the traditional ceremony of blessing with water near the chapel cross, young Father Petro speaks from the chapel porch to his fellow villagers, promising that he will live up to their hopes; he also thanks his mentors, relatives, and friends. Suddenly his deep and loud voice breaks. Some of the parishioners, especially the elderly, start crying.

In a minute, gaining control over his emotions, he gives his first priestly blessing to all the parishioners, including his grandparents, all his family, and his former girlfriend. “The blessing of a newly-ordained priest has special power,” I hear from one old lady who is standing in an extremely long line to greet the young priest.

I’ve been waiting for almost an hour to get his blessing – and after I receive it, the early-morning headache I got from our trip disappears.

4 PM

The photographer and I are invited for a big holiday dinner in the town of Nadvirna, half an hour from Deliatyn. It is the perfect place to meet everyone I need to interview in an informal setting. It is here that I first speak to Father Petro Moysiak and am amazed by his profound thinking, strong faith and firm will. Here I also get to know his family. Everyone is very proud of him. His grandparents are happy about his entering the priesthood. His mother seems wise. The other seminarians and priests in the community are friendly and close to one another. They will all miss Father Petro when he leaves for Argentina in September.

7 PM

The photographer and I are driving to the village of Dora close to Deliatyn together with Father Petro Holiney to see the legendary Underground Ecclesiastic Seminary, founded by Mitred Priest Mykhailo Kosylo, whose influence on local priests and seminarians, including Father Moysiak, is hard to overestimate. That piece and more will be part of our story!

Neighbors and relatives congratulate Father Petro Moysiak after his first liturgy.
(photo: Petro Didula)

Tags: Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Priests