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Giving 200 Percent

In a changing world, sisters in Ukraine do more with less

text by Mark Raczkiewycz with photographs by Ivan Chernichkin

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In Lviv, Easter celebrations ring through the streets, heralded from afar by the joyous singing of the liturgy. Between centuries-old monoliths of Habsburg-era architecture, apricot trees bloom in the city center, blanketed with tiny white blossoms. Lilac bushes complete the palette with clusters of purple flowers.

Taken together, the sights and sounds of Bright Week — a term used for the first week of Easter in the churches of the Byzantine tradition — convey a sense of respite after more than 40 days of fasting during Great Lent.

This tranquility suffuses the convent of the Sisters of St. Basil the Great all the more strongly, its spiritual peace augmented by the silence of absence. Many of the community’s 33 sisters are currently visiting other sisters in Ukraine as part of an exchange program with other religious houses to the east, where the Basilian Sisters — the nation’s largest Greek Catholic community of women religious — are now present.

“And yes, they’re probably savoring shish kebabs right about now,” says Provincial Superior Mother Danyila Vynnyk, 39.

However, whether working in Lviv in western Ukraine — home to the majority of Ukraine’s Greek Catholics — or picnicking farther afield, the sisters can always be counted on to attend dutifully to their charism.

As if on cue, Sister Teofana Kaminska returns just in time for the afternoon liturgy.

On a typical day, the young woman awakens at 5:45 a.m. After the morning liturgy, breakfast and private prayer, she completes household duties and leaves to attend class.

Enrolled at the Ukrainian Catholic University, the country’s only Catholic institution of higher learning, Sister Teofana currently studies to be a social worker. The 28-year-old also holds a law degree from a university in Ivano-Frankivsk, located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

Her varied skillset supports the principal charism of the order:

to help socially vulnerable children. Instruments of the Basilian Sisters’ work include a primary school and two day care centers. The sisters also assist physicians at hospitals.

Sister Teofana has been close to women religious all her life. From an early age, guided by the example of others, she felt called to a life of service as a sister.

“The choice was difficult,” she says, comparing it to a train juncture. “The monastery is my rail; that’s my path. I have the strength to carry my weight and do what God wants.”

To enter into religious life as a Basilian, Mother Danyila says, this sense of purpose is key.

“A step in the monastic life is a radical step. It requires courage to know that one belongs to God.”

Inspired by this strength of conviction, women religious are going to great lengths to serve and uplift the people of Ukraine through an extraordinary period of war and economic and social unrest.

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