My Paschal Pilgrimage — Part 2

The flight from Bratislava to Kosice was uneventful on Monday April 21, except for having to pay extra for the overweight baggage that was traveling with me, containing various books, presents and video recording equipment. Uzhgorod is right next to the border with Slovakia and its airport only services domestic Ukrainian cities. So the most direct way to get there from the West is via Kosice in eastern Slovakia and then make an hour’s drive eastward to cross over into Ukraine. Unfortunately, Father Taras was 3 hours crossing the border from Ukraine into Slovakia to pick me up, and so I had to wait about an hour for his arrival after my flight landed.


While I was in Bratislava that morning, Metropolitan Babjak had arranged for me to visit the Jesuit school and monastery in Kosice where he was director before becoming bishop, and so we were welcomed and shown the facilities and taken out for dinner. After dinner we headed for the border and even though late at night, it took two hours for us to cross over into Ukraine. The crossing involves both passport and customs checks for both leaving Slovakia and entering Ukraine. Nothing but paperwork!


Father Taras and I arrived late at the Blessed Theodore Romzha Seminary and I was assigned Father John Zeyack’s former residence room for my stay – quite comfortable with a private bath and shower, sitting area, desk and bed. Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week were relatively quiet except for attending the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts with the seminarians in the evenings. I video recorded both for future OLTV programs.


On Holy Thursday morning we went to the Cathedral where Bishop Milan Sasik served an Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, blessed the Holy Chrism for the eparchy, and performed the “washing of feet” ceremony with 12 of his priests. I had never before seen this service since I was never around a cathedral or bishop during Holy Week. It is one of the most humbling services I could imagine and it brought tears.


Toward the end of the Liturgy, twelve priests sit in front of the iconostasis and remove one shoe and sock. The bishop partially unvested and with an apron to cover his sticharion, he went down the line washing with water and then kissing the foot of each priest. The last of the twelve was Father Taras, the seminary rector but who is also the Protosyncellus of the eparchy. With a deacon saying the “narrator” parts, they concluded the service from scripture with the bishop saying the words of Christ and the priest saying the words of Peter. I only hope the video captures the spirit of that moment. As usual, the singing in the Cathedral by the choir and congregation was great. I hope all the video comes out.


That afternoon, evening and most of the next day, I worked with the seminary choir in making a series of video recordings (that we will also make into audio CDs). We recorded Marian Hymns, Eucharistic Hymns, Lenten Hymns, and Paschal Hymns. We also recorded selections from the Divine Liturgy, Vespers and the Panachida. Finally the lead member sang the eight tone Plain Chant music for the tropars, kondaks, Psalm 140, and the Glory … stichera. These will form a whole series of recordings for OLTV to go along with the Christmas Hymns from last year.


On Friday evening, the seminary chapel filled with over 100 local residents who now consider the seminary their home parish, and about 20 seminarians who stayed for Pascha rather than going home. It was again reassuring to hear the familiar melodies of our Holy Friday Vespers but with Church Slavonic words. Somehow it felt comfortable but interesting at the same time.


On Holy Saturday morning, the Liturgy of Saint Basil was celebrated (I skipped Jerusalem Matins!) including all the readings. We found an English Bible and I chanted the last reading from the Book of Daniel. The only other time I remember attending that service with all the readings was when I visited Athens for Pascha once or twice many years ago with Father Serge Keleher.


After an afternoon rest to prepare for the evening of services, we gathered at the seminary chapel about 11:30 pm and Father Taras and a few other priests started Resurrection Matins with the ceremony to move the shroud from the tomb in the center of the church to the Holy Table. Then candles were lit and we started the procession around the building. At the end, Father Taras sang the prayers and the first “Christos Voskrese!” rang out in front of the chapel doors. About 200 people had arrived by then, most then went back inside the chapel with some remaining outside with their baskets of food.


All sang with vigor the Canon of Saint John Damascene and then the Paschal Divine Liturgy. The Gospel of Saint John was proclaimed in Greek, Hungarian, Church Slavonic, English and Ukrainian. At the conclusion, we moved back to the front doors and by now, another 200 people had appeared outside and two sets of double lines of baskets stretched from the chapel doors in two directions. To see the lines of baskets and candles lit in the darkness, and then watch as the priests walked among them blessing with water going everywhere, was a very moving experience. Again, tears of joy and pride filled my eyes, to see such piety and spirituality.


When all was finished, the people went home and the seminarians and staff went into the refrectory for a sumptuous late, late night snack of pascha bread, spiced sausage, hrutka (egg cheese that I made myself earlier in the day!), hrin (beets with horseradish to which I added extra!), died eggs, butter, and plenty of liquid refreshments. Rather exhausted, the party concluded about 4 am and we all slept until noon the next day!


Early in the afternoon on Pascha, a group of Americans who were touring with Father Ed Cimbala arrived for a festive banquet at the seminary. It was a real joy to see some people that I knew, including Fathers John Cigan and Tom Wesdock, and talk about all our experiences of Pascha in the “Old Country.” They had attended Resurrection Matins at the Cathedral the night before, and Pascha Liturgy also at the Cathedral that morning.


The rest of Pascha was truly a day of rest with somber but joyous Vespers that evening.


Next Part 3 – Budapest and Constantinople