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“Priests are community leaders,” Roman continued. “Well-educated village priests will teach their people to respect one another.”

“A well-educated village priest,” added Ostap, “will teach nationalism in a good sense, not extremism.”

This allusion to the Catholic-Orthodox struggle, often led by village priests, hit a resounding chord with the students.

It is this sense of mutual respect and love, anchored by faith in Jesus Christ, that brought these men to St. Basil College. Yet, they do long for their homeland.

Five members of the Catechists of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Ukrainian Catholic lay institute founded in Brazil, help the students adjust in a most fundamental way – through their stomachs. In addition to their catechetical work in parishes throughout the eparchy, these Brazilian-Ukrainian women prepare traditional Ukrainian fare daily, a gentle reminder of home. On Theophany, the catechists are charged with preparing the Holy Supper, a meatless feast that will begin after the service of the Blessing of Water.

As evening approached, the seminary community gathered in the chapel, glittering with red and gold mosaics. Bishop Losten concelebrated the liturgy with members of the seminary staff, including the Rev. Edward Young, Rector of the seminary.

The liturgy was a lovely one, combining many symbolic elements. Following the Liturgy of the Word and a litany of intercessory prayers, the Bishop took three lighted candles and, after making the sign of the cross with them over the water, immersed them into the water.

The congregation responded with a lengthy prayer chanted in Ukrainian. The Bishop then prayed:

“Therefore, O king and lover of mankind, you yourself be present now as then through the descent of your Holy Spirit, and sanctify this water,” after which he blew on the water in the form of a cross. Then he blessed the water with the sign of the cross.

The liturgy concluded with the signing of the waters with a sacred cross, which the Bishop then plunged into the water as he sang a hymn in honor of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. He sprinkled the people, who then lined up to drink the blessed water.

Our celebration of Theophany concluded with a feast, a meatless meal that began with the ritual distribution of bread, a round pita-like bread made from honey, eggs, brown sugar and flour.

Spiritually and physically nourished, the St. Basil college community – led by its shepherd, Bishop Losten – closed the evening with a round of Ukrainian carols, toasts and prayers. While enjoying my new friends at table, I could not help but remember with great affection the ones I left behind in Ukraine three years ago.

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Michael La Civita is the Editor of Catholic Near East magazine.

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Tags: Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Vocations (religious) Catholic-Orthodox relations