Слава Ісусу Христу! Слава на вікі!
Slava Isusu Christu! Slava Na Viki!
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!
Having returned home from Mt. St. Macrina, I felt inspired to share some personal reflections of this year’s pilgrimage as a conclusion to the blog series on Otpust. With the above words, we repeatedly exchanged greetings with friends, loved ones and strangers (new friends) during Otpust (pilgrimage) over the recent Labor Day weekend. It is the traditional greeting used by Byzantine Slavonic-Rite Catholic and Orthodox Rusyns upon greeting one another.
As a pleasant change from recent years, the weather was splendid throughout the weekend. At the opening Divine Liturgy, Archbishop William Skurla, Metropolitan of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, reminded the faithful that the theme of the 82nd Pilgrimage was “Theotokos: An Inexhaustible Fountain of Mercy” and humorously remarked in his homily that given the merciful grace of such beautiful weather, the Sisters may want to consider retaining this same theme for all future pilgrimages.
Sister Ruth (Plante), the Provincial of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Province of the Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great, welcomed the pilgrims with a poignant comparison of packing and unpacking one’s luggage for the pilgrimage weekend with the negative emotional baggage that many persons carry throughout their lives. Sister Ruth encouraged each of us to lighten our load by spiritually “unpacking” our emotional pains, offenses, grudges and hurts in the spirit of the pilgrimage’s theme of mercy. Immediately following the conclusion of the opening Liturgy, the clergy and faithful processed with the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from the Shrine Altar to the Grotto for the Solemn Blessing of Water.
After a brief time for lunch, the Paraklis to the Mother of God was served. The homilist offered an excellent and inspirational apologetical explanation regarding the Orthodox-Catholic tradition of requesting the intercession of the Theotokos based on Mary’s role in our Lord’s first miracle performed at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The homilist also emphasized the obedient cooperation of the servants to the directives of our Lord’s mother. In the early evening, the Vesper service with Divine Liturgy was served during which the Basilian Associates (analogous to our Seraphs of St. Seraphim of Sarov) publicly renewed their annual Profession of Commitment.
At the conclusion of the Liturgy, we hurriedly made our way to purchase Medovníky. Although the large hearts had already sold out, we were ecstatic to successfully procure eight medium-size hearts as treats for our gracious hosts and for our family members at home.
Lighting votive candles is another “must” during Otpust. There is something about lighting devotional candles that brings solace and strength to our spiritual lives. Long after we leave the Mount, we know that our candles burn brightly for our intentions, in front of the icon-shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It is a comfort to know that our prayers continue to rise before God at this holy place after we have returned home.
With the onset of dusk, pilgrims gathered in procession toward Mt. Macrina Cemetery for the Parastas (requiem). Those with family buried in the cemetery stood in solemn prayer and respect at their loved ones’ graves. We were humbled and honored to hold vigil at the grave of our beloved Baba Marko. As the sun hid its rays behind the horizon of the holy mount, candles of resurrection faith flickered across the expansive cemetery grounds. Bishop Gerald Dino eloquently spoke about the transformation (metamorphosis) of our corruptible bodies into incorruptible heavenly bodies at the parousia (second coming). As an illustration, he referenced an experience recorded by Cecil B. DeMille:
“Many years ago I was commissioned by David Belasco to write a play, ’The Return of Peter Grimm.’ The play was being written for David Warfield, and the story hinged upon the continuation of life after death. I got the inspiration for that story from a water beetle. I was up on a lake in the Maine woods. The canoe was drifting. I was reading-resting-searching for an idea. I looked down in the water, for my little craft had drifted to where the lake was only about four inches deep. There in a world of mud and wet, were water beetles. One crawled up on the gunwale, stuck the talons on his legs into the woodwork, and died. I let it alone and turned to my reading. The sun was hot. In about three hours I looked at my water beetle again. He was parched. His back was cracking open. I watched and out of the back of that dead beetle I saw crawling a new form–a moist head–then wings. A most beautiful dragonfly. It scintillated all the colors of the rainbow. As I sat watching, it flew farther in a second than the water beetle had crawled in days. It hovered above the surface, just a few inches from the water beetles beneath. They did not know it was there. I took my fingertip and moved the shriveled water beetle husk from the canoe’s gunwale. It fell back into the lake and sank down to the mud-covered bottom. The other water beetles crawled awkwardly to see what it was. It was a dead body. They backed away from it. ‘If God does that for a water beetle, don’t you believe He will do it for me?'”
After singing the final refrains of the Parastas “Vičnaja pamjat’, vičnaja pamjat’, blazennyj pokoj vičnaja jim pamjat'” (memory eternal), we solemnly processed with lit candles from the cemetery up the hill to the shrine altar for the Akathist to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
As I mentioned in a prior post, Sunday begins very early on the Mount with Matins and an early Liturgy served at 7:00 am. Pursuant to our tradition, we secured our place for the 8:30 a.m. Divine Liturgy celebrated in Old Church Slavonic. As in prior years, I was again overcome with emotion during the eucharistic anaphora during the singing of “Тебе поем, Тебе благословим, Тебе благодарим, Господи, и молим Ти ся, Боже наш” (To You, we sing…).
On Sunday afternoon, family members and friends arrived from Ohio, and we gathered at Baba Marko’s grave for a private Panikhida (requiem service) before bidding farewell to Mt. St. Macrina for another year. As with every pilgrimage, I bring to the holy mount many special intentions, both for myself, for family and friends, and for those who specifically asked for my feeble prayers. I lit a votive candle before the mosaic icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the motherhouse chapel for all of these intentions.
The transition back to “normal” life has not been easy. For several days, I struggled with aches, pains, and other physical ailments that reminded me that I have truly become a “старичок” (old timer). In a conversation with Sister Elaine, she related how she still envisions me as a young pilgrim over forty years ago.
I am deeply grateful to God and His Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, an Inexhaustible Fount of Mercy, for the grace of granting me the blessing to participate in another Otpust. I continue to find myself singing and humming the liturgical hymns and spiritual songs. And so, I finish this pilgrimage blog series by leaving you with one of our Marian hymns written particularly for the Uniontown Otpust…