Homily by Bishop Mykola Bychok on 2nd Day of the Pilgrimage in Canberra
June 11, 2023
On All Saints Sunday, June 11, during the second day of the Pilgrimage in Canberra, Bishop Mykola Bychok led the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Church of St. Volodymyr. “May today’s Sunday of All Saints always remind us that we are called by God to holiness,” Bishop Mykola wished the faithful.
The first Sunday after Pentecost is called the Sunday of All Saints. On this day, the Holy Church particularly honours those individuals who were able to cooperate with God’s grace here on earth. As a result, they lived in constant divine presence, sought to avoid sin, and instead performed good deeds, for which they inherited eternal joy with God in heaven and earned respect from people.
The Apostle Paul teaches us: “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2, 4). Christ did not merely live, die, and rise again to make only those in heaven holy. He gave His life to make us holy here on earth as well. The Feast of Pentecost, which we celebrated last Sunday, clearly shows us the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are necessary on the journey to holiness. The saints are a special sign of the presence of God’s gifts in this world.
The saints have witnessed the living God in the past through their lives, actions, and teachings. But they continue their witness today through various miraculous healings. They lived just like us in this same world. However, there is one difference: the saints showed through their lives what their priorities were — they loved not only their families but, above all, they loved their Lord.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ reminds us that the road to God, to heaven, and ultimately to holiness is not easy: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10, 37–38). This means that as we strive for perfection, we must overcome various difficulties and adversities that often confront us in our daily lives. However, it is worth living, praying, learning, working, and putting in all efforts to be faithful to God because Heaven awaits us for these labours. Jesus said before His Ascension into Heaven, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14, 2).
The Sunday of All Saints shows us many people from all times who, though they have already passed away, managed to become saints through their lives on earth. They serve as proof for us that if we are on this earth, everything can be changed in our lives. For our salvation, the Church presents us today with the example of thousands of saints, who tell us that sin is not an inherent mark of human nature but rather an acquired one through the weakness of faith, will, and the weak desire to be with God. The example of the saints teaches us that our weak human nature and character flaws cannot justify remaining in a state of sin. Our shortcomings should be the subject of our struggle, even though it often takes a lifetime to fight against them.
The blessed martyr Volodymyr Pryima is the patron of our pilgrimage. On the 26th of June 2013, he was proclaimed the patron of laity for the Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide. And this is not accidental, because he was faithful to Christ until the end. In September 2014, when His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav visited Canberra on a pastoral visit, he declared the St. Volodymyr Church in Canberra as a place for pilgrimage in the Melbourne Eparchy and entrusted us with a relic of Blessed Volodymyr for veneration.
What was so special about the life of Blessed Volodymyr Pryima? What can he teach us, the Christians of the 21st century in Australia? He was an ordinary person, a father of four children, serving as a cantor in the Church. We do not see anything extraordinary in his life, everything was simple and ordinary, just like in our own lives. However, there was one characteristic that was distinctive in him — he carried out these simple things excellently, demonstrating his love for God and neighbour. Ultimately, it was this love that became decisive in the final moments of his earthly life, as he placed God at the centre of his life.
On the 26th of June 1941, cantor Volodymyr Pryima and Fr. Mykola Konrad went to administer the Sacraments to a sick woman. Did they not understand the danger that awaited them when they went to the sick woman? They understood. But they also understood that the person needed God. Their love compelled them to take concrete actions, to share the Lord and bring Him to the family. Were they not afraid? I believe they were afraid because they were ordinary people. But their love for God and neighbour gave them the courage to witness their deep faith and fervent love. Jesus loved people so much that He died for them; thousands of men and women chose death rather than renouncing God — and that is love.
This act of sacrificial love, sealed by their martyrdom, shows that they were wholly dedicated their entire lives. And these moments of death were like an examination, where they acknowledged God, as we read in today’s Gospel of Matthew 10, 32: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”
Blessed priest-martyr Mykola, who was a priest, had no right to refuse the Holy Mysteries to the sick woman. On the other hand, Blessed Volodymyr could have declined, but he chose to be present; he chose to serve with his gift of singing and glorifying God not only during the Liturgy in the church but also during the Liturgy of serving others. Although he was only 35 years old, he served until the end. Both were arrested and murdered nearby in the forest, solely because they loved God and neighbour. That is why the Holy Church, witnessing the martyrdom of his life, proclaimed him and other new martyrs of our Church, together with Blessed Father Mykola Konrad, on the 27th of June 2001. This happened during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ukraine.
Our pilgrimage will conclude with the blessing of icons of Blessed Volodymyr Pryima, which will then be distributed to all our parishes and missions in Australia and New Zealand. The main task of these icons will be to continue this pilgrimage in our parishes and in the homes of the faithful, where these icons will travel from house to house. In this way, we will have the opportunity to pray in our homes to Almighty God through the intercession of Blessed Volodymyr and ask for all the necessary graces to be faithful Christians today.
May today’s Sunday of All Saints always reminds us that we are called by God to holiness. Let us not neglect this calling, but let us pray together: Blessed martyr Volodymyr, pray to God for us sinners and guide us all in our pilgrimage to eternity. Amen.