“The role of the laity in the Church is to move together with their brothers and sisters, under the guidance of the priest and bishop, towards the Kingdom of Heaven.” Fr. Andriy Mykytyuk

June 26, 2024

On June 26, we liturgically commemorate the memory of the blessed martyr Volodymyr Pryima, who was not accidentally proclaimed the patron saint of the laity because he himself was a layman and died a martyr’s death for the faith of Christ. So today we are talking with Father Andriy Mykytyuk about the role of the laity in the Church, about the lay ministry in the UCC in Australia, and about the role of the priest in this ministry.

“The role of the laity in the Church is to move together with their brothers and sisters, under the guidance of the priest and bishop, towards the Kingdom of Heaven.” Fr. Andriy Mykytyuk

Father Andriy Mykytyuk, Administrator of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Melbourne, Synkellos for the Laity, Chairman of the Eparchial Pastoral Council, Chairman of the Liturgical Commission, and Chaplain of the Plast in Australia, shares with us today how the Church in Australia engages the laity in ministry, as well as his vision of the meaning and role of the laity in the Church.

— Father Andriy, please tell us a few words about yourself. Where were you born, where did you study, and how did you come to Australia to serve?

— Glory to Jesus Christ! I am glad to welcome you! Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. I was born in Lviv, where I graduated from secondary, music, and church cantor schools. Then I studied at the Lviv Theological Seminary of the Holy Spirit and the Ukrainian Catholic University, receiving a master’s degree in Liturgics in 2008. At the seminary, I was a member of the Effata Society, which deals with issues of sectarianism, religious movements, and ecumenical dialogue. I also did internships in various parishes, working with young people and children.

I was a student chaplain at the student chaplaincy mission of the Lviv Archeparchy. While studying in the sixth year of the seminary, I received an invitation from Bishop Petro Stasiuk to serve in New Zealand. My wife and I decided to give it a try. While we were waiting for the documents to leave, I, already a priest, continued my ministry in the student chaplaincy and also worked at the Church of the Archangel Michael in Lviv. In February 2010, we arrived in Australia. At first, I served in Melbourne, then in Canberra. In 2014, I returned to Melbourne and was the administrator of the Cathedral Church. After the end of the contract in 2015, we returned to Ukraine, where I worked for three years at the parish of the Entrance into the Temple of the Most Holy Theotokos in the village of Murovane near Lviv and was also the director of the Lviv Archeparchy’s Retreat Centre in Bryukhovychi. I graduated from the “Make Business Successful” program at the business school of the Business People’s Club.

However, due to the lack of priests in Australia, we moved back here in 2018. Bishop Peter appointed me administrator of the parish of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Ardeer, and since 2023, I am the administrator of the Cathedral Church in Melbourne.

— This is quite a lot of change in a short period of time.

— Yes, being married and having five children at the moment, I am grateful that my wife supports me and helps me in different ways so that this ministry can take place in different places and at different times. Family support is very important to move forward together. Olesia also was for a long time a cantor at the parish in Ardeer and now helps with liturgical singing at the Cathedral parish, including singing at the liturgy in English and, of course, in all the other possible things that we try to implement together in this ministry in Australia.

— You are the Synkellos for Laity of the Melbourne Eparchy. What is this position, and what are the duties and tasks of a Synkellos for Laity?

In March 2022, Bishop Mykola appointed me to this role and entrusted me with this responsibility. If I explain in a few words what a synkellos is, it is a minister. If the state has a president, a prime minister, and ministers, then the church also has certain governments. There is the Bishop, who is the head of the entire eparchy; there is the Protosynkellos, who is the right-hand man of the Bishop; and there are also synkelloses who are responsible for various more specific areas. In our church in Australia, we have two synkelloses: the Synkellos for clergy, Father Ihor Holovko, and the Synkellos for laity, which is me.

The task of the Synkellos for Laity is to communicate with the laity, to identify their needs, to look for opportunities to somehow revitalise our lives in the parishes, to respond to certain problems that may arise, and to answer questions from the laity about what is happening or not happening. It’s quite a multifaceted ministry. And, unfortunately, in Australia it is difficult to fulfill it to the end, because the distances between parishes are very large and really often there is no opportunity, no time, no finances, and sometimes no physical strength to be in each parish, to be able to meet all the people from of the entire Eparchy.

However, we try to do this in different ways in order to serve people and really convey to the bishop what the laity is concerned about, but also to convey to the laity how our Eparchy is moving forward and where we are heading together and what we can do to work together in this Vineyard of Christ and bear good fruit.

Pastoral visit to New Zealand

— Today, the Church pays a lot of attention to the laity. Is it something new for the Church to involve the laity in active participation? Why is it important?

— The involvement of the laity in active participation in church life is not something new; it has always been important because the church is not just a building; it is not just bricks and wood. The Church is also not only the bishop, priest, and monasticism; the Church is everyone who, in the sacrament of baptism, was born to live with God and in God and became a member of the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church. And so, as the Apostle Paul says, if one parts is not well, the whole body feels it.

Every layperson is called to be active in his church, in his parish, to fulfil the mission, the role that he can and is called to in his place, helping the whole body, the whole church, to develop and to go together, supporting each other, to the Kingdom of Heaven, where Christ calls us. Sometimes, unfortunately, we see a certain passivity or even hostility towards the Church. That is why it is important to remind people that the mission of a lay person is not only to attend church at Easter or Christmas but also to actively participate in the life of their parish. The church, of which each of us is a part, should be loved, and we should make every effort to build it. This is the only way we can support each other and bear good fruit, so the participation of each of us in the life of the church is really very important.

— On the Facebook page of the Eparchy, posts with the abbreviation “EPC” sometimes appear, and apparently not everyone understands what it means, so please tell us what is “hidden” behind this short signature.

— The EPC is the Eparchial Pastoral Council, which is chaired by the Synkellos for the Laity. It is a kind of board of advisors who help the bishop in the pastoral care of the entire eparchy. In our council, we have representatives from each parish; these are lay people. We meet every month and try to plan together what we can do locally in the parishes and in our Eparchy to revitalise our church life and to make our parishes develop in a better way.

One of these initiatives that the Eparchial Pastoral Council is involved in is the annual pilgrimage to Canberra. That is, the EPC is engaged in the organisation, promotion, and encouragement of others to participate. And this pilgrimage is a great opportunity for people to come, pray, and receive all the graces associated with the pilgrimage. But also to learn something new, to gain new experience, and to return to their parishes with new ideas, knowledge, and the ability to develop them. The Eparchial Pastoral Council is also working on an annual plan of various events, celebrations, and ideas that parishes could implement locally to revitalise their parish life.


— In October-December last year, the Eparchial Pastoral Council conducted the Alpha course. Please tell us what its purpose was, what it consisted of, and what the result was.

— As one of the stages of development or revitalisation of life in our Eparchy, the Eparchial Pastoral Council decided to hold the Alpha course. This course lasts 8 weeks. Participants meet weekly. During these meetings, a certain topic is presented that relates to the main aspects of the Christian faith and is then discussed. The Alpha course originated in the Protestant environment, but it has been very well adapted by the Catholic Church, and even in Ukraine, I know that some parishes are running it.

It’s not just for people who go to church every Sunday, but for everyone, even if you don’t believe in God. This is a good opportunity to try and see what our Lord is like. And it is important to understand that this course is not a catechesis; it is rather a kerygma that is designed to show that Christ should be the basis of our lives and that God is the basis of our lives. And as I mentioned earlier, it is designed to help us start building a deep individual relationship with God.

Again, distance was a big challenge for us. That’s why we decided to do this course online. And indeed, although there were not many participants, there were participants from different parishes, which was good.

I think that this course has yielded results for the people who took part in it, and we hope that we will be able to hold it again, but it would also be good if each parish could do it offline, not online, so that people could communicate face-to-face.

— Father Andriy, you mentioned that you have experience in pastoral ministry in both Ukraine and Australia. Is the ministry in these two countries different, and if so, what is the difference?

— The service is different, of course, because it’s in a different country. Here, probably, it is not necessary to say that somewhere is better or somewhere is worse; they are different. In different countries, the service is, in a certain sense, different.

That is, of course, there is a prayer rule that must be followed, there is visiting the sick, there is the giving of the Holy Sacraments, and there are other needs of the faithful. But, you see, the difference is probably that our parishes in Ukraine are bigger and closer. That is, in Ukraine, if it is in villages, there is one church, and the village gathers around that church. If it is in the city, then there are many churches, and people who live closer to the church already flock to that parish. Instead, here in Australia, we have churches in big cities, and the distances between parishes are indeed very long. And sometimes a person who wants to come on Sunday, even for the liturgy, has to drive an hour or a half to get to the joint prayer.

In general, during the entire time of my service in Australia, in addition to serving in different parishes in different places, I also had the opportunity to visit our missions in New Zealand and Tasmania, as well as the closer ones in Noble Park, Wodonga, and Newborough. Thanks to this, I had the opportunity to meet many people and serve them in various ways. This was an interesting and good experience.

Pastoral visit to Tasmania

— What are the challenges for Christians and for the Church in Australia today, and how can we be prepared for them?

— As I said earlier, the big challenge is the distance that we have here in Australia. Another challenge for me is that the environment in Australia is very secularised. People have many different concerns and priorities. The church, unfortunately, is not that first priority. God is not the centre around which we build our lives. In Ukraine, we can also see this trend, but not as much as in Australia. We see people leaving the church en masse, and not only the UCC. The Roman Catholic Church and other Eastern Catholic Churches are experiencing the same thing. That is, there is a lack of priestly and monastic vocations. Young people in Australia are choosing something else. Therefore, pastoral care in Australia has the challenge of communicating to people that God is love and our faith is a deep relationship with him.

If we do not build a relationship with God, then our faith will be reduced to some traditions or customs. Traditions and customs enrich our faith, but they cannot be the foundation. The foundation is our deep relationship with God, with our loving Father.

And, in fact, this is the challenge we face. Because people need to be brought back to God—not to the church, but to God. If people see the value of God in their lives, or, better to say, what they lose by not being with God, then I think all other issues will fade into the background.

— What do you think a layperson should be like in the modern Church?

— A layperson in the modern Church should be active. He should love his church. To love means to see everything that is happening, but to understand that the church is not only the clergy but also each of us. He is called to take an active part. In particular, through prayer. Of course, to the best of our ability. This does not mean that every day should be spent in a church from morning to evening, but praying together is extremely important. It is also important to participate in social service, to help in different ways to different segments of the population or in different situations.

A layperson is someone who is interested in the life of their church, who cares, and most importantly, who wants to pass on the wealth and treasure of faith, tradition, and ritual to the next generations. Not so that it dies or remains frozen, but so that this tradition, this living faith, lives on, develops, and passes from generation to generation, like a burning fire that warms hearts and lights the way. And then, if the core is God, if the core of faith is a relationship with God, then I think it is possible to do this.

However, this is a task not only for our Eparchy and not only for our Church, but for the Universal Church as a whole, so that everyone fulfils their role. Now there are various discussions about who should do what and who should be entrusted with what ministry. But I think we forget that the Holy Spirit gives to everyone according to their abilities (we have the parable about the talents). And the main thing is to use these opportunities. You don’t have to look for something extraordinary. You can serve as best you can in your everyday life. The role of the laity in the church is to move together with their brothers and sisters, under the guidance of the priest and bishop, towards the Kingdom of Heaven.

— How can a priest help lay people take an active part in the life of the faith? How can he encourage them?

— I think that a priest must first show by his life that life with God is good. Because if we do not testify to something that we have experienced, then we cannot fully convey it to people. You know, when we have watched a fascinating film and want to share it with our friends, read a book, or see something, we pass it on with enthusiasm so that others become interested, want to come, read, or watch this film. It should be the same with the church and God. A priest should pray for his faithful, but he should also show by his example that life with God is good. Nothing is possible without Him. Without God, then, we do not live.

Of course, I may be wrong, but in my opinion, if we reduce encouragement only to social projects, parties, and some meetings that do not have the basis of building a relationship with God, then this is just an attraction that can attract people’s attention for a few moments, but then people go looking for other attractions. Therefore, a priest can encourage people by leading by example, but also with a kind word and prayer.

Eparchial Pilgrimage to Canberra, June 8–9, 2024

— Father Andriy, thank you for an interesting and informative conversation. Perhaps, in conclusion, you would like to wish something to our readers?

— I would like to wish all our readers that we build our relationship with God well and try to do it in different ways. Just like we build relationships with friends, we talk to them on the phone, we meet them, we go to parties with them, we go to lunch with them, and we go for walks with them. We should do the same with God, using every opportunity to do so: through prayer, through reading the Scriptures, through participation in the liturgy, and through participation in every initiative that the Church organises to encourage us to be closer to her and to God.

I am already inviting our faithful to come to Canberra next year, in June, for a pilgrimage. This year, we had 110 people; last year, we had 120 people. I hope and pray that next year we will have at least 150 people, but it depends on everyone. In the Church of St. Volodymyr in Canberra, which is the pilgrimage centre of our Eparchy, there is a copy of the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary of Pochayiv. The church is endowed with the grace of plenary indulgence; let us not lose this grace of God. The church also houses the relics of the Pratulyn Martyrs and the relics of Blessed Volodymyr Pryima, the patron saint of the laity. It is important for all of us who are members of the church to know about him and follow his example.

Every parish in the Melbourne Eparchy has an icon of Blessed Volodymyr Pryima. And we encourage this icon to visit homes, to gather with friends and family, and to pray. In this way, we can learn something about the saint, about the church, and walk with Christ.

So once again, I wish that we build a relationship with God. I want God to be for us not just a routine or a memory from time to time, but the basis, the centre of our lives. And we, in turn, would draw from that source of life all the graces we need to live with Him and move together towards the Heavenly Kingdom.

Thank you all, and glory to Jesus Christ!

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