Remembering the Holodomor

It was another busy week here at St. Michael’s. Here are some highlights:


While I spent most of Monday on administrivia, the highlight came in the evening with the opening of the Holodomor exhibit at the Rhode Island Community College (Knight Campus) Art Gallery. As part of the commemoration, Professor Cheryl Madden (who teaches history at CCRI and was recently awarded the “Order of Princess Olha” by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko) gave a talk on the tragedy, and a local playwright (David Eliet) discussed and shared his short film on the subject. Afterwards, we toured the exhibition compiled from the work of various local artists and groups (to include one from our parish – you can see it on the bottom left of the flyer linked above).


On Wednesday we usually pray the Moleban intercessory prayer service and then move into our Adult Education class. Instead of a Moleban, this week we continued our commemoration of the Holodomor with a Panakhida prayer service for the more than ten million souls who were starved to death in 1932-1933. It was an incredibly moving service [an aside: to save money on oil this winter, we are holding weekday classes and services in the rectory office. I learned this week that even a little incense will create enough of a cloud to make it impossible for all but the most hardy to stay. Thankfully, I learned this early enough before the service to allow things to clear out a bit!]. After the prayer service, we watched a short film on the Holodomor and then discussed it for a while.

After that, we had a parish board meeting where we conducted an AAR (after action review) of the bishop’s visit (it went very well), the patronal feast (some would prefer that we went out to celebrate, others prefer to keep it in the hall), and the possible incorporation of another Orthodox cemetery (St. John’s – a Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Providence that closed many years ago).


At 2:30 AM, my oldest son (Nicholas, 13) and I headed down to our seminary/consistory in S. Bound Brook, New Jersey. We got there at about 6:30 AM (it was an easy drive – we didn’t even have to slow down much to cross the George Washington Bridge!), just in time to prepare to celebrate Divine Liturgy in the seminary chapel with Bishop Daniel and our full-time seminarians. What a blessing! Then I headed across to the Consistory to check-in with Archbishop Antony and all my friends there. There, Fr. Bazyl (the rector of our seminary) asked if I was available to teach a class on “Kyivan Spirituality” for our weekend seminarians next semester. Of course I enthusiastically agreed. This will mean spending one Friday a month there (and a whole lot of time in preparation). On the way home, we stopped at Chipotle (Nick’s favorite restaurant and in my top five) and to see Fr. Taras in Cartaret (he gave us some new Divine Liturgy books for the pews). We got home at about 6 PM. Not everyone understands why I like to make that trip, but it really is a treat for me.


I slept in a bit on Saturday morning, then helped out the Ladies’ Sodality do some last minute preparations for our “Ukrainian Kitchen”, which ran from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The Kitchen went VERY well – not only did the Ladies raise some money, we got to meet lots of people in the local community (I like to play the role of greeter). The Ladies make incredibly good varenyky (cabbage and potato dumplings), perohy (stuffed rolls), holobtsi (cabbage rolls), fried cabbage, soup, etc. But even more amazing is their dedication to the Church. You would not believe the amount of time and energy they put into their efforts.

At 3PM, we had our weekly chanting class. At 4PM we celebrated Vespers. Then at 5PM we celebrated a crowning service for a couple who wanted to “renew their vows” within the Orthodox Church. I cannot describe the joy shared there. It was a beautiful thing. The couple invited us to the reception, which was everything a reception should be (good fellowship, food, etc.).


Sunday was my “one morning of work” as a priest, and I followed my usual routine in preparing and the like. The service was beautiful, despite the fact that there were only about 45 folks there to enjoy it. After a coffee hour and a short nap, my family took me out to a local Mexican restaurant for my birthday. It was really nice. We finished up the day with swimming and ice cream. Happy times.

The coming week looks to be no less busy than last, with the biggest additions being a new weekly service on Wednesday afternoon (daily Vespers), a presentation on immigration at the “Faith and Order Commission”, and a new graduate-level class I am teaching down at the Naval War College in Newport. Daily Vespers and the immigration thing should be a snap, but I am a bit stressed out about the new class. [One more thing: I have a dear friend and mentor undergoing surgery on Friday (please pray for Ihumen Gregory).]

What was the Holodomor?

Holod: from the word for hunger; Mor: from the word for plague/murder

It occurs to me that not everyone who reads this may be familiar with the Holodomor. Here is the basic context: Stalin was trying to centralize control over all industry and agriculture. He was also trying to Sovietize the various nations under his rule. The Ukrainians resisted both of these efforts, so Stalin used starvation to force them into submission. The main mechanism that he used was the enforcement of impossible grain quotas. How does this work? Central planning runs on quotas: the government determines how many of every commodity should be produced, the price that will be offered for them, and the price that they will be sold for. In the case of Ukraine, Stalin demanded ALL of the grain (and other foodstuffs) produced and offered nothing in return (at least to those who refused to join the oppressive collective farm system). Recognizing the danger to their very lives, some Ukrainians hid grain to feed their family, so Stalin sent in forces (both “professional” soldiers and deputized mobs) to look into every nook and cranny of homes and farms. He then put more forces at the borders of Ukraine to keep people from escaping and goods/aid from coming in, and then he watched as over ten million Ukrainians slowly starved to death. This was about one in every four Ukrainians, and one out of every three Ukrainian children. The official party line was that there was no famine (artificial or otherwise), but that there may have been isolated suffering due to poor harvests. This was a lie that has now been publicly and clearly outed (despite the early efforts of the New York Times). To this very day, there are Russian officials (to include leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church) who deny that the Holodomor occurred and to commemorate those who perished in it [an aside – I have never understood why some Russians feel obliged to defend or ignore Soviet atrocities!].

Some folks wonder how it is that such a thing could happen to such a large and civilized country in this day and age. Most assume that it could not happen today; that it could not happen here. I am not so sure. As I wrote last week, all it takes is a large government supported by people who value “progress” (or any other ideal) more than human lives. The Communists in Russia and Ukraine (and the Nazis in Germany) were not martians – they were sinners with the same temptations we have. It was easy for them to believe that the people dying were less important that what was being achieved; that the victims stood in the way of a brighter and more just future. I would argue that not only could it happen here, it is happening here; but instead of sacrificing peasants and farming families to the God of progress, we sacrifice babies to the God of comfort and sinful self-indulgence. You cannot tell me that anyone with a moral bone in their body doesn’t look at the slaughter of the unborn through abortion with the same abhoration and disgust as we do when we study the atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust or the Soviet Holodomor.

Yes, it can happen here. It is happening here. And like before, the apologists for our sin (such as the New York Times and every pro-abortion politician and activist) propagandandize to convince us that there is “nothing to see here”, that “everything is okay.”

But everything is not okay. People are being slaughtered. And just as the covering lies damaged the souls of the Soviet survivers, so to do our own lies kill our souls.

May God grant Memory Eternal to all the souls who departed this life during the Holodomor, and may God grant mercy to the souls of those who perpetuated and supported it.