For all Christians the day of the Resurrection is the Great Day.  We prepare in many ways for this Day; this celebration. As Ukrainians we have many traditions; we tidy our homes, we write pysanky, we bake paska breads. But how many of us prepare our spirit and our soul for the Great Day?

On March 31, April 1 and 2, 2017, the League of Ukrainian Catholics once again sponsored an opportunity for us to ‘tidy up’ our souls and renew our spirits during their Lenten Retreat in serene, bucolic Sloatsburg, NY.    

This year the League was privileged to have Archimandrite George Appleyard as retreat master; his theme, “The Exodus – Then and Now”. With the beginning of Holy Week the Vespers readings are taken from the Old Testament books of Exodus and Job.  Exodus is the story of Israel’s liberation from Egyptian slavery, of their Passover. It prepares us for the understanding of Christ’s exodus to His Father, of His fulfillment of the whole history of salvation.

Archimandrite Appleyard took the retreatants through the readings from the Book of Exodus and explored the lessons found there and their applications to us today. Most intriguing was a review of the Ten Commandments; a topic that for many may not have been revisited since our childhood catechism days.  Like all of the conferences that weekend, it sparked lively and enlightening discussions well into the evening.  

One of the many rewards of being a retreat participant is the opportunity to question, to explore, and to discuss the information presented with the retreat master and fellow faithful, and to better understand our faith beliefs and traditions.  The majority of retreatants have attended annually for decades.  For the newer guests the experience has been unforgettable and deeply moving.   So much so, that in the subsequent year they have brought along family members and even friends not of the Eastern Catholic Rite to share in the experience.

 One of this year’s retreatants, Andrea, has agreed to share her thoughts:    

“After my first retreat (in 2016) I immediately marked the dates in my 2017 calendar.  As soon as the Great Fast began this year, I looked forward to my time together my fellow League of Ukrainian Catholics at this year’s retreat.  This special weekend gives us an opportunity to participate in structured prayers that are rarely offered in our parish (Akathist to the Mother of God and Morning Psalms, for instance).  The educational aspect, with Msgr Appleyard was especially deep this year as we explored how the culture and life of Israel in the Exodus should frame our understanding of The Christ.  One of the best moments for me this year was the ability to receive three Mysteries in one day; Confession, Holy Communion, and the Anointing with Holy Oil.  The reception of Anointing, a Mystery we might not otherwise have the opportunity to receive, is an especially beautiful rite when we participate in it communally.  I recall praying for each individual as he or she opened their palms and received this special grace.  It’s a touching few moments – words cannot adequately capture the experience! “

“In addition to prayers, catechesis, and the reception of Mysteries, we enjoyed fellowship over delicious food served by the lovely Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate who open their beautiful retreat house doors to us warmly each year.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that as I drove up the long lane past the grotto, I could feel myself relax.  In a strange way, even after only two years of attending these retreats, opening the side door into the retreat house somehow feels like I am going “home”  … a place warm, familiar and filled with the best people imaginable.   I plan to return every year.”

The desire to share a deeper understanding of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and God’s love for us is innate in our being. Daily we are bombarded by media reports of the tragedies brought about by those who have abandoned all faith in God.  The flood of information is relentless.  Rarely do we take the time to ‘retreat’ from the noise and confusion and to renew and refresh our spirit and our soul.

For over 40 years, the League of Ukrainian Catholics has sponsored such a ‘retreat’ during the Great Fast at St. Mary’s Villa Retreat Center, on the grounds of the provincial home of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.  Retreatants are invited to ascend this tranquil mountain location in Sloatsburg, NY, to a place of peace, prayer, and reflection far from the haste of weekday life.  Sadly, few individuals, proportionate to our entire metropolitan Ukrainian Catholic diaspora choose to take advantage of this golden opportunity. In addition to the conferences, retreatants avail themselves of the opportunities for prayer, mediation, confession, and reception of the Eucharist; all in preparation for the Pascha.  And perhaps an equally important opportunity for fellowship with friends – old and new.  

Even now plans are underway for next year’s Retreat weekend. All are invited resolve to take the time – that all too brief time – to step away from their everyday lives and to prepare their spirit and their soul for the Great Day. 

Contributed by Helen Fedoriw, LUC National VicePresident