Holy Cross Church Enjoys a Weekend with Their Eparchial Bishop

Over the weekend of February 20-22, Metropolitan Michael, eparchial bishop of Cleveland and the United States made a canonical visitation to Holy Cross Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, located in Lakewood, CO, a suburb of metropolitan Denver. He was met at the Greater Denver International Airport by Father John and Pani Matka Nicole Heckers. The Metropolitan-Archbishop with the newly-chrismated members of the parish community and their sponsors, together with their Pastor, Pani Matka.

The Visit Begins with Prayer & Fellowship.

The pastoral visit began with the celebration of Vespers on Friday evening, after which the Metropolitan joined a significant number of the parishioners for dinner at a local restaurant, where he had the opportunity to meet and get to know them on a more personal basis.

On Saturday, Vladyka Michael meet with representatives of various parish groups and organizations. In the evening, he conducted a dinner-meeting with the parish council to discuss important matters pertaining to parochial business at a restaurant near his hotel.

Highlight of the Pastoral Visitation - The Celebration of the Eucharist.

His Eminence celebrated the Pontifical Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Prior to the service, Vladyka Michael, having been greeted by members of the parish council, visited the parish religious education classes and was the guest lecturer at the weekly adult session. There was a lively discussion of various theological and scriptural topics as well as a question and answer time where parishioners had the chance to ask questions directly from their eparchial bishop.

During the Pontifical Liturgy, Metropolitan-Archbishop Michael elevated two of the adult parish altar servers to the minor orders of lector and subdeacon. Newly-tonsured subdeacons Earl Kolarik and Thomas Martin assisted the Metropolitan during the celebration of the Eucharist. Also at the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence chrismated two new members of the congregation, receiving them into full communion with the church. Linda Stewart (chrismation name: Stephanie) and Jennifer Stamile (chrismation name: Martha) have been studying the Orthodox faith under the tutelage of Fr. Heckers.

The Pontifical Divine Liturgy began with a procession of clergy and assisting ministers of the altar, from the sacristy to the main entrance of the church. As the procession made its way to the altar, the Metropolitan-Archbishop entered the church with the traditional Ukrainian custom of sprinkling the congregation with holy water (a reminder of our baptisms), while the congregation sang the opening hymns. After blessing those present, Metropolitan Michael then venerated and incensed the altar, icons, clergy and faithful, after which he was led to his throne on the solea.

Greetings from our Primate.

Before the service began, the parishioners listened attentively as Fr. Heckers read a pastoral letter addressed to the parish members from His Beatitude, Metropolitan Stephan, Primate and Major-Archbishop of our church. His Beatitude expressed his thanks to the pastor and parishioners of Holy Cross Church for their dedicated support of their parish, pastor and eparchial bishop, encouraging them to continue in the good works of charity and Christian living that they are involved in on a regular basis. As always, the people were happy to hear from both the primate of their church in his archpastoral letter and the homily delivered by Metropolitan Michael.

The Archpastoral Homily Focuses on the Meaning of Lent.

In his homily, Vladyka Michael spoke of the important season of Lent that was about to begin, encouraging the faithful to take seriously, this time of repentance and renewal and to walk personally with Jesus, as he makes his final journey to Jerusalem, ultimately to offer himself as a sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, for the sins and failings of humankind. His Eminence told those present to make every effort to attend the weekly Lenten services offered at their parish church, so that the season of Lent may be more than a mere figurative time, but one of real spiritual growth and improvement, thus preparing each one of us for a powerful remembrance of Jesus' Passion and death and the celebration of Our Lord's radiant resurrection on Pascha day. Fr. John has since reported that this year's attendance at the weekly Friday Lenten services has been the highest in the history of the parish.

Vladyka Michael incorporated the theme of the then soon to be released movie The Passion of the Christ as an opportunity for us to reflect on the most important last hours of Jesus' life. "The movie," said the Metropolitan-Archbishop, "will put before our eyes in dramatic form, the reality of Jesus' suffering, bringing home the great love he has for all God's people. Only true love could bring one to accept such an intense form of suffering and death. While Jesus' certainly could have chosen not to endure such a painful end to his earthly life, which as Gospels relate to us, he reflected on during the time he spent in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, he remained committed to the mission that his Father sent him into our world to accomplish - that of the reconciliation of humanity with God, the forgiveness of the many sins of the human race and their consequences, over the course of every period of time and place of history, and the opportunity for a new and everlasting life."

Metropolitan Michael continued, "In his own person, Jesus showed us that life does not end at the grave, but for those who have faith, continues in a changed but tangible, real form. Our bodies may indeed succumb to the finality of human existence, but our spiritual bodies, our souls will be alive with God forever in Christ. This is the meaning of the paschal mystery, that life does not end but is changed, and for the better, void of the limitations and suffering experienced on earth, just as Jesus' own body, while resurrected and alive, was no longer subject to the limitations that mortal life places on us, but he appeared among his disciples in all his glory and freedom - the same pristine way of living intended by God for us from the beginning."

"This was the life that we all had before the pride of our first parents (and also our own), caused humanity to be subject to mortality because they did not listen to what God their creator warned them would be the consequences of their disobedience. Jesus' sacrifice, which we participate in each year at this time and also, in every celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, changed the consequences of our disobedience to God's call into a new opportunity for a peaceful, productive and most of all, an eternal and unending life. If we listen to God's call to each of us, then we will become true partakers in this paschal mystery which we now remember and celebrate," Vladyka Michael concluded.

The Many Activities of Holy Cross Parish Offers the Eparchial Bishop a Glimpse into the Spiritual and Charitable Life of his Flock.

Holy Cross Church is an active place on Sunday mornings. In addition to the religious education classes and Divine Liturgy, the parish offers breakfast and lunch to the homeless each week. Metropolitan Michael had the pleasure to see this corporal work of mercy, that of feeding the hungry, put into action, as parishioners worked together to provide this meal to those who have come to depend on Holy Cross for what might be their only complete dinner of the week. In addition to serving this weekly meal, the parish operates a food pantry and there were a number of people who came to receive canned goods and other commodities after the liturgy was over.

At the conclusion of the Pontifical Liturgy, a dinner was served in the parish community room, in honor of Metropolitan Michael, consisting of holubtsi (stuffed cabbage) and other culinary delights. After spending some time in conversation with the parishioners who gathered for the Divine Liturgy and dinner, His Eminence departed once again for the airport and the return trip to Cleveland. He had the opportunity to pass by "Invesco Field at Mile High," site of the infamous "Mile High Stadium," home of the Denver Broncos, long time rivals of the Cleveland Browns. His Eminence and Mr. Russell Mogler, president of the parish council, both avid football fans, had the chance over the weekend, to discuss this historical relationship of sportsmanship in a friendly but spirited manner.

The pastor of Holy Cross Church is the Very Rev. John Heckers, who also serves as Dean of the Western Deanery of the Archeparchy of the United States. He is greatly assisted by his Pani Matka Nicole, who is a much needed support in the good work that the parish is active in.

May God grant to the pastor and parishioners of Holy Cross Church in Denver, peace, health and happiness for many blessed and spiritually fruitful years.

Pictures from this historical pastoral visitation follow below.

Metropolitan Michael with the pastor and parishioners. Metropolitan Michael and Fr. John with newly-chrismated parishioners and parish council representatives.

The Metropolitan-Archbishop with Father and Pani Matka Heckers. Vladyka Michael was delighted to see the dedication of parish members to the spiritual and temporal activities of the church.

The Metropolitan-Archbishop with members of the parish community. Vladyka Michael with Fr. John and Pani Matka Nicole.

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