Remembering the deceased takes longer since Ukraine war began

23 February 2023
By Judith L. Watt

“Let us pray” is usually how we are invited to pray together as community, but one year ago Russia invaded Ukraine and the whole world took a deep breath.

When we awoke on that day, the war had begun. I am sure we all said a quick prayer to God. There was turmoil and confusion and the mass exodus to safety began as the first victims of war were slaughtered. The refugees fled to neighbouring countries in the west and then began to spread throughout Europe and then to the western free world.

In the past year you may have met some of them; chatting on a bus or SkyTrain, in a shop puzzling over which brand and type of soap to buy, at UBC teaching Russia, and in a nearby church looking for a Ukrainian community and hoping to be able to relax and worship in Ukrainian. I have met refugees from Ukraine in all these places during the past year.

Every Friday evening in Lent at 7 p.m., we are invited to pray for those who have lost their lives in this war, those who are displaced because of the war and for a future of peace in Ukraine. In the midst of this war, we are invited to join and pray together in community with our Ukrainian sisters and brothers at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, 550 West 14th Ave. in Vancouver.

A darkened St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church at dusk. Every Friday during Lent Ukrainian Catholics pray for the deceased.

Ukrainian Catholics gather for another reason on this night. Once a week during Great Lent (their Lent is longer than the Roman rite), they gather for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy for the Deceased followed by Sorokousty. I asked the parish priest, Father Joseph Pidskalny, OSBM, what this meant and he kindly explained it to me.

“It is a tradition in the Ukrainian Catholic Church that every week during the period of Great Lent (usually on Saturdays) although each parish can decide which day works best, there are special memorial services celebrated for the deceased members of the parish, along with deceased family members and friends. These requiem services, known as Sorokousty, involve the reciting of the names of individual family members, friends, and parishioners who have died. The word Sorokousty literally means ‘40 mouths’ and refers back to a time when requiem services were held in monasteries by 40  monks who would pray in unison for the souls of the deceased. The Sorokousty service immediately follows the celebration of the Divine Liturgy for the Deceased.” Because there are now so many deceased to be remembered, Father Joseph will read the names before the Divine Liturgy begins.

As individuals we cannot stop this war. But if you and I join together with others who also join together until the whole world joined in prayer, how could this war continue?

I saw pictures of Russian President Putin at the Russian Orthodox liturgy last Easter and had incredible empathy for his confessor. I wondered how he ask for absolution with the war continuing the next day and then again the following day.

Then I was at a Ukrainian Catholic liturgy read the English translation of the prayer they were offering; do you know Ukrainian Catholics pray for Putin as an Orthodox Christian at every Divine Liturgy?

I looked in great humility at these people who have lost loved ones in this war and I saw this solid foundation of faith in Christ and their surrender to God.

All are invited to pray each Friday during Lent at Protection of The Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Parish, 550 West 14th Ave. at 7 p.m.


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