Ukrainian Catholic mission marks first year

Seminarian Philip Gilbert chants the Epistle during a Saturday afternoon Divine Liturgy at the Front Royal mission of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Photo courtesy of Andrew Perrong

Between full-immersion baptisms and fellowship meals, it’s been a year of growth and bonding for a yet-unnamed Ukrainian Catholic Church mission in Front Royal.

Parishioners recently celebrated the mission’s first anniversary with a potluck supper and voted on what the mission will be named. Robert Hitchens, who travels from Washington to serve as a priest for the mission, said parishioners had thought of several ideas in previous votes.

“We’ve been trying to think about what would be an appropriate name for our mission, in other words, a patron saint or a feast day,” he said. “We wanted to give the parishioners a chance to think about that.”

In the end, he said the decision will rest with Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, which includes and governs churches in five states and in Washington. The mission might not have a formal name until Christmas or even later, Hitchens said.

At 4 p.m. each Saturday, a congregation of anywhere from 60 to 100 people has gathered in the Human Life International chapel at 4 Family Life Lane in Front Royal for the mission’s Divine Liturgy. Except for two prayers, the Liturgy at the Front Royal mission is sung a cappella. Hitchens said it’s tradition not to have musical instruments in the church.

Robert Hitchens presents bread and wine to those at a Divine Liturgy at the Front Royal mission of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Photo courtesy of Andrew Perrong

Bob Wiesner, a parishioner from Front Royal, said it took about a year to set up the mission after an interest meeting with Hitchens in 2014. Hitchens said he and Wasyl Kharuk, both priests at Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, have been assigned to the Front Royal mission and travel there on alternate Saturdays for the Liturgy.

Connie Marshner, another parishioner from Front Royal, said her fellows are “pioneers in such a breathtakingly bold venture.”

Before establishing the mission, Wiesner said many parishioners worshiped at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church – and although he said it’s not a bad alternative, “it’s just not our church.”

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of 23 Eastern Catholic churches that are in communion with the pope of Rome, but different from the Latin Catholic Church. Wiesner said the western and eastern traditions have been compared to two lungs for the Catholic Church because the two “mutually enrich each other.”

“The main thing that people would notice as different (from the Latin Church) right off that bat would be the Liturgy,” he said. “It really hasn’t changed since about the 600s.”

Despite that, Wiesner said young people pick up on the Liturgy easily and children enjoy the involvement of the singing, smells and movement. Marshner said parishioners don’t have to focus on the words sung.

“Human needs are the same century after century,” she said. “You pray for health and peace and salvation and you can dress those up in the language of the current day … but the meaning stays the same.”

While becoming a full-fledged parish will take money for a church, upkeep and a pastor, Wiesner said that may someday be in store for the Front Royal mission. He said it’s grown in its first year – mostly through word of mouth – into an energetic parish with youth involvement.

After the long drive to Front Royal, Hitchens said that energy makes the trip worthwhile for him and the other priests.

“When we get out there and we celebrate the Liturgy with the people there … it’s very rejuvenating, spiritually,” he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com.