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Bloomingdale church welcomes Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarch
By Elisabeth Mistretta | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/23/2009 4:55 PM | Updated: 10/23/2009 10:56 PM

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The leader of more than 15 million Orthodox Christians is leading two religious services at St. Andrew Ukranian Orthodox Church in Bloomingdale, and followers say his visit comes at a crucial political time.

Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv, leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, begins a weeklong political and religious visit to the U.S. with a prayer service at 4:30 p.m. today in the Bloomingdale church.

The event will be a memorial for more than 10 million Ukrainians starved by the Soviet regime in Stalin's enforced famine of 1932-33, as well as those who fought the Bolshevik forces for Ukraine's freedom.

Following the service, a concert featuring the Ukrainian Bandurist Capella of Canada will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the church auditorium, 300 E. Army Trail Road.

John Jaresko, president of St. Andrew's church board, said Patriarch Filaret is leading his followers in a struggle to be recognized among other Orthodox patriarchs as an independent church under canon law. He said many Orthodox Ukranians feel Russia does not properly recognize their church and this has political repercussions.

"Whether there was a breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 or not, Moscow is putting on severe pressure to keep hold of those countries through the Orthodox church," Jaresko said.

To further inspire the church's efforts on Sunday, Patriarch Filaret will preside over the 9:30 a.m. liturgy and will bless a mosaic that depicts Ukrainian Orthodox saints on the facade of the church. The event will be followed by a banquet in his honor at Eaglewood Resort in Itasca. Sunday is the 14th anniversary of Filaret's elevation from metropolitan to patriarch within the church.

Jaresko says this visit marks a triumph for Ukrainian Orthodox believers who have fought for decades to maintain their identity and traditions under Communist rule. He added that the U.S. and its religious freedom are what helped many immigrants, like his parents, accomplish this.

"This is the complete and final reversal of the injustices done to people strictly for believing in God," Jaresko said. "Even under the Iron Curtain, people still believed. This is the return of religion and civility to a country that was put under atheist Communist rule. Ukrainians are now able to pray for their own people, in their own language. This is finally the rejuvenation of the church, the culmination of a lot of things both religious and political, that say we are free."

On Monday, Patriarch Filaret will also preside over The Clergy Conference of The Kyivan Patriarchate, where he will meet with church leaders from across the U.S. and Canada. He will then fly to Washington, D.C., for official meetings with congressional leaders, Senate members and Ukrainian officials at the embassy of Ukraine.