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Ukrainian parishes in Arnold celebrate St. Vladimir together

| Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 12:21 a.m.
Submitted by Stephanie Swindle
The Rev. Mark Swindle, front, pastor of Holy Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Church, carries the Gospel, followed by the Rev. Yaroslav Koval, pastor of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as they open the Service of the Blessing of the Water. It was the first time, according to parishioners, that the churches, representing separate relgions but a common history, came together for that service. Photo submitted by Stephanie Swindle

Separated by only a block in distance but centuries in religious doctrine, two Arnold churches came together Sunday.

Parishioners at the Holy Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Church and St. Vladimir Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church met to celebrate the birth of their faith: the baptism of the Ukrainian nation into Christianity more than a century ago.

“We show that our faith is strong; 1,025 years ago St. Vladimir gave us this opportunity to grow in faith and spirit in life,” said the Rev. Yaroslav Koval, pastor of St. Vladimir.

“We look at Christ from different points of view but we have many things in common,” said the Rev. Mark Swindle, pastor of Holy Virgin.

They said the service was not an attempt to convert people of either faith, which remain separate. They described it as more of a historic observance in an ethnic culture that defines parishioners in both churches.

Both priests said it is too difficult to briefly explain the reasons why it happened, but the Ukrainian church divided in 1054. That was 66 years after Vladimir the Great, the leader of the Ukrainian nation, formally accepted Christianity on behalf of his people and joined the Byzantine Church.

Swindle said it was commemorated with a mass baptism of thousands of Ukrainian men, women and children in the Dnipro River in 988. Prince Vladimir was later canonized.

It was that historic event which the parishioners at the two churches along Kenneth Avenue came together to observe in the Service of the Blessing of the Water. The service, held at Holy Virgin, was performed by both priests with about 30 people in attendance.

Dressed in distinctly different blue vestments, Swindle and Koval performed the service with Swindle speaking in English and Koval repeating in Ukrainian. With the scent of incense heavy in the air, they again blessed holy water, a custom meant to limit the spread of “sinful uncleanness.”

Swindle said the event is noteworthy because some older parishioners have told him that years ago, some members of the churches would cross the street rather than share the same sidewalk.

“In recent years, we have gotten together,” said Anne Pituch, 91, of Arnold, a Holy Virgin member. “At Christmas time they came here and we went there. But, in the old days, it wasn't very friendly.”

She said this was the first time they shared in the Blessing of the Water.

“I enjoyed it,” said Susan Podolski, 59, a St. Vladimir member from New Kensington. “I had never been to an Orthodox church. I was interested in seeing how much different it is and how much it is the same.

“It is more same than different,” she added.

“The warmth and welcoming of the people in this parish is beautiful,” said Dolly Lobur of Arnold, a St. Vladimir member.Walter Sakal, 82, of Arnold, president of the Holy Virgin parish, said there really wasn't animosity between the members of the two churches. He characterized it as pettiness and believes they have gotten past that.

Speaking of the service and the reception that followed, Sakal said, “It makes me feel good that they came here. It's something that if my parents were alive, they would be very grateful for. For me, being second generation, I am very grateful.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

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