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As the sun rose over the Znamyanka Orphanage, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, along with the Seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary gathered in the great room for prayer.  On this, their final day at the orphanage, Archbishop Daniel served a Moleben to the Birth-Giver of God, praying for the health and wellbeing of the children, staff, and administrators of the orphanage, as well as for the benefactors and supporters of the Charitable Mission of the UOC of the USA.

On this Sunday morning, the room was filled with orphans, teachers, and administrators of the facility.  Everyone listened intently as His Eminence read the day’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 14:14-22 retelling the time Christ took compassion on the crowd that had gathered to listen to Him preach. When evening came the Disciples asked Him to send away the people because it was late, and they were hungry.  However, He instead asked that they feed them, to which they answered they had only five loaves of bread and two fish.  Christ took those scanty supplies and prayed over them, then told the Disciples to pass the food out to the multitudes.  This meager amount turned out to be more than enough to feed the 5,000 men gathered, not counting the women and children.  They were able to satisfy everyone, and still had leftovers.

Closing the Gospel Book and placing it on the table, His Eminence turned to those standing before him and explained that with Christ all things are possible.  Imagine feeding a crowd of thousands with 5 loaves of bread and two fish.  It seems impossible, but nothing is impossible with God.  He reiterated that through faith and prayer, God turns our own meager resources into enough to meet our needs, and more.  Looking at the staff members, Archbishop Daniel stated that we must have faith in God’s ability to multiply that which we have.  His Eminence asserted that he has faith that the humble offerings the mission team has provided, through the generosity of the Church and her faithful, will grow and multiply.  Never fear, only have faith, and all your needs will be met.

Concluding the service, Vladyka turned his attention to a bucket a water placed before the icon of the Mother-of-God, and making the sign of the Cross over it, prayed:

That the Lord our God will send down the blessing of Jordan, and sanctify these waters, let us pray to the Lord. That this water may be unto the bestowing of sanctification; unto the remission of sins; unto the healing of soul and body; and unto every expedient service, let us pray to the Lord.

His Eminence then dipped a bundle of juniper branches into the bucket of water and began to sprinkle God’s blessings all around.  First up was a little icon created by one of the orphans.  The young girl proudly held her icon as Archbishop Daniel gently sprinkled water upon it, and upon the girl, making her giggle.  He then turned, and sprinkled water upon all who stood behind him, and then walked around blessing all the wheelchairs, and corners of the room.

As one of the orphans, who was proudly wearing one of the seminarian’s T-shirts with the Mission Trip logo upon it, grabbed the bucket of water, His Eminence continued chanting prayers and sprinkling water.  They were led by the girl who held her newly blessed icon, as she walked through the entire facility, starting with the children’s quarters.

Archbishop Daniel first blessed the bedbound children, gentle sprinkling their twisted bodies with holy water, asking for God’s blessing upon them to ease their discomfort and strengthen their wills, bending down to gently stroke the cheek of a grinning child.

The little group next visited the rooms of the boys and girls who were sitting in their wheelchairs next to their beds, waiting to get blessed.  Singing and sprinkling blessings throughout all the rooms and adjoining hallways, and mostly atop the little heads of all the children, Vladyka made his way through the remainder of the building.  He headed to the classes to bless the children’s studies, the rehabilitation room, to ensure that the machinery worked successfully towards healing and strengthening the deformed limbs, the administrative offices, and even the laundry room, blessing every nook and cranny of the building. 

As he went, he was joined by more and more people, eventually turning the tiny group of three into a true procession, led by the young girl holding her icon.  Making their way outside, His Eminence blessed the newly erected fence around the property, asking that the Lord keep all those within its walls safe from harm.  Walking along the sidewalk, bordered by flower beds filled with tall pink, purple and white cosmos flowers swaying softly, to the deep blues of the morning glory vines that covered the opposite side of the walk, the little group walked around the grounds of the facility. 

Dipping deep in the bucket, Vladyka blessed the playground, the play structures, the storage huts, the gardens, and all the structures throughout the facility grounds, finally arriving at the kitchens.  Everyone filed into the large bright kitchen, as Archbishop Daniel’s voice echoed off the tiled walls in the large room.  Having blessed the entire orphanage, all the children and staff, every classroom, bedroom, hallway and stairwell, His Eminence turned one more time to the people who had followed him, and doused them all generously with the water, showering God’s blessings upon them for many years of good health and happiness. 

As the seminarians packed their belongings, His Eminence met one final time with the administration of the orphanage, confirming future plans and assuring them of the Church’s continued support of the disabled orphans housed within its walls.

The children shyly loitered in the hallway, waiting to bid final farewells to the young men they’d come to care for deeply over the previous week.  The seminarians, spotting the little heads peaking in, smiled and warmly invited the kids in for a few more cuddles and jokes. More than one gave up his Team T-shirt, pulling it over the head of one of the children.  The shirts were too big, hanging down to their knees, but the kids didn’t care and danced around as if they were wearing the latest fashion.

Gathering in the front room of the building for a final group photo, the team members bid farewell to the children and the staff members, promising to return in the future.  With parting hugs, the Mission Team picked up their bags and headed to the awaiting van which was to take them to the train station.

Parting is always difficult.  The children poured out onto the front porch and stood there waving sadly, forlorn looks upon their faces.  The seminarians ran back and gave each one a tight squeeze and a tickle making them giggle and squirm.  Archbishop Daniel came up to the porch and bestowed a final blessing upon the orphans before joining the seminarians in the van.

The white vehicle veered left onto the main street as its occupants turned and waved out their windows to the children who stood on the porch still waving and shouting.  As the van bounced along the road to the train station, the distance growing greater between them and the orphanage, the team pulled out their face masks, and prepared to return to the world, constricted by pandemic restrictions. Soon the Mission Team boarded the train to Kyiv, leaving behind the orphanage, but, taking with them the orphans who were nestled safely within their hearts.

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