On Sunday, August 11, 2013, we all came together in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Slovak Byzantine Catholic church in Hamilton to celebrate our “Odpust”, the Feast Day of the saint after whom our church is named, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each year we come from all over the GTA to celebrate this day. Why is it so important? Why do we have it? Is it just an event where mostly older parishioners and perhaps their friends get together to enjoy a nice meal and to socialize? Is it an event for people who don’t have anything better planned on that particular Sunday and want to go for a drive and drop by a church with some beautiful artwork in it….what do you call it…icons? What is the point of it? And is it really that important in my life or anyone’s for that matter to take time out of our busy weekend schedules to make the effort to go? Really, wouldn’t most of us have more fun spending that day with our friends or families relaxing, at the cottage or enjoying a nice day visiting those we don’t get to see that often? Yet, each year our church and the churches in our Slovak Byzantine Catholic Eparchy as well as other Catholic churches have feast day celebrations. When our churches were built or bought, parishioners, clergy, trustees decided to give them a name. And they named the churches after a saint. In fact, the Catholic Church assigns one date out of each year for each and every canonized saint and refers to this date as the saint’s feast day. There are prayers associated with this feast day, often a particular scripture reading and parishioners will often attend a Divine Liturgy. Sometimes Catholics will process through the streets or even host festivals.
Our parishioners, clergy and trustees of old, dedicated our church to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or in the Byzantine Catholic tradition, to the Dormition of the Mother of God. Her feast day is August 15th. We have our “Odpust” as close as possible to this day each year on a Sunday. Our priest invites our bishop as well as other priests to come and celebrate this Feast Day. Our volunteers work hard to get the church ready, prepare for the liturgy, cook a great meal and plan a lively and entertaining program for everyone to enjoy. Again, the question comes to mind; why make all this effort? What meaning has this for us and in particular what role does this day, this particular church, the Catholic Church in general, or the Mother of God, play in our lives, if any? Let’s face it, for many, none of this means anything. They may have turned away from God, from the Catholic Church, from this particular church, from any faith at all. They are busy enjoying a life that offers everything we are being taught to value in society, money, status, power, prestige, fun, a life without too much deep reflection about one’s own existence, a life that fulfills physical and emotional needs, a life in which spiritual needs are defined and met by nature, friends and the media that states clearly and often that faith is not the “in thing”, faith is not meant for intelligent, educated people, and that people of faith are sad, manipulated puppets of supposedly man-made institutions. Yet, our faith is not that. It is founded in God, the creator of this world. Christ, the second person of the Trinity founded the Catholic Church after His death and Resurrection when He chose the apostle Peter to lead it. Once baptized, we are members of this living church, a family of faith, so inspired by the Trinity and the love of God that we want to share that joy and love with everyone we meet. Are we great at doing this? Not really? Are we Catholics, great role models? Not really? And we have to be honest, not very often. But we do try. At least most of us try. But it is so easy to become complacent, negative, criticizing, inflexible, stubborn and uncaring. We are human beings and by our very nature very fallible.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians and in particular Catholics struggle in today’s world. Everywhere we look, we are being told not to believe, not to believe in the loving God who created us, not to practice our Catholic faith, not to build a loving, faith-filled, vibrant community of God, but just focus on ourselves, our own lives, our own wants and desires because doesn’t life revolve around “I” and “me”. We are taught and told that the best we can do is to get a good paying job, provide for our families, make sure our kids our educated and hopefully retire somewhere nice with enough savings in the bank until we die. We are taught to compete from an early age, have one up on everyone else, boast and brag about our accomplishments, our kids’ accomplishments, and rely on ourselves and be self-sufficient. We are pressured to fill each and every minute at work and in our personal lives because then we will be doing something and will be recognized as successful. And don’t we all want to be successful?
So why take time out to go and celebrate a feast day in church and pray, sing, and be engaged with our faith? Will this get us a better paying job, a promotion, recognition, more money, a new network of friends who can help us get to where we want to go? Will we be seen as being more successful? The answer is probably not. And yet many of us did that on August 11th. We did it because we belong to this family of faith that in one way or another is connected to The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church. We came together to pray, to experience joy, to acknowledge and give voice to God in our lives, and to recognize the role that the Mother of God plays in our lives and the life of the Church. It was a beautiful day. It was beautiful because God was at the centre of it. It was joyous because we had the chance to share our love of God with fellow pilgrims.