Learn more about the Ukrainian Front Royal Church – Royal Examiner
“Youngkin family prays at Front Royal Ukrainian Catholic Church” was our headline last week. Who knew before that there was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Front Royal? And what is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church anyway? Royal Examiner decided to investigate.
Notice that word “Greek”: The first thing to understand is: “Catholic” doesn’t always equal “Roman Catholic”. There are, in fact, several ways of being Catholic. There are actually many Catholic Churches inside the Catholic Church – of which the Ukrainian Catholic Church is 1 out of 23. Doing the math, the Roman Catholic Church plus 23 Eastern Catholic Churches equals 24 churches which are the Catholic Church – some from distant parts of the world – who all look to the Bishop of Rome, aka Pope Francis, as their shepherd.
Ukrainian traditions and customs are rooted in the oldest practices of Christianity. The Sunday service is not called “Mass”; it is rather called “Divine Liturgy”. “Liturgy” simply means a prescribed form of worship. It is “Divine” because it focuses on Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour. The Ukrainian liturgy was essentially written in the 5th century by Saint John Chrysostom. It is based almost entirely on Holy Scripture – virtually every sentence of it can be directly traced to the Bible.
It is difficult to just sit and observe a service (although of course you can if you wish) as the whole congregation participates in the singing of the entire a capella liturgy. The liturgy is full of praise and adoration, with continuous appeals to personally turn the heart to Jesus. Personal prayers, especially before Communion, are extraordinarily humble and moving.
Many Ukrainian Greek Catholic traditions are shared with Eastern Orthodoxy, since the church is a daughter church of Constantinople (the city founded by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, after ending the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire). However, Saints Joachim and Anna Church here in Front Royal will be celebrating Easter at the same time as everyone else. It is the Orthodox and some other Eastern Catholics who have a different way of calculating the date of Easter.
Inside it is different from other churches: there are no statues in Ukrainian churches – instead there are icons. Icons are not themselves objects of worship – they are just highly stylized images whose purpose is to remind people on earth of Christ, who is to be worshipped. Art historians know that iconography was the first form of Christian religious art and is the direct ancestor of medieval art. There is a screen of icons between the altar and the rest of the church. It’s not to keep people out (in fact, you can skim through it easily) – it’s to remind everyone that what’s happening on the altar represents Heaven, while we’re still on earth. The priest, like Jesus Christ, goes between the two. When the central doors (aka Royal Doors) are opened during the Divine Liturgy, heaven and earth are united, and we mystically participate in the celestial liturgy which is beyond time as we understand it. It’s something to think about!
Other things are also different: in Eastern Christianity, praying in the language spoken by the people has always been the tradition. Thus, in Kiev, the liturgy is in Ukrainian, but at Front Royal, it is in English.
Canon law is also different: in Eastern Catholic churches, married men can be ordained deacons and priests, and the Sacrament of Communion is given at the same time as Baptism – so you will see babies receiving Communion!
So how did our local saints Joachim and Anna become?
By 2015, several Eastern Catholic and Ukrainian families whose parents were born in Ukraine, or who had fled communism themselves, had settled in the area (anywhere between the Royal Front and West Virginia) and longed for their liturgy and their ancestral customs, with their more intense focus on the person of Christ and the call to personal conversion to Him. The Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia (www.ukarcheparchy.us) has set up a “Front Royal Mission”. People without a Ukrainian background started coming – because they loved the beauty of the liturgy and its continual call to prayer and holiness. A strong sense of community began to develop around the small community. When Covid hit, things continued: the liturgy was celebrated outdoors in tents for many months, while a radio frequency broadcast the proceedings to parked cars. Live streaming on Facebook continues today.
The parish moved to its current location at 1396 Linden Street in Front Royal in December 2020. Divine Liturgy begins on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and lasts more or less an hour, and there is a communion time after.
Lent, a special time of extra prayer before Easter, has begun and every Wednesday evening during Lent a special liturgy will take place at the Front Royal. Special prayers for Ukraine are also organized; check the website, www.SSJoachimandAnna.org, or the FaceBook page (https://www.facebook.com/ssjoachimandanna) for updates. The parish is served by Fr. Robert Hitchens, the pastor. Father Andrii Chornopyskyi, recently arrived from Ukraine, helps serve the community.