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St. Phillip the Deacon, namesake of the Christmas fast.

St. Phillip the Deacon, namesake of the Christmas fast.

Pylypivka and Beyond

Fr. James Karepin, op

The coming of the cold weather seems to coincide with the beginning of the Pylypivka – at least in Chicago. What is the Pylypivka, you ask? You may know it as the St. Philip’s fast – the forty days of preparation for Christmas which begins on the feast of the Apostle Philip, hence the name.

Even that name may not be familiar to some of you. I am ashamed to admit that, for most of my life, I too had no idea that there was any such thing in our Church. Even being raised in the Ukrainian Catholic Church and educated at a Ukrainian Catholic grade school did not expose me to the Pylypivka. Nobody told me about it – much less encouraged me to observe it! Not my parents. Not the sisters. Not the priests. Nobody.

Why? The answer seems to be that, in this as in so many other ways, our traditions and spirituality – i.e., all those things which made us distinct and “different” – were downplayed. You see, when I was growing up, many people didn’t want to stand out. We were encouraged to act and look and speak like the predominant culture: we got rid of our “foreign” accent as soon as we could, and only spoke Ukrainian in private or when absolutely necessary; we followed the prevailing styles of music and dress; our minds were shaped in such a way that we became good little Americans. Being Ukrainian had little to do with who we were or what we did. In fact, being Ukrainian was an obstacle to us as we sought to find our place in this society. Because of this, we kept this part of us hidden as much as possible. The melting pot reigned supreme.

This was true in terms of our religion as well. The Roman Catholic Church has long enjoyed predominance and prestige – not only here in the United States, but also in the heavily Polonized Western Ukrainian lands. Perhaps in yet another attempt to keep from standing out, from being too “different”, we once again caved in to the majority and took on many Roman ways. My guess is that the Pylypivka was one of the things sacrificed in this quest for uniformity and/or subservience.

Certainly the Pylypivka was not the only thing sacrificed. The invasion of our Churches by statues is not just an aesthetic matter: the icons which the statues pushed aside are foundational to our theology and spirituality; thankfully, the icons have come back in recent years, and the statues are more and more recognized as interlopers. As for the parade of personal devotions which has made its way into our Church – e.g. monstrances, rosaries, Stations of the Cross – some people continue to be attracted by these, and so continue to be drawn away from our rich liturgical tradition. As chocolate attracts children only to ruin their appetite for nourishing food, so it is with these devotions. Perhaps we need to re-examine how we “eat”.

      Not even our liturgical life has been spared this conformism.

  • Initiation into our Church takes place with administration of Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist. For many years the Eucharist disappeared from the initiation rite and, in imitation of the Roman Catholic practice, was delayed until “First Holy Communion”; unfortunately, there are still places where this practice continues to this very day. And then there is the widespread aversion to total immersion…
  • Whereas our weddings are to begin in the back of the Church, the Western practice of “Here comes the bride” up the aisle has often been allowed in our Church. It seems to me that the equality of the partners is symbolized by the fact that, in our rite, the bride and groom walk down the aisle together; this equality seems to be an important value to uphold.
  • Our bishops have mandated the return to our traditional funeral practice – with the funeral service standing on its own. Unfortunately, again probably in imitation of Roman Catholic practice, we have allowed the Divine Liturgy to substitute for our venerable ritual. Even more unfortunate is the fact that many of our people have become so attached to the Romanized practice that they see the restoration of our traditional funerals as a diminution.
  • And then there is the restoration of our venerable Lenten practice – i.e., fasting even from the Eucharistic Liturgy during the week, substituting the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Devotees of “daily Mass” are sure to be upset, but that is for another season…

   Please don’t think that I’m imputing blame. On the contrary. How can I and my contemporaries be blamed for being faithful to what we have been taught? As for our teachers, they were only passing on what they too had been taught. Yet the time has come for teaching to improve, Even Rome is calling us to re-learn our vital, non-Roman ways. The Second Vatican Council and subsequent Vatican documents have encouraged us to return to the integrity of our rite and spirituality. Restoring the Pylipivka to its proper place in our year would be a good place to start.