In the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the months of May and October are set aside for special devotion to the Mother of God. Commonly, this devotion takes the form of a Moleben, or prayer service, dedicated to her. Patterned after the divine liturgy, it includes general petitions, a Gospel reading specifically about Mary, direct petitions to her, and hymns in her honour.
Gracious Lady, you pray for all those who with faith take refuge in your powerful protection. We sinners ever in misery and affliction have no other recourse to God than you. We are burdened by many sins, O Mother of God. We bow down before you. Save your servants from every calamity.
Although special in its own right, on occasion extra events are added to the Moleben. So it was that on the evening of May 25 St. Basil the Great Church in Edmonton saw children and young adults gather to add further beauty to the Moleben with a Crowning of Mary ceremony. Participants included very young children from the parish’s pre-school sadochuk — little garden — program, as well as girls and young ladies from the Children of Mary and Sodality organizations.
Prior to the Moleben, a procession made its way down the church’s central aisle. It began with the youngest children carrying individual flowers. Part way down the aisle, they stopped and sang a verse of Immaculate Mary in Ukrainian. They then proceeded to the tetrapod in front of the sanctuary, on which an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help had been placed. The children placed their flowers in vases on either side of the icon. Two of the children carried a wreath of flowers set on a pillow. They, too, sang a verse of Immaculate Mary before proceeding to place the wreath in front of the icon.
During the Moleben, the young ladies of Sodality assisted in singing the responses. As well, for one ektenia — litany — all the children sang the response. O Maria Maty Bozhe, molitisia za nas — O Mary Mother of God, pray for us.
Young girls may join Children of Mary as early as age five and continue through to their teen years, when they progress to Sodality. Both organizations aim to instil within the girls a love for the Mother of God. Through prayer and lesson, the girls learn to model their lives after her. Time is also spent preparing for the girls’ participation in regular divine liturgies, as well as such special events as the Crowning of Mary. In both instances, they wear blue capes and white veils in honour of Mary.
While Children of Mary and Sodality do take an active part in various liturgies, these are far from their only activities, as Victoria Kostyniuk explains. “Sodality is a tight-knit group of young ladies ranging from Grade 7 to university aged. We gather to pray and sing hymns, but we also do crafts and have fun playing other games. The members of Sodality are also active volunteers in the church community. We often teach songs to younger members of the church and lead them in hymns during the liturgy. We have the privilege of being able to grow together in faith, spiritually and physically. During times of reflection and prayer, we closen our relationship with the Virgin Mary.”
The impact of Children of Mary and Sodality on the life of a parish is significant. Not only do the girls grow in faith, they become active members of the parish, often leading to lifelong service in that spiritual family. The impact can also be very personal. Elizabeth Dokken recalls how her own life has been affected. “As a mother of five, I often find it difficult to find enough time in the day to offer all of my children the one-on-one faith formation that they so deservingly need. I have always believed that boys are very privileged to be given the opportunity to serve God by becoming acolytes. Through this the opportunity they grow in their relationship with God. However, this same privilege may be found as a member of the Children of Mary for girls. Through my 13 years as a mother, there have been countless times that I have had to turn to Mary and pray for her strength and guidance, from one mother to another.”
Elizabeth also sees how her daughter’s life is already being affected. “To know that my daughter is developing her own relationship with Mary through a program like the Children of Mary is comforting. In the busy world in which we live, I value faith formation even more than ever before. To know that my daughter is, in many ways, being given the opportunity to form her faith with the loving and guiding hands of the Theotokos is something I cannot express in words. I know that this relationship she is developing with Mary will last her a life time, regardless of where her faith takes her and that to me is the most important thing.”
Helping young girls form a lifelong relationship with the Mother of God is both praiseworthy and vital. Children of Mary and Sodality do just that.
Kostyniuk, who lives in Edmonton, has a bachelor of theology from Newman and is a freelance writer. He and his wife Bev have been married for 37 years and have eight grandchildren.