This guest post by Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk is personal story testifying to the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, who works so often through the powerful intercession of the Theotokos, who was “overshadowed” with the Holy Spirit to give birth to Christ. Pray for us Holy Mother of God that the Holy Spirit fill us, protect us in these times and help us to do whatever Christ tells us…As C.S. Lewis says, “obedience isn’t legalism, it’s a symptom of salvation”.
Pentecost coincides with one event in Canadian history that I learned about from my father. The theme I associate with my dad arises from the way in which Pentecost can be considered the patron feast day of translators, as St. Jerome is their patron saint. The connection is attached to my father’s biography and my own autobiography, especially as a part of my vocation story.
Dad was born at Wishart, Saskatchewan. The district was known to be very Polish and very Ukrainian. Pro-life folk hero, Joe Borowski, for example is also from Wishart. My father joined the Canadian army in 1942 as an all-purpose infantryman. His knowledge of languages made it possible for him to move from one type of work to another, although with the same rank and regiment, a trooper with the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards (P.L.D.G.)
It was May 1944. In the days around May 23, the Canadian Army was fighting to liberate Rome, during the Italian Campaign of World War II. That one day alone there would be over 900 casualties, including more than 300 fatal casualties, rivalling the more well-known Juno Beach losses in Normandy, France, on D-Day two weeks later on the 6th of June.
The story, as he would describe it to us, was that one time he was speaking Polish with a group of soldiers, and an officer called for him. From his point of view, privates had no contact with officers unless it was something very important, and usually something done wrong! The new
work they gave him was with the headquarters of the regiment. In any regiment there were four companies, Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog, and if my childhood memory is correct, Dad had earlier been in Dog company. The P.L.D.G., or “Plugs”, was already a reconnaissance regiment, but within that he now would specialize in work as a translator, and was trained in additional languages like Italian, and German, of course.
I remember Fr. Methodius Kushko telling me of a conversation he had with my dad. Speaking with him as a priest, he was mentioning about the protection he felt, especially a Marian witness to explain his survival. From Fr. Methodius, I learned that my dad couldn’t understand how, as scouts, they would work in pairs, and every week he would be working with someone else, the earlier partner either wounded or killed. That happened enough times for dad to see a pattern in which he just kept on working and surviving from day to day, even though he would be wounded twice. It was very helpful for me to hear this information from Fr. Kushko, for which I thank him, and which has become part of my vocation story, too.
When I hear Pentecost prayers with reference to languages, I think of this aspect of my dad’s life as a “D-Day Dodger” in the Italian Campaign, and the very practical work I now have of proclaiming God’s mercy. That is how my dad’s military life has had an influence on my priestly vocation. Here are a few examples of those prayers, the first from Vespers, the second the Kondak from the Divine Liturgy:
“You renewed Your disciples, O Christ, by giving them a variety of tongues with which to proclaim that You are the Immortal God, the Word who bestows great mercy upon our souls.”
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues He parted the nations. When He divided the tongues of fire, He called all to unity…”
After the Liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944, Canadian soldiers were able to visit St. Peter’s. Pope Pius XII was Pontiff then. We have a letter my dad wrote to his brother, George, describing the visit. I have learned from other references that the Holy Father made himself accessible to large crowds of soldiers, and in one picture he is standing right in the middle of a smaller group of soldiers from the Royal 22e Regiment.
I found a text of a Christmas message from 1944 by Pope Pius XII, and while not specifically addressed to the Canadian soldiers he met earlier that year, I can imagine him having them in mind. He spoke about the restoration of human dignity, and how Christ is the “brilliance of Him who is the Splendour and Light of the Father” and who is our assurance that “deep into the hearts of those in darkness, affliction and depression there sinks and pervades a great flood of light and joy.”
For us at Pentecost, the words of Pope Pius XII coincide powerfully with such prayers as “In thy light we shall see light” (Psalm 35) And of course, following the reception of Holy Communion, “We have seen the true light…” Also, from Matins:
The Father is light and the Word is light; the Holy Spirit also is light! He is sent upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, and through Him the whole world receives the light of baptism to adore the Holy Trinity.
I always assumed the Polish soldiers dad met at Monte Cassino had been with the Polish Corps who were also fighting there. I recently learned that it might actually have been enemy prisoners who were Polish conscripts in the Wehrmacht, and who had been captured by the Canadians. Imagine their surprise when a Canadian soldier from Wishart, Saskatchewan, was speaking Polish and Ukrainian to them! And that their captivity was really the beginning of their path to freedom!
Both scenarios are fascinating, and of course a change in jobs in some ways meant a change in fates. I have thought of this change and what it might have meant for dad’s survival and return home, which he did in 1946. As Illia Titko, a veteran of the current Ukrainian war against the Russian invasion, has written, “Don’t go looking for your fate when at war; it’ll find you itself.”
Finally, from the kneeling prayers for Pentecost, there is this theme of captivity and freedom in the Blessed Trinity:
“…remember us, lowly and condemned as we are, and return our souls from the captivity of sin… We have belonged to You ever since we were in our mother’s womb.”
As another Ukrainian officer I follow has written, “first we liberate people’s minds, then their territory.” It is the Holy Spirit who stirs within our hearts to seek the forgiveness of our sins. As St. Paul preaches, the Spirit we have received is the Spirit of Freedom: “For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty.”