Chicago church lit by Bethlehem flame
Members of Plast, a Ukrainian Scouting group, stand along the aisle during the arrival of the peace light at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Church. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:05AM
The Peace Light has come.
It arrived Dec. 19 on the Feast of St. Nicholas, and the flame will continue to burn in St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 6655 W. Higgins Ave. in Chicago, through Jan. 19, said Andrew Skyba of Norridge, church president.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas Jan. 7.
The flame made its way to St. Sophia by way of Plast, a Ukrainian Scouting group which also operates in the United States, and the Boy Scouts of America and. Though the flame has come to other churches in the area each year, bringing it to St. Sophia was the brainchild of Skyba’s son, Volodymyr, who did it as a Ukrainian Scouts project.
“We still follow the Julian calendar,” Andrew Skyba explained.
Other Christians, include Greek Orthodox, use the Gregorian calendar to mark the holy day.
It was a great honor to do it,” Volodymyr Skyba said.
Andrew Skyba said the journey of the peace light begins when a child from upper Austria travels to a grotto in Bethlehem where Christians believe their savior, Jesus, was born.
The grotto houses the flame, and the child brings back a light from that flame, where it is distributed at a Service of Dedication to delegations from across Europe who take it back with a message of peace, to their own countries, before heading to the United States.
Scouts and guides then take the light on to houses of worship, hospitals, homeless shelters, old people homes, prisons, and places of public, cultural and political importance to anybody who appreciates the significance of the “gift,” Skyba explained.
People then can light a candle from the Peace Light and take that candle home as a way of honoring the holiday.
“It went really well,” Volodymyr Skyba said of the Dec. 19 ceremony. “It was a great turnout.”
The Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas season ends Jan. 19, on the feast day of Theosphany.
“It’s the (day of) the baptism of Christ,” Skyba said. “That eve is a big day, when we bless the water, bless the house.”
Skyba’s daughter Natalia, 9, also took part in the ceremony
“It really is a simple idea,” Andrew Skyba said, but at the same time it is humbling to think that a flame from Bethlehem has come all the way here.
“It gives you a good warm feeling,” he said.
In addition to the Peace Light, the Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas season also includes fasting -- refraining from meat, dairy and alcohol. This year the fasting period runs from Nov. 27–Jan. 7.