St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church held its Easter service this past weekend. (Contributed photo)

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church held its Easter service this past weekend. (Contributed photo)

Ukrainian Orthodox church in Red Deer marks Easter while Russia continues invasion

This past Sunday’s Easter service at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church was a “difficult one,” says one member of the church.

Alex Ivanenko said he was glad people were able to come together to mark the day.

“We’re blessed here where we can have a time of the year where we can reflect and spend time with our families in peace,” he said.

“With everything that’s been happening in the world, it’s good that we have this freedom and the possibility to practice our religion in peace and in the safety of our country.”

But it’s hard not to think about everything happening in Ukraine, he added.

“On Easter, (Russia) bombed Odessa (in southern Ukraine), leading to the loss of a three-month-old child (and seven others). It’s sad. The people of Ukraine are stuck in that position,” he said.

Ivananeko said some people who have escaped Ukraine and are settling in Red Deer were at Sunday’s service.

“It’s warming to see them here, but I can see the tension in their eyes and their face,” he said.

“There were two ladies beside me, though they were away from the war, the pain is still in their eyes. It’s hard to explain.”

After Sunday’s service, there was a basket blessing ceremony, where attendees could get their traditional Ukrainian Easter basket, which usually contains items such as bread, butter and decorated pysanky eggs, blessed by a priest.

The basket blessing is a “big event” for the year, Ivanenko explained.

“I haven’t fasted before, it’s a commitment I haven’t gotten to yet, but we’re supposed to fast prior to the Easter celebrations. My dad does it,” he said.

On Saturday, a group of young parishioners from the church built a wooden cross and carried it up a mountain in Nordegg.

“It was for Easter and at the same time it was to represent what the people are going through in Ukraine as well,” Ivananeko said.

“It was quite interesting because it was a young group. It was nice to see these guys in their 20s, a young generation, took the task of taking a full-sized cross and carrying it up a mountain. That was a full-day event for them. Through deep snow and rocks, they got it up there.”

Easter is a big weekend for Orthodox people around the world, Ivananeko said.

“My mom was telling me and my wife yesterday, people would spend two months cleaning the house, making sure everything’s painted and making sure everything’s perfect because this is the most important time of the year for the Orthodox people.”

Ivananeko’s father was one of the church’s founders in the 1990s. Initially, the church would hold ceremonies in various locations before finding its permanent home at 107 Vermont Ave.

“It’s come a long way,” he said.

“The church itself has be slowly growing. We’ve been using the church for all of the humanitarian aid as well. We’ve been shipping to Ukraine different types of aid and assistance and trying to collect money.”

Ivananeko said St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been working “hand-in-hand” with St. Vladimir Catholic Church to help displaced Ukrainians settle in Red Deer.

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