By Gina Christian and Mariana Karapinka
PHILADELPHIA (OSV News) — A newly ordained Ukrainian Catholic priest said he is looking to be “a priest who speaks about Christ and who testifies to Christ with his life.”
Father Mykola Dziurakh was ordained Dec. 6 by Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, surrounded by clergy, family, friends and parishioners — and his wife, Uliana. (In the Eastern Catholic churches, it is normative for a married priesthood and celibate priesthood to exist side-by-side).
Concelebrating the liturgy was Father Dziurakh’s uncle, Bishop Bohdan Dziurakh, who is responsible for shepherding Ukrainian Catholic congregations in Germany and Scandinavian countries.
Although his uncle’s vocation was certainly an inspiration, Father Dziurakh, 27, said his call to the priesthood — which he sensed “from an early age” — was profoundly shaped by his grandmother.
“The example of my grandmother, who went to church and prayed, had the greatest influence on me,” he said. “It was difficult for her to get to our parish on her own, and my sister and I would accompany her and (then) stayed with her. Later, I began to serve as an altar boy, and this revealed to me the beauty of the church and our (Byzantine) rite.”
“Simple everyday things,” such as “cleaning the church on Saturdays,” drew him into an ever-deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and the priesthood, said Father Dziurakh, a native of western Ukraine’s Lviv region.
“I remember how, with great trepidation, we removed the dust from the tabernacle. I learned how to help the priest with the incense,” he said. “Nothing extraordinary, but I studied how to do these small tasks with dignity, not carelessly. In this everyday service, I had my first experiences of the liturgy, rituals and the sense of God. I was attracted to the beauty of singing and services both as a child and during my studies at the seminary.”
Meeting seminarians and discovering they were “people just like me” who “had the same hobbies as I did — football, street gymnastics, parkour and guitar” also helped to develop his vocation, he said.
He spent six years studying at the Kyiv Theological Seminary of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Ukraine, and is currently working towards his licentiate in patristics and dogmatic theology at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
Ordained a deacon in Munich by his uncle, he served in Germany until February 2023, when Archbishop Gudziak — with the blessing of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church — invited him and Uliana to serve in the Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
Father Dziurakh’s ordination marks the archeparchy’s third in 2023, and the new priest is the sixth this year to take up service in its territory.
“A bishop cannot have a greater gift in the 21st century than to share the grace of priesthood with another priest,” said Archbishop Gudziak at the liturgy, noting that it coincided with the feast of St. Nicholas, known as “the Wonderworker” among Eastern Christians.
“St. Nicholas is generous,” said Archbishop Gudziak.
He also thanked Major Archbishop Sviatoslav and the bishops of the Kyiv Archeparchy for “being generous in giving us for our service here the newly ordained Father Mykola,” and also commended many other Ukrainian eparchies who have supplied clergy for the Philadelphia archeparchy’s parishes.
“We are enriched in our presbyterate particularly because of the generosity of the church in Ukraine,” he said.
As Russia intensifies its full-scale invasion of Ukraine — which continues attacks launched in 2014 and has been declared a genocide in two reports by the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights — Archbishop Gudziak urged those present to intercede for Ukraine’s faithful.
“I ask you to keep them in your prayers, especially now in this time of war, especially in these weeks when the … drones and missiles hitting Kyiv (reached) record numbers,” he said.
Yet amid the horror, hope remains, he said.
Referencing the ferocious persecution of their Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church while Ukraine was under Soviet rule, Archbishop Gudziak said that “35 years ago, there were only 300 priests throughout the country. Today, there are 3,000.”
Uliana Dziurakh (whose title as a priest’s wife is “Dobrodiyka”) said she and her husband are ready to bring the faith to a new generation.
“I feel a big responsibility … but at the same time, (this is) a big blessing for our family,” she said, adding that she regards her first ministry as “to be with people and to be for people whatever they need, whenever they need or wherever they need.
“What we can do in our ministry is to do everything for God’s glory,” she said. “In that way, we can do everything in love and for people.”
“We need to nourish a deeper connection with God and open ourselves to people,” said Father Dziurakh. “I would like people to understand what the church is for them, so that they have a spiritual need to come, so that they can discover God through the church. I want to convey to people the Gospel that Christ and the apostles preached.”
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, at @GinaJesseReina. Mariana Karapinka is the director of communications for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.