I have in my room an icon of St. John the Evangelist painted by a Ukrainian iconographer that was given to me by our speaker, Archbishop Borys Gudziak. What is unusual about this icon is that it is painted on crude wood taken from a Russian ammunition box from the war in eastern Ukraine. The image is a daily invitation to meditate prayerfully on how wood that had carried lethal weapons now bears the holy, reverent image of the Evangelist, and, more generally, on how good can be drawn from evil.
Archbishop Borys’s life has shown how, from a legacy of oppression, inhumanity and destruction, we can draw forth hope and love. The Ukrainian Catholic Church, whose people our speaker serves so faithfully, had been targeted by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime for extermination. Its churches were confiscated, the public practice of its faith outlawed and its priests and religious killed, sent to gulags or exiled. Born in the U.S. to Ukrainian parents forced into exile by the Soviet regime, Archbishop Borys returned to Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union and was instrumental in establishing and leading the Ukrainian Catholic University. The university is flourishing as a center of learning and inquiry and, at its center, Archbishop Borys established the Emmaus community, a community of people with special needs. In that institution dedicated to intellectual achievement, he wanted the members of the Emmaus community to teach others about human dignity.
After twenty years in Ukraine and six years in France, Archbishop Borys is now back in the United States as the chief prelate of the Ukrainian Catholics in the United States. His life has been a witness to how freedom and human dignity can arise, by God’s grace, from the ashes of tyranny, oppression and violence. He is a worthy speaker in our fraught times. Please welcome our Commencement speaker, Archbishop Borys Gudziak.