When the Rev. Andrii Dumnych accepted the position of pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittston and St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Swoyersville, close to three years ago, he knew he would need one thing if he hoped to succeed: a friend. He found one in the Rev. Joseph Elston.
Father Andrii reached out to Father Elston, nearly 30 years his senior, and all it took was one meeting for the two to hit it off. That Father Elston is also a pastor of two churches, St. Joseph Marello and St. John the Evangelist, both in Pittston, and both interestingly on the same street, didn’t hurt. Although sharing the enormous responsibilities of serving two full congregations is something the two priests have in common, their almost instant affinity for each other was not, as one might conclude, a case of “misery loves company.” It was a case of two men equally dedicated to their vocations of serving God by serving his people.
Although he did not know it at first, Father Andrii discovered he and Father Elston have something else in common, something he would not expect to find in a Roman Catholic priest. In addition to being Fathers with a capital “F,” each are fathers with a small “f.” As a Byzantine priest, Father Andrii is allowed to marry and has a wife and three children. Father Elston is not allowed to marry, but he does have two children, two sons he adopted several years ago. Father Elston and Father Andrii are Fathers and fathers. As their relationship evolved, neither priest knew what was to lie ahead when on Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. If Father Andrii thought he needed a friend when he first arrived in Pittston, he needed one even more then.
Father Andrii was born in Ukraine and lived most of his 35 years there. For 10 years he served as a priest in his hometown of Tyachiv, Ukraine, about 115 miles from Lviv. His parents and other loved ones still live in Ukraine.
Fewer than three weeks after the Russian invasion, Father Elston and his parishioners arranged a prayer service on March 15 at St. John the Evangelist with Father Andrii on hand to talk about his country. There was less than 24-hours notice and still some 250 people showed up. Following the service, Father Andrii greeted every person individually. Several placed monetary donations in baskets near the exits.
Father Andrii subsequently hosted two interfaith services at St. Michael’s, one March 21, the other May 9. The church was full each time. Father Elston spoke at both. So, no one was surprised last Sunday morning when at the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph Marello, Father Elston said in his homily that there was a new way for the members of his parishes to help the people of Ukraine. He called this a “tease” because he said he would not reveal this new way until the end of the service. They may not have been surprised that there was a new way, but they surely were when Father Elston announced what it was. “Diapers,” he said. “Adult diapers, sizes large and extra large.”
He said Father Andrii, who with the help of his parishioners, has collected and shipped to Ukraine enormous amounts of supplies and money, told him there is a dire shortage of adult diapers in nursing homes throughout Ukraine.
Father Elston urged his own parishioners to purchase adult diapers and drop them off at the church. “Imagine,” he said, “if every member of the parish bought just one package.”
This pressing need, which may seem unusual, reminds me of something that occurred to me as I changed the diaper of my grandson in Texas about four years ago. Changing a baby’s diaper is one of the kindest things a human being can do for a fellow human being, I thought. I shared this with my nephew Adrian Wilson, a pharmacist who was a corpsman in the U.S. Navy, and his response is something I had never before considered. “You’re right,” he said, “unless you’re changing the diaper of a senior citizen.”
Let’s clear the local supermarket shelves of adult diapers and get them to Father Andrii. Our stores can get more.
Note: St. Michael’s is collecting donations for Ukraine during its drive-thu dinner from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 5. While the deadline to order food has passed, to donate to Ukraine, checks can be made out to St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church. Indicate Ukraine fund on the check. Ukrainian flag lapel pins will be available for any donation.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.