27 November 2023

Saving one Ukrainian
monk and bishop
brings Orthodox honours
to Rector of Killarney

Archdeacon Simon Lumby (left) of Killarney at special celebrations in Ukraine earlier this year

Patrick Comerford

For many years, while I was a priest in he Rathkeale Group of Parishes in West Limerick and North Kerry, the Ven Simon Lumby was my archdeacon. He was also a good neighbour, friend and colleague, and we went on a number of retreats together, including one to Glenstal Abbe.

Simon is the Rector of Killarney, Co Kerry, and when he recently rescued Father Benjamin Voloshchuk, a refugee Orthodox monk-priest from Ukraine who had ended up in Killarney, little did he realise what was going to unfold as a consequence.

Archimandrite Benjamin was then a priest of the Chernivtsi and Bukovyna Diocese in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The monk was about to be ‘transported’ or moved without choice to Westport, Co Mayo, along with the other Ukrainian refugees in their hotel in Killarney back in October 2022. In all, 135 Ukrainian refugees were housed in Hotel Killarney and they were given just two days’ notice that they would be relocated to Westport.

Archdeacon Simon was quick to respond, and moved the refugee monk into his Rectory in December. Then, to his surprise, shortly after moving in, Father Benjamin was called back to Ukraine in early January and was told he had been chosen to become the bishop to the Ukrainian refugees and diaspora in Europe.

There are 32 communities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 11 countries in Western Europe today, with a large number of priests from the church meeting their spiritual and pastoral needs.

Because the war in Ukraine means the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has an increased presence across Europe, the Holy Synod of the church decision to elect a bishop to look after Ukrainian parishes abroad and supporting people who have found themselves outside Ukraine forcibly as a consequence of the war.

The decision to elect a new bishop was taken on 20 December last, and Archimandrite Benjamin was nominated as the Bishop of Boyarsky, Vicar of the Kyiv Metropolitanate, and administrator of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church parishes abroad.

The jewelled pectoral cross presented to Archdeacon Simon Lumby in Ukraine in recognition of his work with the Ukrainian community in Killarney

The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, consecrated the new bishop in the Pochaiv Lavra or Monastery. The church itself is formally known as the Church of Venerable Agapitos of the Kyiv Caves in the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.

The lavra or monastery belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but for centuries it has been the most spiritual centre in western Ukraine for all the different Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches in Western Ukraine, despite their differences and divisions and recent controversies.

Before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy and the consecration of the new bishop, a special rite took place when the bishop-elect proclaimed his faith and made vows to keep the tradition of the Church. A deacon then offered wishes for long life to the primate, priests, the Church, the people, and the prospective new bishop.

During the Liturgy, prayers were offered for peace in Ukraine, for the government, for prisoners of war, and for God’s mercy on the people, especially refugees. Afterwards, Bishop Benjamin was handed a hierarchal crozier, and then as bishop he blessed the people for the first time.

In recognition of his instrumental role in pioneering the spiritual support of Ukrainian Orthodox refugees in Ireland, Archdeacon Lumby was invited to attend the consecration in the lavra as a guest of honour of the new bishop. Later, he was invited by Archbishop Onuphryi to the celebratory meal at his residence. There, the Rector of Killarney was given a unique award when he was presented with a jewelled pectoral cross in honour of his work and for giving Bishop Benjamin a welcome in his home.

Last Saturday morning (25 November), the archdeacon was a guest at the Ukrainian Divine Liturgy in Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney, wearing his cassock and the cross he had been decorated with. In yet another honour, he was presented with an icon of the Mother of God. This icon is a copy of one in a monastery on Mount Athos and is known for the healing a blind monk received when he prayed kneeling in front of the icon.

Bishop Benjamin has named his congregation in Killarney after this icon, ‘so this is a signal honour,’ Simon tells me. ‘It turns out my cross is the one worn at Mother of God Liturgies.’

The archdeacon’s connections with Orthodoxy have continued to blossom, and he says ‘it’s a delight to sit and watch’ the Orthodox Ukrainian at their Divine Liturgy. He recently spent a few days at the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, where I have often been a guest. Now, he is planning a retreat and pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos early next year.

Meanwhile, on Day 7 of his tour of the Diocese of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe, Bishop Michael Burrows visited Killarney ten days ago (18 November). There he was joined by members of the Orthodox Community from Ukraine who worship in Saint Mary’s Church, before he then set off to visit the churches and parishes along the Ring of Kerry.

Bishop Michael Burrows with members of the Orthodox Community from Ukraine in Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney

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