16 May 2011

Remembering Msgr. Basil Smochko -- as a teacher of Rusyn culture

Funeral services are Friday at the Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church in Parma, Ohio, with Bishop John M. Kudrick of the Eparachy of Parma as principal celebrant for Msgr. Basil Smochko, who died last week at the age of 91.

Here's a remembrance from Pittsburgh Rusyn activist Jerry Jumba of the monsignor and his cultural legacy:

          "I was an altar boy with Mons. Basil Smochko in McKees Rocks for many years. He was an inspirational priest to the Holy Ghost parish there, showing the might of pirohi kitchen support to add to the sustenance of the church life and improving the inner structure and in building Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic School in 1957. He had the cantors teach us the Rusin Chant in catechism classes to every age group. In addition, in sixth and seventh grade, I studied two years of Rusin language school - Rus'ka Shkola with Monsignor Smochko and the classroom was packed with students eager to learn. I could see him and hear him in my memory - as he spoke from the language book and waved his right hand, and as he took a piece of chalk and wrote on the green board - large - clear letters in the Cyrillic and Latinika alphabets. He wrote in block print letters - th e civic  "hrazhdanka" style and in the long hand cursive - "rukopis" style.
      "The class repeated his sounds his words his sentences and created sentences. He was a great teacher with his playful expressive voice that so very much loved how words well spoken articulate - can create an expressive reality. He shared his love and talent for learning languages, and the Cyrillic alphabet came alive as a beautiful frontier of hope and growth in the linguistic knowledge he provided. He showed us a 'world view' of how this beautiful language exists and co-exists with the languages that surround the parental Eparchy of Uzhhorod - Mukachevo in Carpatho-Rus'.  He compared the surrounding languages with Rusin and made every class a spirited and intellectual learning experience.
       "I taught the eparchial "Cultural Roots" concert performance program with three years of school concert performances at Saint Mary's Byzantine Catholic day school in Cleveland 1980 - 1983 where he was stationed. He gave encouragement and the Sisters of St Basil and the students knew that he loved to see them grow and excel in the theatrical expression Carpatho-Rus' customs, songs, dances, skits, and instrumental presentations.
        "Monsignor Smochko encouraged chant studies as I studied Carpatho-Rus' Chant for five years with Professor Nicholas Kalvin - and recorded services in Holy week in and Bright Week with Monsignor Basil chanting intonations in a finely honed prayerful voice that soared straight to God and embraced all listeners with the personal cue to respond to God's presence. I recorded mostly all of Professor Kalvin's Rusin Chant cycle at St. Mary's because I apprenticed to Prof. Kalvin while Monsignor Smochko was there. I'll remember his advice filled sermons about remembering how good it is -  and how good it feels - to share God's love, and that everyone is qualified to share God's love. He gently nodded his head as he spoke.
      "He was a co-founder of the vigorously expressive artistic performance group - the Kruzhok Carpatho-Rusin Folk Art Ensemble  - along with Bishop Emil Mihalik and Sister Monica Husovich who was the Principal at St. Mary's School. Because he is a native born Carpatho-Rusin he was very aware of the Carpatho-Rusin difficulties of sub-national status in the world surrounding Rusins. I am thankful for his support of Carpatho-Rusin historical and ethnographic information to provide a solid basis for having a positive Carpatho-Rusin cultural identity in a world whose politics thinks little of a little people who are captive to the peoples around them, and whose politics seek to assimilate Rusins away from the value of the life and culture they live.
       "I traveled through Carpatho-Rus' with Monsignor Basil Smochko in 1993, and took pictures at his home parish in Znacevo. Also, we interviewed on video - the Hegumen Bishop of the Mukachevo Monastery known as Chernecha Hora. This bishop gave us a history of the monastery, and Mons. Smochko was my "native" Rusin interpreter. We also have a video of a Rusin Slavonic Divine Liturgy he celebrated in Mukachevo in 1993. He preached magnificently in his native Rusin tongue to a church filled with souls praying with their whole soul and whole mind. His embrace of these dear people, and their reaction, was inspiring.
   "The next day we had dinner with his relatives at the Smochko family home near Znacevo - along the highway from Uzhhorod to Mukachevo. We, photographer Mike (Petach) Kisan myself and Mons. Smochko then stopped and took pictures at the Imstičevo site of where the martyred Bishop Romzha was attached by Soviet army communist assassins. This was before a beautiful prayer monument was erected there. Instead, there was only a small marker. Mons. Smochko made this site one of his spiritual causes to rally and inspire the prayer life in Transcarpathia - by co-sponsoring the building of a prayer shrine at this site on the road just before arriving at the town of Imstichevo."

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