Fr. Michael Bombak presents an Advent retreat earlier this month at St. Mary’s Church in Brooks, Alta. Photo by Ron Amundson

Ukrainian priest offers inspiration during Advent

  • December 15, 2022

Tucked behind St. Stephen Protomartyr Ukrainian Catholic Church on 45th Street in Calgary is the residence of Fr. Michael Bombak, his wife Kimberly and children Tobias, Miriam, Georgia, Philomena and Ignatius.

Blanketing the visible side of the house from the main road is an “I Stand with Ukraine” sign. Born in Edmonton in 1983, the 39-year-old Bombak’s reverence for his family’s Ukrainian roots is fervent. He was born in Canada because his grandparents were displaced in their homeland generations beforehand due to political persecution.

In the infancy of Russian armed forces invading Ukraine in late February, emotion was overflowing among the St. Stephen Protomartyr congregation. 

“Some parishioners broke down emotionally and wept because they didn’t know where to turn or what to do,” Bombak said.

Christmas Eve will mark the 10-month anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. The pastor has strived to provide steadfast, compassionate support to members of his parish flock.

“It has been a real trial to keep praying, hoping and keep working with the people and be there with them and for them,” said Bombak, a graduate of Ottawa’s Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Seminary before it relocated to Edmonton in 2018. “It has also been a tremendous privilege to welcome families displaced by the war, and I am overjoyed we can provide a spiritual home for them during this difficult time.”

The power of prayer, which Bombak said “cannot be overstated,” will represent his Church’s greatest expression of solidarity with the Ukrainian people during the Christmas celebrations.  

Advent 2022 has allowed Bombak to share his faith insights and wisdom of the Gospel with new audiences. Notably, he guided a two-evening Advent retreat and presided over a weekday Mass from Dec. 1-2 at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Brooks, Alta., a small city located approximately two hours from Calgary. 

He boiled down the concepts he hoped attendees would take away from his speech into two Greek terms. The first is “theosis,” which Bombak defines as “becoming God-like by grace.” The second one is “kenosis,” which is the “act of self-emptying ourselves from all the things that are holding us back from becoming more like Christ.”

He imparted these and other intuitions through the creative, visual lens of iconography, an art with a rich tradition for Ukrainian Christians. He confesses that his wife, who he married in 2007, is more accomplished at the artistic side of iconography. However, he does appreciate how the lessons of Scripture shine through. 

“The Gospel is displayed beautifully in iconography,” he said. “(We see) the messages of who Christ is, who we are and how much we need the Lord.”

One of the striking icons depicts Christ in glorious white garments, signifying He is the Light of the World. He stands upon two doors, formerly the brass gates of Hades, which shattered because Christ defeated death. Also destroyed are the lock and keys that bound humanity to Hades. Righteous figures stand behind Jesus, including Abel, Moses and David. Kneeling in homage to Jesus are Adam and Eve, the first human beings born in the image of God, who disfigured that image through sinful temptation. They reach out to Jesus, and He grasps their hands in His, demonstrating how they are being given a new chance.

It is clear to Bombak that we should revere the New Testament as the “kerygma,” which is Greek for “proclamation,” particularly during the past two-and-a-half years defined by enormous adversity across the Earth. 

“The proclamation of who Jesus is and why we need Him, I don’t think that it’s clearer in any era than when people are suffering. We are very good at running away from the Lord. We are very good at being self-sufficient — we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient. But suddenly, they realize, ‘I am not enough. The situation I find myself in is dangerous, and I don’t understand how to go forward.’ That is when the Lord has a privileged chink in our armour. 

“I think we are living in one of those times. The Lord finds us in that, and the good news is the Lord loves us, and there is a way forward.”

His parish has in recent months pushed forward. A newcomer coordinator joined the parish to support the needs of the immigrants seeking a safer life in Canada. A beginner English course is offered in-house, and an adopt a family program is operational. The adopted family will be bequeathed Christmas gifts.

St. Stephen has worked with its sister parish, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at each step along this journey. 

Neighbouring parishes from the Diocese of Calgary have also stepped up to lend a hand where possible. 

Bombak also played a key leadership role in mobilizing a significant effort throughout the diocese to collect thousands of non-perishables, clothing and other goods.

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