PHILADELPHIA — A Ukrainian Catholic bishop is being remembered as a dedicated priest and shepherd who, according to a fellow bishop, “created waves” of God’s mercy in the lives of others.
Bishops, priests, religious, family and friends gathered for the Jan. 24 funeral of Bishop John Bura, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. The former special ambassador of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Washington, who retired in 2019, died Jan. 17 at Georgetown University Hospital following an extended illness. The German-born bishop, who emigrated to the U.S with his family as a child, was 78 years old.
Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia presided during the hierarchical Divine Liturgy, which took place at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, where Bishop Bura had been ordained a priest in 1971 and a bishop in 2006.
Among the bishops concelebrating with Archbishop Gudziak were Bishop Bryan J. Bayda, a Redemptorist and bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky, a Basilian and bishop of the Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo of the St. Josaphat Eparchy of Parma, Ohio; and Bishop Larry J. Kulick of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, who represented both that state’s Catholic conference and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Also in attendance was Metropolitan Antony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A., along with 40 priests of the Ukrainian, Byzantine and Roman Catholic Churches and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The evening prior, bishops, clergy and faithful assembled in the cathedral for Bishop Bura’s “parastas,” or “standing service,” a Byzantine-rite vigil for the deceased.
At the service, Bishop Danylo said “the whole history of salvation is (a) chain of God’s mercy,” and that Bishop Bura had both “learned about that mercy … and shared that mercy of God” in his roles as priest, pastor, rector of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Washington (a post he held from 1987 to 1997), and bishop.
“God (gives) us these moments on earth to create waves (and) … Bishop John created (such) waves in his priestly life,” said Bishop Danylo.
He added that “perhaps it was not a coincidence” that Bishop Bura’s funeral was held just after the Byzantine Catholic “Sunday of Zacchaeus,” observed Jan. 22 this year.
“Bishop John got a little bit taller with the miter, but definitely, he was not one of the tallest members of our (Ukrainian Catholic) synod,” admitted Bishop Danylo. “But as Zacchaeus, in his entire life, was always searching for God, (Bishop Bura) always was willing to be the first one to enter into (the) place (where) he could experience … God’s mercy and God’s love.”
St. Josaphat Seminary rector Father Robert Hitchens, who had studied under Bishop Bura, recalled in his remarks at the parastas “the seriousness (and) the service” that characterized the late bishop’s ministry.
While living in retirement at the seminary, Bishop Bura remained “always prepared for any priestly emergency that might come up,” said Father Hitchens. “In the hallway, where his coat and car keys were, he still had his emergency sick call kit, in case he had to attend to someone who needed God’s mercy and grace.”
Bishop Bura — who lay in repose facing the congregation, as a sign of celebrating his final liturgy — allowed his presence to be “used by the Holy Spirit so that we would know God is with us,” said Bishop Bayra at the funeral, while Bishop Chomnycky added the late bishop was “a man of steadfast prayer, with a heartfelt devotion to the Mother of God.”
Archbishop Gudziak said in his homily that Bishop Bura “gave his life to witness” to eternal realities amid “a secular time … when everything is transactional, when everything is being deconstructed, when there’s ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth.'”
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — marked by tens of thousands of atrocities — has challenged such relativism, said the archbishop, showing that “there’s good and there’s evil … there is death, but there is … eternal life. There is the gift of God.”
“You lay before us as a witness,” said Archbishop Gudziak, gazing at the late bishop’s coffin. “We Christians look at death in a very different way.”