WILKES-BARRE — St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church held its annual blessing of baskets on Saturday, not simply as a presentation of food to be served on Easter tables, but as an opportunity to honor the traditions that have defined the church throughout its 125-year history.
Father James Hayer, pastor of the South Main Street church, said the symbolism of foods contained in the carefully decorated baskets was faith, renewal and celebration.
“An egg, for example, is broken to provide life as an example of hardship making way to victory,” he said.
He said ultimately the traditions reflected in the day’s celebration, pointed to the giver of all good gifts, God.
As Hayer made his way through more than 100 parishioners gathered, he did something unique and symbolic. He took one item from each basket.
“We want to emphasize even the ability to give is, in itself, a gift,” he said.
Helene Solovey Hrichison, of Plains, gathered with family members representing three generations of the Solovey family.
Suzanne Sedon, of Wilkes-Barre, also gathered with three generations of family, reflecting on its long history of gathering together for religious celebrations. She said the sound of children in the church building was not a bother, but a testament to the longevity of the church.
Although the church is traditionally Slavic, Hayer said all ethnicities are welcome.
“We’ve had Italian parishioners bring spaghetti and meatballs to be blessed,” he said. “Those foods are also a reflection of God’s provision and fellowship.”
Celebrants of the ceremony accompanying Hayer in an opening procession were clad in ornate vestments.
Hayer not only blessed the food, but the attendees by sprinkling holy water.
Church historian Betsy Rodack lauded Hayer for his ability to convey empathy and a spirit of community, which keeps the church strong with consistent attendance.
Jack Matchko, of Plains, and Joan Namyak, of Throop, said they enjoyed presenting baskets filled with traditional favorites such as pysanky eggs and hrudka, a homemade cheese.
Attendees said they appreciated the opportunity to spiritually prepare for Easter.
All said the blessing was an honored tradition, which will continue to bring the faithful back to the church for years to come.