Testimonies on the power of the prayer of the Holy Rosary
The most noble gift the Ukrainian people have inherited is a love for
the Mother of God. Already at the dawn of Christianity, Prince Yaroslav
the Wise entrusted the Rus' of Kiev to Mary's protection. The Ukrainian
land is covered with famous places where honour is rendered to our Lady
in a special way.
Devotion to the Mother of God is also revealed in popular songs, in
literary works, and above all, in sincere prayer. The Akathis, which is
a hymn to Mary in the fifth week of Lent to commemorate the deliverance
of Constantinople in 626 A.D., as well as Litanies and Canons were all
composed to extol Mary.
Among many religious practices, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
in Western Ukraine, more than anything else, has used and still uses
even now the prayer of the Holy Rosary. In addition to the monastic
orders and religious congregations, Christian associations have made
this wonderful experience their own.
For one, the Fraternity of the Apostolate of Prayer has spread the
Rosary among families. The faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic
Church have demonstrated love and fidelity to the Mother of God, not
only in favourable times, but also during persecutions when it was
forbidden to profess the Christian faith. This prayer has always been a
clear affirmation of the resilience of the Greek Catholic faith.
During times of persecution, the Rosary was part of the forbidden
practices of the people. Atheists would treat with great contempt those
caught with a Rosary in hand.
For example, Rosary beads were confiscated from Bishop Sofron
Dmyterko twice: first at Ivano-Frankivsk and then in a concentration
camp of the region today called Luhansk. But despite the prohibition,
the people sought to obtain Rosaries, many of which had been brought
from Rome, blessed by the Holy Father.
In times of persecution, praying the Rosary was the people's only
hope. The Rosary would be recited in unison during "night"
prayers, almost in silence. It would often happen that when people were
praying the Rosary in the evening, the atheists, having knocked on the
doors of houses, would leave thinking there was nobody inside. The
Rosary would inspire people with a liveliness and a happiness which
strengthened the mystery of the faith in souls.
Confidence in the Mother of God protected Christians in exile and in
the prisons of Siberia. Here is a simple and "hidden" example.
Fr Antonij Masjuk, O.S.B.M., a diligent promoter of devotion to the
Most Holy Mother of God, relates that in 1944, KGB agents appeared at
their family's home to take his mother to Siberia. Some time before, Fr
Antonij had given his mother a set of Rosary beads, telling her:
"Pray with this Rosary and the Madonna will protect you!".
When agents burst into their apartment, they were unable to find the
woman: she was hidden behind the stove, reciting the Rosary. Neighbours
told the agents she had died, and in this way, she was saved.
The prayer of the Rosary provided spiritual strength to those serving
prison sentences and to those deported to perform forced labour,
condemned as "enemies of the people."
Hanna Sokaliuk, a resident of the Huzulia region, recounts that she
was held in gulag "Number 243" in Kazakhstan. The people, she
says, had a great desire to talk about God and, for this reason, even
during working hours, they used to get together to say the Rosary,
especially on Sunday. In this way, they would have the strength not only
to work, but also to bear witness to the value of Christian life. The
camp guards, Hanna Sokaliuk affirms, "did not have any problem with
our people, because we certainly weren't criminals and we knew how to
Testimonies like this are numerous and are really impressive. In
fact, those "Hail Marys" transformed the gulags into
sanctuaries, into "monasteries" of prayer.
Above all, the people who had dedicated themselves to God were
reciting the Rosary; every Religious prayed the Rosary with passion, and
had no hesitation in turning with intimacy to the Mother of God.
Sr Modesta Firmianuk, S.S.M.I., relates that the prayer of the Rosary
would sustain and unite many Religious women. The Sisters were almost
always praying the Rosary, gathering together in the late evening when
they would return to their communities, at least those who had the
opportunity of living in community, even if secretly. As they prayed the
Rosary, they would turn to St Joseph and to God's Mercy.
When the Sisters were in particularly dramatic situations, they would
recite the Rosary nine times. Often, when the circumstances were severe,
they would carry out their work in State entities without disclosing
that they were Religious, and some would recite three Rosaries while
meditating on the Mysteries of faith. It is obvious that they truly felt
God's protection and saw how God's Providence protected and accompanied
They experienced all this especially during interrogations. Sr
Modesta bears witness that in those moments, God provided a special
strength, courage and peace.
With their personal testimony, the Sisters would suggest love for
prayer and the Rosary to the people who came to them. For example,
people were going to Sr Modesta to be cured because she was an expert in
herbal medicine; and apart from the physical aspect, she would cure the
In the years of persecution, people felt a great need for spiritual
conversion and support. It happened, for instance, that at funerals,
singing was banned, so the people would softly recite the Rosary. And
the priests who were celebrating religious functions in secret would
always lead the recitation of the Rosary after the Liturgy.
People were living in an atmosphere of terror, and, at times, not
even neighbours knew that a gathering to pray the Rosary was taking
place in a particular house. Thanks be to God, the Ukrainian Greek
Catholic Church knew how to withstand persecution, and love for the Most
Holy Virgin has not grown cold in hearts.
Today, many of the faithful go on pilgrimage to Marian shrines, both
in Ukraine and abroad. There are no more restrictions.
I feel a great spiritual joy today when I enter a church and see an
old woman, with head bowed, moving her lips whispering the Rosary. How
much history of faith is contained in the wrinkles on her face! Her
heart unceasingly says with great happiness: "Hail Mary!". And
I would like to sit beside her and kiss her hands. Perhaps she is the
very one who, by passing the Rosary between her fingers, sought the
grace for me to become a Sister Servant of Mary Immaculate.