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winnipegfreepressWinnipeg Free Press
November 19, 2013

BLESSING in disguise

Actor-turned-priest uses theatrical training to entertain, enlighten

by Kevin Prokosh

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with Jean Stapleton in Sweeney Todd in 1989.

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with Bruno Gerussi in 1968 CBC-TV production of Thirteen Clocks.

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On Broadway in 1969, starring with Sandy Duncan in Canterbury Tales.

For 40 years, Edward Evanko thought his calling was acting, until he received a higher calling from a divine casting agent.

The former Winnipegger, 75, who made his Broadway debut in The Canterbury Tales with Sandy Duncan in 1969, was ordained into the priesthood in 2005 at Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Church, where he had been baptized and served as an altar boy. With a dozen rural parishes to serve in rural western Manitoba, it appeared Father Edward Danylo Evanko would play the lifelong role of a man of the cloth.

"I thought I had left theatre totally behind until a priest with a sick father needed financial support," he says over the telephone from his home on Saltspring Island, near Vancouver. "I didn't think a concert was proper for a priest to become an entertainer again."

Evanko recalled a fellow actor performing a one-man play by Aldyth Morris at the Stratford Festival. Called Damien, it is about the life of a selfless missionary to the lepers, and thought he could return to the stage, if only briefly. In 2005, he performed it three times in his parishes and raised $4,000.

As far as he was concerned, the comeback was over, but then the telephone started ringing with requests to raise money for good causes, such as a new church roof or a new altar cloth.

Since then, he has taken Damien on the road to Australia, Ukraine, Rome, England and throughout North America. He returned to Manitoba in 2008 with a new solo work, Holodomor: Murder By Starvation, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of Stalin's famine-genocide in Ukraine. Evanko is back in the province for another six-stop run that culminates with a Nov. 22 performance at his old church, Blessed Virgin Mary, on Boyd Street.

Evanko was a promising city singer when he made his Rainbow Stage debut in Can Can in 1957, two years before he graduated from the University of Manitoba with an English degree. After studying at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre in England, he returned to Winnipeg and appeared in the Manitoba Theatre Centre production of The Fantasticks.

In 1967, he hosted the Ed Evanko Show on CBC-TV, two years before breaking into Broadway. He cut his first self-titled album in 1970 for Decca Records, who wanted to make him the next Tom Jones or the Canadian Engelbert Humperdinck.

He lived in Los Angeles for nearly a decade before settling in Vancouver, where he began studying the scriptures and was first was presented with the idea of studying in Rome for the priesthood. Suddenly, his theatrical calling was trumped by another.

"I had not thought about the priesthood; I was a busy actor," he recalls. "It hit me like a ton of bricks and I had no choice. I knew that was exactly what I must do."

Recently, he left parish work in British Columbia to do preaching missions. On the side, he has been writing three new plays, including Blessed Nykyta: Bishop and Martyr about the first Ukrainian bishop to come to Canada in 1912, and Prisoners in the Promised Land, the story of Ukrainians interned in harsh Canadian labour camps at the outset of the First World War.

"I didn't think when I went into the priesthood this was how it would turn out, but I've been encouraged by so many lay people, priests and bishops to make this part of my ministry and that it was a very valuable contribution," says Evanko, who grew up on Mountain Street and attended Faraday School.

An actor who becomes a priest is not unheard of -- Pope John Paul II was an amateur theatre actor and a prolific writer of drama.

"I've used the knowledge of that (fact) as a way of countering any concern what I was doing as a priest-actor was improper," he says. "I say, 'Pope John Paul was an actor so it's not strange.'"

Evanko sees distinct parallels between the two callings, as both involve enlightenment, spirit-raising, and in a way, entertainment. He doesn't favour one over the other, and suggests such a question is like asking a mother to choose between her children.

"I say both," Evanko says, "because if Steven Spielberg called tomorrow that he needs to have me for his film, I could say, 'Thanks but no thanks,' because I am not that kind of actor. If RMTC was doing Mass Appeal and I was asked to play the priest, I would decline because I'm not that actor. I would feel uncomfortable doing a non-religious play."

Anyway, he prefers the lines he delivers today that come from the Good Book.

"The script I use now is the best possible script -- it's the word of God."

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Father Edward Danylo Evanko puts his stage experience to good use for the church (Supplied photo)

NewWestminsterNewsleaderNew Westminster News Leader
April 26, 2012

From daytime TV to Sunday communion

Edward Evanko the actor doesn't sweat his reviews.

by Mario Bartel

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Edward Evanko the actor doesn't sweat his reviews. That's because as a priest in the Ukrainian Catholic Byzantine Church, Father Evanko answers to the ultimate critic.

On May 6, Evanko, the actor-turned-priest will present his one-man show, Blessed Nykyta: Bishop and Martyr, at the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in New Westminster. The play, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the appointment of Nykyta Budka as Canada's first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop, is literally a labour of Evanko's love for his church and its history.

That love hit him like a "bolt out of the blue" when he was well into a long career as an actor and singer. Born in Winnipeg in 1938, as a boy he sang for coins tossed his way at a grocery store in the city's north end, the heart of the Ukrainian community. He was a member of the Winnipeg Boy's Choir. He performed in high school musicals and while a student at the University of Manitoba, he appeared in summer theatre.

He was good enough to further his studies at the Old Vic theatre school in England which led to roles with the Stratford Festival, the English Opera, the Welsh National Opera and the BBC Singers. For a year, he hosted his own variety show on CBC-TV. He played Broadway, recorded an album, even had a recurring role as Dr. Alex McLean in the TV daytime soap opera, Ryan's Hope.

Along the way, Evanko's faith always traveled with him. He attended mass regularly; if there wasn't an Eastern Catholic church in which ever town his acting had taken him, he'd go to a Roman Catholic church.

The lightning bolt that would give new direction to his faith and life struck on Easter Sunday, 2001, during an innocent conversation with a pastor after he'd read the Scriptures at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver.

"Say the word, and you could be in Rome studying the priesthood," said the pastor.

The idea, says Evanko, took his breath away. He started to cry.

"That's exactly what I must do," thought Evanko. For the next four years he undertook the Catholic Formation, the rigourous education process for potential priests in which they learn theology, the church's history and develop the spiritual tools of their calling.

"I thought I would learn how to baptize babies, conduct weddings and funerals," says Evanko, who started his studies in Rome, spent a year in Washington, D.C., then completed them in Ottawa. "But that was just the tip of the iceberg."

His family and friends were supportive, some of his acting colleagues not so much.

"It was not easy, but there was this huge carrot, the opportunity to be a priest," says Evanko.

When he was ordained in August, 2005, Evanko thought he'd closed the acting chapter of his life for good. "I'm not an entertainer anymore," he told himself.

But while filling in for a young priest in Winnipeg who was sorting through a medical issue and then a family crisis, he yearned for a way to help ease them through their troubles. He fell back on the craft he'd known so long, adapting a play about Damien de Veuster, a Belgian-born missionary priest who lived with and cared for lepers in Hawaii until the disease took his own life in 1889.

"After 40 years of acting, you don't lose it," says Evanko.

Since then Evanko researched, wrote and performed Holodomor: Murder by Starvation, a play about the Ukrainian famine and genocide in 1932-33.

Blessed Nykyta is his third play.

Evanko says he's drawn to stories about his church and the Ukrainian community that he worries will be lost over time. He spent months of long nights scrounging through theses, articles and academic tomes researching the life of Nykyta Budka, learning as much about the man as his deeds, seeking to humanize him.

He punctuates his scripts with music, hymns, liturgy and sometimes even a lullaby.

"You can reach people by words, but when you sing there's another depth," says Evanko, who considers all his plays works-in-progress as he adapts and fine tunes them from feedback he receives after performances.

While Evanko has performed his works across Canada, in New York City, Philadelphia, the Bahamas and even the Belgian embassy in Vatican City, his primary calling remains the church. He is the pastor at the Church of the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God in Richmond.

"I had a call to the priesthood, and now I have a call within a call to present the life of a priesthood," says Evanko.

Blessed Nykyta will be presented May 6, 1:30 p.m. at the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Church, 501 4th Ave. New Westminster. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for youth under 19. Children under 12 are free. They are available at the door, and the performance will be followed by refreshments. For more information contact Joyce Vermullen 604-944-1971.

thestarphoenixSaskatoon Star Phoenix
February 4, 2012

Priest brings touch of Broadway to cathedral

Edward Evanko's One-Man Plays

by Darlene Polachic

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One-man production celebrates Ukrainian Catholic milestone

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In 1912, Fr. Nykyta Budka became the first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop of Canada. To celebrate the centennial of that milestone, the Saskatchewan Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy is bringing in Fr. Edward Evanko, a priest who previously spent 49 years as a Broadway actor/singer and now performs one-man religious-themed plays as part of his ministry.

Evanko, who serves the Dormition of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic parish in Richmond, B.C., will present his one-man plays in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.

His first play, 'Damien,' is about a Belgian priest who ministered to lepers on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai and eventually died of leprosy himself. Evanko was in Rome studying for the priesthood when Fr. Damien was beatified as Saint Damien of Molokai by Pope John Paul II. During the canonization in 2009, Evanko had the opportunity to perform the play twice.  

"You might say 'Damien' launched my drama ministry in Canada," Evanko says. "A priest friend in Manitoba needed a kidney transplant and his father in Ukraine was the donor. There were a lot of expenses involved, and I wanted to do something to support my friend financially and morally. Since I've been a Broadway actor for years, I offered to do the play as a fundraiser. That led to calls to do the play elsewhere."

In 2008, Evanko put together 'Holodomor: Murder By Starvation' to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Great Ukrainian Famine. He compiled the play from the writings of eye witness survivors, many of them teenagers. "I also got the idea of interspersing the monologue with songs or hymns that encapsulate parts of the story," he says, "so there's singing as part of the character playing."

Evanko's third play is 'Blessed Nykyta,' the story of Nykyta Budka, the first Ukrainian Bishop of Canada. This, too, is a play with music.

Budka arrived in Winnipeg in 1912 to undertake the monumental task. His diocese stretched from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and encompassed about 150,000 Ukrainian Catholics in 80 churches and chapels. Only 13 priests and 9 monks served them. After 15 years of strengthening and expanding the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, Bishop Budka was recalled to Europe and assigned to Lviv, Ukraine. He, along with all the other Ukrainian Catholic bishops and hundreds of priests, sisters, and lay leaders were arrested. Budka was sentenced to eight years of hard labour in Siberia where, despite hunger, torture and cold, he continued to be a loving pastor to those who were exiled with him. Budka died in a prison hospital in Northern Kazakhstan in 1949. In 2001, Pope John Paul II declared Nykyta Budka a martyr for the faith.

Evanko's own faith story began in the Ukrainian Catholic church. Born and raised in Winnipeg, he chose a career in theatre and studied at the Old Vic in London. After several decades on the Broadway stage and living in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles, he came to Vancouver to work on a television project. 

"I suddenly realized I wanted to live in Canada again," Evanko says. "After I settled in, I was invited to read the Scripture at a Roman Catholic cathedral in Vancouver. People said, 'Thank you so much. We never really understood that passage until  you read it.' Then the associate pastor said, 'Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?'"

In 2001, Evanko went to Rome to study for the priesthood. Partway through--to his dismay--he realized that he wasn't a Roman Catholic, but a Ukrainian Catholic raised according to the Byzantine rites. He shifted course and proceeded to discover how to get back to his Ukrainian Catholic roots.

On moving from actor to priest, he remarks, "I have found a new and immensely superior 'script' to study and proclaim--the Holy Scriptures."

Evanko refers to his ministry of drama as 'a call within a call.' "It has given me the opportunity to deepen people's faith, to encourage others to enter the religious life, and to present evidence of extreme heroism in the service of others."

Evanko performed 'Blessed Nykyta' in Prince Albert last night and will repeat the performance here tonight at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of St. George (214 Avenue M South) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door. This performance is being hosted by the Bishop Nykyta Budka Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus #2755 of Saskatoon.

Tomorrow, February 5, Evanko will present 'Damien' at Holy Family Roman Catholic Cathedral at 2:30 p.m. This performance is a fundraiser for the new cathedral and has special significance for Evanko who came to know Bishop Don Bolen when Evanko was studying in Rome. 

On Monday, Evanko will present 'Blessed Nykyta' at St. Basil's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Regina at 7 p.m.

prairiemessengerPrairie Messenger
February 22, 2012

Priest performs dramas in Saskatoon

by Kiply Lukan Yaworski

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SASKATOON — Rev. Edward Danylo Evanko, a Ukrainian Catholic priest and former Broadway performer, recently presented two one-man plays in Saskatchewan, highlighting the lives of two heroes of faith.

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Evanko presented Blessed Nykyta in Prince Albert Feb. 3, in Saskatoon Feb. 4, and in Regina Feb. 6.

The play with music explored the life of Bishop Nykyta Budka, who in 1912 was appointed the first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop in Canada and who died a martyr in a Soviet prison in 1949.

Evanko also presented Damien Feb. 5 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon. This second one-man production told the story of St. Damien (born Jozef De Veuster), the 19th century Belgian priest who spent 16 years living with and caring for the residents of the Molokai island leper colony in Hawaii, before dying of the disease himself.

The play described Damien’s “call within a call” — the call to serve those banished because of their leprosy, the “niche that he was meant to fill” within his vocation to the priesthood.

The idea of a “call within a call” resonates with Evanko, who says that within his vocation to the priesthood he has experienced a call to “deepen people’s faith, to encourage others to enter the religious life and to present evidence of extreme heroism in the service of others.”

Evanko’s own vocation as a priest came late in life. Born in Winnipeg in 1938, he was ordained in 2005, after a career as an actor and singer that included the Stratford Festival, the English Opera, Welsh National Opera and performances on Broadway. He presently serves at Holy Dormition of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Richmond, B.C.

Evanko was in Rome studying for the priesthood when Damien of Molokai was beatified by Pope John Paul II. When St. Damien was canonized a few years later, in 2009, Evanko launched his “drama ministry” with performances of the play written by Aldyth Morris. Evanko said he was pleased to perform at the Saskatoon cathedral as an expression of his friendship with Bishop Donald Bolen, whom he met while studying in Rome.

Ukrainian Weekly #52, Parsippany NJ, December 25, 2011

Roman Hurko's Divine Work

by the Rev. Peter Galadza

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Photograph by: Carlos Martin

Composer Roman Hurko at the premiere of his liturgy.

Roman Hurko is a Ukrainian Canadian who has just composed and recorded his third divine liturgy. Like all his work, it is divine indeed. Of course, the liturgy is called "divine" because it is the work of the God-man, Jesus Christ. But Hurko arguably has been deemed worthy to become –musically – a partaker of the divine nature (see II Peter 1: 4).

Mr. Hurko's latest liturgy "premiered" the weekend of November 12 and 13 at St. Francis Xavier's Roman Catholic Church and St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Church in New York City. I was able to attend the former and, like Volodymyr the Great's emissaries, I knew not whether I was in heaven or on earth, "for on earth there is no such beauty."

Before sitting down to write the present article I decided to test my impressions by listening to the CD recording of the liturgy. The music is every bit as glorious as I remember it from St. Francis Xavier's. Fortunately, it is even available on iTunes!

The present liturgy is the fifth major work by Mr. Hurko in 11 years. Since 2000, he has composed and recorded two other divine liturgies, along with a panakhyda (requiem) for the victims of Chornobyl, and a Vespers. But this latest composition – while every bit as beautiful as its predecessors – is different: it is entirely in English.

Mr. Hurko writes in the liner notes: "The impetus for this particular setting of the divine liturgy was twofold: First, to accommodate those Anglophone Eastern Christians who are no longer as familiar as were their ancestors with the languages used in their services... also to help those who have married into the Eastern Church by allowing them to take part in the service using their native English language."

Of course, there is a third category: adults who have chosen to be baptized or otherwise received into one of the Ukrainian Churches. And it does happen. Kyivan Christianity has everything it needs to undertake the world's evangelization. Mr. Hurko's liturgy is added proof.

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Photograph by: Carlos Martin

The Revs. Edward Evanko and George Drance with part of the choir at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York.

The clergy's parts, both on the recording and at St. Francis Xavier's, were sung by the Rev. Edward Evanko and the Rev. George Drance, SJ. Father Evanko, a former Broadway actor and singer-turned-Ukrainian Catholic priest, does not disappoint. The resonance, diction and power are outstanding. And while Father Drance's voice may not be Broadway quality, it complements the Rev. Evanko's with added prayerfulness. In fact, one wonders why the two did not switch roles, with the Rev. Evanko, instead of the Rev. Drance, singing the deacon's parts. But that is a trifle. Their contribution is marvelous.

And then there are Mr. Hurko's compositions. This is a monumental work, and for the premiere almost 100 singers gathered to perform it. The recording involves "only" fifty, but the effect is no less monumental. From the very first "Amen" one knows that the Kingdom has come in power (see Mark 9: 1). And by the fourth "Lord, have mercy" one realizes that like all of Mr. Hurko's work, not only will this be impeccably professional; it will also be rooted in tradition -- yet fully contemporary.

Mr. Hurko's approach to tradition is profound. It is not a Archpriest Peter Galadza is Kule Family Professor of Liturgy at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, St. Paul University, Ottawa. matter of repeating melodic phrases or particular chords, but conveying the deep sense of mystery that characterizes all authentic worship – Eastern worship in particular. The composer likes to point out that Eastern Church music should correspond to the environment in which it is performed. Byzantine icons, architecture and liturgical gestures are not the expression of casual or "popular" sentiment; they are epiphanies of the Awesome.

But Mr. Hurko never allows his appreciation for the "terrifying mystery" to turn dour. Just when one begins to fear that the composition may be headed towards the ponderous, Mr. Hurko injects an exhilarating phrase with unexpected – and more contemporary – chords or tempo. And the transition is flawless. One notes in particular the transition to the third verse of Psalm 102 and 145 (the Typica), respectively.

Like any great liturgy, this one is punctuated with masterpieces – selections that will enter "the canon." Among these are Mr. Hurko's cherubicon ("Izhe Kheruvymy") and the anaphora ("Mylost Myra"). Thus, just as most Ukrainian choirs sooner or later learn Dmytro Bortniansky's cherubicon No. 7 or Artem Vedel's "Anhel Vopiyashe" -- to name just two items in "the canon" -- future choirs will surely learn these, and other pieces, from this liturgy. Of course, the fact that these works are in English means that one can expect to hear them sooner or later in other churches -- from Greek to Anglican to Roman Catholic.

Another masterpiece, which probably, however, will not enter "the canon," is the "Alleluia," sung before the gospel and appended to the cherubicon. The only reason it will likely not catch on is its complexity; the average choir will have trouble rendering its ethereal chords and rhythm. Questions of reception aside, this "Alleluia" is simply stunning; it elevates one into the fluidity of angelic motion.

Mr. Hurko's attention to the distinctiveness of such pieces is indicative of his broader appreciation for the structure and meaning of the divine liturgy. For example, unlike many Baroque or Romantic compositions that, ignoring the text, approach the "Monogenes" ("Only-Begotten Son," "Yedynorodnyi Syne") as a backdrop for melodic virtuosity, Mr. Hurko employs a simpler, chord-based chant, bringing to focus the words of this profession of faith.

Among the elements that give this liturgy a modern feel is the occasional use of mild dissonance. Parts of the Creed immediately come to mind. But again, Mr. Hurko under- stands that he is composing liturgical, not concert, music. Consequently, while the "dissonant chords" function to connect us with contemporaneity, they never overtake the work. One is reminded of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Vespers, where the composer occasionally transcends "convention" without becoming idiosyncratically "original." Indeed, Mr. Hurko knows that liturgy is a corporate act. Individual impulses are to be harmonized with the communal -- and not because the community is a "collectivity" that stifles creativity, but because the communal requires an amenable idiom for communication. And this liturgy communicates!

While worshippers at St. Francis Xavier's had the privilege of seeing Mr. Hurko himself conduct his liturgy, J. Michael Thompson, who also provides an insightful Introduction to the liner notes, conducted the recording, sung by the "Schola Cantorum of St. Peter and Guest Artists."

Mr. Thompson is a hero for Christians of the Slavonic Carlos Martin The Revs. Edward Evanko and George Drance with part of the choir at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York. Carlos Martin Composer Roman Hurko at the premiere of his liturgy. tradition. I stopped counting several years ago, but I suspect he has surpassed the 50 mark for recordings of Galician, Carpathian and other Slavic chant (not to mention Western music). These CDs are a kind of living archive for a tradition that may have fallen on hard times (more on that below), but like all great traditions is bound to revive. Ukrainians and Byzantine-Ruthenians owe this Irish American a special debt of gratitude.

The liner notes list a pool of other professionals -- soloists and technicians -- who are responsibility for the unsurpassed quality of the recording. Mr. Hurko's wife, Carmen, deserves special praise as the CD's producer and organizer of the premiere.

The CD includes a stunning, additional, surprise. In 2004, for the launch of "The Divine Liturgy: An Anthology for Worship," published by the Sheptytsky Institute in Ottawa, Mr. Hurko produced an exquisite setting of the irmos for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. For years I had hoped that Mr. Hurko would someday make available a recording of that arrangement. That day has come. Quite frankly, this one piece alone is worth the price of the CD. Mr. Hurko takes the standard, traditional melody from the 1904 Lviv "Irmolohion" (the canonical collection that contains the melody line for many of the Ukrainian Catholic Church's chants), and weaves a breathtaking tapestry of ethereal "heavenscapes" using innovative polyphony. The CD provides the original, unison version found in the "Irmolohion," immedi- ately followed by Mr. Hurko's arrangement. One is able to hear plainly what is involved in the process.

This, incidentally, indicates a possible focus for Mr. Hurko's next project. Unbeknownst to most listeners, the vast majority of Rachmaninoff's immensely popular Vespers, for example, is simply an arrangement of traditional monadic chants (many of them rooted in the Kyivan tradition, by the way.) I cannot even begin to imagine the splendor that Mr. Hurko could spawn were he to arrange other parts of the Irmolohion or traditional Galician chant. Alexander Koshetz did it. Stanislav Liudkevych did it. Mr. Hurko could easily do it -- and he would even outdo these masters.

Turning to the "hard times" hinted at above, many a Ukrainian Christian will be tempted to ask: who will actually perform such sophisticated music? Gone are the days when even small-town parishes had choirs that regularly rehearsed and sang the liturgy. To begin with, the influx of new immigrants from Ukraine frequently brings qualified singers. And unlike their post-World War II predecessors, they are more receptive to English.

Certainly a dynamic pastor in one of North America's urban centers would be able to generate interest in getting Mr. Hurko's music performed on a regular basis, especially as non-Ukrainians (among them singers) are increasingly drawn to our parishes. There is also the fact that several of the pieces might be amenable to congregational use.

Whatever the case, Mr. Hurko is to be commended for sewing without regard for the harvest. Fatalism is obviously foreign to his psyche; a spirit of hope guides his will. This is an outstanding example for all of us in the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox communities. Mr. Hurko did not wait to be asked to do this work. He does not seek hierarchical approval -- though he is obviously not "a loner." He and his wife themselves sought out and provided the financial resources. And our world is the better for it.

More particularly, Ukrainian Christian culture is the better for it. "Culture" is not an abstraction, but the concrete labors of a Lysenko, a Koshetz, a Kudryk. Today we can revel in the vitality of this culture because of a Mr. Hurko.


Archpriest Peter Galadza is Kule Family Professor of Liturgy at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario.

Ukrainian News, Edmonton, November 10-23, 2011

Fr. Edward Danylo Evanko delivers stellar performance as “Blessed Nykyta”

By Marco Levytsky

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Fr. Edward in performance of "Blessed Nykyta".

Fr. Ed Evanko delivered a stellar tour de force with his one-man show “Blessed Nykyta: Bishop and Martyr” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the appointment of Bishop Budka as the first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop in Canada, at St. Basil`s Cultural Centre in Edmonton, Nov. 1.

The play features Fr. Evanko delivering a monologue reflecting the life of Bishop Budka interspersed with religious hymns.

This was Fr. Evanko`s third performance of this play, which premiered at Holy Eucharist Parish in Winnipeg Oct. 2 and was reprised at St. Charles Parish, also in Winnipeg, the following day.

It was also performed in support of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute in Ottawa.

Bishop Budka was born in a village in Zbarazh, Halychyna, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1877, and ordained as a priest in Lviv in 1905.

He was appointed the Bishop for Canada on July 15, 1912 and consecrated on October 14 of that year. In Canada he became known as a staunch defender of the autonomy of the Ukrainian church from the Latin hierarchy, and a fierce opponent of missionary actives amongst Ukrainian Canadian by Russian Orthodox and Protestant churches, and of secularism. He was broadly supportive of Ukrainian nationalism.

At the same time he faced internal dissension among some of the Ukrainian Catholic faithful who did not view him as nationalistic enough and differed over control of property and the issue of married priests. This led to a split among the faithful and the creation of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada.

In 1927, he returned to now Polish-controlled Halychyna and became vicar general of the Metropolitan Curia in Lviv. After the Soviets occupied Halychyna in 1944, they liquidated the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and exiled Metropolitan Josyf Slipyi and many bishops, Budka among them, to the Gulag. Budka died in a concentration camp in Karaganda, Kazakhstan on Oct. 1, 1949.

He was beatified as a martyr by Pope John Paul II on June 27, 2001.

Although it opens with a brief account of Bishop Budka’s death in Karaganda, Fr. Evanko’s narrative focuses primarily on Bishop Budka’s years in Canada. He artfully articulates the rigours Bishop Budka faced in serving the far-flung regions of the geographically largest episcopate in the world, how he expanded the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada and his struggles with the dissidents.

Fr. Evanko pays particular attention to the controversial July 27, 1914 pastoral letter in which Bishop Budka called upon the faithful to heed Austrian Emperor Franz Josef’s call for Ukrainians abroad to come back and fulfill their military obligations in the upcoming war against Serbia. Within days Russia joined Serbia, Germany backed Austria, while France and Britain backed Russia. Canada, which wasn’t to achieve independence until the Statute of Westminster in 1931, was automatically at war when Britain entered World War I. (In order to demonstrate its new found independence in 1939 Canada’s parliament waited a full week after Britain declared war on Germany before entering World War II.)

Bishop Budka retracted his first pastoral letter and issued a second on August 6, 1914 calling upon Ukrainians to fulfill their obligations to their new homeland of Canada, but the damage had been done. Despite his unflinching support for Canada’s war effort, charges of disloyalty were to plague him throughout his episcopate and led to two arrests, In both cases charges were dismissed.

Fr. Evanko terms this play as “a work in progress’ and says he is open to suggestions how to improve it.

We would suggest that while Bishop Budka’s work in Canada is of particular note, it would be most interesting to add some narrative about the years he spent in Ukraine after 1927. This, after all, was the most turbulent period in the history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. It encompasses the Polish “Pacification” of 1930, the initial Soviet occupation of 1939-41, the Nazi invasion during which Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Holocaust, and the second Soviet occupation during which the church was liquidated and its priests and bishops exiled.

Evanko was born in Winnipeg and trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He has appeared on Broadway, in many television programs and has recorded several albums of Ukrainian songs.

He did his academic and spiritual formation at the Pontificio Collegio Beda in Rome, at St. Josaphat Seminary and Catholic University in Washington, DC, and at Holy Spirit Seminary and St. Paul University in Ottawa. He is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic, not a Roman Catholic.

He was ordained as a priest for the Archeparchy of Winnipeg in 2005 and now serves the Eparchy of New Westminster.

Fr. Evanko is currently performing two other one-man shows “Damien”, about the Belgian priest who gave his life to helping Hawaiian lepers, and “Holodomor: Murder by Starvation” about the genocidal 1932-22 famine in Ukraine.

BCCatholic2B.C. Catholic, August 22, 2011

Actor finds true vocation in the Ukrainian Eparchy

By Steve Weatherbe, Special to The B.C. Catholic

Father Edward Evanko stages one-man shows depicting Church history

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Photograph by: Brent Mattson / The B.C. Catholic

Father Edward Evanko carries the gifts through the Iconostasis, or Icon Screen, at the Dormition of Our Mother of God Church in Richmond.

You don’t have to be a Broadway actor to be a good priest, says Father Edward Danylo Evanko, pastor of the Dormition of Our Mother of God Church in Richmond. “But,” he adds, lapsing into a Manhattan Yiddish accent, “it wouldn’t hoit.”

Father Evanko was an actor on Broadway, as well as in Hollywood, in television and film, for over 30 years before a seemingly chance conversation at Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral pointed him to the priesthood. Once a priest, he thought he had put acting behind, but he was wrong.

He now performs three one-man shows, mostly in Canada and the U.S. but also abroad: Damien by Aldyth Morris, about Father Damien of Molokai, the so-called “Leper Priest;” Holodomor: Murder by Starvation, about the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 that killed 4-7 million, written by Father Evanko; and Blessed Nykyta, about Canada’s first Ukrainian Catholic bishop, who later died in a Soviet jail.

Father Evanko was born and raised in Winnipeg, a product of the North Winnipeg ethnic stew that gave rise to many performing artists over the years. A booming tenor, he won a provincial singing contest before going off to England to study theatre.

He returned to Canada to MC a CBC variety show, and then it was on to Broadway. His most lucrative and lasting gig was an on-going part in the Irish American soap opera Ryan’s Hope.

He never abandoned the faith of his childhood, he said, though sometimes his practice was thin. “I would confess to my friends that there was always a void somewhere, an emptiness, and I wouldn’t even know what I was feeling.”

A movie of the week assignment took him to Vancouver, and he decided on the spot to move to Hollywood North. Soon he “fell in love with Holy Rosary Cathedral, the liturgy, the choir,” and be- gan reading at the 11 o’ clock Sunday Mass.

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Photograph by: Brent Mattson / The B.C. Catholic

Father Edward Evanko carries the gifts through the Iconostasis, or Icon Screen, at the Dormition of Our Mother of God Church in Richmond.

In 2000, after the Easter Mass, he was chatting with the assistant pastor when the latter asked him if he had ever considered the priesthood, “I thought he was sort of joking, and I said I had always thought I could do it better than the priest. I was already the actor as a child. I thought, Wow! I could dress up and do homilies!”

But the priest was serious. “He said, ‘No, I’ m talking right now, because you only need to say the word and you could be in Rome this fall studying,’ ” Father Evanko recalled.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had no idea where this came from. I started to cry and I stopped crying and said, ‘You know something. That is exactly what I must do.’”

In Rome, however, a Ukrainian Catholic priest took him to a Ukrainian seminary and he realized that was his calling.

On his first assignment, pastor of 12 parishes in Western Manitoba, he got the idea of staging Damien as a fundraiser for a fellow priest whose father had fallen ill after donating a kidney to his son. He raised $4,000 from three performances.

He thought his acting was over again, but parishes began calling up asking him to perform it again, and eventually the interest settled down to a steady half dozen performances a year around the U.S. and Canada.

Then a Toronto priest urged him to create a show about the Holodomor in time for the 75th anniversary in 2008. Father Evanko protested that he didn’t have the time with his 12 far-flung rural parishes, but the other priest promised to do the research.

Father Evanko was soon showered with articles and first-hand accounts from survivors, all children during the famine, who had watched their brothers, sisters, and parents die in front of them. Father Evanko dramatizes their words in a series of seven scenes, interspersed with Ukrainian folk songs and hymns, over an hour and 15 minutes.

In musical theatre, he said, characters burst into song when words are inadequate to express the emotional content of the scene. “That is very much the case with Holodomor.”

Father Evanko presents a spiritual message in his plays by presenting the sacrificial heroism of individuals faced with the challenge of suffering, either on an individual scale or on a national scale.

He sees his theatrical work as a “call within a call,” a concept borrowed from Damien. The Belgian priest uses it to describe his vocation to serve the lepers, for a long time against his bishop’s wishes.

In Father Evanko’s case, the call is to dramatize those who devote their lives “to lose their lives” in the service of others.

richmondNEWSlogoRichmond News, June 22, 2011

From the Broadway Stage to Church Sanctuary

BY MICHELLE HOPKINS, POSTMEDIA NEWS

He’s acted on Broadway, had a reoccurring role on the hit television soap opera, Ryan’s Hope, hosted his own television show on CBC’s Ed Evanko Show and recorded Broadway albums for Capitol, RCA and Destiny Records.

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Photograph by: Michelle Hopkins, Richmond News

Father Edward Evanko sits in the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church of The Holy Dormition of The Mother of God, where his pulpit is now his stage.

He’s acted on Broadway, had a reoccurring role on the hit television soap opera, Ryan’s Hope, hosted his own television show on CBC’s Ed Evanko Show and recorded Broadway albums for Capitol, RCA and Destiny Records.

However, Father Edward Danylo Evanko’s biggest role yet, he said, is as a Catholic priest at Richmond’s Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church of The Holy Dormition of the Mother of God.

How does a seasoned actor of four decades go from the bright lights of New York City to heading a small church in Richmond?

The News sat down with the charismatic and young looking 73-year-old Evanko to hear his story.

“I never thought to myself I want to be a priest … it really is a calling,” said Evanko.

His path to religious life began in 1997.

Every Sunday, Evanko attended mass at downtown’s Holy Rosary Cathedral.

“Over a few months, I kept sitting closer and closer to the front pews,” he said. “One Sunday I was sitting right behind Gary Lauk, a lawyer and former MLA (Vancouver Centre).

“He turned to me one day and said ‘should I know you … you can really sing’.”

Evanko went on to say Lauk then asked him to take his spot as a lector, to read the scriptures during Sunday mass.

“For two and a half years I did this and then one day I’m at Gary’s for Easter brunch,” Evanko said. “I was chatting with the associate pastor of Holy Rosary and Archbishop Adam Exner. They asked me about my life story.”

Then out of the blue, added the lifelong bachelor, they asked him if he had ever considered the priesthood.

“They told me you need only say the word and you could be in Rome by this fall,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it and I started to cry … the weight of it hit me.

“Yet, at that moment I knew and I had no control … you are called to be a priest.”

That fall, Evanko left for Italy. He completed his four-year academic and spiritual formation — which is theology studies at a seminary where men go to train to become priests — at the Pontificio Collegio Beda in Rome. He went on to further his divinity studies at universities in both the United States and Canada. He received his Master of theology degree in 2005. He was 66 years old.

Evanko was ordained a Catholic priest that same year. He served at the Archeparchy of Winnipeg for two and a half years before returning to B.C. in 2008 to head his Richmond congregation.

“To go through formation is emotionally and intellectually strenuous, but incredibly rewarding and rich,” he said.

When asked what his struggles are, if any, Evanko paused and said: “As a priest, there are many challenges but many, many more rewards,” he said. “It’s hard to say any one thing that is difficult, but there are enormous rewards, such as being entrusted with people’s lives.

“You learn from them as much as you learn from almost any theology book or textbook.”

His duties are many, including daily liturgies, giving sacraments for the ill and dying, administering reconciliation (confession), and marrying couples and baptizing children.

There was nothing in his childhood to point to his path into the priesthood, he said, other than being brought up Catholic.

“I sometimes didn’t agree with the church’s teachings but I never lost my faith in God,” Evanko said.

Born in Winnipeg to Ukrainian immigrants, Evanko grew up attending a Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic church with his parents and two sisters.

“I was raised Catholic, but not strict Catholic,” he said. “I was an altar boy and sang on the choir but I wouldn’t say I was overly religious.”

His mother died when he was 11 and four years later his father remarried a devout Catholic.

Evanko first inkling that the stage was beckoning him was in junior high.

“I was a one-arm toy soldier and I sang and acted … I guess I had a natural talent for it,” said Evanko.

At 17, he went to the University of Alberta, where he received his bachelor of arts.

“Winnipeg was a great town to get into the arts, because in those days you could live in a small town and do a show that aired across the country … you can’t do that anymore,” he said. “After university, I appeared on stage for the summer Rainbow Stage Theatre and on CBC television.”

Soon, the London stage was summoning the young aspiring actor.

“England was the Mecca for theatre and so at 21, I went over ready for an adventure,” he said.

Evanko was accepted at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. (Alumni include Hollywood stars Jeremy Irons, Naomie Harris and the late Pete Postlethwaite).

Evanko spent four years in England, honing his acting skills and appearing with the Stratford Festival, the English Opera, the Welsh National Opera and the BBC Singers.

Then the Big Apple came calling.

His Broadway debut garnered him a Theatre World Award, and later, a New Jersey Drama Critics Award and a Los Angeles Ovation Award nomination. He spent 22 years in New York, as well as eight years in Hollywood, before returning to Canada. Evanko performed at major festivals across the country as well as in the United States, before entering religious life.

Yet, this man of the cloth has managed to marry both his loves.

“Now, I get the best possible scripts to perform, the scriptures,” he said. “They have to be interpreted of course, but the wisdom in the words … they are the best I could ever get my hands on.”

Over the years, he has given dramatic performances of the life of Father Damien, the selfless missionary to the lepers and of the horrific sufferings of Genocide survivors of the Ukraine (1932-1933).

Evanko will hit the stage in a new production, Blessed Nykyta, Bishop and Martyr, which will run in Edmonton on November 4 and in Toronto on November 16.

Evanko heads a congregation of 45 at the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church of The Holy Dormition of the Mother of God on Railway Avenue. The quaint church stays alive through its weekly sales (Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parish centre behind the church) of homemade perogies, cabbage rolls and borscht soup.

The Richmond Review, December 10, 2009

A Ukrainian Christmas

By Matthew Hoekstra

With a sheaf of wheat and a 12-course meal, Ukrainian-Canadians welcome the birth of Christ

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B.C. Catholic, September 7, 2009

40 Years and Actor/Singer, now a Priest

By Laureen McMahon

When Pope Benedict XVI canonizes Blessed Damien of Molokai on Oct. 11 in Rome, the hearts of many around the world will rejoice, especially in Hawaii where the Belgian-born missionary lived out his extraordinary life of service to castaway lepers.

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