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From Boy to Bishop

Originally published in ByziKids Magazine, July 2019
By Judith Jolma

As the congregation exited the nave after liturgy, one small boy remained deep in prayer. Young Borys Gudziak was known for his intensity as he prayed.

“Others noted it. He would linger long after liturgy deep in prayer interceding for the poor, and others in need,” said Alex Kuzma, a long-time friend of Borys.

He knew many needed his prayers. His parents had come to the United States as war refugees from Ukraine fleeing the communist Soviets who were forcing Christians to worship in secret. Priests and bishops back home were being deported to the frigid region of Siberia or other prisons just for being Christian. Even his mother’s sister had been killed for her involvement in the secret church known as the Underground. So 7-year-old Borys prayed.

The Gudziak family grew up in Sariques, NY. Mr. Gudziak was a dentist and his mother was a wonderful religious woman according to Archbishop emeritus Basil Losten, who knew his parents well in those days. They were prominent members of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church and often hosted important guests.

Sometimes Borys and his brother Marko, who were typical rambunctious boys, used to get in trouble for acting wild as his parents were preparing for guests.

Other times their parents let them behave like the wild boys they were -- especially the day after Pascha. Washed up Monday, they called it -- And it was the boy’s favorite day of the year. As children, they loved the tradition brought over from their homeland. It was the only day of the year they were allowed to have a water fight. After all the fasting and formality of Lent, the boys loved Water Monday as a day they could run wild and cause mischief.

“Story has it that when Borys was a little boy, his mother had a secret prayer that he would become a priest,” Said Mr. Kuzma. “She never said anything about being a bishop.”

But Borys had other plans. He dreamed of being a basketball player.

As he grew, Borys became an active member of PLAST -- the Ukrainian scouting group. This is where he met his best friend. The two boys become fast friends while digging a ditch for a latrine as a scouts project. “Borys has always been so humble he could find a best friend working hard digging a latrine,” Mr. Kuzma said.

Mr. and Mrs. Gudziak always encouraged and supported their boys and were proud of Borys as he went to study at Harvard. While he was there, Borys joined the choir at Christ the King Church in Boston. “He was a talented base singer,” Mr. Kuzma remembers. “Though Borys claimed he was not so good at it.” But even Bishop Basil remembers Borys’s musical talents at Harvard. “He was very involved in youth ministry there. He played the guitar and would sing religious songs with the children.”

It was in Harvard where Mr. Kuzma first met Borys. Their friendship would last many years. Much later Borys and Kuzma would work together for nine years at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Livi.

Borys spent the school year at Harvard and his summers in Rome studying with Cardinal Slipyj, who had suffered eighteen years in a Russian prison for being part of the underground church. Slipyj became a powerful mentor to Borys filling his imagination with dreams of a free Ukraine.

Mr. Kuzma remembers Borys telling his friends at Harvard “Slipyi believes that the church will come out of the underground in Ukraine and the country will gain independence from Russia.” He even believed that someday the Pope would come to Ukraine. These thoughts were too wonderful for his friends to believe. They thought those were crazy dreams because they seemed so unlikely.

But Borys and Slipyj worked as if it were a reality. They began making plans for a Catholic school that would be free to teach the faith once Ukraine was liberated. Borys dreamed of turning the school into a University. For a long time, the only building they could find to study in Livi was a kindergarten school built for little children. But it was there that the young men and women worked, preparing for the day they would worship openly.

All awhile, people began asking Borys if he would become ordained. Borys resisted, Bishop Basil said. “Borys wanted to continue his work with Slipyj without having to take other assignments as he would have to do were a priest. Once he completed his work with Slipyj he pursued ordination” And then, his mother’s prayers for her little boy would be answered.

Borys and Mr. Kuzma set out on a project to document the history of persecution in Ukraine. They recorded the stories of priests, and lay Christians who gave up their lives for Christ in the Underground Church. (This later became the Institute of Church History in Livi where Mr. Kuzma still works as the Executive Director.)

To the astonishment of many, the long-held dreams of these men became a reality. In 1990 the church did come out of the underground, and in 1991 Ukraine became independent. And in 2001 Pope John Paul II visited Ukraine -- Just as Slipyj and Borys believed.

While there the Holy Father opened the canonization process for 21 saints using the historical records Borys and his team had saved. In 2002 That long dreamed of university opened.

“It’s the last Catholic University in nine time zones before Japan,” they all used to joke.

Even though Ukraine is now independent, her struggle continues and Christians do not enjoy the freedom of worship that American children know. The secret police visited Borys at the Ukrainian Catholic University and demanded that as president of the school, Borys was to report on his student’s behavior. Borys refused. His defiance put him in a lot of trouble and became an international incident. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had to come and negotiate on behalf of the Christians. In the end, the secret police were forced to come to the school and apologize to Borys.

“It really was miraculous,” Kuzma said.

In 2013 and 2014 the people violently revolted against the government. Street protests broke out as Ukrainian soldiers began shooting protesters. Borys, the once small boy who loved water fights and praying in his NY church, had become a brave man. As a priest of God, he stood on the front lines hearing confessions. For three months, he celebrated Liturgy every day until the revolt ended. He brought reverence and dignity to the violence of war.

Bishop Borys Gudziak has lived many adventures and he is about to begin a brand new one. On June 4th, [2019] he [was] installed as Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. But Bishop Borys knows that priests and bishops can’t do all the work in God’s kingdom alone. Often God’s most important work needs to be done by little boys and girls willing to linger long in the naive praying.


As a contributing editor for ByziKids, it is my pleasure to share these articles with the Sophia Homeschool community as well. Although Sophia Homeschool serves all homeschooling families regardless of faith or affiliation, I think you will enjoy this delightful publication. I hope to share these articles with you each month as a regular feature here. Enjoy!

ByziKids Magazine is a pan-Eastern Christian, grassroots, monthly publication dedicated to the celebration of Byzantine Orthodoxy through the eyes of our children. We are not affiliated with any particular Church or jurisdiction, but welcome and strive to encompass the teachings and traditions common to all of Byzantine Orthodox-Catholic Christianity.


By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.

Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at

Learn how to create a homeschool method and environment based on your family's needs so you can thrive. My Foundations of Homeschooling Masterclass teaches parents to work with their budget, schedule, learning style, teaching style, and resources so each member of the family has his or her needs met— including yours! Learn to create a peaceful and joyful learning environment that lasts a lifetime. Identify learning differences and adapt your educational plan accordingly. Unlock the mysteries of teaching multiple grades at once. By knowing what your needs are, you will save thousands of dollars, time, and energy on methods that do not work. We will end homework battles and restore your relationship with your child.

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