A world leader of Ukrainian Baptists, the Rev. Olexa Harbuziuk, dead at 77

ELMHURST, Ill. - The Rev. Olexa R. Harbuziuk, a world leader of Ukrainian Baptists and a champion of religious freedom for Ukraine, died on Saturday, October 4, at home in Elmhurst, Ill. Pastor Harbuziuk, 77, had suffered from lymphoma for four and a half years.

The Rev. Harbuziuk was pastor emeritus of the Ukrainian Baptist Church in Berwyn, Ill. He came to the United States from Germany in 1949 and became pastor of the Ukrainian Baptist Church of Chicago that fall. He served until 1955, then served again as full-time pastor from June 1982 to December 31, 1992. The congregation moved from Damen Avenue in Chicago to the Berwyn location in December 1985.

He held many leadership positions in church organizations, including president for 18 years of the worldwide All-Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Fellowship, president and general secretary of the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Convention of churches in the U.S. for 28 years, and director of "Voice of the Gospel," a shortwave radio broadcast beamed into Ukraine from 1966 to 1993. He was also radio pastor of the church's program in Chicago for about 40 years.

The Rev. Harbuziuk was actively involved in the Ukrainian community. He was elected to the presidium of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians in November 1978. He was a member of Ukrainian National Association Branch 17 and Ukrainian Fraternal Association Assembly 83.

He visited Ukrainian churches in South America in 1963, in Australia twice, in Europe, and on numerous occasions across the United States and Canada. He served as president of Doroha Pravdy publishers from 1965 to 1972. He was editor-in-chief of the Messenger of Truth magazine in 1975-1981 and associate editor in 1981-1997.

He spoke out against religious persecution in Ukraine and the Soviet Union, writing numerous letters and petitions to government officials and speaking at conferences of the International Council of Christian Churches in 1968 in Geneva, 1975 in Kenya and 1988 in Cape Canaveral, Fla., among others.

In that regard, Pastor Harbuziuk also participated in an NBC-TV program in July 1977 and met with President Ronald Reagan in the White House. When Ukraine became independent, he visited the country four times and spoke with the first president, Leonid Kravchuk, and the current president, Leonid Kuchma, in favor of strong guarantees of religious freedom and presented them with Bibles.

A dynamic speaker, during one of his trips to Ukraine Pastor Harbuziuk delivered 30 sermons in 33 days, sometimes speaking three times on a Sunday. He also translated 17 sermons of an American pastor with whom he was traveling.

The Rev. Harbuziuk received the Contender's Award from the American Council of Christian Churches in 1979 for his ministry behind the Iron Curtain.

The Rev. Harbuziuk welcomed pastor Georgi Vins to Chicago when the religious rights activist was released from a Soviet prison camp during President Jimmy Carter's administration.

Pastor Harbuziuk also escorted a planeload of religious refugees from Moscow to the U.S. in September 1990. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, he helped hundreds of people from the Soviet Union to resettle in the U.S. Ironically, during his first pastorship, he also helped displaced persons in Germany and Europe come to America after World War II.

"He was a servant of God and a servant of people," his son, Alex, said. "Sometimes he was sort of like a social worker, helping refugees with documents and to find apartments and jobs." Mr. Harbuziuk also described his father as "a great leader and an energetic worker."

In addition to his church involvement, Pastor Harbuziuk worked at GTE Automatic Electronic in Northlake, Ill., for 29 years, retiring as a supervisor in data processing in 1983.

Less than two months ago, on August 17, the Rev. Harbuziuk was honored on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a pastor during a special program sponsored by the Ukrainian Baptist Church of Chicago.

Walter Polowczak, assistant chairman of the church council, commented that the Rev. Harbuziuk in some way had touched the life of probably every person present that evening. Nina Wozny, president of the Women's Group, recalled how as a fifth grader in Ukraine she heard the Rev. Harbuziuk preach in her village when he was a traveling evangelist. A visiting pastor from Ukraine remarked that as a boy he listened to short-wave radio broadcasts of "Voice of the Gospel" into Ukraine that the Rev. Harbuziuk had directed for decades.

The funeral for the Rev. Harbuziuk was scheduled for Friday, October 1, from the church in Berwyn to Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove for burial. Visitation was on Wednesday and Thursday, October 8-9, at the Muzyka Funeral Home.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Sophia; seven children, Helen Bus, Alex, Irene DeWolf, Lee Lohr, Vera Gustafson, Wayne and Elizabeth; 11 grandchildren; three bothers, John, Aleksander and Volodymyr (the latter two in Ukraine); and one sister, Nadia Janiuk.

In lieu of flowers, donations to print the Rev. Harbuziuk's book "Eternal Salvation" may be sent to the Ukrainian Missionary and Bible Society, P.O. Box 277, Monmouth, ME 04259.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, October 12, 1997, No. 41, Vol. LXV

© Ukrainian Baptist Heritage Centre
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