Today we had breakfast in the hotel. Most folks will yawn at that at best – and have a little thought of mocking such an unimportant comment at worst. Why would you care where we ate? You might care because it is Wednesday. That means it is a fasting day for Orthodox Christians. And we had no shortage of things to choose from. Sometimes those who don't have a chance to visit former Communist countries that are also majority Orthodox Christian think that things haven't really changed much. That the Communists left an indelible mark on the society and that their influence will never be erased. That may be true – the mark is in fact rather indelible, but more in the focus on those who suffered during the Communist times. Those who are New Martyrs of the Holy Church. And almost everywhere you go in Russia or (as I am finding out) in Ukraine you find memorials to those who were killed for their faith. Another temptation we have is that the Communists somewhat methodically moved all those who dissented to Siberia and liquidated them there. On one hand they did that – this is true. But they killed Christians everywhere – and everywhere you find memorials to them. For instance, today on the way to Kharkov we had the opportunity to pray at the place where all – yes all – the clergymen of Poltava were killed in one day. They were all shot by the Bolsheviks. There is a large cross there now and a memorial. This is not unusual – you find such things throughout the former Soviet Union. To even talk about such things during the Soviet times was strictly forbidden, not to mention building such memorials!
Back to the food. Who cares? Things do change. The influence of the Church is felt in a society when the Church is allowed to live freely and openly. Honestly, that happens when the Church is oppressed as well, but not in such things as the offerings at breakfast in a hotel. But if the Church can influence the food people eat, given that we are mostly controlled by our stomachs if we are honest about that, then surely it has other positive influence on the society as well. Ukraine is not Russia and there definite differences in how the Church is viewed here and there, but in both countries you find the Church influencing society. And that is good. The Church aims to meet society where it is and raise it to a higher level. To help man to move towards the Heavenly Kingdom. Not to drag God down to the level of the street. You see that effort to raise society in Russia. You see that here too. The struggles here are different than those in Russia though, just as the struggles in America are different that the struggles in Ukraine and in Russia. Each country is unique – each has its own struggles. There is not a perfect place in this world. Utopia is found only in the Heavenly Kingdom. But if we can influence the culinary choices people make surely we can do more to influence society positively if we only will try? If we only will pray? If we only will live an Orthodox Christian life – even when no one else is looking? We in America can sanctify our culture and our countrymen with God's help – just as is happening in Ukraine and in Russia.
That was a little sermon – I cannot deny my clerical propensity to deviate in that way from time to time. But we will try to keep that to a minimum here. Everyone gets more than enough of that from me when I am in the country. Surely you deserve a break when I am half a world away!
Today we had the blessing to travel to Kharkov as mentioned above. Kharkov is a very old and rather large city. It is also a very important city in Ukraine, as it was in the former Soviet Union, and in the Russian Empire before that. It has about 40 churches and most seem to have multiple altars. Some have many altars. For instance, the diocesan cathedral has three altars on the main floor and several more below. At the Protection monastery there are several large churches, each with multiple altars. So, although there are 40 churches in the city, there are certainly many more liturgies than that served every Sunday and feast day. And some of these churches serve daily as well. That is a great goal for us and something that I hear again and again as I travel: the more often you serve the Divine Liturgy the more people will be attracted to the Church. It takes multiple priests in a parish of course to serve daily and to serve more than once on a Sunday or a feast day, but this is still a good goal for us to work towards.
Pictures today are from the churches we visited in Kharkov. First, the Church of St. Mary Magdalene (lower church in honor of St. Alexander Nevsky):
Next we visited the Protection Monastery, which also houses the hierarch's residence (Metropolitan Onuphry of Kharkov was away unfortunately and we did not get the opportunity to meet him), and the diocesan seminary (the Dean of the seminary was away as well, so we did not have the opportunity to talk to him about our diocesan seminary either):
Finally, we visited the Diocesan Cathedral of the Annunciation before returning back to Poltava to prepare for tomorrow's travels:
Please continue to pray for us as we travel!