On Religion, or Tammela attends her first Ukrainian Orthodox mass

I went to church today for the first time since coming to Ukraine. I’ve wanted to experience a Ukrainian Orthodox church service, and today one of my English-teacher colleagues, Nadia, took me. It was fascinating. First of all, my town’s Orthodox cathedral (there’s also a Greek Catholic church here) is beautiful on the inside: gold-gilded grates, pastel-painted walls and ceilings. There are no pews, which I (ignorantly) expected given my experiences with churches in other parts of the world (but I guess those have been Catholic and Protestant ones). Old and young alike alternately stand and kneel for the entire 2-hour service. Almost the whole service/mass is chanted by the priests (very “high church”). In this church there are currently three “full” priests and one younger man learning to become one, and they all shared the duties. The most beautiful part of the mass for me was standing in the balcony next to the choir, which participates in a sort of call-and-response with the priests for much of the time and also sings hymns — beautifully — at certain points. One of the priests gave a short, spoken sermon at one point, and the last half of the service was dedicated — as far as I could tell — to transubstantiation. Only those who have confessed to the priests take communion.

It was a really interesting experience, and I’m glad I went. The mass was beautiful, but not something that I could relate to at all. Many of you know I call myself spiritual but not religious. It raised some questions in my mind: Why does it take four priests chanting in a private sanctuary to speak to God? Do churches like the Orthodox ones need to be so ornate? (I personally find it kind of distracting and for the most part prefer less-adorned-but-just-as-beautiful churches/cathedrals.) But to repeat myself, why do people need others — i.e. priests, ministers — to speak for them in order to talk to God? A former professor of mine pointed out in a comment (see below) that he’s not sure either, but “there’s something there.” I agree. Would love to hear your thoughts on this, friends, as religion interests and fascinates me.

Sniatyn’s Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral, where I went for mass

Sniatyn’s Greek Catholic church behind our statue of Shevchenko

5 thoughts on “On Religion, or Tammela attends her first Ukrainian Orthodox mass

  1. nick

    Why does it take 4 male priests? Because the history of christianity and most other religions is incredibly patriarchal. What does it mean that 4 priests chanted? That they care about God, and hopefully about the mortals that live under Him… It’s so bizarre. When I am in London, I attend evensong at the Abbey or St. Pauls. It’s so patriarchal, it’s absurd. And yet… I don’t know, there’s something there.

    1. Tammela

      Patriarchal, indeed. But you’re right, there is something there — in the music, in the ceremony, in the chanting (very high church).

  2. erika

    Congrats on being publised twice! I think everything you are doing is wonderful, you are embracing such an adventure. I am sort of going through the same sort of mind set right now (maybe it is a right of passage for our age). I think that you are right on the money when you say, “there is something there”. I do not really have much to say on the matter, but enjoy that you wrote about it.

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