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What Am I Doing Here?

INTRODUCTION
I was baptized into the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada as the infant daughter of a UOCC father and a mother who had never stepped into an Orthodox church until her wedding day (a day she “hated,” she confessed to me in her nineties: “all that religious folderol”). Mother was the daughter of working-class atheists, dad a high-minded skeptic of Orthodoxy though also faithful secretary, treasurer, editor and chair of various church organizations.
Yet there our family sat every Sunday in a pew of the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Edmonton, my sister and I understanding almost nothing of what was being said and sung (no bilingual Liturgies in the 1950s and 1960s) although we mastered the enunciation of the Lord’s Prayer through sheer mimicry nor did we receive much spiritual enlightenment in Sunday school and catechism class, likewise unilingual. At home we all spoke English exclusively.
I stopped attending church services when I moved out of home in 1965 and by the 1970s I was a full-blown feminist, New Leftist, Canadian cultural nationalist and writer. For some weeks in Toronto in the 1970s I attended classes on Marxism-Leninism at the Norman Bethune Centre that were offered, of course, on Sundays.
In the early 1980s, however, I spent months at a time in Greece, a prelude to extensive research in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. I still cannot give a reasonable explanation for why I began haunting Orthodox churches and chapels in villages and towns, and shyly joined worshippers at Divine Liturgies in Athens and Nafplion, except perhaps out of nostalgia for a childhood experience that allowed me a sense of community with Greeks, who were otherwise pretty strange to me. “Orthodox” is translated into the Slavic as “Pravoslavnyi” and means the same: “right praise” I was a baptized Pravoslavna and had a right to stand among Greeks, venerate their/our icons, help myself to the blessed bread distributed at the end of the service (Greek liturgical music is, however, one of their strangenesses) just as I used to do as a kid.
I revisited this sense of homeyness, familiarity, welcome (no one had the right to throw me out) and inner peace many times as I travelled through Roman Catholic Poland and Czechoslovakia and fled their Baroque excesses (visual and gestural) whenever I came across an Orthodox church or monastery. A darkened interior, solemn Byzantine visages of saints in their icons, haloed in gold, remnant whiffs of frankincense and candlewax: silent figures, usually women in black, move in and out of the shadows. A door in the icon screen opens and out comes the priest from the sanctuary, vested in garments reminiscent of Byzantine court dress in Constantinople , and chants “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” The people respond, “Amen,” and we begin.
In 2006 I became a paid-up member and daughter of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (UOCC) in the parish of St Elia in Edmonton. My progress to that point is told in my 2010 book, Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium, in the closing paragraphs of which I am standing in my childhood church, in contemplation of the light of an oil lamp, hung before an icon, that never goes out.
This is a blog about my experience as a practising Orthodox Christian as I live it in parish life. This is not a confession of faith but of praxis, about what keeps me an adherent of the Orthodox Church and what drives me crazy, not unlike the pattern of any long-term relationship. It goes without saying that my words and thoughts are my own, not that of the UOCC, and for which I take full responsibility.

36 Comments

  1. Ruth McMonagle
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Look forward to reading more.

  2. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    You shall have them, Ruth.

  3. Posted July 9, 2017 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your personal perspective on a return to childhood faith, Myrna.
    I find myself now in my so-called golden years, thinking more and more of my childhood very prairie, ordinary United Church upbringing and, like you, rejoining that spiritual community. Nor am I any less feminist and anti-patriarchal than I’ve been throughout all my life. The church just has an undeniable appeal–the familiar ritual, scripture, and music. Maybe I’m drawn because I know I’m drawing nearer and nearer to what we all share…death. gloomy thought.

  4. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    A lot to unpack there, Carolyn. I have to admit I’ve seldom heard a United Church person speak in those terms – ritual and scripture and music – rather than about social justice, the TRC and the necessity of carbon taxes. Sorry for the seeming levity, but I do welcome the company of a fellow writer whose feminism stays intact in spite of the patriarchy (man-made in every sense). I’ll be coming back to some of your thoughts in future blogs.

  5. Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    interesting – it is endlessly fascinating to me how some people are able to believe and take an active part in a religion/spiritual practise while others of us who might like to do so find it completely impossible.
    Thanks for sharing Myrna

  6. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Heather, for the response. It opens a whole conversation between us when we next meet on Quadra, if you’re still fascinated and can tell me about the “impossible.”

  7. Elizabeth Kostash
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Very interesting and very well done.
    I look forward to more.
    Liz

  8. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you, cousin Liz in Ottawa. Although our families (grandparents and parents) started off in the same churchy place, we sure ended in different spaces. It’s made for great conversation.

  9. Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    You’re inspiring me…again!

  10. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Oh that’s lovely, Monica. When was the first time? Maybe I can keep that as a talisman for this journey.

  11. Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    Brava Myrna for inviting us along on your journey with the received and the renewed. I’m in!

  12. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Only following in your footsteps, dear Oscar of Between.

  13. Kathryn
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    My dear friend Myrna, Thank you for including me in those who can read your blog. As always, beautifully written but in this case – with all due respect here- only somewhat insightful for me. I certainly understand your need to re-establish, if that is the right word, with your roots, especially considering the quote you post at the end of your email. What I don’t understand is why this has to include an allegiance to an institution as patriarchal as the church, your church, one that not only seems to exclude women from clerical office but whose prayers, as you have stated, are to the father and the son. (Never having been a Christian, I don’t know the gender of the holy ghost.) Cannot one be deeply committed to one’s Ukrainian-ness without adhering to, dare I say advancing by that adherence, the menial position of women? I look forward to more of your blogs to try to understand this.

  14. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Dear Kathryn, at last we are having this conversation, and in public! You certainly ask the big ones, and the Woman Question is right up there for me as well as for you. I will eventually write in response to your queries but it will take a few other posts first, for example the relationship between my “Ukrainianness” and the Orthodox Church. All roads lead first to Byzantium. Please hang in there with me.

  15. Alice Major
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Myrna — I’m looking forward to more posts. I can identify with that sense of returning ‘home’ in church services (though I always want to argue with the sermons).

  16. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    I know what you mean, Alice, homiletics (sermonizing) not being one of today’s Orthodox clergy’s strong points and long a sore point with some of our great, late and lamented theologians. This morning, however, we learned that “God allows but He does not will” in respect to our afflictions and sorrows, they being of our own making in this world. Free will and all that, I guess. And hard to argue with if not exactly comforting. But better that than a God who rains fire and brimstone down upon our unsuspecting heads.

  17. Iris
    Posted July 15, 2017 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Really enjoyed your first post. – You write so well! Where will you take us next?

  18. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Iris. I’ve been writing professionally for(good heavens) 45 years but this is the first time I’m writing without researching first and going on long trips to the Balkans, say, to do interviews, and photocopying 100s of pages from library books. In other words, I’m feeling a little exposed so I’ll probably take you next to somewhere safe for me, say Byzantium. (I wanted to insert a funny image here but don’t know how to do that yet.)

  19. Posted July 15, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Welcome to the world of life blogging… or whatever it is we’re doing as we offer reflections on living wide open to Spirit. May she continue to lead you in a beautiful dance — even if you don’t know all the steps!

  20. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    Yes, Carolyn what is it we are doing? But I’m grateful for the female/feminine company of the (Holy) Spirit. And, of course, of Sophia herself. I’ll probably blog about Her.

  21. Posted July 16, 2017 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Myrna, I look forward to your stories.

  22. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    More to come! And we can exchange some when you come to Edmonton to read your new book of poetry September 12. (Shout out to an old writing friend in Regina.)

  23. Yvonne Panchuk
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Well done, Myrna. It is as honest and transparent as you can be. A brave move.

  24. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Dear Yvonne, thank you for this encouragement. I do hope that the “honesty” and “transparency” I have strived (striven? ) for in my professional work as a fulltime writer will buttress me in this blogging business, which requires – yikes – that one speak in the first person.

  25. RomanYereniuk
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    We often hear about the journies of saints and ascetics in their hagiographic literature but often neglect to hear the journies of common noble brothers and sisters of Orthodoxy. Your journey is one of the latter and for this we are all humbly proud and supportive!

  26. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Well, brother Roman, this is quite a state to aspire to – Orthodox nobility, as it were. I hope that, as my posts are posted, you and others will sustain your support. CIX!

  27. Marie-Louise
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Lovely beginning, Myrna. Welcome to the blogging world.

  28. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Marie-Louise. Your latest post tells us that you have been ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church after a 25-year journey through your childhood Catholic Church. This is a remarkable and deeply moving story that you have also told in your books. As we Ukrainians say: Many years!

  29. Posted July 20, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Myrna, how lovely. I can see it all as I was baptized in the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox faith. I have fond memories. I taught Sunday school and feel very comfortable when I’m in the church of my childhood. I look forward to reading more. xo

  30. admin
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Diana. You speak of the “church of my chldhood” so I am wondering if it is no longer your church, in spite of the fond memories?

  31. Lynda Lange
    Posted July 25, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Dear Myrna,
    As always, you go (and write) where many others fear to tread. This invites us to wake up to things we have pushed aside in our lives (or tried to) and resume some engagement. I write as one who was very involved in the Anglican Church, but found myself very burned by the whole experience. But I am still the same person, and I still feel the same deep attraction to the faith and the liturgy, and this is not tied to any childhood familiarity. Why would I go back?? At the moment, the best I can do is something said by the painter Doris McCarthy (a lifelong Anglican) in her memoirs: ‘I go to church because it holds up for me the ideals that it itself sadly fails to fulfill.’
    I do recognize that there is still much to learn.
    Thank you Myrna for opening this discussion!

  32. admin
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Lynda, for the confidence you have in me – and just one post so far! It will take me some time to figure out who I’m writing for (well, maybe for myself) and who is reading me. For instance, you and I share the same attraction to “faith and liturgy” but your experience of re-entering them is wholly unlike mine (so far). My childhood experience was entirely sensual, if I can put it that way, as I did not understand the spoken and written elements of Liturgy (or very little, once I’d memorized The Lord’s Prayer and The Creed and some hymns in Ukrainian)and in coming back to the Orthodox Church I am struggling to go way past childhood and deep into Logos (you should see my bookshelves). I like Doris’s quip: it takes me right back to the source, i.e. the written Gospels, which precede the Church by a number of generations (and I will eventually say something about the “lost” gospels of the women disciples). TBC, to be sure.

  33. Suzanna
    Posted August 12, 2017 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    I will SOOOOOO enjoy this journey wih you, Myrna. I feel your perspective is one which can ellucidate and give a voice to some of my own queries as I learn more along the road (although some might say, a little further off on the shoulder) to a greater understanding of Ukrainian Orthodoxy. I, for one, look forward to travellong thos one with you!

  34. Posted August 12, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Myrna, I just stumbled upon this.I am happy you are doing this. As you know, I think, i stepped through a door into the part of my life that is Christianity in April. I have a tendonitis so can’t write much, but one thing… As a young feminist I raged against the Church (didn’t grow up in it but radical Christian and Jewish roots fed and consolidated my activism) and eventually left. Now i wonder how to be on this planet and mean what I say about encountering, challenging and having compassion for difference if I can’t share a story, family, and life with people (and actions by those people, contemporary and historical) I sometimes rage against. So I’ve decided to come back to this challenging ‘family’ table.I so look forward to following this blog!

  35. Posted August 12, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    None of us knows what path lies ahead. While in some ways our trails were different – my Ukrainian Greek Orthodox faith was always strong – in other ways they were similar: our Canadian foundations and beliefs were strengthened in Greece.
    My future Greek husband and I met in Canada while staying at St. Andrew’s College, the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox seminary. (Neither of us initially studied theology there, but I did then take it for a year.) My fiance subsequently whisked me away for a life in Greece. There, like you, many of my Canadian convictions, like faith in multiculturalism, were intensified. I was blessed to be able to explore and share them in my professional life as a writer and personal life as an (often founding) member of not-for-profit groups.
    There was no need to further explore Orthodoxy: the whole country lived and breathed it!
    So, here’s wishing you well on your journey – and on your continued telling of it – my friend…

  36. Bohdan Lukie
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    My beloved friend Irene Zabytko put me in touch with your blog and i am happy she did!
    I had the pleasure of your company while I was a pastor at Holy Eucharist Ukr. Cath. Ch. in Toronto – you may not remember me but that’s okay….
    Delighted that you are sharing your “journey of faith” which we all must experience to be true to ourselves… and yes, i do look forward to your personal sharing….
    As of July 2nd, I have celebrated 50 years of priesthood and happily and at times painfully experienced our Ukie church and our Ukie community as we strove to adjust our faith to a modern world and it to our emerging changing Church.
    It’s been a great journey and since i’m only 75, I am anticipating wonderful growth and positive changes in the rest of my life…
    God bless you, Myrna, I have always been a secret fan of yours. Father Bohdan ‘Don’ Lukie

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