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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.

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Ruth McMonagle
Ruth McMonagle

Look forward to reading more.

Carolynd.redl
Carolynd.redl

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.

Heather
Heather

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

Elizabeth Kostash
Elizabeth Kostash

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

Monmen
Monmen

You’re inspiring me…again!

Betsy Warland
Betsy Warland

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

Kathryn
Kathryn
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… Read more »
Alice Major
Alice Major

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).

Iris
Iris

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

Carolyn Pogue
Carolyn Pogue

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!

Anne Campbell
Anne Campbell

Thanks Myrna, I look forward to your stories.

Yvonne Panchuk
Yvonne Panchuk

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

RomanYereniuk
RomanYereniuk

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!

Marie-Louise
Marie-Louise

Lovely beginning, Myrna. Welcome to the blogging world.

Diana Stevan
Diana Stevan

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

Lynda Lange
Lynda Lange
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… Read more »
Suzanna
Suzanna

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!

Julie Salverson
Julie Salverson
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,… Read more »
Kathryn Lukey-Coutsocostas
Kathryn Lukey-Coutsocostas
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,… Read more »
Bohdan Lukie
Bohdan Lukie
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… Read more »
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