Here you can find a selection of Fr. Bohdan's writings. "From Pastoral Life" includes articles written for the Visnyk/Herald, the newspaper of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, as well as other Church and secular newspapers and magazines. "Against the Current" contains articles written especially for teens and young adults. Feel free to reprint any of the articles for use in Church bulletins or other edifying uses with attribution.
The Church I Don’t Attend
by Fr. Bohdan Hladio
There’s a story told about an older Ukrainian man – let’s call him “Mykola” – who, while on a cruise, is shipwrecked and finds himself alone on a deserted island. Being a carpenter by trade, and having nothing but his tools and a virgin forest at hand, he begins constructing a village. He builds houses, stores, a municipal building, etc.
After twenty years alone on the island an exploration party finds Mykola, and the sailors ask him what he’s been doing since he was shipwrecked. Mykola takes them to the interior of the island and shows them the village he’s constructed.
“This is amazing”, the captain says. “You’ve got everything – houses, stores, a government office, everything! But I see you’ve built two churches – why two?”
“This one”, Mykola says, pointing to the one on the left, “is my church.”
“The one over there” he says, pointing to the other side of the village, “is the one I wouldn’t be caught dead in!”
As the Ukrainian saying goes, “there’s no fable without a moral.” Not being stranded on a desert island, it’s amazing how much some of us, and some of our congregations, resemble Mykola.
Imagine this: You’re in the middle of the prairies. There are two small Orthodox Churches, St. Mary’s and St. John’s, served by the same priest, under the same bishop, within walking distance of the house of Mr. A, who’s got another 5 churches served by the same priest within easy driving distance. Mr. A only attends services three times a year, when services are held at St. Mary’s.
“Why?“ we ask.
“Because I belong to St. Mary’s”, he answers.
“But if you were willing to drive to Liturgy as far as you drive to get coffee every morning you’d be able to attend Liturgy almost every Sunday, not just three times a year”, we observe.
“No”, he says. “I only attend services in my own Church!!!”
Or this: It’s a big city. There are 5 Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, all of them struggling financially and demographically. The opportunity exists to start a common youth group so that rather than two children here and a handful there a critical mass of youth can be gathered in order to have the opportunity to get to know each other, develop friendships, etc. But the idea is dismissed by local parish leadership. “We don’t want our children hanging out with ‘them’”, they say, “because they’re too . . . . “ (English, Ukrainian, Canadian, pious, secular, you fill in the blank).
Or this: young F., who has been very active in her parish throughout her high school years, goes away to University. Though she is studying in a city with a large and active Ukrainian Orthodox community she never once throughout her 4 years of study darkens the door of the Church there. When asked why she says “This isn’t my Church. My church is back home.”
The examples are endless. The common attitude manifested in all of them is one of unhealthy, unchristian congregationalism. Theologically it’s a heresy against the doctrine of the Church. At every Liturgy (and if we’re pious, every day in our prayers) we say “I believe in one, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”. But it seems that for a lot of people this is just so much hot air.
Besides the theological problem there’s a practical problem which is no less troublesome. In limiting my support and allegiance to only “my” congregation, I limit my ability to positively influence the life of the Church as a whole. This positive influence has two concrete manifestations – the material and the moral.
Materially, if I am attending services often and (if I belong to a smaller or rural parish) at various congregations I will be able to contribute more fully from both my financial resources and my labour and talents.
Morally, just being present at Liturgy is a great support to every congregation. What’s one of the first things we hear when we ask someone “how were things at Church today?” “Very nice. Attendance was good”. A full Church makes everyone feel good – and guests make us feel even better.
The Church is the body of Christ (cf. Rom 12:4, I Cor. 12:27, 12:13, etc.). In claiming that they “don’t belong” to parish A or parish B the person who refuses to attend services there when they easily can is really saying “I don’t care about the Church. I neither feel myself to be, nor care about being a member of the body of Christ. I don’t need to worship. I don’t need the sacraments. I don’t want the Orthodox Church on God’s terms - I’m in it for myself!” Such an attitude spells death: spiritual death for individuals and material death for congregations.
We live in a time and in a place where unhealthy congregationalism is a real danger. Virtually all of our congregations are struggling in one way or another. If we fail to realize that we are all in this together, that we truly do belong to one Church notwithstanding our own particular linguistic, ethnic, cultural or political inclinations, and that we need to support and help each other, we might end up worse off than Mykola. He, after all, had a Church he didn’t attend. We, or our children, might end up wanting to go to Church, but having no Church to attend at all.