On a recent trip to Kiev, in the Ukraine, we were blessed to visit some of the world’s most beautiful churches and to be granted an audience with His Holiness Patriarch Filaret (more on that inspiring visit later in this report).
Kiev is unparalleled in Springtime. Although some of the churches were torn down during the Soviet era, many – such as St. Michael’s – have been rebuilt and stand gloriously, a blessing to one and all. The Sophia Church, which became a museum in that era, is still a museum to this day. Based on the Hagia Sophia, it includes a tower from which one can survey the entire town.The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, or Kiev Monastery of the Caves, had also been converted into a museum in 1928, but was restored in 1995, after Ukraine recovered its independence, and consecrated in 2000. A visit offers a transcendent experience. Just arriving there involves stepping down beautiful cobblestones and through arched gateways of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over 100 monks are in residence at the monastary, and it is possible to request their intercessionary prayers on behalf of those dear to you (even if you’re not an Orthodox Christian, the monks can still choose to pray for you in private). The caves have no electricity; you light your own way with long, thin beeswax candle that has a beautiful honeyed fragrance. This candle is suspended between the index and second finger of your hand as you walk, palm up, through the cave. There in the catacombs, numerous (some say 73, others say 100) saints lie in their glass caskets, preserved supernaturally. One of the most popular is St. Damian the Priest and Healer (in the near caves). While the saints are mostly covered in ornate blankets, some of their hands are visible. Note: No photography, and you’ll be moved along by priests if you linger for too long in any given location. Women, be advised to wear a scarf and dress in a skirt that falls below the knee.
While there, our Center Director (who was traveling there on other work) had the rare honor of an audience with His Holiness Filaret, Patriarch of The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyivan Patriarchate. He was very generous with his time, and we had the joy to discuss theological concepts for a good while, including our hope in Christ, our eventual bodily resurrection, and how we can talk to those whom we have loved and lost, through God. There’d been a loss in the family, and the ability to discuss these topics, and the blessing he bestowed, brought a deep sense of peace and gratitude. His Holiness Filaret noted that he’d visited the United States a total of thirty times so far. Imagine that!
On a pilgrimage to Ukraine, one can sense the presence of Mary, who is a patroness, and St. Vladimir. Relics from St. Barbara, once housed at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery were taken to another church when St. Michael’s was demolished, and are now housed there permanently. A portion of the relics were brought to the United States by His Holiness Patriarch Filaret in 2012, and are venerated at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Bloomingdale, Illinois.