30 January 2018
The Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko celebrates the Divine Liturgy inside an abandoned facility once used to develop grain seeds. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
In the current edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz takes us to Ukraine for a look at how the church there is seeking to grow — often under daunting circumstances:
Despite decades of official atheism, Christian symbolism is compellingly strong in central and eastern Ukraine, which is why many are cautious to enter dwellings where Greek Catholics worship: The buildings often lack the proper symbols and icons.
In the 700-strong village of Mala Vilshanka, the Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko...is blessed with two enormous rooms inside an abandoned, run-down Soviet-era facility once used to develop new grain seeds.
He celebrates the sacraments regularly with about a dozen parishioners — although as large a group as half the village comes out on Epiphany to bless water in January — yet the small community “wants something of its own,” he says.
“The parish and I want an appropriate religious atmosphere here,” Father Hrishchenko says. “You don’t want to go to a random café; you want something of your own. But we have no money to build one.”
Still, the parish has the luxury of a separate room for social events and gatherings crucial to building a parish community. Father Hrishchenko uses the space for screening films, putting on plays and inviting guest lecturers to speak on such topics as marriage, ethics and holidays.
“Even though there is the internet and people can instantly access information, it’s more useful to have a ‘human library,’ an expert to talk about the Holy Scripture and other topics,” he says.
The 35-year-old priest also leads another parish in neighboring Bila Tserkva, comprised of some 40 faithful who gather inside a dilapidated Soviet-era household goods store — a brick building with a crumbling façade.
For two years, when he had no car, Father Hrishchenko would take the bus to the village parish and then hitchhike back to the district center in every kind of weather.
Such concessions are necessary when resources are tight. The average Ukrainian monthly salary barely reaches $200, and diminishes as one moves farther away from urban centers.
“It would take 20 or 30 years’ worth of donations to build a church on what we get in our donation boxes, which hardly covers expenses for liturgy — bread, charcoal, candles and wine.”
Read more about how Catholics are Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith in Ukraine in the December 2017 edition of ONE.