From Baltic to the Black Sea #13

Second Day in Kyiv
12 September 1999

Dear All,

Just attended a mass at St Volodymir Cathedral (or St Vladimir’s in Russian) in Kyiv. It’s near my hotel and walked past it every time I go somewhere. It’s also the Mother church of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the frescoes are great works of art.

Walked across the city centre to Lavra – the Cave Monasteries in the southern end of the centre, passing various monuments and public buildings. The Lavra is a spectacular treasure house of not only Eastern Orthodox art but of Black Sea nomadic culture as well. To many Ukrainian or Russian Orthodox believers, this is their Rome, the place where Eastern Orthodoxy took root in lands of the Eastern Slavs – Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians.

Like the devoted pilgrims, I bought a candle and carried it along (lit, of course) the 200 meter walk through the famous cave passageways of the Nearer and Further Caves of the Lavra. In these narrow passages, well preserved bodies of monks and saints were displayed in their glass coffins – the bodies were dressed in rich colourful bishop’s costumes while faces were covered. In each of the coffin, a darkened, mummified hand is exposed. It was touching watching the pilgrims kissing these coffins, in particular, the area of the glass just above the exposed hand. Some raised their little children above the holy relics as if to introduce their loved ones to the ancients, and to seek their blessings.

After that, I visited the other end of the religious spectrum – Museum and Memorial of the Great Patriotic War – the almost godless mega-monument built by the Soviet Government to commemorate WWII. This is a gigantic temple to the legendary individual sacrifice that Communism loudly proclaimed. Amazing exhibits and design. Military music played out through loudspeakers in the entire park. A pity I didn’t understand Russian or Ukrainian. The Afghan War Museum was next to it – the Vietnam of USSR. It’s sad looking at pictures of those young faces – all with their lives ended between 1979 and 1989.

It was a relaxing day. Tomorrow I will do St Sophia again, and St Andrew’s as well. After all, I am in the Vatican of Orthodoxy. And yes, I have a long contact list to deal with.


Wee Cheng

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