Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church

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Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, Chicago, IL.

Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church, which is adorned with golden domes and a mosaic above the entrance depicting the Christianization of Ukraine, establishes a small segment of Ukraine on American soil.

From the very beginning, St. Volodymyr and Olha Parish was a bastion of the Ukrainian community in the United States. The church is one of the landmarks of Chicago's Ukrainian Village, an historic district in northwest central Chicago.

A view of the stained glass windows in the southern apse inside Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Chicago was founded in 1968 by Patriarch Josyf Slipyj and the bishop of the Eparchy of Chicago, Yaroslav Gabro. Among the reasons for establishing this distinct parish was the desire to preserve and faithfully adhere to the traditions of the Ukrainian Church. The elements contributing to the Ukrainian Church's distinctiveness within the Universal Catholic Church are the Julian Calendar, a traditional liturgy, as well as a rich ethnic spiritual heritage.

Construction of the new church was completed between 1971 and 1973. Architect Yaroslav Korsunsky of Minneapolis designed the church, employing the Byzantine-Ukrainian style of 11-13th century Ukraine. Churches of this style are traditionally cruciform, with the altar facing to the East. The rounded gold dome, along with a strong preference for circular patterns—avoiding almost all angular design elements—is also typical of this style.

Members of the parish are proud of the fact that the Patriarch Josyf Slipyj was involved in all significant events of the parish's development. Besides establishing the parish, Patriarch Josyf blessed the cornerstone of the church and subsequently, in 1973, blessed the church itself. The reason for the parishioners' pride has to do with the Patriarch's position in the Catholic Church as a Confessor for the Faith. In 1945, Patriarch Slipyj was arrested by the Soviet authorities and held prisoner in Siberian labor camps for 18 years. Through the intervention of Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy, Patriarch Slipyj was released from Siberian imprisonment in 1963.

Taking the lead from his predecessor Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky (from 1944), as well as the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, Josyf Slipyj worked to restore self-government to the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the form of a Patriarchate. In 1965, Patriarch Slipyj was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.

Origins of the Ukrainian Church[edit]

In the early stages of the Church’s development, diverse Christian communities gave rise to what is commonly called “Rites”. Byzantium (Constantinople) gave rise to the Byzantine Rite. It was this Rite which was adopted in 988 by Volodymyr, the Grand Duke of Kyiv when he decided to make Christianity the official religion of his realm. Christianity, however, was preached in Ukraine before Volodymyr's time. His grandmother, Olha (+969) for example, became a Christian in her adult years and was later canonized. The parish is named in honor of these two great saints of Ukraine.

The term ”Rite” does not only refer to external rituals. The Ukrainian Church is not only different from the Roman Church in her liturgy, but also in her spirituality, theological emphases, and canonical discipline. The Byzantine-Ukrainian Rite is characterized by its distinct approach to public and private prayer (spirituality), greater emphasis on the divinity of Christ (theology), and a tradition of a married clergy (canonical discipline).

Use of Icons and Religious Art[edit]

Among the most visible distinctive elements of the Rite are church art, architecture, music, and liturgy. Iconography is the term used when speaking of the paintings in the church. Since they are not painted for the sake of decoration or simple aesthetic pleasure, they are not ordinary paintings. Rather, they are images (icon in Greek means image) of the world transfigured by the power of God. Viewers often note the abstract nature of icons. This abstraction is usually an attempt to represent the otherness of the transfigured universe.

The angles drawn in the background of iconographic scenes illustrate how perspective and proportions are changed for the sake of spiritual emphasis. Frequently, elements of the background such as furniture, mountains, or the contours of secondary figures, are drawn in such a way as to point to the central character of the icon. Through this effect, the eyes of the worshipper are attracted to that which is spiritually most important in the icon.

Also, icons are meant to be contemplated—used as modes of communion with God and His saints. Thus, the eyes of those depicted on icons are proportionately larger than ordinary human eyes. They are indeed meant to be looked into. But Orthodox Catholics do not worship icons. Rather, the reverence shown towards them is directed to the figures depicted. Iconography is also a kind of language. Thus, certain elements have specific meanings. The colors employed are meant to convey a message. For example, Christ is portrayed in a burgundy robe covered by another blue robe. Burgundy here denotes royalty and by extension divinity, while blue symbolizes humanity. Jesus is God before all ages, thus the burgundy undergarment. In His nativity, however, Jesus takes on humanity; thus, the blue outer garment. With the Mother of God it is just the opposite. Mary is a human (blue undergarment), who takes on divinity in bearing the Son of God (burgundy outer garment).

The iconostas, or icon-screen, is also a distinctive element of Eastern-Rite churches. It reminds us that the area around the altar is the Holy of Holies. But although the iconostas separates, it also unites, for the icons placed therein unite the worshipper with God. Here again placement has definite symbolism. The four evangelists are depicted on the central doors ("royal gates"); over the gates we see the Last Supper. Thus, it is through the Gospel and participation in the Eucharistic life of the Church that we enter the Kingdom of God. Also on the iconostas are St. Nicholas, St. John the Baptist, as well as St. Volodymyr and Saint Olha. Behind the Royal Gates the altar faces east toward the rising sun that is Jesus, whose resurrection is depicted in the domed background. It is from the altar that the priests and the people unite to praise the mighty Lord.

The wooden frame of the iconostas was hand-carved from oak by Paul Mozes of New York. The icons are the work of Ivan Dykyj. The stained glass windows are the work of Yaroslaw Baransky of Yonkers, New York. The windows in the southern apse portray the Protection of the Mother of God, flanked by Saint Volodymyr and Saint Olha. The windows in the northern apse portray some of the patron saints of Ukraine: Saint Andrew the Apostle, who first came to Ukraine to proclaim the word of God, Saint George (Yuriy) the Conqueror, and Saint Michael the Archangel.

Placement also conveys a message. Icons are not placed haphazardly throughout the church, rather, their placement follows a definite scheme. In the dome, which represents heaven, we see Christ the Pantocrator (the Creator of all). Descending, we see the events of salvation history, until finally near ground level, we find ourselves in the company of our forbearers- the saints. This suggests that that the church is the union of heaven and earth as well as the past and the present. The crucifixion is portrayed in the northern apse, while in the southern apse we see the events leading to the resurrection. This placement emphasizes that there are two aspects to a single reality.

Ukrainian Cultural Center[edit]

The Ukrainian Cultural Center at Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Parish was founded by people whose vision included the needs of the entire church community, as well as future generations of Ukrainian-Americans. The construction of this complex was completed in 1988. In commemoration of the Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine, a memorial statue of Sts. Prince Volodymyr and Princess Olha was constructed next to the Cultural Center in 1989.

Various parish-related organizations as well as art associations, scientific organizations, and professional and national groups use the Cultural Center. Most notable among these are the "Hromovytsia", "Ukrainian School of Dance", the "Ukrainian Catholic University", representatives of the "Ukrainian Congressional Committee of America", and scientific organizations such as the "The Ukrainian Encyclopedia", the "Ukrainian Medical Association" and others. Various receptions and events are regularly held in the Cultural Center for the Ukrainian community.

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