Through much of this winter, Canadians have followed closely the news from Ukraine: the disputed election, the growing tensions in its relationship with Moscow and the deep cultural divide between its eastern and western regions. Thanks to the events of the �Orange Revolution,� we know a lot now about the country's political struggles.
But what of its spiritual struggles?
That's the subject of A Church In Two Worlds, a documentary making its national television premiere on VisionTV . The hour-long film traces the fall and rise of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and reveals the small part that one Canadian man has played in its revival.A Church in Two Worlds airs on Tuesday, April 19 at 10 p.m. ET.
Filmed in both Canada and Ukraine, it combines present-day interviews with rare archival footage.
On a summer's day in 1958, Jerry Sywanyk of Saskatoon, Sask. received a phone call from one of his sisters back home in Markova, a tiny Ukrainian farming community on the edge of the Carpathians. Their village church, Blessed Mary, had burned to the ground early that morning. Communist authorities had shut down the church more than a decade ago, but villagers still worshipped there in secret � until someone informed the KGB. Four decades later, Sywanyk would help to raise a new church from the ashes.
The story of Blessed Mary Church is the history of Ukrainian Catholicism in microcosm.
That history begins in 1596, with a decision by the majority of Ukrainian bishops to break with the Eastern Orthodox Church and enter into union with Rome. (To this day, the country's Christian population is split between Catholic and Orthodox.)
By the early 18th century the Ukrainian Catholic Church was under attack from Russian czar Peter the Great, who recognized the institution as a threat to his power; it would remain embattled for decades to come.
The Church was instrumental in fanning the flames of a Ukrainian nationalist movement in the late 19th century. But its fortunes waned again with the Soviet occupation of western Ukraine in 1939. After the Second World War, Stalin launched a campaign to liquidate Catholicism. The authorities arrested bishops and priests, many of whom were either killed outright or shipped to Siberia. Churches were destroyed or converted to other uses. One monastery became an insane asylum, and its chapel turned into a washroom for inmates.
But Ukrainian Catholicism survived even these assaults. Priests who managed to escape arrest went underground, conducting services secretly. Worshipers diligently concealed their activities from the authorities. Such acts of defiance kept the Church alive until the fall of Communism allowed Catholics to practice their faith openly once again.
In Markova, villagers worshiped at a small, makeshift chapel after Blessed Mary was burned. When the country gained its independence in 1991, they began to talk of building a new church. And Jerry Sywanyk, one of an estimated 175,000 Ukrainian Catholics now living in Canada, made up his mind to help. He spearheaded a fundraising effort in Saskatchewan that collected $13,000 in donations to support the project.
The villagers of Markova built their new church from brick. It will not burn again.
A Church in Two Worlds was written and directed by Carrie May Siggins. Gerald B. Sperling produced for Regina, Sask.-based 4 Square Productions, in association with VisionTV.