Like many if not most Canadians, regardless of ethnicity or religion, I have not been a regular church goer for most of my life. I was so when I was a young boy, mostly because I attended a Catholic school in northern Quebec up until grade 6, and my mother was a typically devout Ukrainian Greek Catholic who made sure that we went to the local Ukrainian church every Sunday. My father, was at best, an agnostic, as in his youth, the social and revolutionary turmoil in Ukraine that he had witnessed had persuaded him that the established religions and their clergy were more inclined to support the reactionary feudal aristocracy than the well-being of the Ukrainian peasantry.
Frankly, at that young age, religion was to me rather incomprehensible, and most of the services, language, rituals and practices were a chore to be endured rather than appreciated. My brother and I eventually became altar boys because we figured out that it at least involved doing some interesting things rather than squirming on the church benches for the hour and a half that mass usually took. You got to ring the chimes, keep the incense burning for the priest, occasionally surreptitiously steal a sip of sacramental wine and assist in the various prescribed duties that made the time go by much quicker.
Throughout my teens, I rarely went to church because we had by that time moved to a farm where the circumstances, workload and demands, were such as to make churchgoing difficult. We lived a good distance from the nearest Ukrainian church, so our forays thereto were restricted to the major feast days, and for special events like weddings, christenings and funerals.
As I moved into adulthood, this became even rarer, as by that time, my prolific reading and research into history and philosophy had made me increasingly skeptical of much what I had been indoctrinated with by the Catholic establishment. I was enamored of the scientific method and was much attracted to the logic of existential philosophy. To me, most of the conventional religious beliefs and practices seemed reactionary and out of step with the rapid changes that the twentieth century was imposing on technology, society, politics and values.
For most of my adult life, my interactions with religion were mostly relegated to traditional holiday services and the need to still somehow commemorate the standard life milestones surrounding birth, death and marriage. I should add that I had always appreciated the aesthetic aspects of Ukrainian church services – the sacred music, the choral accompaniment to all the services, the icons, the byzantine art, and the richness of the highly mystical rituals that made up the church calendar. However, I found a lot of the teachings and dogma at odds with my own growing understanding about, as one writer put it, “life, the universe and everything!” In any case, between the demands of having kids, fashioning a career and dealing with the increasing complexities of life, spiritual enlightenment was relegated to the back burner for many decades.
It has only been in the past decade or so that I have been drawn to devote more of my time and interest towards dealing with the spiritual dimension of my existence. I became involved with the local Ukrainian Orthodox parish here in Oshawa and was encouraged by its sympathetic and learned priest to pursue my quest for a deeper understanding of the spiritual dimension of my being and to try and gain a better understanding of what “God” is.
As I soon discovered, this is not an easy quest. When it comes to religion, it seems that for every question that is answered, two new ones immediately spring up. Further, there are too many accepted, “self-evident” truths, that to me are not self-evident at all. And the reality is that there are many lines of inquiry that the clergy simply view as being outside the bounds of discussion. These include amongst other things, the infallibility and immutability of the Bible as the word of God, the accumulated teachings of two thousand years of church fathers and saints, the role of women in the clergy, and the need to endlessly praise and glorify a perfect God, whom one would think, being perfect, would consider such typical human vanities as praise or glory, to be either unnecessary or a rather unproductive investment of a believer’s time and energy.
Be that as it may, I am driven to continue the exploration of my inner being. There are few things of which I am completely certain. I am convinced that I am more than just a physical being, that I have a soul or spiritual dimension. I am convinced that there is a “God” or universal life and spiritual force from which we spring and which unites all living things. I am convinced that there are moral absolutes and that good and evil both exist.
Everything else that we consider religion or theology can and should be examined and questioned on an ongoing basis, as they are creations of man and not God, and as we all know, we humans are very fallible. As our knowledge and understanding of the universe grows and our civilization evolves (hopefully) towards a higher plane of existence, our cumulative wisdom should be applied towards our spiritual growth as well. The development of religious truth and knowledge did not stop two thousand years ago with the death of Jesus Christ, or with the declarations of the first or second councils of Nicaea. Religious belief is not incompatible with change or evolution. Regrettably, the churches have for far too long been mired in the past, and have become almost completely resistant to change of any kind. It is time perhaps for a new twenty first century Reformation.