A recent trip to Moscow and St Petersburg was eye-opening and a bit mind-boggling. The majestic palaces beautifully restored from the imperial centuries, the huge museums that house old European and Russian art treasures, and the onion-domed cathedrals that strain at the seams with stunning icons and mosaics – each one in itself a cultural and visual feast.
I was taken by the beauty of the many cathedrals and churches. Despite the tourists there was a tangible sense of the holy about many of them as the Russian faithful venerated their crucifixes and icons and images, and appeared indifferent to and un -distracted by the crowds around them.
The holy places I know best are churches. They stand silently available in city and town throughout the land. They are there for those who want to connect to something deep that’s valued by the local faith community. They are also there so we can connect to those who have crossed the divide of death.
A young woman once told me she was unable to come to church the Sunday after her elderly mother’s funeral. Instead, she dropped into the church another day to light a candle. The flickering candle can feel immeasurably powerful and healing compared to anything else.
Is there something deep in our corporate and individual memories that pre-disposes us to connect with ‘something more’ when we kneel before a little candle in a darkened church? Many churches stay open all day, especially in Ireland, so people can wander in and loiter and be the recipients of an unspoken welcome.
It’s one thing to find one’s way into an empty church during the week and sense the presence of generations gone before us. To enter the same church on Sunday for the living community Eucharist can offer a true sense of belonging. People sense the need to connect and belong to the Sacred.
Liturgy works well when it’s not too relaxed and not too formal. It doesn’t work well when it’s too long and too wordy. People want space to find God.
Fr. QQ 08/15/17