Dormition Church of Lviv (церква Успіння Львіва)

I originally intended this post to be part of my 2022 April A to Z series on Ukrainian history and culture, but I stuffed it into the drafts folder because I couldn’t find enough information about the church’s history, artwork, and architecture for a substantial, detailed post. Yet again, I didn’t allow myself any time to work on a post about my radical rewrite of The Very Last, so here’s that bonus A to Z post.

New additions are in bold.

Copyright Konstantin Brizhnichenko

Throughout history, Lviv’s Dormition Church has had four incarnations. The first, probably constructed during the High Middle Ages, was burnt in 1340 when Polish feudal lords attacked the city. Church #2, built of bricks and first mentioned in 1421, was destroyed in 1527 when a great fire swept through Lviv. Peter the Italian, an architect from Lugano who became a citizen of Lviv, rebuilt the church from 1547–59. Alas, the third church fell victim to another fire in 1571.

The Chapel of the Three Saints was built nearby from 1578–91, and the Italian architect Pietro of Barbona rebuilt the Kornyakt Tower, which had collapsed in 1570. Both of these structures were joined by a fourth church which was constructed from 1591–1629 by Paolo Dominici Romanus, Wojciech Kapinos, and Ambrosiy Prykhylnyy. The ikons were painted by Mykola Petrakhnovych-Morakhovskyy and Fedir Senkovych.

Copyright xiquinhosilva

Many people financed the construction, primarily Moldovan rulers (both male and female). It was originally built of brick, but midway through construction of the walls, the Assumption Brotherhood replaced it with hewn stone. The church was consecrated on 26 January 1631 by Lviv Bishop Yeremiya Tissarovskyy and Kyiv Archimandrite Petro Mohyla.

On 3 January 1584, prior to the start of construction on the fourth church, the Catholic Archbishop of Lviv, Jan Dymitr Solikowski, attacked the existing church. He expelled congregants, scorned the priest and ignored his authority, and sealed the church.

And what was the unspeakable crime committed by the Orthodox faithful? Not adopting the Gregorian calendar and continuing to use the Julian calendar, which was ten days behind by the 16th century, on account of a never-corrected error from the Council of Nicaea.

This intolerant archbishop also forbade Ukrainians from ringing church bells on their own holiday dates and attacked the Church of the Epiphany that same year of 1584.

Copyright xiquinhosilva

In the 18th century, noblewoman Feodosiya Strilbytska, wife of parish priest Oleksiy Strilbytskyy, donated 6,000 złotych to the church. Out of gratitude, a painting of her was put on display. It’s now in the Lviv National Gallery of Arts.

Yet another fire damaged the church in 1779, and it was rebuilt in 1796 with a few changes. Perhaps surprisingly, given the era, it was beautified with stained glass windows designed by Petro Ivanovych Kholodnyy in 1926–27. Though Soviet rule was atheist, Stalin hadn’t yet risen to full, unquestioned power and begun cracking down on the use of non-Russian national languages and cultures. During the 1920s, national expression flourished in republics which had long been under the heel of enforced Russification.

Copyright Швітланьо (Shvitlano)

Copyright Aeou

Lviv artists Kostyantyn and Yakiv Kulchytskyy carved the coats of arms of donors Simeon and Iyeremiya Mohyla above the northern and southern doors.

Some of the ikons in the ikonostasis have been with the church since the fourth iteration opened in the 1630s. The most valuable are from the Passion Cycle, made by Fedir Senkovych and Mykola Petrakhnovych-Morakhovskyy.

Copyright Alexander Skrypnyk

The church was restored and repaired from 1965–73.

The Lviv Assumption Brotherhood, the non-clerical Ukrainian Orthodoxy fraternity who founded the church, remains active to this day. Members patronize the Sunday school, care for the building’s upkeep, and organize the cultural and spiritual life of the church.

Copyright Kugel at WikiCommons

Copyright Oleksandr Kaktus

On 29 November 1989, the church came under jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Sunday school began in 2008, with three age groups, and a children’s choir was formed in 2012.

Copyright Ivan Sedlovskyi

Copyright Ivan Sedlovskyi

The Peresopnytskye Gospel (Пересопницьке Євангеліє)

The illuminated Peresopnytskye Gospel was written in Old Ukrainian from 15 August 1556–29 August 1561 by nobleman Mykhailo Vasilevich of Sanok (son of the town’s archpriest) and Archimandrite Hryhoriy. This translation of the Gospels, one of the very first into Ukrainian, was funded and requested by Princess Anastasiya Yuriyivna Zaslavska, her daughter Princess Yevdokiya Chortoryyska, and her son-in-law Prince Ivan Fyodorovych Chortoryyskyy.

Work was begun in the Butler’s Monastery of the Zaslavskyy Princes at the Church of the Holy Trinity in the village of Dvirets. It was completed at Peresopnytsya Monastery of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in the village of Peresopnytsya.

Art critic and historian Lev Andriyovych Skop (b. 1954) believes the illuminations were done by painter Feodosiy (Fedusko) of Sambir.

The book was kept in the Peresopnytsya Monastery for many decades, though its whereabouts from 1600–1701 are unknown. Then, on 16 April 1701, Hetman Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa (the highest-ranking military officer of the Cossack hetmanate) presented it to the Pereyaslav Cathedral.

From 1799 on, it was kept in the archives of the Pereyaslav seminary library, where it was discovered in 1837 by writer and historian Osip Maksimovich Bodyanskiy. Mr. Bodyanskiy, one of the very first serious scholars of the Ukrainian language and a former student of the Pereyaslav Theological Seminary, was delighted to find this beautiful, valuable old book, and wrote an essay about it. His essay reintroduced the book to the general public and scholarly community.

Ukraine’s national writer Taras Hryhoriyovych Shevchenko wrote articles about the book in his archaeological notes of 1845 and 1846, and several other writers also studied it.

When the Pereyaslav seminary relocated to Poltava in 1862, the Peresopnytskye Gospel went along with them and found a new home in the Poltava Theological Seminary. During the early 20th century, it was stored and studied in the Poltava Ancient Warehouse and the Poltava Museum of Local Lore. In 1940, it found its way to the Poltava Art Museum.

After the Nazi invasion of June 1941, the Peresopnytskye Gospel and all the other irreplaceable treasures of the art museum were evacuated to safety in Siberia. When the war ended, the book was given to Kyiv Pecherska Lavra, a huge museum complex on the grounds of a former monastery.

On 24 December 1947, it was taken to the library of the USSR Academy of Sciences (now the Vernadskyy National Library of Ukraine, part of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine).

Monument of Mykhailo Vasilevich of Sanok and Archimandrite Hryhoriy in Peresopnytsya, Copyright Bulka UA

The Peresopnytskye Gospel was translated from an 11th century Church Slavonic edition from Bulgaria, which has a foreword by Archbishop Theophylact. While the Old Ukrainian translations of Matthew, Mark, and the foreword stay fairly close to the original Church Slavonic, Luke and John are increasingly closer to vernacular. However, linguists differ on whether the entire translation is “almost purely vernacular in its own language” or “a rather moderate Ukrainianization of the Gospel text.”

Very helpfully, the text provides translations of Old Slavic words which wouldn’t have been easily understood by many people of a later era. There are also definitions and explanations of Ukrainian words. Some Old Slavic and Greek words are left untranslated, but they too have definitions in the margins or right above the words in question.

Since Ukraine won her hard-earned independence in 1991, the book has been used for the swearing-in of the president, alongside the constitution and the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine.

Copyright President.gov.ua under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

Oleksiy Oleksandrovych Glagolev (Олексій Олександрович Глаголєв)

Oleksiy Oleksandrovych Glagolev (2 July 1901–23 January 1972) was one of three children born to Father Oleksandr Oleksandrovych Glagolev and Zinayida Petrovna Glagoleva (née Slesarevskaya). His maternal grandfather was head of the Kyiv Theological Academy’s library.

Oleksiy graduated with honors from Kyiv’s renowned Third Gymnasium, and attended Kyiv Theological Academy from 1919–23. Though religious schools had been closed by the Bolsheviks, this school nevertheless continued to function informally.

In 1926, Oleksiy married Tetyana Pavlivna Bulashevich, the daughter of a sugar plant owner. They had three kids—Magdalina (b. 1926), Mykola (b. 1928), and Mariya (b. 1943). It stands to reason that Mariya was a late-life surprise!

Copyright Половко Сергей Николаевич (Polovko Sergey Nikolayevich)

On 7 May 1932, Oleksiy was arrested on charges of counterrevolutionary activity but released a week later due to lack of evidence. However, he was branded the son of a “cult minister” and thus disenfranchised. To make money, Oleksiy first found employment as a concrete worker, then as guard for the nursery school of a jam factory.

In 1936, Oleksiy entered the Kyiv Pedagogical Institute, studying math and physics. After his 1940 graduation, he went to Georgia to secretly accept priesthood in the Georgian Orthodox Church, but refused at the last minute. Though they shared the same faith, their national churches were different, and Oleksiy was confident that someday soon the Georgian church would have their own bishops.

In 1941, shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Oleksiy was ordained in his own country and served in the Church of the Intercession in Kyiv. 

Church of the Intercession in Kyiv, Copyright Posterrr

During the war, Father Oleksiy and his family (nine people in total) risked their lives to rescue Jews by providing false documents and hiding people in their own homes and in church buildings. Father Oleksiy’s wife Tetyana also gave a woman her own passport with a new photo, which almost cost her her life. It was a miracle the Gestapo didn’t arrest her.

The Glagolevs also rescued a Russian Red Army lieutenant colonel, his wife, and their six kids. Tetyana was pregnant with her surprise third child at this time, and she and everyone in her family would’ve been murdered had they been caught. Despite the huge personal danger, the family continued to shelter people and provide phony papers.

In autumn 1943, Father Oleksiy was arrested by the Nazis, beaten up twice, and deported to Germany with his son Mykola. Miraculously, they were able to escape and come home. 

Church of the Exaltation of the Cross in Kyiv, Copyright Thez

After the war, upon the urging of fellow clergy, Father Oleksiy wrote a detailed letter about his rescue of Jews to Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchëv, then First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He continued serving in the Church of the Intercession until its 1960 closure, and then moved to the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross and the Florov Monastery.

During Father Oleksiy’s five final years, he served in the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Solomyanka. The brutal beatings from the Nazis had a lasting impact on his health, and caused a long, serious illness at the end of his life, requiring several operations.

Father Oleksiy doubtless got his courage and righteousness from the example of his father Oleksandr (seen above), who was also a priest. In 1905, he strongly protested against the bloody pogroms in Kyiv (putting his own life and safety on the line), and in 1909 published an article strongly condemning antisemitism in the Church.

During the 1913 blood libel trial of Menachem Mendel Beilis, he was a key expert witness for the defence, explaining why the consumption and spilling of blood are contrary to Jewish Law. Father Oleksandr also regularly helped poor and needy Jews and Muslims in Kyiv, not just other Christians.

Sadly, he was arrested by the NKVD on 20 October 1937 and was tortured to death in prison on 25 November.

In 1991, Yad Vashem honored Father Oleksiy and his wife Tetyana as Righteous Among the Nations. Seven other members of the Glagolev family received the honor in 1992—their older daughter Magdalyna; Father Oleksiy’s brother Serhiy and his wife Mariya; Mariya’s sisters Klavdiya and Tetyana; Serhiy’s mother-in-law Oleksandra Yehorycheva; and Oleksandra’s brother Hryhoriy Maslennikov. Father Oleksiy’s son Mykola was honored in 2000.

Serhiy and Mariya’s daughter Zoya is currently recognized as a righteous person of Ukraine, but hasn’t gotten the honor from Yad Vashem yet.

Reading The Divine Comedy as a non-Christian

Though Dante intended his magnum opus as primarily the story of his spiritual reformation and redemption, and presumed most of his readers would be Christians or future converts, you truly don’t have to share that religion to enjoy it. Many of the themes and lessons can be interpreted in alternate ways, just as Krishna famously tells Arjuna there are many different names and faces for God, and paths to her/him, but none are wrong, so long as one has a pure, devout heart and soul.

However, despite Dante treating righteous non-Christians very respectfully, struggling with his era’s teaching that only baptised Christians could attain Paradise, avoiding antisemitic tropes about Hell, and saving a few so-called pagans, there are certain things which are still a challenge to read. This isn’t a reflection on Dante, but rather my own background. Life gives all of us a different frame of reference based on so many things, religion included.

My family background and my own personal religious history are too complicated and private to get into here, but the most pertinent thing to know is that I’ve been living a Jewish life since I was eighteen, after years of longing to reclaim my spiritual birthright. The religions I feel closest to after my own are Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Jainism.

Theologically, Judaism is closest to Islam. They were even closer before Prophet Mohammad got pissed off that more Jews weren’t converting, and changed things like how many times a day one should pray (from three to five). Again theologically speaking, Judaism and Christianity are like oil and water. So many important things radically contradict one another; e.g., Jews don’t believe in Original Sin or the divinity of Jesus.

This is a topic for another post, but suffice it to say, interfaith relations weren’t very good until about 1950. At the heart of the antisemitism which culminated in the Shoah was the deicide charge. And while I’m really glad the only Jews depicted in Inferno are Judas and Caiaphas, thus avoiding grotesque stereotypes and slanders, it’s hard to not be bothered by the deicide charge in Paradiso VII. There’s also this tercet in Paradiso V:

“If evil covetousness cries out to you,
be men, and not foolish sheep,
so that the Jew among you does not laugh!”

YIKES!

Intellectually, I can explain and contextualise these statements to take some of the sting off. Dante cannot be divorced from his time and place, no matter how modern and relevant he feels in many ways. He also believed other things we now know to be false, like the Donation of Constantine and Prophet Mohammad originally being a Christian, since there was no widely-available information debunking these claims.

And compared to many other Medieval writings (e.g., the Prioress’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales, the chilling end of The Song of Roland), this is really tame. Out of 14,233 lines, these comments are a tiny drop in the bucket. Dante also questions why, if Christian doctrine says the Crucifixion was necessary, the Second Temple then had to be destroyed and the Jewish people forced into Diaspora.

But emotionally and personally, it’s really hard to read that, knowing the deicide charge formed the basis of almost 2,000 years of horrific antisemitism in Europe, and that even those few seemingly off-handed comments were part of a much larger picture that really added up.

Judaism and Christianity also radically differ on the subject of the Pharisees, who are mentioned in a negative light in the Commedia. Though all evidence from multiple sources attests to Pharisaic beliefs and practices forming the basis of post-Temple Judaism, and indeed being the very reason we were able to survive the loss of the Second Temple, their reputation in Christianity is far different.

Long story short, each of the four Gospels is successively less Jewish and more Christian in character. As time progressed, the two faiths diverged more and more, and it became obvious there weren’t as many Jewish converts as hoped for. Thus, it was felt necessary to draw strong lines between the two traditions and seek converts from other populations.

Judaism has no concept of Limbo. While there are many conflicting views on the afterlife, who goes where, if very wicked souls stay forever in Hell, whether Gehenna or Sheol is the place for the worst sinners, and what exactly all these places are like, one thing everyone does agree one is that the righteous of all nations have a place in HaOlam HaBa, the World to Come. We don’t believe only our people can attain Paradise.

Dante heavily leans towards this view too, as he struggles all through the poem with the idea that only baptised Christians (plus the righteous people of the Bible) are worthy of Paradise. What about people who live in places like India, where Christianity had no presence, or who lived before Jesus, like his dear Virgil? Indeed, he saves a few so-called pagans (Cato, Trajan, Statius, Ripheus the Trojan), and depicts a few Muslims among the righteous in Limbo.

He also says many people of other faiths, or of no faith, are closer to God than actual baptised Christians.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s prayer to Mary, which opens Paradiso XXXIII, is pure beauty, power, emotion, and devotion. Remembering back to Inferno II, Mary is the one who ultimately set Dante’s journey in motion. And given that Dante lost his mother when he was five or six years old, it’s easy to understand why he felt such devotion to Mary.

Despite not being Christian myself, I’m very moved by the image of Mary as a loving, universal mother figure. Many people who lost their mothers are particularly devoted to her for this very reason.

While specifically Christological beliefs do nothing for me and have no parallels in Judaism, most of the poem is a rich, fertile ground for inspiration. Dante intended his magnum opus as a spiritual guidebook, and despite his own strong Catholic faith, he frequently thinks of other kinds of people. Indeed, the penultimate word is l’altre, the other (in plural form). The Love he believes in, which powers everything in existence, includes a vast rainbow of perspectives and experiences, not just one.

Hell

Warning: Contains some images with artistic nudity.

The Hell depicted in The Divine Comedy is very complex and structured. Each circle contains a certain type of perceived sinners, and the lowest circles have multiple rings, for different manifestations of those sins. Canto III of Inferno famously opens:

Through me is the way to the City of Woe:
Through me the way into the eternal pain;
Through me the way among the lost below.
Righteousness did my maker on high constrain.
Me did divine Authority uprear;
Me supreme Wisdom and primal Love sustain.
Before I was, no things created were
Save the eternal, and I eternal abide.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Outside the gates of Hell are the souls of people who took no sides in life, only caring about themselves and their own interests instead of taking a moral stand, or even supporting evil and coming up with their own reasons for why they took such a stance.

Dante and Virgil then encounter a ferry across the river Acheron, piloted by Charon. Since Dante is a living person, Charon doesn’t want to let him aboard. Virgil forcefully tells Charon he has to let this mortal on the ferry, since Dante is on a Divinely-ordered journey.

This preview of Hell is so horrific, Dante faints and doesn’t come to till he’s crossed Acheron.

Charon’s Boat, Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1808

The First Circle, Limbo, is for righteous non-Christians and babies who died unbaptised (which is no longer part of mainstream Catholic doctrine). Here reside all the lights of Antiquity and a few from the Golden Age of Islam—Julius Caesar, Cicero, Sultan Saladin, Plato, Socrates, Ptolemy, Euclid, Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna, and many more. Given how many schools no longer teach classical history, the average modern reader will need to read all the explanatory footnotes to know who most of these people are.

The Second Circle is for the lustful, constantly blown around by an eternal windstorm. Dante judges them the least offensive of all sinners, since they didn’t really hurt anyone by their mutually consensual relationships. Their punishment is also the lightest.

Here Dante encounters the famous Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo Malatesta, who were murdered by Francesca’s husband and Paolo’s brother Giovanni when he discovered their affair. Other occupants include Dido, Cleopatra, Achilles, and Helen of Troy.

The Third Circle is for gluttons. Three-headed dog Cerberus guards these souls, who are stuck in freezing muck and mire kept fresh by endless icy, foul rain. To get past Cerberus, Virgil stuffs his mouths with mud.

Dante talks with Ciacco, a glutton who also appears in The Decameron, and has his exile from Florence foretold.

Cerberus, by William Blake

In the Fourth Circle are misers, hoarders, spendthrifts, and the greedy. Plutus, Greek god of wealth, guards this circle. The meaning of his lines at the start of Canto VII, Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!,” has always been uncertain. Many theories have been proposed, but there’s no consensus.

These sinners are punished with huge weights strapped to their chests.

The Fifth Circle is for the wrathful. Actively wrathful souls fight in the slimy River Styx, and passively wrathful souls are beneath the water. Phlegyas (mythological King of the Lapiths) reluctantly agrees to ferry Dante and Virgil across the river. During their journey, the soul of Filippo Argenti arises from the waters, quarrels with Dante, and tries to upturn the boat.

Filippo is set upon by other souls, and the boat continues on to the marsh-encircled City of Dis, the Sixth Circle. The three Furies violently threaten Dante outside the gates until an angel comes to the rescue.

Heretics are in flaming tombs in the Sixth Circle. This is the final region of Upper Hell. As Dante and Virgil descend into Lower Hell, it’s about 4:00 AM on Holy Saturday 1300.

The Seventh Circle contains the violent in three rings, for those who were violent against neighbours, self, and God, Nature, and art. Given the attitudes of the era, these rings unfortunately include suicides and gay men. So-called blasphemers are also here.

A waterfall cascades over a cliff leading down to the Eighth Circle. Dante and Virgil are transported on the back of Geryon, a giant monster with mostly human features.

Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1808

Malebolge (Evil Ditches), the Eighth Circle, contains ten circular trenches for, in order, seducers and panderers, flatterers, simoniacs (i.e., selling Church positions and indulgences), sorcerers, barrators (i.e., corrupt politicians), hypocrites, thieves, counsellors of fraud, sowers of discord (i.e., schismatics), and alchemists, falsifiers, impersonators, and counterfeiters.

Due to a Medieval misunderstanding of history and theology, Prophet Mohammad is included among the schismatics.

The Ninth Circle is for betrayers. Ring One, Caïna, punishes betrayers of kin; Ring Two, Antenora, punishes treason; Ring Three, Ptolomaea, punishes betrayers of guests; and Ring Four, Giudecca, punishes those who betrayed their masters. Giudecca, named for Judas, is eerily silent, as all the souls are trapped in ice.

In the centre of Hell resides Satan, a three-faced monster eternally chewing on Brutus, Cassius, and Judas. Dante and Virgil have to climb down his fearsome body to exit Hell.

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