A Visit to the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church

Last Monday I paid a visit to the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Jewett, New York on Route 23A. I didn’t expect to see footsteps in the icy snow leading up to the bulletin board. Following them led to me to discover that a member of the church community has been posting notices pertaining to the recent conflict in Ukraine. 

A letter from the Office of the Bishop dated February 26 starts, “As we are all aware, the unthinkable has happened and Ukraine is at war once again, with an aggressor who desires to enslave and destroy her. The Ukrainian army is putting up a valiant defense, but the ravages of war are already being felt.” The letter continues to direct its readers to support the Ukrainian cause by donating to the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolis of Philadelphia and two other organizations recommended by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.

The bulletin board also displays a recent news article with comments from Rev. Ivan Kaszczak, pastor of the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kerhonkson, who made it clear that Ukrainians “just want peace.”

St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church stands out prominently along the 23A corridor for its distinctive architecture. The church was built in the style of the well-known wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Mountainous region in Ukraine. 

Construction of the church began in the early 1960s through the efforts of local Ukrainian-American residents who joined together under the auspices of the “Temporary Committee for the construction of the Ukrainian Catholic Chapel in the Vicinity of Hunter, N.Y.” Over the course of two decades, not only a church but a belfry, gate, parish hall (Grazhda), and a parsonage were constructed. According to the church’s website, the project “was financed by Ukrainian post-World War II refugees and immigrants who realized the need for a tangible expression of their heritage and in the context of Soviet control of their country were constantly vigilant in the preservation and propagation of Ukrainian culture.” 

The church was built under the direction of master carpenter Jurij Kostiw. Kostiw employed traditional timber framing techniques of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountain highlands. Cedar logs were imported from British Columbia to form the 61’ high structure. The interior of the church is adorned with intricate wood carvings that feature folk ornamental motifs and traditional religious symbolism, as well as a variety of religious icons including St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the church.

 St. John the Baptist Church Ukrainian Catholic Church is a vibrant religious and community center on the Mountain Top. It was heartening to see an additional message posted on the bulletin board this morning from Congregation Kol Anshei Yisroyal, better known as the Hunter Synagogue, expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian community. The message reads: “To the Mountaintop Ukrainian American Community: As the terrible attacks on Ukraine by the Russian army accelerates, we, the Jewish congregation of Hunter, write to express our solidarity with the brave Ukrainian people, both military and civilian. We stand with you in opposition to Russian aggression. We hope and pray that the invasion will swiftly be repelled, and that an independent, democratic and peaceful Ukraine shall thrive for many generations to come.”

rule of st. benedict

From a recent visit to the the Abbey of  Our Lady of Gethsemane in rural Kentucky.

This abbey is set on 2,000 acres of farmland and is now largely sustained by sales of their famous bourbon fudges and fruitcakes manufactured by the resident Trappist monks. Here is a postcard I received that gives a glimpse of their factory:

Made famous by former resident monastic Thomas Merton, the abbey continues to be connected with his name and legacy. A few of his words follow these photos.

“In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. He may or may not mercifully realize that, after all, this is a great gain, because “God is not a what,” not a “thing.” That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no “what” that can be called God. There is “no such thing” as God because God is neither a “what” nor a “thing” but a pure “Who.” He is the “Thou” before whom our inmost “I” springs into awareness. HE is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am.”   (from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation)

sand synagogues

Five synagogues, worldwide, share the unique feature of having floors made of sand. One of these is Shaare Shalom Synagogue in the historic district of Kingston, Jamaica. There, the sands are carefully raked and maintained daily, with special consideration and care preceding days of worship. It’s no small feat.

The provenance of this tradition is debated. One common theory is that the practice resulted from Spanish-Portuguese conversos in Brazil during the 1600s, who wished to resume their Jewish practices but were barred from openly practicing. In order to be discrete, sand was poured on the ground of private gathering spaces, often homes, to obscure the sounds of prayer and activity.

The other synagogues with sand floors are located in Amsterdam, Curacao, Suriname and Saint Thomas. While I don’t have photos of those ones (yet) here are some more views from inside and outside Shaare Shalom in Kingston. Of particular interest to me were the large stone grave covers dating from the 18th century. These have inscriptions in Portuguese and beautiful imagery from the Bible.