Holy Envy in the Windy City


Holy Trinity Cathedral, Orthodox Church in America


My wife and I participated in a session of the American Academy of Religion today that actually took us on a walking tour for four hours through the “Ukrainian Village” section of Chicago.  Fascinating.


First, we visited Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America, at 1121 North Leavitt Street.  (See above.)  It’s rather small, and, so, doesn’t fit our typical idea of a “cathedral.”  But it’s the seat of an Orthodox bishop and, accordingly, it does in fact meet the dictionary definition.  It’s the last surviving house of worship designed by the great Louis Sullivan (about whom I’ll post something further within the next few days at most).  In fact, an icon devoted to St. John Kochurov that hangs just inside the entrance to the right actually features the saint, who planned and built the cathedral, discussing the project with Mr. Sullivan:


Icon detail: St. John Kochurov and the architect Louis Sullivan


In 1917, a caption on the icon says, St. John Kochurov, who had returned in the meantime to his troubled home country of Ukraine/Russia,  became “the first martyr among the clergy under the godless powers.”  And incidentally, Bishop Tikhon, who also helped build the church while he was presiding from San Francisco over Orthodox believers in North America and then went on, in the inauspicious year of 1917, to become patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church back in Moscow, died in the early twenties after imprisonment and torture in the brand new Soviet Gulag.  (Please don’t pay any attention to such things.  The New Atheists blame religious belief for the wars and mass deaths of the past century or so.)  One of the features of the church that I noticed was the prominent display of six-winged seraphim high up on the interior, very similar to (and probably modeled on) the seraphim inside the dome of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.


Next, we walked to St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral (2238 West Cortez Street), a converted German Lutheran church built in Gothic Revival style.  (St. Volodymyr is, of course, the St. Vladimir who, as ruler of the Kievan Rus, had his people baptized as Christians in AD 988.)  It features a very nice depiction of he anastasis (“The Resurrection,” but really the harrowing of hell) very obviously based upon the same scene in the Chora Church . . . in Istanbul.


The Harrowing of Hell at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago

A fresco of the Harrowing of Hell in Istanbul’s Chora Church or Kariye Camii


We then walked to St. Helen Catholic church (2315 West Augusta Boulevard), a modern building done in auditorium style for a Polish congregation.  I liked the building quite a bit, but it was plainly built for seeing (that is, I think, for liturgy, for eucharist, for a Roman Catholic service) rather than for hearing (which is to say, for a Protestant-style preaching service), because the acoustics of the building were very difficult, with far too much reverberation.


The altar of St. Helen (Polish) Catholic Church in “Ukrainian Village”


From St. Helen, we strolled to St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral (835 North Oakley Boulevard), a considerably larger Ukrainian church with, very obviously, much more money.  Gorgeous.  I noticed from the books in the pews that they use the Byzantine rite, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (one of the great patriarchs of Constantinople).  It struck me in this church, as it has in other Catholic churches, that someone entering into it with no idea of Catholicism or Christianity could, very pardonably, imagine that the faith it expresses is focused on the Virgin Mary.  A large painting above the worshipers depicts the reception of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with Mary enthroned in the center, flanked by six apostles on either side:


Mary enthroned among the apostles at the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost


And, over the altar, a large painting of Mary:


The Virgin Mary in the apse above the altar in St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral


Finally, we walked to Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church (very nearby, at 2245 West Superior Street, the corner of Oakley and Superior).  This group broke off from the congregation at St. Nicholas in order to follow the Julian calendar, to celebrate Christmas on 7 January, for example, and Christmas Eve on 6 January.  Such are the fissiparous tendencies of Christendom.   The interior of this church is very lovely.


Interior of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha


The wooden iconostasis of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha is especially beautiful — and, again, features seraphim that look very much like those in Hagia Sophia:


The iconostasis in Sts. Volodymyr and Olha


One feature that I noticed only as we exited, when I had little time to look at it, was a narthex painted all around with continuous scenes from the creation of the earth and the story of Adam and Eve.  Worth another visit, perhaps, and more time.


Posted from Chicago, Illinois.



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  • Maxine

    Love it, love it, thanks for sharing Dan.