Thursday, July 7, 2022

Lviv in Context (3): Religion

Let us define civilization as the enduring combination of society and culture, existing in a given area, defined primarily by one religion. This would mean that the organization of a society, its major cultural forms, and its dominant type of individual mentality are informed by, or give expression to, the major religion of a given area. I stress religion as the defining reality of civilization because it is religion which provides the most compelling beliefs, values, norms, goals, and stories. 

Given this understanding of civilization, the map below ( would indicate that civilization in Europe is determined primarily by Christianity.

Let us note briefly that this map also indicates that Christian civilization may be divided into parts. The proper identification of these parts is debated. One opinion affirms that all of Europe has been home to one Christian civilization. A second affirms that Europe is home to two distinct civilizations: Western Civilization, composed of Catholic and Protestant Christianity; and Eastern or Orthodox Civilization, composed of various related but distinct Orthodox communities. A third affirms that the distinctions between Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy are of such magnitude that each may be considered a different religion forming its own distinct civilization.

A glance at the map above indicates that Ukraine almost wholly falls within the Orthodox area of Europe. A closer look at western Ukraine, however, indicates that a small area there shares Catholicism with its Polish neighbors across the border to the west. It is in this small area of Ukraine near Poland that Lviv is located.

What’s interesting about Lviv is that it sits right on this border between the Catholic or Latin West and the Orthodox or Greek East. So it has a Latin (Roman Catholic) Cathedral near its central Market Square. It has several Orthodox churches. Finally, and uniquely, it has St. George’s Cathedral which, until recently, served as the center of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church—an organization formed in 1596 and whose churches uniquely blend Orthodox liturgy and practices with recognition of the pope in Rome as their ruler.

Jews have been present in Lviv since its founding in the mid-1200s. By the early twentieth century, Jews formed a third of Lviv’s population and worshiped in almost 100 synagogues. Together they formed a vibrant island of Jewish Civilization in the ocean of Christendom. 

To summarize Lviv’s religious context: it was founded in Christendom but on the border of the Latin West and Greek East. Some might say it has existed for centuries on the border of Western and Eastern civilizations. As a result, it continues to be influenced by Catholic and Orthodox traditions separately and together in the form of the Greek Catholic Church. Lviv also enjoyed a vibrant embodiment of Jewish Civilization for centuries until 1939.

Today we briefly reflected on the religious context of Lviv as a microcosm. Use these reflections to guide the exploration of the religious context where you are. Our shared goal is to live as more radiant witnesses to Jesus Christ in our own place and time.

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
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