Traveling is a passion of mine, and it is a big world out there with lots to see and do. When I travel, I make it a point to visit churches, cathedrals and basilicas.
I recently visited Krokow, Poland; Riga, Latvia; and St. Petersburg, Russia. Europe has very old and beautiful houses of worship. They take your breath away and inspire you to look up in awe. I was struck by the effects communism had (or didn’t have) on the faith of the people in Eastern Europe. Walking toward the Freedom Monument in Riga, Latvia, I passed a very large and beautiful Orthodox cathedral. One of the monks there explained that this church had survived the Cold War by being used as a planetarium. It has been fully restored now and functions as a place of worship. A mentality that sought to eradicate religion and eventually have an atheistic society had not burned religion out of the people. What a beautiful tribute to the faith of the people that endured in constancy despite occupation and hardship. One might ask if this period of occupation might have, in fact, fuelled the faith of the people.
The same may be said of the Poles and their strong allegiance to their faith and their churches. Communist occupation seemed to strengthen the people’s faith, not erase or dull it. The people needed a compassionate God who loved them living under the conditions they did. Religion did not just placate the people either. It was, and still is, genuine, deep rooted and seriously taken.
In St. Petersburg, there exists a stunning cathedral called The Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood. It was built in the place where Tsar Alexander was killed at the end of the 19th century. Although a museum now, it also survived the days of communism by being used as a place to store potatoes. Can you imagine that? The last time I was in St. Petersburg in 1973, it was Leningrad and times were very different. I couldn’t believe the change. One woman told me, “Now we can buy food, clothes and even travel as we would like.” Not so prior to 1991.
Keeping all of this in mind, I wonder if we take our religious freedom for granted? Has the government ever threatened to shut our church door? What would we do if we found ourselves deprived of worship opportunities? We should be truly grateful to live in a land where protection of religious rights has been a priority from the beginning. Let us thank our Lord for our faith, our freedom and our right to express our beliefs as we choose.
We just recently celebrated the 232nd anniversary of the Chaplain Corps, and I am proud to be a chaplain here at Fort Lee serving our great service members, their Families, our Department of Defense workers and our faithful retired population. For God and Country!