Different Practices, Same Love

Being in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church

By Angelina Korniyenko

I am Ukrainian, which means that I was brought up in the Russian Orthodox Church, which is quite different from the Catholic Church. Since I started attending Sunday Night Masses, I have come to see how Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches differ.

The Catholic Church (or at least its Roman Rite) does not use icons as we do, and Catholic Churches do not seem to have massive paintings of Jesus on the ceiling as Christ Pantocrator (an Eastern Christian way of presenting Jesus in churches). Also, the dress code in Catholic churches is different. When I first entered a Catholic church, I was so surprised to see people my age wearing shorts, skirts, and tops, “exposing” those body parts that will get you “kicked out” of a Orthodox Church. We have some very strict and unspoken rules in the Russian Orthodox Church where people who are entering the church are supposed to cover their knees, stomach, chest, and shoulders. So, if you are wearing shorts or skirts, wear them long enough to cover your knees, or if that’s a T-shirt, no tops, or V-necks. And while this is no longer a common practice in the Catholic Church, all women must still cover their heads with a veil or cloth in a Russian Orthodox Church, otherwise they won’t be allowed to enter.

In our religion, we don’t have to come to church every week, but we have big celebrations when we must be present in church. These include Christmas, Easter, and the celebration of Virgin Mary. However, at the same time, the church doors are always open, and people are always welcome to come in. Quite often my family and I will go to church to light a candle and pray to the icons that are located inside the church. If I had to describe my religion, I would say it is very personal. You don’t have to attend Mass, or stay there the whole time (as we are supposed to stand the whole time, and usually the service lasts for couple of hours). That’s why people either come and pray, or put a candle for their family members and leave.

One of the best memories I have had with religion is weddings. I have been to both Ukrainian and American weddings and can say that they’re very different. While an American wedding is very open, short, and similar to Mass, in Ukraine we follow certain traditions. The church is booked for certain times and closed from outside people. The couple is supposed to follow the priest, profess their love in the eyes of God, and make three circles around the inside of the church. The service takes up to approximately two hours.

After joining Catholic Campus Ministry, I have only grown stronger in my faith, even though it’s a different religion. CCM gave me new approaches, connections, and in general I feel that I have received so much support and understanding from people (and this is sometimes difficult to find). In a year, so much about my faith has changed. Since the start of last year, I have regularly attended Taize Prayer every Wednesday, joined the Liturgical Choir (something I would never think I would back in the day), meaning I have had no excuse for not coming to church every Sunday. I feel that I’m more involved and I actually enjoy exploring my religion and learning about new ones. And in the end, it doesn’t much matter which denomination we are from so long as we have a love of God in our hearts.