Thursday, June 28, 2007

Singing in Dad's Home Town

Headline caption from Ukrainian newspaper reads: Orthodox American. [See Comment #1 for translation.]

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2007
Updated: 22 Aug 2013

Having returned last night from Ukraine, there is much to report. That will take time. In the interim I have two comments:

1) In a discussion of my "Orthodox Odyssey" with Russian Orthodox relatives, cousin Olga observed that my sub-title [which had been "Remembering my father's lost tradition"] might use the word "forgotten" instead of "lost".

2) In a different discussion with another side of the family who are both Orthodox and evangelical, I sat quietly for some time while mother (Zhanna) and daughter (Natasha) engaged in a heated debate about the differences between Orthodoxy and evangelical Christianity. Zhanna, who can often come on strong, could not understand why her daughter had become Orthodox. Both parents seemed of the opinion that Natasha was being contrary. I had observed earlier that Natasha is generally quiet, shy and non-combative.

Noticing my long silence, cousin Igor (Natasha's father) turned to me and asked what I was really thinking. "Zhenya", he said looking at me intently, "what are you thinking? Tell us the truth!" Deciding to be candid, I said, "I believe Natasha is an intelligent woman with her own reasons for choosing to be Orthodox. I honor her choices." At that moment I saw tears of gratitude come into Natasha's eyes, although she remained silent. I think she felt heard.

Thanks to Zhanna and Igor, I had opportunity to sing "God with us" in their Grace Melitopol Christian Church, which has American Campbellite roots.

Later, thanks to Natasha, I had opportunity to sing "God with us" in two different Orthodox Church settings. The last was in the largest Orthodox Church in Melitopol, the very church in which my father was baptized in 1903. It had recently been restored since the fall of the USSR.

1 comment:

  1. [Caption to photo: Eugene Kovalenko near the portrait of his Melitopol aunt Katya.]

    "S nami Bog" (God is with us) -- these eternal words are heard in the church a very great many times. A surprising man sang them recently in a Melitopol church. Seventy-four-year-old Eugene Kovalenko is an American, but his spirit has always been connected to his roots.

    He doesn't understand everything in Russian, but when you hear his powerful voice, you forget about this. It seems this voice resounds not only in churches, but in neighboring streets. More than ten years ago Eugene found his homeland in Melitopol and was very happy. His father left our city during the civil war. Eugene was born in the United States.

    "When I was 19 years old in the Army Language School I studied the Russian language and was a soloist in a Russian choir. Once when we sang "S nami Bog" in concert it became quiet. Suddenly an old man came up to the stage, he was weeping and said that he saw himself back in old Moscow where a famous soloist sang this very song. Since then many years have passed and I eventually worked in the town of Los Alamos (in the state of New Mexico). But in December of last year I was reminded of this long ago event and found the music of this composition."

    In earlier times Eugene was a Mormon. Now his spirit has turned towards his father. At present he would not call himself Orthodox, but he is still searching. In his town of Los Alamos there is an Orthodox church named for Dimitri of Rostov. They pray in English although they are Americans. But the remaining liturgy is very similar to that, which is rendered in the Orthodox churches of Ukraine. Eugene sings there, but the prayer of "S nami Bog" he sings where ever he goes in various cities, whether in America and Canada, in Moscow, Riga, Kiev and Melitopol.

    Natalia Pitishkina
    Photo by the author

    Bottom caption: Eugene Kovalenko is the guest of his cousin Igor Ryboshapko. June 14, 2007 in Melitopol, Ukraine. From newspaper "Melitopol Register" No. 28 for 2007.