Ukrainian culture is very old, distinct, and varied. Our customs and traditions have very ancient roots, some of them are many thousands of years old, others may be only a thousand, some can be recent. Ukraine throughout its’ history has had different occupations, rulers, and influences. They all have left their influences on the daily lives of people. Ukraine basically has been Christian for about a thousand years. Before that, many pagan customs were well entrenched in the population. It is also very big country with all kinds of regions, mountains, hills, steppes, forests etc. There are different accents and dialects. Take a look at Ukrainian dancing, Easter eggs – they and other cultural traditions have multiple variations on the same theme. Ukrainian traditions, rituals, and ceremonies are not the same throughout the country or even in each local area.

One has to mention all the superstitions and magic which are contributing to the cultural fabric of the country. So what is Ukrainian culture? To say the least it is rich and complicated and it contributes greatly to what it means to be Ukrainian.

You can add the religious faith and practices of the wide variety that exist in the country. Culture then becomes even more complicated, but at the same time more simple and straight forward. This is true because religion has rules (canons) and a clear focus on salvation of our souls. The church has the code of canon law, particular law, and eparchial law. These books are practically in everybody’s hands. They clarify the questions of religious life. For instance, it might be a cultural custom that you wear black to a funeral, or that you should not dance for a year after the death of a very close family member. People ask what does the church say about that. Well, actually nothing. Social custom or tradition which is not too clear or always consistent may have rules about it, but the church does not. The church does not make it a sin when you do not follow the many traditions and customs which may be in place in a parish. It then becomes a question of “what will the neighbours say?”

It really becomes a personal choice of what we do. The church is very much against superstition and magic but some people mistakenly insist that their superstitions are actually God’s Will. These kinds of people are not otherwise easily convinced. In a sense they do not do God any favours, when they infuse these external elements into church belief and practices. Many people who study the scriptures and church teachings can see what it is that God asks us and what is just a local custom or tradition.

Culture is there to serve people in their search for faith. It can never be an element which confuses or defuses our faith. Knowing one’s catechism is very important. While the catechism is full of cultural elements, it helps us in our search for God. It takes a person of faith to be able to see through all this.

+Peter Stasiuk

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