Story, and in particular family story is a real treasure, that needs to be spoken, shared, collated, preserved and then passed on.
An old adage runs that a boy who does not know his family story, runs the risk of remaining always a boy. The problem is though, that many young people want now to be outside of the family home, with their distractions, or inside the home with these same distractions – and not inside, listening to their parents and grandparents speak about days long gone. But if we don’t listen to our elders – then so much of who we are, and what we could become is gone – possibly forever. I do regret that I did not ask more questions, about the locale, the customs, the clothes, all the intricate trappings that surrounded the stories my father was telling me. It would have given more context. It would have added colour to my imagination.
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The horror of war not only take lives, but it unpicks the very fabric of social communities, of which the family is the fundamental unit. Oftentimes the life of the refugee and the migrant, is only held together, by the sharing of story. The Church is critically at the centre of the passing on of story. The stories we find in the Sacred Scriptures, provide for the Church community, a common history. The Church Calendar also with its Seasons and Feasts, gives the members of the Church, days to celebrate and recollect. The Church Calendar year is a heartbeat that sounds for the Faithful. In times of sadness and joy, the Church gives the people a language to communicate with. When we do not know what to say in our grief – the Church supplies us with prayer. When we are part of an exodus from our homeland, the Church provides us with an example of those who have walked through the desert wasteland to eventually reach the temporal Promised Land. We take our stories with us, from the steppes, from the Carpathian Mountains, from our ancient cities and towns, from our old wooden churches. We transplant and build not only with our hands and with: brick, wood, clay, mortar, thatch, and lime; we build by reaching out to our neighbour and our kinsmen. We may find ourselves exiles in Australia, or Canada, or Argentina, and the United States – but within the diaspora, we rejoice in who we are, as a Ukrainian people.
Some parts will be raw and confronting to the younger reader, the first generation born in Australia, will recognize their truth.
The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church: Christ: Our Pascha (2016), clearly explains the importance of Church to life, and to ethnic identity: “Every nation is a community, with its own historical memory, earthly homeland, and struggle for well-being and perfection. It was to the nations that Christ sent his apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mr. 28: 19 – 20). The Christianization of the nations depends upon the gradual formation of a Christian worldview and structuring of life. The Christian culture of a given nation is a means for transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. It nurtures within a nation a love for God, for one’s earthly homeland, sacrificial service for the sake of its well-being, and an honest attitude towards work: it strengthens bonds within families, among relatives, and in society…”. (par. 69). The Church as such, is pivotal to Ukrainian history – not only to religious life but at the very heart of everyday life, and the striving for identity.
We may find ourselves exiles in Australia, or Canada, or Argentina, and the United States – but within the diaspora, we rejoice in who we are, as a Ukrainian people.
Psychologists use the term intergenerational transmission to speak of that social phenomenon, where family values and culture are passed across generations by the reminiscing of a shared past. We hear that the identity of the child is shaped by a village; and this formation of identity is critical to how the child interrelates with the world that they will one day enter as an adult. Researchers also tell us that it is primarily the mother who can articulate family history to her children, at the breast, providing her children with a significant emotional benefit; a sense of security and meaning.
But in a world of fractured families – children and later adults, do not know story. This fracturing can come from political wars, and flight from persecution – but it also can come within countries where there is no threat of military violence from a political enemy, but where divorce ravages and tears families apart. Countless are the number of students that I have taught, who tell me that they do not know their family story, because their mother or father forbids them to know who their former spouse’s family were or are. I have known families all my life – only to discover when I teach the grandchild as a student, that they do not even know that their grandparents are still alive on the non-custodial parent’s side, even though grandparent and grandchild live within the same city.
Psychologists use the term intergenerational transmission to speak of that social phenomenon, where family values and culture are passed across generations by the reminiscing of a shared past.
The modern world also increasingly tears away at what are considered archaic values. Values of Church, of family, of commitment, are torn from members of Western Society. The temptation today is to live lives solely based on materialism, waiting for a Christmas or Boxing Day sale in order to have meaning given to life. It seems that we do not prepare our hearts for the Birth of Christ, or for His Resurrection, with the same eagerness that we save our coin for the Boxing Day and Easter Sales; although we accept quite readily, as public holidays, these religious feast days. Too often we are encouraged to be ambitious to the point of greed; to seek leisure to the point of sloth, to compete to the point of being deceitful. These were never the values that bound the true Ukrainian people, from the earliest times of Kyiv-Rus’, and Yaroslav the Wise, to the modern age. What kept the dream of Ukraine alive, even when there was no Ukraine, politically, was the nexus between Church and the life; our families lived around this Church. It is because of the Christian Faith that we: embroidered, wrote pysanky, hand-carved and decorated our homes, with such fervour. The modern man and woman, may call this quaint and simplistic – but the modern man and woman can only offer us in the replacement of the large void that they will leave us with, things with a use-by date, things solely temporal, that do not span over the ages, that cannot build bridges, that cannot provide meaning, or help restore life, to that which has been stripped barren, when our fields lie waste – and our silos have been emptied.
What kept the dream of Ukraine alive, even when there was no Ukraine, politically, was the nexus between Church and the life; our families lived around this Church.
In this Three Part Series, I wish to highlight, through Family Story, lessons of life and living, and of Church. We owe our children a great duty; to sit and listen to our ancestors, to pass on Tradition, as much as we can, in order that they who come after us, are not left as orphans. C.S. Lewis once wrote profoundly, quoting one of his students at the University of Oxford: “That we read to know we are not alone.” In what follows, Church and Life, (the name of the Ukrainian Catholic Church newspaper in Australia), becomes the theme of a story of a family living, dying and praying in circumstances so foreign to us who today watch the Ice Hockey in Manitoba, or play our Cricket in country New South Wales. How often we bear our Ukrainian names as an anchor around our necks – anglicizing them in order to make ourselves more acceptable to others, rather than standing ground, and having others come to understand us, as a people of equal worth.
I do not embellish or invent. Some parts will be raw and confronting to the younger reader, the first generation born in Australia, will recognize their truth. Hopefully there are universal lessons to be learnt between these personal lines. If for no other consequence, I hope this series inspires the reader to go and ask questions of their elders, before only questions remain. ATK
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper
This post is also available in: Ukrainian