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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

To preserve St. Sophia and the sophistic being

The main cathedral of Kyivan Rus’ is celebrating its millennial anniversary
22 September, 2011 - 00:00
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

“Probably, since the first day of its existence few people have been considering it God’s home but the reliable shelter for the human spirit, (…) and everyone tried to wipe it off the face of the earth but the cathedral has been standing firmly and eternally as if it had not been build but had grown from the generous Kyiv soil” – I doubt if one could have better described the sense of St. Sophia than Pavlo Zahrebelny in his novel Dyvo [The Miracle. – Ed.]. The Community of Saints on the ancient frescos has seen a lot of ups and downs of human souls, spiritual wealth and misfortune over thousand years. Today St. Sophia is a museum and spiritual center, “shelter of the human spirit,” as well as material realization of our ancestors’ wisdom and internal force. Just like other sacral monuments of our culture it is a litmus paper indicating the Ukrainian people’s spirituality, national memory, faith and ability to accept, preserve and multiply the cultural heritage, and the inexhaustible source of knowledge.

“I strongly believe that Sophia is not just a generating matrix and the wisdom of being, it is a monument calling us to unite. In particular, all St. Sophia frescos are the evidence of this. Knowledge is what God requires. That is why when we learn something new we get closer to Him. In this aspect St. Sophia gives inexhaustible opportunities,” thinks Professor Nadia Nikitenko, Ph.D. in history, who has been studying the cathedral for several decades. By the way, she opened and gave proof of the fact that Sophia was constructed in 1011-18, at the turning point of the rule of Volodymyr the Great who baptized Rus’ and his son Yaroslav the Wise.

The outstanding philosopher Serhii Krymsky described St. Sophia not only as a cathedral but primarily as a spiritual center. He used the term “sophism” that meant the wisdom of being in the interpretation of the Ancient Greeks. “Parthenon translated the Antic tradition to Western Europe and St. Sophia translated the Antic tradition to Eastern Europe,” the Ukrainian philosopher said.

Today people often perceive St. Sophia as a museum neglecting its sacral meaning. Just like any other historical monument Sophia is covered with myths and legends that also appeared during the Soviet time when the spiritual and sacral was neglected. In order not to consider St. Sophia a monument of Yaroslav the Wise’s victory over the Pechenegs one should take a broad view at the historical context. “The idea that St. Sophia was build in honor of the victory over the Pechenegs seems very Soviet today. Sophia was built as a monument of the Christianity triumph, God’s wisdom that was established in Rus’. Of course, Sophia is not just a European-scale monument but the world-known cathedral,” thinks Nikitenko.

The bright evidence of St. Sophia’s universal importance and its influence on people’s mentality at different time and in different countries is a legend that in 1930s the Bolsheviks intended to destroy the cathedral but the French writer Romain Rolland stopped them. During his meeting with Stalin in Moscow Rolland asked not to destroy the cathedral since it had been built by the father of the French queen Anna. The legend is not proved by any documents but it could have happened in the real life.

The spiritual impoverishment reigning today in all the spheres is, probably, the greatest challenge for the sacral function of St. Sophia and other spiritual centers of the Ukrainian people. The cathedral has held out under the pressure of the historical peripeteia, however, today it has to defend against the ignorance and the spiritual impoverishment of some of the descendants of formerly powerful Ancient Kyiv. “The celebration of St. Sophia’s millennial anniversary might become a spur for people’s interest towards the historical and cultural heritage; however, it can become, and I am afraid that it will, just an isolated case. People will celebrate and forget. Instead, we should have a regular program to influence the youth,” Director of the Institute of Philosophy Myroslav Popovych believes.

We have all the opportunities to reopen St. Sophia and stop perceiving it just as a museum. During a week various events will be held on its territory: the presentation of the documentary St. Sophia: the First Millennium, opening of the restored Zaborovsky Gate of 18th century, the presentation of the commemorative coin and planting trees in the restored Metropolitan’s garden.