Essay about Lithuania

Essay about Lithuania.

   Ancient Spirituality.   Many of the Americans with whom I worked in Lithuania repeatedly expressed a sense of something special about this place; something not quite capable of expression in words alone; yet something that spoke to our deepest feelings.  It was not merely the surprising religiosity of this former Communist state, although it is a touching testament to the importance of faith to witness its renewal despite a generation of efforts to achieve its demise.  A mostly Catholic country, one can see Lithuanians join their Polish counterparts in marches of penance and pilgrimage, or visit the Gates of Dawn in Vilnius, where the faithful come to pray for miracles or to leave memorials for answered prayers.  And certainly there are churches everywhere; magnificent structures, often centuries old, like the picturesque Catholic church of the Holy Virgin Mary or the Eastern Orthodox church of Druskininkai.  One can marvel at the evocative quality of the interiors of these special places, like that of the Church of St. John's on the University of Vilnius campus, which, during Soviet occupation, housed a science museum; or the Cathedral in Kaunas, where I witnessed a wedding taking place.  How is it that so many sainted visages in alabaster and gilded gold maintained their silent vigil over these sacred grounds?  (Some, like the three saints who once topped the Cathedral in Vilnius, did not survive, but recently have been restored.)  In the Church of St. Raphael, near my residence in Vilnius, where I was attending the Third International Baltic Psychology Conference before my seminar in Moletai,  I dropped in on a Saturday night Mass.  It was peopled with souls young and old, and from foyer to sacristy.  Here I saw a statue of Jesus with what appeared at first to be bloodied feet, until I noticed on another statue nearby that, in fact, what I was seeing were the places where the tender touches, tears, and kisses  of the faithful had worn away the paint and revealed the underlying wood.        Something more also underlies  the resurgent and resplendent character of Lithuania's religious institutions.  Sometimes, it does so in a most literal way, as in the archeological discoveries of pagan altars beneath the Vilnius Cathedral.  Usually, this pervasive spiritual aspect is more subtle, and it takes many forms.  So, for example, the carefully tied oak leaves that drape the church in Merkine are not merely decorative.  The oak tree, among others, holds special symbolic meaning for Lithuanians.  For some, hugging a certain kind of tree is as reverential an act as kissing the wooden toes of Christ's statue.

     It was my third visit to Lithuania.  I was teaching a workshop with two American colleagues.

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Essay about Lithuania. (November 8, 2016). Reviewed on 17:20, March 1 2021