It’s odd to walk into a church and venerate with a kiss the portrait of someone who lived and died during ones own life time, yet that is what I have been doing for the past few weeks.. When I walk into the church here there is an icon of a bishop, Nikita, who was killed by the Soviets in the 1950s; the face of the icon is taken from a photograph.
Most icons are of saints from long ago. Not any more and certainly not in Ukraine, where the Catholic Church had been supressed and her clergy hunted and killed, or sent to Siberia or prison to never return.
In the middle of Lviv, the largest and most beautiful city in western Ukraine, there is a parish which counts ten thousand people at liturgy/ mass every Sunday, and it is twice that for Christmas and Easter.
There is a war goiing on here and it has layers of meaning. The people of Western Ukraine and most Ukrainians are fighting for their identity.
Their fear is that what was taken from them once by the Soviets would be taken again by the Russians. What Ukraine has to loose is her freedom and her identity which has faith at its heart. The martyred bishop is symbolic of an attempt to kill more than just a man;his portrait in the icon is a reminder that saints die even in our own times witnessing to Christ.
Fr Michael Perry