The Orthodox church in Lemberg was erected in honor of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Uspeńska/Успенська), but in the city it is referred to as “the Wallachian church” (Wołoska/Волоська), because its first version was financed between 1547 and 1549 by the Moldavian Prince Alexandru Lăpușneanu. After it burned down in 1571, it was rebuilt from 1574 on in the present form by the religious confraternity of the city’s Orthodox merchants, the Uspenska Orthodox Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, which also operated the city’s Orthodox printing house and school, was founded by the Ruthenian, Greek and Moldavian merchants of Lwów in the 1530s, to better resist on the one hand the attempts of assimilation of the Patriarch of Moscow – the orthodox church in the later Ukraine was at that time independent of Moscow, and was subject to the Patriarch of Constantinople –, and on the other the aspirations of the Polish Catholic church, which in 1596 would convert a large part of the Orthodox church into the Greek Catholic church, which is in union with Rome. The main patron of the second church was also a Moldavian Prince, Ieremia Movilă, the father of the Metropolite of Kiev, Petro Mohyla, who, as we have written about it, labored on the creation of a Western-educated Ruthenian Orthodox church, and whose unique experiment was broken only by the Russification measures of Peter the Great.
No wonder, therefore, that the church’s appearance is different from the Russian church model. Its sixty-five-meter high bell tower, which was named Korniakt Tower after his builder, the Cretan merchant Konstantinos Korniaktos, recalls Italian Renaissance urban towers, and its carvings also follow Renaissance patterns. In line with the former aspirations for independence, today it belongs again to the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which resurrected three times, in 1921, 1942 and 1990, and which, to the pressure of the Moscow Patriarchate, is still not recognized by any other Orthodox church.
On Good Friday afternoon, the grave of Christ, who died on the cross, is erected in the side chapels of the Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches, and it is visited in long lines by the believers through all night. The next day all the families of the city, dressed in Ukrainian national costumes, walk out to the open air museum of Rusyn wooden churches, where the blessing of the food brought by them in small baskets is going on from morning till evening. This blessed food will be eaten by the family on Sunday morning, after the night Resurrection Mass and procession. You can find blessed cakes and eggs even on the buffet table of the hotel.
Food blessing in the open air museum of Lemberg, 11 April 2015
People begin to gather in the Orthodox church around half past eleven. They spread carpets on the stone floor, and distribute the procession flags. The ceremony begins shortly before midnight at the holy grave, from where the veil depicting the dead Christ is soon lifted and carried behind the iconostasis. At midnight they announce the resurrection of Christ in the midst of great joy, and a procession begins through the streets of Lemberg. We return to the main gate, which is only opened once a year, at this time, at the request of the Patriarch bringing the good news. We leave at one o’clock, but on the local TV I can see that the Mass goes on until four in the morning.
Orthodox procession and resurrection hymn, Lemberg, 11 April 2015