Sunday, and we were going to our first Orthodox mass. I'm quite a spiritual person, but am not religious, But I still wanted to go and experience what this kind of service was like. So, we wrapped up well and went to Oksana's local renovated traditional Ukrainian wooden church. It was very small and perched on top of a hill the overlooked the scene of the Battle of Zboriv. It was icy cold on the hill as the wind whipped across the fields and whistled around the church, luckily Oksana had told us the previous day to wrap up well.
The church was tiny and completely lined with pine inside. It was decorated with brightly coloured paintings and banners and had a large chandelier of opaque glass. The congregation stood, the only seats were single rows of benches down each side which sometimes the older people sat down on. The service lasted an hour and most of it was sung, it sounded quite lovely, melodic and Eastern. I couldn't see much of what was going on at the front due to my lack of height.
We went home and Jaroslaw decided to take us to see a genuinely old traditional wooden church. So we bumped along the pot-holed roads to Virliv (phonetic spelling) just outside Zboriv. After a few wrong turns we found the church, again perched on a small hill. There was a service going on so Christine and Jaroslaw went in, for Oksana and me one mass a day is enough so we waited out of the cold in the car and talked. Oksana was a lovely girl, always chatting and asking questions, soaking up information like a sponge. I hope all her dreams come true and she manages to make a good life for herself. I think it was quite exciting for her to meet us.
Eventually Jaroslaw called us to the church and we met the priest Paolo. The locals once more stared at these two foreigners from England in their midst, wondering what on earth we were doing at their little church. The priest posed for photos inside and outside, he was obviously very proud of his beautiful church. He said that we were free to look around the church and take photos and then left us in the care of an elderly caretaker.
The church was built in 1821 in the traditional Ukrainian style and it was a shimmering world of colour inside. On a day like this, with grey skies, rain and icy howling wind, it was like stepping into another world. I suppose that is how it is supposed to be, another more heavenly world away from the harsh reality of day to day life in the Ukraine. A place to forget about your problems for a while and gain strength from your faith.
The artwork was fantastic, the vibrant colours and gold were like new, it was much grander than the church we visited earlier in the day. Beautiful three-tier golden chandeliers lit the inside and its light glinted off the gold. There was a balcony area that you could go up to by a steep ladder, I went up and admired the glory of this little jewel in the Ukrainian countryside from above.
Our last full day, we'd had the churches and now it was time to see a Ukrainian castle. We drove to Zolochiv, the castle was set high on a hill, surrounded by walls which you entered through an inconspicuous door, crossed some lovely gardens and then over an empty moat, through another door into the castle itself. The castle has had a chequered past, being a prison at one time with a history of torture and murder. Now it is being renovated as a tourist attraction.
The castle had high vaulted ceilings and massively thick walls. There was a collection of Oriental antiquities in a few rooms, some very beautiful items. There was a nice little chapel and a room with a another collection, this time models of wooden churches. Once the whole place is renovated it will be wonderful to visit.
Outside Oksana showed us the wishing stone, a large stone with carvings on and a hole in the middle. You had to put a finger in the hole and as you turned your finger around in the hole, make a wish, we all took our turn and made a wish. Zolochiv Castle was an interesting place to visit and once fully renovated will be stunning, even on this grey, dismal day it was worth seeing.
It had been a holiday with a difference, I wasn't sure what to expect before I went, and though it was not a luxury trip, I ended up feeling enriched by the experience. I felt privileged to meet such wonderful people and share their lives for a week and learn about their country. Their resilience, generosity and spirit I will never forget.