During one scene in historian Kenneth Clark’s d o c u m e n t a r y televisions series “Civilisation,” which aired in the United Kingdom 1966 to 1969, he is standing near the River Seine in Paris, France. Across the way is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. “What is civilization? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms. But I think I can recognize it when I see it…,” he says, bending his head to the left to view the Cathedral and finishing his thought.
“And I’m looking at it now.” Along with millions of others around the globe, I watched in horror on the afternoon of April 15 — the start of Holy Week — as the 13th century Cathedral of Notre-Dame caught fire and burned. French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed Notre-Dame will be rebuilt and hundreds of millions of dollars have already been pledged by companies earmarked for the task.
In the subsequent days, television news anchors and pundits have wondered why has there has been such an outpouring of love for Notre-Dame. It’s cited as the historical landmark of France (sorry, Eiffel Tower) and the world, made famous in Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
But I think another reason is because it is a true tragedy to lose things that connect us to our faith’s collective past. It got me thinking about the importance of our Byzantine churches and the magnificent structures they are, though they may not be as ancient as Notre-Dame. During television coverage, Roman Catholic priest Rev. Edward Beck said: “I think we need sacred places to lift us up.”
Father Valerian Michlik often refers to St. Gregory in Upper St. Clair, Pa. as a “hospital for sinners.” Our Byzantine churches connect us to our faith in more ways than I can imagine. Usually during Resurrection Matins at St. Gregory, parishioners grip candles with a flickering flame; the light of the resurrected Christ illuminating the darkness of the world.
The tradition took a hiatus this year due to a rain storm which rumbled through the South Hills of Pittsburgh during the evening. But a rainbow soon appeared over the church, placing a celestial exclamation mark on the evening. This light will surely shine once again on the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.