When the Most Rev. Michael Dahulich participated in a pilgrimage to Poland, he was joined by 27,000 people for a single church service, many of whom were young.
“I was just amazed at the numbers of young people,” Dahulich said. “And everywhere I went in the villages, they brought sacred items and had services in these churches [and] the lineup of people was just incredible, which we don’t see today in America.”
Dahulich, an Orthodox bishop in the Orthodox Church in America Diocese of New York and New Jersey, will discuss his experiences with Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. His lecture is titled “Rising From the Ashes: Faith is Reborn in Eastern Europe.”
In addition to his role as archbishop, Dahulich serves as rector and faculty member at St. Tikhon’s Theological Seminary in South Canaan Township, Pennsylvania.
Unlike Western Europe, which has seen a steady decline in religious affiliation among its population, Eastern Europe has seen a resurgence in Orthodox Christian identity — especially among young people, Dahulich said.
He then referenced his time in Russia. He was at the Ukrainian Church, speaking to youths in the choirs. He asked them why they were all there, and he received one common answer: “They lived under atheism, secularism and communism under the Soviets, and it didn’t do anything for them,” Dahulich said.
He said the Soviet regime, which produced leaders that killed millions of their own people, put little value on human life and offered little meaning to individuals.
Even when he asked older generations of pilgrims what caused the influx of young people in church, they all said it was due to the effects of living under Soviet influence.
“[I]t gave them no meaning, it gave them no hope, it gave them no purpose,” Dahulich said. “[As a result], many of them have come back to the church, or back to Christ, anyway.”
Also contributing to the resurgence of church affiliation after the Soviet era is the degree to which the church is ingrained in Eastern European society, Dahulich said.
“The Orthodox Church is so inculturated into the society — the language, the music, the art, the customs, the architecture [of the Church] was all the culture of that land,” he said. “And so the church became the last bastion of keeping those things when the communists tried to absorb all those countries under Soviet rule. The church is linked to the national culture of those Eastern European countries.”