Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago was vandalized a couple of weeks ago. (I actually started this post on January 29, and between a computer that kept freezing, kids and various other craziness, I’m finally finishing this nearly three weeks later…) These days, this sort of thing doesn’t make the local news (where many murders aren’t “noteworthy” enough to make the news) but one of the hyper-local news sites did publish an article with pictures: https://blockclubchicago.org/2023/01/27/holy-trinity-orthodox-cathedrals-historical-windows-shattered-after-vandals-strike-louis-sullivan-designed-church .
Now, some places have had to deal with this more than others. I know that a few years ago, the vandalism against Holy Myrrhbearers Orthodox Church in St. Cloud was so recurrent that it actually made national news.
It’s not that Holy Trinity hasn’t been targeted before. About 15 years ago or so, the historic landmark plaques were stolen right off the building, and getting replacements was a headache and a half. There’s something a little bit different about that though. In a theft, it’s more likely somebody saw something that had some value. Vandalism is wanton destruction; destroying things for the sake of having them destroyed.
Cities change. The neighborhood that Holy Trinity is in has had its ups and downs. When I was in high school, Division Street, just to the north of the Cathedral, was basically a no-go zone. By the time I was finished with college, the new, trendy restaurants stretched along Division, practically to Leavitt, where Holy Trinity has stood since 1903.
Things have changed, though. The Lutheran Deaconess church which stood across the street from Holy Trinity for a century was torn down to make way for overpriced condos. The city is getting dangerous again. The last time I was down there was last Pascha; on a beautiful, warm spring night. All around the city, people were out and about. Then we had to detour off of Irving Park because of “police activity” on our trip down there. During the service, as we processed around the church, I, with the five kids, were in the back. My 10-year-old tapped me on the shoulder and told me to turn around and look across the street behind us. There were two men fighting, and the one looked as if he were starting to strangle the other, until they both seemed to notice that of the 300 people or so performing this strange ritual by the church, a woman and a couple of her kids were actually watching them, and in a flash, both dark figures scurried off into the night in separate directions.
I’m not necessarily surprised by the vandalism in these days, in this place. It’s sad, though. The windows that were broken were over 100 years old. They are windows thoroughly unlike any other stained glass windows in any other church I’ve ever been to – “modern” geometric designs intended to turn any light going through them into intense golden rays in the sanctuary. It’s the genius of the architect, Louis Sullivan, in one of his few designs for houses of worship. The same windows that can be seen here, in a Library of Congress photo of St. Sebastian Dabovich.
It could have been a lot worse. At the same time, as I “discovered” Orthodoxy a little over 20 years ago, I remember running around the neighborhood with a friend who was a deacon and who usually wore a cassock even going to a coffee shop. Even back then, I don’t think anyone gave him a problem about it. But as I was in and out of the area over the years, working nearby for a time, it was already palpable that many of the newer, “trendy” places were much less tolerant of any reminder of religion. And so, to an extent, it’s not even surprising that this happened. Like the Lutheran Deaconess church which stood across the street from Holy Trinity for a century, so many of the visual reminders have even disappeared.
This incident isn’t going to destroy Holy Trinity. It’s not like the church has all sorts of money, but they have managed to keep going all these years, even with the tremendous amount of upkeep that a building like that has always required. Anyone who so wishes can also contribute here: https://htc.kindful.com/. Donations to the building fund always are separate from the general operating fund. The larger point is, though, that a lot of cities have gotten incredibly dangerous, and not just in regard to one’s physical safety. There is often a palpable sense that things are not well in the spiritual realm, and that the evil one and his minions are outside, like a prairie wind in winter, shaking structures and seeking vulnerabilities to exploit. And, like those prairie winds, the demons howl; they know no joy, no comfort, no rest. Thank God that He has not left us powerless against them!