This past February, Star Trek fans the world over were saddened by the death of Leonard Nimoy, most famously remembered for creating the role of the Vulcan Mr. Spock on the original television series and later playing it in a number of movies. While not a full-fledged trekkie, I admired Nimoy’s acting skills and, in particular, the emotionless, logical perspective of the alien he portrayed. I must confess that at one point in my life, I found that outlook quite attractive.
On learning of Mr. Nimoy’s death, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know a lot about him. So, as is customary these days, I turned to the Internet to find out what Wikipedia could tell me about this famous actor. There, neatly categorized, were the pertinent facts of his life: born in Boston on March 26, 1931; the son of Jewish immigrants; parents born in Iziaslav, Ukraine. Ukraine? Mr. Spock had roots in Ukraine! A Ukrainian on Vulcan?
My study of Nimoy’s life was sidetracked while I checked to see where Iziaslav is located. To my surprise, it is in the Volhynia region of western Ukraine. Checking on the map, I discovered it is not a great distance away from the tiny village of Buciw where my grandfather was born.
I kept on reading the intriguing web page to find out more. What else was there about Leonard Nimoy that I didn’t know, despite being an admirer of his? Wikipedia didn’t disappoint. “Among Spock’s recognized and unique symbols that he incorporated into the series was the Vulcan salute, which became identified with him. Nimoy created the sign himself from his childhood memories of the way kohanim — Jewish priests — hold their hand when giving blessings.” During one interview, Nimoy recited the words of the blessing, taken from Numbers 6:24-26. May the Lord bless and keep you and may the Lord cause his countenance to shine upon you. May the Lord be gracious unto you and grant you peace. Even more fascinating was the benediction at the end of the blessing: “Live long and prosper.” The famous Vulcan greeting was, in fact, a version of a Jewish blessing.
The point I’d like to make is that, even though we may be very familiar with something, or someone, there may be some unknown side that is worth investigating. My discovery of the unknown side, at least for me, of Leonard Nimoy is a case in point.
Recently a Catholic school in Edmonton celebrated an anniversary of its opening. A long-retired principal was at the celebration. In the course of a conversation, the patron saint for whom the school was named was mentioned. This triggered a discussion about the saint’s life. “No, that’s not the saint the school was named after,” the former principal stated. It turned out that, over the years, confusion developed and a different saint with the same name had come to be associated with the school. “For all those years they had been praying to the wrong saint,” someone jokingly commented! I’m sure the prayers were still heard, however, and once again it was a case of things not being quite what they seemed.
Then there is the case of a Ukrainian Catholic church built in the 1970s. The design is a very modern one, far removed from traditional styles. On first seeing the new church, more than one person compared it unfavourably with a flying saucer. Recently I decided to look into the matter. Perhaps the design harkened back to an ancient one I didn’t know about. In order to gain an insight, I spoke with a former pastor.
“No, it’s just one of those ’70s designs. It has nothing to do with any traditional design.”
I felt let down. In this case, things were exactly as they appeared. Still, the design has mellowed with age and I have happily attended divine liturgy there many times.
Now, as we approach summer, thoughts turn to relaxing and holidays. Perhaps your travels will take you to a familiar vacation spot or maybe you will discover some new destination. Or maybe you will enjoy the peace of remaining at home with nothing to do but enjoy life for a week or two.
Whatever summer brings, take some time to look at things in a new light. Look into your parish’s history, go out of your way to find a church you have never been to, read about the life of your patron saint. Your explorations may very well bring you a pleasant surprise. After all, I found someone of Ukrainian origin on Vulcan.
May you be blessed with peace, safety and renewal — both spiritual and physical — this summer.
Kostyniuk, who lives in Edmonton, has a bachelor of theology from Newman and is a freelance writer. He and his wife Bev have been married for 36 years and have eight grandchildren.