I had a seminary professor who ridiculed the idea of a small private chapel. He reasoned that if Liturgy means “the work of the people”, would not a private chapel limit this work to mere self-service or just a small hand-picked elite? While I agree with the principle of opening divine services to as many as possible, I think he might be missing the purpose of these smaller chapels and by extension the small, local parish church.
In Russia, the small chapels which dot the roadside, stand guard at the cemeteries, and provide a wayside Inn of Salvation at the airports and train stations are called chasovnya which I presume is derived from the Russian chas for “hour”. They are placed everywhere for those who need to pray at odd hours and not just the scheduled times of morning Liturgies and evening vigils. Their presence invokes the universality of the faith, that prayer is not limited to certain times or important metropolitan centers, but extends to the farthest reaches of creation.
Today we travel to a village named Makarovo, 90 km northeast of Moscow. The village parish church of St. Nicholas offers much more than a place to receive communion on Sunday. Rather, communion here is the symbol of a far-reaching community. The people of Makarovo are born, baptized, married, and even buried right here. It is the only church in town and it is a full service operation. When the main church is closed, a chasovnya in the nearby cemetary provides a place for round-the-clock prayer and the lighting of candles.
By comparison, my hometown in America has six churches for a similar number of people and not a single one has a cemetery near it. Neither are any of them open 24/7 like this chasovnya. Rather, on Sunday morning and for a few select weekday services, they all compete like businesses for a relatively small niche market which is growing exceedingly crowded with other tertiary activities like soccer games. The growth of those with no religious affiliation is making American churches more and more irrelevant even during the time slots that have traditionally belonged to them.
Meanwhile, the revival of the Church in Russia has brought with it these very local, organic, 24-hour, public places of prayer tended by local lovers of piety. This particular chasovnya has a staff funded by a benefactor in memory of his son who died an untimely death in his youth. And this story of local philanthropy is not uncommon in this land where the heart of the people is turning back to its true home in the Church. May we have a similar awakening in America before soccer goals completely replace altar calls.