The Blessing of the New Iconography in 1954

The Consecration of the Newly Painted Church of St. Michael’s
by Professor Trokhym Pasichnyk,Woonsocket, RI
(Translated from the commemorative book by Fr. Ivan Synevskyy)

On September 5th 1954 in St. Michael Orthodox Church in Woonsocket, RI a great celebration will take place: the consecration of the Iconostas, Tetrapod, side icons and wall paintings. The world may not consider this such a great event, but for the Ukrainians this is the most joyful and educational event. It shows the fulfillment of the Ukrainian prophecy: “Our soul is not dying, neither our freedom!” The Orthodox community of Woonsocket rightly rejoices in glory as a very spiritual and consciously nationalistic community. If someone were to study the history of this community then he would see that such a small community is filled with the history of the great Ukrainian people, its spiritual wealth, hard work, endurance, its undefeatable wish to live, create, fulfill great ideals of freedom and with all its heart, with all its thoughts and work to glorify All-Merciful God.

Almost 50 years have passed since the first pioneers came to Woonsocket, usually from Skalats’k and Gusiatyns’k regions. The rigid national, social and economic status of our native land forced our people to leave their native villages with tears and to look for better life overseas. Thousands and thousands of people were searching for a better life in foreign lands such as USA, Brazil, and Argentina; while foreigners lived in Ukraine without anxieties and sorrow, robbing Ukrainian people and making fun of them, of their language, culture, tradition, and faith. Russians, Polish, Romanians, Hungarians and others – they all used the work and strength of our people and kept them in darkness and misery. Many people did not have any other choice than to leave their own houses and to look forward for better life. This is how our pioneers came to Woonsocket. Without profession, knowledge of language, without family and friends, they came to Woonsocket and began new life. In order not to end up in depression from their new conditions and all kind of impediments they had to have physical and moral strength and a strong heart. They had to have great faith in God’s grace and justice so that they may overcome these obstacles. And they did! Who? All of them! They all were great leaders and doers. They had to save money for themselves and for their children’s education. But mainly, they had to glorify and praise God, to keep their traditions and language in their life and heart. The free American land opened in front of them all possibilities to grow and advance. What to do, in order to have healthy life, full of joy and happiness? Spiritual thought had an answer for all difficult questions.

They had built the church! In there, they were all glorifying God, asking for God’s grace, crying during sorrow and happiness, grieving over their parents, their native country. In there they all baptized their children, married them. It was there that their deceased received God’s blessing for eternity. The church was the sacred place and native place – a little Ukraine. It was no surprise that they gave to the church all they had, their heart, work and wealth. How many obstacles they had? A multitude! Disputes, courts, and expenses. But … everything was defeated!

The community built one church, then a second church, and then a third church; the last in one large, in the Ukrainian Baroque style. It was difficult but they did it! (Community and the church history by V. Rev. Fr.  D.Leschisin and V. Rev. Fr. P. Bilon for 20th anniversary) Great help came also from previous fathers of this community. The first Orthodox priest was Fr. M. Marushchak. When the church was joined to Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church the pastor was Fr. V. Kaskiw, who organized “Ridna Shkola” school at the parish, with over 200 students. After Fr. Kaskiw there was Fr. D. Leschisin, who built this beautiful church. Fr. P. Bilon and Fr. A. Beryk did enough work to make sure that the community grew in numbers and spiritually. The current piritual guide and pastor of congregation is Fr. S. Golutiak.

The community lives, works, glorifies God, faithful to its new motherland – America and unforgotten precious land Ukraine. This parish has a Church Choir, a men’s ”Bandura” choir, The “Zaporizh Sich” Brotherhood, The Sisterhood of Most Holy Virgin, Ladies’ Sodality, Union of Ukrainian Women of Olga Kobylians’ka, Sunday School and “Ridna Shkola”. It also keeps national feasts. It’s nice to see the community’s strength, endurance, diligence, steadiness, and most importantly godliness.

Now the community has been able to beautify the inside of the church: to paint icons on the walls, to set up the iconostas, altar, side icons, tetrapod, and ceiling. Rev. Fr. S. Hallick (Holutiak) took big part in this great project. It was his blessed idea for this community. He also gave good advice and helped as much as he could. It was difficult to realize this idea. The community had just recovered financially from building the church. It was also hard in Woonsocket to make money but the parish was not scared by it. Last summer meetings began.

The President of Parish Council was Mr. I. Kokolsky, a very energetic and decisive person, he was able to overcome all obstacles and happily fulfill all the beautiful plans. They elected the parish council that was responsible for the paintings inside the church. This council talked about all works and made plans concerning it. When there was need, the general parish council gathered together where all questions, considerations, ideas, and plans about the project were discussed and approved. The project began to appear as visible reality. First and most important question was – money! The parish had small amount of cash. Next question was how much the icon painters would charge for such project. After long negotiations, Mr. O. Osinchuk and P. Cholodny (junior), famous Ukrainian icon artists, agreed to paint the church.

It appeared that to paint the church, iconostas, altar, tetrapod and side icons the parish needed to have about $30,000. The general parish assembly decided to tax every parishioner $25, and from each family – $50. Thus, the parish gathered the required sum of money. We are happy to affirm that even those who were exempt previously from paying the membership supported generously this project. Ukrainian souls were blooming with warmth, generosity, God’s mercy and helped to beautify its precious holy site.

This council talked about all works and made plans concerning it. When there was need, the general parish council gathered together where all questions, considerations, ideas, and plans about the project were discussed and approved. The project began to appear as visible reality. First and most important question was – money! The parish had small amount of cash. Next question was how much the icon painters would charge for such project. After long negotiations, Mr. O. Osinchuk and P. Cholodny (junior), famous Ukrainian icon artists, agreed to paint the church. It appeared that to paint the church, iconostas, altar, tetrapod and side icons the parish needed to have about $30,000 (about $275,000 in 2014 dollars – ed.). The general parish assembly decided to tax every parishioner $25, and from each family – $50 (about 225 and 450 in 2014 dollars, respectively -ed.). Thus, the parish gathered the required sum of money. We are happy to affirm that even those who were exempt previously from paying the membership supported generously this project. Ukrainian souls were blooming with warmth, generosity, God’s mercy and helped to beautify its precious holy site.

In the second half of October of 1953 the project began. First, they painted the church. They finished this in March, 1954. In December of 1953 general parish assembly elected the new parish council. Mrs. Rosalia Borys was elected to a president of parish council. She received a responsible parish council that gave all its time to the church, work in the church, and for the church. The committee responsible for the painting of the church harmoniously cooperated with the parish council and the project was moving forward successfully. In March of 1954 new contract was signed for iconostas, the Holy of Holies, the Altar, tetrapod and side icons.

This project was done in July of 1954 and the parish paid all its bills on time. The project is done. The Ukrainian soul glorifies another victory. Once more she confirms its immortality! And the Ukrainian person once more shows the free world that she is able to live in freely, to create and work freely, to self-sacrifice and order. Everything is done by its own and Ukrainian’s strengths. Especially, this fills Ukrainian heart with joy, and sincere gratitude to the Lord God, for His mercy, help and gifts of the Holy Spirit!

The whole work is done in Ukrainian style: byzantine base lightly blended with baroque and modern styles. From the whole work you can feel thoughtful philosophical purposefulness, inwardly ideological fullness, continuity and according to this inward fullness – outward artistic scheme, artistic perfection. It is pleasing, that artists thought about this while doing the work, that there would be no extra details which would overshadow ideological fullness and religious inspiration. But first of all, they thought of those inward spiritual features: prayerful setting, philosophical thoughtfulness, godly inspiration and joy. Impressive ideological fullness and religiously headed willingness and together with this harmonically, subjugated to this inward idea, various colors, lines and ornaments. Beautiful range of colors, elegant symmetrical lines are attracting to themselves the eyes of pious soul but not in control of her: over everything and everywhere is reigning Christ, radiance of his teaching, love, sacrifice and happiness.

Christ, the King of Glory, shines in the altar and by its radiance says to anxious conscience:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega!” (Rev. 1:8)

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Most Pure Virgin, John the Baptist, Archangels, Apostles, Saints, Venerable Fathers and Martyrs are joyously listening to the language of God-Christ, the King of Glory.

They stand in the church on the left and right hand sides of the King of Glory in severe meekness and focused inspiration. Among the Saints joyously, piously and thoughtfully are standing Great Saints of God of Ukrainian Land: St. Princes Ol’ha, St. Volodymyr, Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of Pechersk, that by Christ’s light they enlightened Ukrainian Land and glorified her before God and people by their faith and exploits. From the light blue ceiling are looking Most Pure Virgin, Archangel Michael and six wing angels, joyful, pure, and inspired by the radiance of All Merciful King of Glory, Christ God. Old Testament saints such as parents of John the Baptist, parents of Most Pure Virgin are also rejoicing by this glory. The artists symbolically depicted them on both sides of the exit door. The Glory of Christ God is happily received by the saints and venerable fathers and together with them, happily receiving the glory, pious person that came to the Church to pray, and to wash away the soul from domestic dirt and mud. Happy soul confesses to her Christ Savior:

“O, Lord! You are the light to the world. I will go with You and will have the life eternal!”

Over the Royal Doors, a bunch of grapes are shining with gold where inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Evangelists are thoughtfully looking; where with holy meekness Most Pure Virgin listens to the good news of Archangel. On the right side is Christ, on the deacon’s door Holy Protomartyr Stephen and the patron icon of Saint Archangel Michael. Over the iconostas, like symmetrical completion, is icon of the Resurrection of Christ. On the left side Most Pure Virgin, on the deacon’s door Saint Philip and icon of Pochaiv Mother of God. Over the iconostas is the icon of the Nativity of Christ. Ornaments are light and easily perceived. The Icons are done in ancient Ukrainian traditional style with lightly omitted extra details and the fullness of colors on the faces and the eyes.

Religious inspiration sincerely joined with children’s meekness, trust and immediacy. Lightly shadowed colors on the icons underlines brightness of faith, hope and love of Ukrainian soul, brightness of God’s mercy, truth and charity. The Royal doors are opening. The light appears. The whole altar shines with marvelous radiance of the face of Christ and light of happiness of His blessing. Christ shines in the church, the King of Glory, the Savior of the world!

The Ukrainian Orthodox Parish in Woonsocket celebrates a great feast: the feast of its own artistic, immortal soul, the feast of thanksgiving to All-merciful God for all His mercy and generosity to Ukrainian people in Woonsocket, Ukrainian people on free American land, and to all Ukrainian people that are living in Ukraine and abroad in the wide free world. The time will come and the darkness and bondage will disappear in Ukraine. An Independent Ukrainian Country will shine Christ, His Love, His Will and His Glory. He will shine happily and peacefully in every house and in every Ukrainian heart. He will shine so, as He shines in a faraway Woonsocket on free American Land in a sanctuary of Ukrainian heart and in the most joyful, sincere and pious Ukrainian heart.

Our soul is not dying, neither our freedom!

Comments are closed