Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 27, 2004
Protection of the Virgin Mary
Canadian Byzantine design features a large central silver dome and four small domes at gable ends
Mary, Protectress - - October 1
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
It was the year 860 AD and terrified citizens of Christian Constantinople were huddled in the church of Blachernae as the city was besieged by a powerful army under Kievan Prince Askold.
Just when all seemed lost, the sacred robe of Our Lady, which reposed in this church, was carried prayerfully in procession around the sanctuary. Soon after, an honourable peace was agreed on with the pagan invaders, the city was saved, and within a year Askold was baptized and was requesting that Christian missionaries be sent to his country (Ukraine).
Constantinople Patriarch St. Photios soon declared a feast to recall the miracle and in 1037 Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kievan Rus formally declared Oct. 1 as a day to commemorate the Patronage (Protection) of the Most Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.
Since then, this "Pokrov," one of the great feast days of the Eastern Church, has been widely celebrated in the Byzantine rite. Although she is relatively unknown in the Western Church, Our Lady, Protectress is patron of many churches in Western Canada and her image can be found in most Ukrainian Catholic houses of God.
Traditional images of Our Lady show her standing on a cloud, wearing a blue dress and red hooded cloak, holding her white mantle in both hands in an attitude of offering. One church that invokes the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary is at Eldorena, northeast of Edmonton.
The historic landmark can be reached by way of the scenic old Victoria Trail which meanders high above the north bank of the placid North Saskatchewan River, obstinately out of phase with the neat Township road grid that postdates it.
The parish was organized in 1910 and the church built by parishioners a few kilometres north of the Eldorena PO with the help of Father Phillip Ruh. Originally from Alsace-Lorraine, Ruh was ordained as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, transferred to the Byzantine rite, learned to speak and serve in Ukrainian churches and was sent to help alleviate a desperate shortage of clergy in Western Canada.
The year 1913 proved to be a full one for the missionary. He began his new life by crossing the Atlantic, barely survived scarlet fever in an Edmonton hospital, was assigned as pastor over 12 parishes north of the North Saskatchewan River and assisted in the completion of the church at Eldorena, the first of some 30 Ukrainian churches that he would plan or build in the next 40 years.
"Protection" is a small, modestly proportioned church, a few stages above the simplest Canadian Byzantine designs. The traditional three-part plan has an added transept, a large central silver dome and four small domes at the gable ends of the cross-shaped structure.
A matching, small, stuccoed bell tower is west of the church and there's a small old community hall across the road. Inside, the building was painted by noted artist Peter Lipinski.
Centrepiece of the church interior, a large painting above the original altar is framed by blue and yellow flowers in the Ukrainian national colours and dramatically depicts the events of 860.
The Blessed Mother of Pokrova is portrayed standing on a cloud, holding her mantle over the people in the Blachernae church.
Below, the colourfully attired emperor, empress and Church dignitaries share space with common people, all solemnly thanking God for their deliverance. Protection Church is served, with six others, as a mission of Sts. Borys and Hlib parish in Redwater by Pastor Father Janko Herbut.
Although carefully maintained under the direction of parish stalwart John Boychuk, the Divine Liturgy is only celebrated here now on major feast days.