Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 28, 2005
Saint models Christian generosity
Parishioners funded a free-standing bell tower built in 1934
St. Nicholas – December 6
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
St. Michael, Alta.
Those in search of St. Nicholas can find him in rural central Alberta in the welcoming congregation of the church that bears his name at St. Michael.
It's a midsummer morning and several dozen vehicles are arranged in neat rows on the manicured grass fronting the red brick church.
Parishioners pack the small sanctuary for their cherished once-monthly celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The scene, inside and out, is one of serenity that belies the sometimes difficult origins of this active Ukrainian Catholic parish.
After the services, father accompanies a dozen worshippers to the neat cemetery to offer prayers for departed family members. A sense of community and vitality surrounds the small groups lingering in this sacred oasis.
The hamlet of St. Michael took its name in 1923 from a nearby Roman Catholic church.
Before this, however, a church dedicated to St. Nicholas was built by area residents in 1904 who were ministered to by Basilian priests from Mundare. This was eight years after the arrival of the first settlers in the district from Halychyna in Western Ukraine.
Then, partly because of a lack of clergy and land title claims by the Orthodox church, St. Nicholas was closed for seven years until 1918 when the dispute was resolved in favour of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church of St. Nicholas of Wostok.
Later, this log sanctuary was replaced by a larger, more conventional structure, the first brick church in northern Alberta. It was blessed by Canada's first Ukrainian bishop, Nykyta Budka in 1925.
Well before December, a metamorphosed St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) will be almost everywhere, primarily as a promoter of Christmas season merchandising.
Yet centuries before the alteration by Dutch puritans to rid him of his Catholic background, Nicholas was a prominent resident of Myra on the Mediterranean coast in today's Turkey.
One of the most popular of Eastern saints, he became a model of Christian generosity and charity, a fourth century archbishop who followed the lessons of the Scriptures.
His feast was introduced into the Ukraine about 1085 by Prince Yaroslavych and he is patron of Byzantine Catholics and children. Sometimes depicted in Church art holding three bags of gold, he is said to have secretly provided dowries to prevent the selling into prostitution of three poor sisters.
The good saint's church at St. Michael is a modest structure of traditional three-part design, with large silver domes on octagonal drums.
The free-standing bell tower, built in 1934, contains "three fine toned bells" donated by parishioners.
The church interior displays plain off-white walls and is illuminated by windows at both the main level and in the domes.
Since there is no iconostasis, focal point behind the original altar is a large icon in an ornate, white, compound, gold trimmed, light bulb illuminated frame of the parish patron.
A grey-bearded St. Nicholas is portrayed in brilliantly coloured bishop's robes holding a book of the Scriptures.
Many interior fixtures, lectern, tetrapod and elaborate side altars dedicated to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart, were made by Philip Pawluk, noted decorator of some 55 Alberta churches, in 1927.
Today, this active parish is a mission of St. John the Baptist at Borschiw and shares clergy with parishes at Hilliard and Krakow.
The Divine Liturgy is celebrated at St. Nicholas on the first Sunday of each month.
In 1984, parishioners placed a monument in the churchyard to honour the parish founders and in 2000, another celebrated the centennial of the parish. That same year, a colourful church history was published in connection with elaborate June 4 celebrations.