Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 2004
Icon screen marks family's centennial
Ukrainian seminarians learn Divine Liturgy at its Byzantine best
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
One hundred years after Eli Nykiforuk and Effie Kobylansky were married in Mundare, their family has preserved their memory with a spectacular work of art in a converted chapel at the Basilian House of Studies.
"With this iconostasis, we now have the physical and visual means to have liturgy at its peak," said Father Matthew Drury, director of formation at the Basilian House.
The iconostasis is a large screen in front of the altar consisting of three rows of icons with three sets of doors, containing images of Christ, the Mother of God and St. Basil the Great.
A series of 12 icons depicts the major feasts of the Church. There is a stunning portrait of the Last Supper as well as renderings of the 12 Apostles.
"This is very impressive," Bishop Lawrence Huculak said following a May 29 Divine Liturgy and blessing of the iconostasis.
"This will certainly enhance the liturgical services for the brothers who are here and it makes a major change to the style of the chapel that we once considered austere. The chapel was not built for Ukrainian Catholic use, but adding the iconostasis gives it a fullness with a heavy theological aspect."
Drury, along with Luella (Nykiforuk) Yakymyshyn and her sister Nicolle Huhn, were instrumental in designing and producing the iconostasis, a symbol central to Byzantine worship.
The Basilians moved their seminary into the former convent of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (Halifax) in 1998. The chapel, previously used for Latin rite liturgies, was renovated to accommodate the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, Drury said.
"Because this is a seminary, we converted the chapel from the Roman Catholic architectural design to our purposes," he said.
"We couldn't do it all at once because we didn't have enough money to convert the look and the function of the chapel to the Byzantine rite. What initiated the iconostasis was the idea that every Byzantine Church should have an iconostasis to make the Ukrainian Divine Liturgy canonically complete."
Drury and Yakymyshyn travelled to Lviv, in Western Ukraine, home of centuries-old schools of artisans skilled in crafting the icons. The iconostasis was constructed by Lviv artisans and shipped to Edmonton in a 12-metre container.
An iconostasis symbolizes the temple veil in the Old Testament. It is a large icon screen, separating the sanctuary and altar from the nave of the Church.
Made of oak native to Western Ukraine, the structure at the Basilian House has carvings from linden wood, finished with meticulously inlaid gold and silver leaf. The icons are hand painted in tempera and acrylic using designs from the early Ruthenian (now Ukrainian) school of iconography dating back to the 15th century.
Drury said families searching their cultural and religious history and the seven seminarians currently in residence at the Basilian House can now rejoice in the full liturgy for the first time in a century.
"Our Ukrainian pioneers who came over were very poor. It is incredible that they were able to do what they did to erect the basic structures of the churches. Even today, it's a big feat to start a parish. They had very little money to build the church, let alone completing it internally with all of the liturgical requirements such as the iconostasis."
Drury sees no better way to express the significance of the centennial of the Nykiforuk family in Canada than decorating the church with icons of the iconostasis.
Yakymyshyn said when she finished taking the formation for pastoral service course at Newman Theological College last June, she wanted to do some volunteer work.
"I noticed Father Matthew needed some help. We started a little committee to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Basilian order in Canada as missionaries.
"We quickly completed several projects and we wondered what to do next. Father mentioned he wanted to do an iconostasis for the chapel because the seminarians need to learn how to work with the icon screen when they are doing their services. It was also part of our rite," she said.
She got her sister involved and they considered developing a basic iconostasis. Once they decided on one with all of the icons and the money it required, the whole family became involved.
"We then needed an icon behind the altar," she said. "Because this was involving my grandparents, I thought of Our Lady of All Graces because my grandmother used to talk about the Basilian Fathers when they first came. It just all seemed to fit."
Drury said the project is helping the Basilians tap into their liturgical roots. Families also are learning their cultural, social, religious and liturgical history.
Huculak said icons are a key part of the life of the Eastern Church.
"There are pictures of the feast days from the time of Christ with scriptural account of the history of the Eastern Church down to the present," he said. "For the future, what it indicates is a permanency to this chapel. The artifacts are not here to be moved in and out. They are fixtures. They give hope for the future for the Basilian community and spiritual life," he said.
"This is a road sign to their future."