Friday, January 20, 2006

Long Journey Home - Lamont County and Armenia

On Wednesday I was out in the country all day for my work, joining two colleagues to examine several Ukrainian Churches (two Ukrainian Catholic, and two Orthodox). Fraser, the preservation advisor, picked me up at home at 7:30am and we drove out to Lamont County, a rurual area northeast of Edmononton. Fraser's concerns were primarily structural. His job is to make sure the bricks and mortar are secure and to suggest to the building's owners (in this case, the parish) ways to preserve it that are in keeping with the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservantion of Historic Places in Canada. My concerns, apart from the obvious joy of getting to visit eastern Christian Churches on work-time, were primarily aesthetic and historical. All of the Churches we visited had some interior painting by a man named Peter Lepinski, who was a Ukrainian iconographer well known in this area in the early 20th century.

Here is a picture of me shivering outside the first church we visited, The Ukrainian Greek-Orthodox Church of St. Mary at Szypenitz.

The interior is entirely by Lepinski, various holy images in the romantic Ukrainian style painted on canvas - though I think many of them are actually oil paintings instead of egg tempera. In any case, some of the images are rather beautiful in their own way, and embody the spiritual aspirations of the people that commissioned them. The two men that we met there, Gene and Melvyn, were extremely hospitable, and I talked with them a fair bit while Fraser investigated the foundations. This church was built, strangely, of brick in 1919 as the previous wooden building had succumbed to arson. As the story goes, there was a woman in the parish whose husband was not a believer and opposed to the Faith. He totally forbade his own child's baptism. When their first child was born, however, the wife went to visit her parents and they urged her to take the child to church anyway and have the priest come to perform the baptism. Being a woman of bold faith, she did so. The following day the old church was set ablaze. Several years later, when the parishioners gathered there resources and courageously chose to build again, they built of brick! We also visited a few other Church with Lepinski interiors, and also the site at Wostok, Alberta, where the first Divine Liturgy on western Canadian soil was served on the Nemirsky's farm in 1898.

This stand of trees was planted around the area where the Liturgy was served.
This photo shows what are thought to be remnants of the makeshift Holy Table used for the first Divine Liturgy.

Later St. Tikhon consecrated the church built on the other side of the road. There are two monuments there, and here are some snapshots of them (click on the image for a larger view). I like the way the reflection in the monument shows the Alberta blue sky and horizon in the background (and me taking the picture).

* * * * * * * * *

Last night Krista and I planned to tape the CBC production of Black Widow, the 1940s Film Noir featuring Sarah Slean and Martin Tielli. As we haven't quite figured out how to record from our 'peasantvision' using the VCR, we set it up over at her Mom and Dad's place. I set the timer from 8:00pm to 10:00pm, and when we got home we realized that we had recorded not only Black Widow, but also this amazing documentary called A Long Journey Home.

According to the blurb on CBC, this is a "film that follows Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian on an emotional pilgrimage to her spiritual homeland. She performs selections from the sacred and secular music of Armenia in churches and ruins that are the most ancient in the world." We were absolutely blown away by the beauty of Armenia, the first country in the world to adopt the Christian faith as its official religion in 301 AD. There was a whole church carved out of the rock. Isabel Bayrakdarian's voice was tremendously beautiful, ringing out with clarity in these astonishing churches.

So, from St. Mary Szypenitz to the ancient churches of Armenia... you could say it was a good Wednesday and Thursday.


Blogger Jessica said...

How funny! James and I tuned into CBC to watch "A Long Journey Home" and so ended up watching the film noir. I think Armenia has now made my list of places I want to visit - it looks absolutely breathtaking!

10:23 AM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

That's fantastic. We haven't seen it yet, as we still need to get the tape from Krista's mom and dad's place. We're looking forward to it, though.

Some might be interested that the date of that first Divine Liturgy was May 24, 1898 - two hundred sixty years to the day after John Wesley's "heartwarming" experience on Aldersgate Street.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Simply Victoria said...

I would absolutely love to visit some of those churches.
Are many of them still fully functioning parishes?
It would be such a shame for them to become decrepit from disuse.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...

You know, Victoria, most of them do have services once or twice a month. Fr. Vasili and Fr. Nikolai serve several of them.

9:50 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

I'll have to mention the bit about Armenia being the first Christian nation to my brother's girlfriend, who though part Armenian doesn't have much of a connexion with that part of her heritage.

11:18 PM  

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