THE ICONOGRAPHY IN THE CHURCH OF THE GREAT MARTYR ST. GEORGE THE VICTORIOUS IN EDMONTON
The twentieth century saw a revived interest in Byzantine art in general, and iconography in particular in a number of countries, including Ukraine. These strivings, however, became impossible under Soviet conditions, although even there Boychuk and his disciples, as long as they were permitted to do so, manifested a powerful Byzantine influence in their art. This stylisic revival burgeoned particularly in inter-war Galicia (Halychyna), where Andrey (Sheptytsky) the Metropolitan of Halych encouraged its development. Petro Ivanovych Kholodny (père) made significant steps in that direction; although he may not have adhered to all the canons of Byzantine iconography, but he did employ its stylistic devices. This was hardly a fullfledged Byzantine style, but the first steps had been taken. Eventually, the Second World War and later Soviet occupation put an end to these strivings in Galicia.
This search had to be continued in diaspora conditions. North America sees the fruitful labours of Petro Petrovych Kholodny (fils), Chrystyna Dochwat and Andriy Maday; they were preceded by Mykhaylo Osinchuk, Sviatoslav Hordynsky, hieromonk Juvenaly (Mokrytsky, Studite), occasionally Mykhaylo Dmytrenko and of course others.
This movement was championed primarily by a number of Ukrainian Graeco-Catholic parishes that are attempting to eliminate various Latin strata that have accumulated over the years in their church. This movement received a powerful impulse when Patriarch Josyf the Confessor (Slipyj) was released from the Gulag. His presence in the West awakened a strong laymen’s movement which often favoured Byzantine iconography.
Even in the 1950-60s a number of “traditionalist” parishes were organized, for instance, St. Nicholas the Miracleworker in Toronto, St. Elijah in Brampton (both in the Canadian province of Ontario), Sts. Volodymyr and Ol’ha in Chicago, and the parish under discussion here – St. George the Great Martyr in Edmonton.
The Ukrainian Graeco-Catholic Parish of the Megalomartyr St. George the Victorious in Edmonton was established in 1955 to serve the spiritual needs of those faithful who wanted to celebrate all feasts and fasts by the Julian (old) calendar. Thus its membership comes not from one more or less defined geographical area but rather from the entire city of Edmonton, and even from some suburbs. The parish community embraces all immigration waves of Ukrainians to Canada, it has descendants of the first wave of Ukrainian immigrants, as well as of those who had come in the interwar and postwar immigrant waves. Lately is has been much enriched by recent arrivals from Bosnia, Poland and Ukraine. The parishioners have a very high degree of Ukrainian national consciousness. When worship was at first conducted in Church Slavic, it switched to vernacular Ukrainian as soon as translations of the services became available. With such a demography, there has been no call from within the parish to conduct any services in English, the sole exceptions being occasionally the marriage questions and vows.
By the late 1970s it became clear that the parish was quickly outgrowing the old wooden church that the parish had acquired shortly after its establishment. The edifice was aging, becoming difficult to maintain and repairs to it were becoming costly. Last not least, it had been originally erected as a Roman Catholic church, and although a beautiful iconostasis had been built in it, the overall space was not well suited to the worship needs of the parish. Clearly, a new and larger temple had to be constructed from the ground up that would better serve the spiritual requirements of the faithful.
When construction of a new church was becoming immanent, an Artistic Planning Committee (APC) was struck to provide for the best possible solution of the architectural and iconographic challenges. Besides the two parish priests, Fathers Wolodymyr Tarnawsky and Dr. Euhen Kaminsky (ex-officio), the committee has been chaired since its inception by Dr. Andrij Hornjatkevyč, and initially it consisted of the artist Ksenia Aronetz, the architect Andrew Baziuk, the folklorist Dr. Bohdan Medwidsky and the literary scholar Yuriy Stefanyk.
From the very beginning, the APC worked by consensus. Although this was a time consuming process, instinctively it was felt that the parish executive and the parish itself would accept the APC’s recommendations much more readily if they were unanimous; in the final analysis, this has proven to be an excellent modus operandi. In its work the APC strove for a seemingly simple but ultimately very difficult goal—that the church be the most beautiful and exemplary Ukrainian church in Canada. Given the traditionalist disposition of the parish and the perceived failure of some architecturally striking but functionally poor modern Ukrainian churches in North America,1 it was felt from the very beginning that rather than experiment with modern forms, the new temple had to be a very traditional one. Thus, there was little debate about the architectural style since it was understood that the Byzantine one was ideally suited to the liturgical needs of our Church. Furthermore, the celebration of the Millennium of Christianity in Kyivan Rus’-Ukraine was approaching, so the new church was to be not only a monument to the faith of the community, but also draw its architectural inspiration in ancient Kyivan Christianity. Later, differences of opinion emerged within the APC regarding the iconographic style — should it be Byzantine or naturalistic — but here too it was finally decided that the former one would both optimally convey the theological message, and best harmonise with the architecture. Having decided that the iconography throughout the church be in the Kyivan-Byzantine style of the eleventh–thirteenth centuries, the debate turned to the choice of iconographer, and ultimately Heiko Schlieper, then of Toronto, was chosen. In his work on the monumental iconography H. Schlieper was assisted by Antin Yawny.
The church of the Megalomartyr St. George the Victorious was built in 1981-2 as a monument to the millennium of the Baptism of Ukraine-Rus’ according to the design of architect Andrew Baziuk on the NE corner of 113 Avenue and 95A Street. This location allowed the church to be built facing east, a tradition that goes back not only to Christian antiquity but even Old Testament times. Modeled on mediaeval Ukrainian churches,2 the church is basically a cubic space with four internal pillars that rise to form arches joined by pendentives. These in turn support a cylindrical drum that is capped with a hemispheric dome. The external turrets on the west elevation that house the staircases were inspired by the church of St. Basil in Ovruch (Zhytomyr region, twelfth century).3 Inasmuch as the church is located not too far from Edmonton’s City Center Airport, this required some decrease of the overall height and modification of certain proportions. The edifice is built of steel and concrete and is faced with bricks on the exterior which makes the church resemble some ancient Ukrainian shrines, although the walls and columns are much thinner than was necessary in antiquity. The windows are larger and more numerous as well, and this diminished the area of the walls. In spite of these limitations, the architecture was very conducive to a traditional placement of the monumental interior iconography.
The iconographer always worked in close co-operation with the APC. He brought detailed drawings of each part, these were discussed meticulously and modifications were made if needed. St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv as well as other ancient Ukrainian churches were taken as the model of monumental iconography and its placement, as well as the guidelines of Dionysius of Phourna.4 Except for inscriptions which are traditionally written in Greek ( ΙΣ ΧΣ , Ο ΩΝ and ΜΡ ΘΥ ), all other inscriptions were written in standard modern Ukrainian .
Given the well established traditional scheme of the arrangement of icons in the iconostasis,5 little discussion was needed in this realm . For the iconography on the walls the most authentic, i.e. traditional, and at the same time theologically meaningful arrangement of icons was worked out on the basis of such sources as St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv and other ancient Ukrainian churches, as well as the guidelines given by Dionysius of Phourna. Before undertaking the iconography of any area of the church, H. Schlieper would present the APC with detailed drawings of that part. These would be discussed in considerable detail, and where needed, changes were made.
The parish was very conscious that the iconostasis is an indispensable part of a Ukrainian church, and soon after the church had been completed, the Greek firm of Argirios Kavroulakis built a two-tiered iconostasis, since there is evidence that in mediaeval times iconostases generally had no more than two rows of icons.6 At this stage, H. Schlieper painted the icons while still residing in Toronto. The APC was satisfied with his choice of models and there was little need for consultation between it and the artist.
The lower tier has the icons (starting at the north end) of St. Nicholas, the Theotokos (Birth-Giver of God), the Saviour, and St. George — the patron of the parish. The (central) royal doors have icons of the Annunciation and of the four Evangelists, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel are on the (side) deacon’s doors. The upper tier contains icons of the feasts of the Saviour and Theotokos: Nativity of the Theotokos, Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, Nativity of the Saviour, Presentation of the Saviour in the Temple (Purification of the Theotokos), Theophany (Epiphany), Entry of the Saviour into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), Last Supper, Resurrection (Descent into Hades), Transfiguration, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), Dormition of the Theotokos, and Elevation of the Holy Cross. The iconostasis is surmounted by a crucifix.
In the altar, the upper part of the apse has the icon of the Theotokos “More Spacious than the Heavens” (ή πλατυτέρα τών ούρανών) modeled on the “Great Panagia” attributed to Ven. Alipius the Iconographer of the Kyivan Cave Monastery,7 and she is flanked by two Archangels. Below this composition is the Communion of the Apostles (based on the same subject in St. Michael’s Golden-topped Monastery in Kyiv).8 On the same level above the altar of preparation (N) is the Sacrifice of Melchisedec,9 and on the southern side is the Sacrifice of Abraham10 — Old Testament prefigures of the New Testament Sacrifice. Underneath are icons of Church Fathers: behind the table of Prothesis are Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom — authors of the most commonly used Divine Liturgies, and on the south side are Sts. Gregory Dialogus and James the Brother of God, also authors of Divine Liturgies. Between these are icons of the hierarchs Gregory of Nyssa, Andrew of Crete, Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzen), Archdeacon Stephen, Clement of Rome (his relics were found by St. Cyril the Apostle of the Slavs in the Crimea where the third pope had been martyred), Archdeacon Lawrence, Cyril and Athanasius of Alexandria, and venerable John of Damascus.11
THE TRIUMPHAL ARCH
The altar is joined to the nave with an arch with the four major (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) and the twelve minor prophets (Amos, Zephaniah, Micah, Habakkuk, Nahum, Jonah, Elijah, Malachi, Joel, Zechariah, Haggai, and Hosea; Obadiah was replaced by Elijah because this prophet is highly venerated in the Ukrainian Church, and many men have his name). Underneath the prophets is the Annunciation (modeled on the mosaic in Kyiv’s Cathedral of St. Sophia12), and under this are the ancestors of Christ Joachim and Anne. As an extension of the iconostasis at right angles to it are icons of the Apostles of the Slavs Sts. Cyril (with a scroll with the glagolitic alphabet) and Methodius (in bishop’s robes). Facing the congregation, the arch is surmounted by the Deësis (Δέησις) composition — the Saviour flanked by the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner (again modeled on the composition in the Kyivan St. Sophia’s Cathedral13).
The center of the dome contains the Pantocrator (Almighty) surrounded with a stylized rainbow and nine seraphim that symbolize the nine choirs of angels. Between the windows of the drum are the twelve apostles (from the east clockwise — Sts. Paul, John the Theologian, Andrew, Philip, James the son of Alphaeus, Bartholomew, Simon Zelotes, Jude, James the son of Zebede, Thomas, Matthew, and Peter). The four Evangelists with their creatures are in the pendentives (Matthew – man, Mark – lion, Luke – ox, and John – eagle). Between the Evangelists on the four sides are Angels that bear the Icon-not-made-by-hands (ἀχειροποίητος, E), alpha and omega (ΑΩ, S), instruments of the Passion (W) and chi-rho (ΧΡ, N).
Traditionally a Byzantine temple is bisected by two imaginary planes. The vertical one goes through the centre of the church dividing the southern side from the northern one. Echoing the iconostasis, the south side is dedicated to the Saviour and is the male one, while the northern side is dedicated to the Theotokos and is the female one. The other bisecting plane is an horizontal one, the space above it symbolizes heaven and contains scenes from the life of the Saviour and Theotokos, and the space below it symbolizes the earth with images of saints that have shone on it. In St. George’s Church, the upper space has been bisected again: the upper area has the aforementioned icons from the lives of the Saviour and the Theotokos, and below them are icons of the Passion. The upper icons depict the feasts of the Saviour on the south, and those of the Theotokos on the north: Nativity of the Saviour,14 Theophany,15 Transfiguration,16 Ascension,17 Pentecost (Descent of the Holy Spirit),18 Abraham’s Hospitality (the Old Testament Holy Trinity),19 and Elevation of the Holy Cross; the Conception of St. Anne (Meeting of Joachim and Anne by the Golden Gate),20 Nativity of the Theotokos,21 Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple,22 Annunciation,23 Meeting of the Theotokos with Elizabeth,24 Presentation of the Saviour in the Temple25 and Dormition of the Theotokos. The Passion cycle is underneath: Resurrection of Lazarus,26 Entry into Jerusalem,27 Last Supper,28 Washing of the Apostles’ Feet,29 in Gethsemane,30 Judas’ Betrayal,31 Arrest of Jesus,32 Jesus before Caiaphas,33 Peter’s Denial,34 Jesus before Pilate,35 Scourging of Jesus,36 Mocking of Jesus,37 the Way to Calvary,38 the Ascent onto the Cross, the Crucifixion,39 the Descent from the Cross,40 Lamentation,41 Resurrection (Descent into Hades), 42 the Myrrh-bearing Women43 and Doubting Thomas.44
Under these icons on the eastern walls are four large icons that echo those of the lower tier of the iconostasis. On the south side is Christ in Glory and the Megalomartyr St. George on horseback, and on the north side is the Theotokos enthroned and the Protecting Veil. Under them are icons of several saints of the Kyivan Church: the Martyrs Borys and Hlib, hierarch Stefan bishop of Volodymyr in Volhynia, prince Mykhayil and his boyar Teodor of Chernihiv (S); the venerable Teodosiy and Antoniy of the Kyivan Caves, hierarch Kyrylo bishop of Turau, venerables Yuliyaniya princess of Olshana, and Yefrasinnya hegumenissa of Polatsk.
Between the Passion icons in the summit of the transepts are the Equals of the apostles Constantine and Helen (S) and Volodymyr and Ol’ha (N).
In selecting the saints whose icons were to be on the walls, primarily those were chosen whose names are had by a large number of parishioners. Given the greater importance of some saints, they were placed in the upper tier. Above the windows in medallions are the venerables of the Kyivan Caves Ahapyt the Healer, Alipiy the Iconographer, Nestor the Chronicler and Venerable Theodore of Studion on the south side, and analogously on the north side are the martyrs Faith, Hope, Love, and Galena. Underneath them on the south side are the Unmercenary healers Cosmas, Damian and Panteleimon, venerable Romanos the Melodist, hierarch Theodotus (Bohdan), hieromartyr Josaphat archbishop of Polatsk and venerable Job hegumen of Pochayiv. Facing them on the north side are the martyrs Catherine, Thecla, Sophia, Parasceve, Christine and Irene. The first five are commemorated by name in some redactions of the Prothesis.45
In the lower tier are the megalomartyr Demetrius of Thessalonica, martyr Zenobius, hierarch Leo pope of Rome, venerable Isidore of Pelusium, megalomartyr Procopius, hierarch Stefan archbishop of Surozh (Sudak in the Crimea), martyr Myron, and continuing on the western wall are megalomartyr Theodore Tyro, venerables Onuphrius the Great, and Mykyta the Stylite of Pereyaslav; on the northern wall are the martyrs Natalia, Eugenia, Tatiana, venerable Xenia the Roman, martyr Justina, venerable Macrina, venerable martyr Theodosia, and continuing on the west wall are the martyrs Daria, Alexandra and Lucia.
Facing the large icon of St. George on the eastern wall is the Last Judgment on the SW wall,46 and facing the Protecting Veil is the Baptism of Kyivan Rus’ on the NW. On the level of the choir loft right and left of it are Old Testament icons: The Fiery Ascent of the Prophet Elijah,47 Moses and the Burning Bush;48 the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace,49 and the Cleansing of Isaiah’s Lips.50 On the face of the choir loft is the Root of Jesse51 from whose bosom grows a vine on which the patriarchs are depicted: Adam, Seth, Noah, David (S), the Theotokos with the Saviour (centre), Solomon, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (N).
The pillars supporting the choir loft have icons of saints associated with repentance: Venerable Ephrem the Syrian, St. John the Forerunner, Venerable Mary of Egypt and the Myrrh-bearer Mary Magdalene.
THE CHOIR LOFT
Continuing the upper tier of saints, the western wall has icons of the neomartyrs and confessors: between the windows are Andrey metropolitan of Halych (Sheptytsky) and patriarch Josyf the Confessor (Slipyj), and underneath them are the hieromartyrs Avhustyn of Khust (Voloshyn), Pavlo bishop of Prešov (Hoydych), Teodor bishop of Mukachiv (Romzha), Mykyta bishop of Winnipeg (Budka), Hryhory bishop of Stanyslaviv (Khomyshyn), Yosafat (Kotsylovsky) and Hryhory (Lakota) bishops of Peremyshl, and Klyment archimandrite of Lviv (Sheptytsky).
At the summit of the northern stairwell are icons of venerable Theodora empress of Byzantium, equal of the apostles Nina the illuminator of Georgia, martyr Larissa, venerable Photina (Svitlana), martyr Lydia, Joanna the Myrrh-bearer, Martha the Myrrh-bearer, martyr Charitina princess of Lithuania, and megalomartyr Anastasia the Liberator. The icon underneath them depicts Jacob in his Struggle with the Angel,52 Jacob Anointing the Pillar,53 and Jacob’s Dream.54 The central pillar of the northern staircase has coats of arms of Left-Bank Ukrainian cities and regions: Kharkiv, Kerch, Novhorod in Siveria, Kuban, Lubny, Sevastopol, Sloboda Ukraine, Crimea, Donets Region, Pyryatyn, Mariyupol, Kremenchuk and Zaporizhzhya. On a side wall is the trident, the coat of arms of St. Volodymyr the Great, as depicted on his coin.
The top of the southern staircase has icons of venerable Jerome of Stridonium, apostle Titus bishop of Crete, hierarch Sophronius patriarch of Jerusalem, venerable Maximus the Confessor, martyr Gordius, venerable Hilarion the Great, martyr Adrian, apostle Timothy and martyr Eugene. The icon underneath them depicts the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St. John Climacus, the Venerable Fathers of Sinai, and St. John Writing his “Ladder of Paradise” (“Ladder of Divine Ascent”). The central pillar has coats of arms of Right-Bank Ukrainian cities and regions: Lviv, Kyiv, Galicia, Podillya, Volhynia, Transcarpathia, Tauria, Odesa, Bukovyna, Stanyslaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk), Kaniv, Chyhyryn, Peremyshl, Terebovlya, and Ternopil. The side face of the choir loft has the present coat of arms of Ukraine.
As can be seen from the above, except for the narrative icons and those of the apostles, evangelists, church fathers, neomartyrs, and some Kyivan saints, an equal number of male and female saints is depicted on the church walls. St. Geoge’s church may be unique in having this parity.
Inasmuch as Baptism and the Betrothal are traditionally performed in the narthex, and the gospel is read for the last time over the body of the deceased there, the western wall has the icon of the Baptism of St. Paul,55 and the vaults portray the Wedding in Cana of Galilee56 (N) and the Resurrection of the Widow’s Son (S).57 As worshippers leave the church, the last icon they see over the narthex doors is the Saviour sending the apostles to be His witnesses … to the end of the earth.58 The only icon on the exterior of the church is a mosaic showing the Saviour with the book open to the text “I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”59
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is therefore for every person that enters into the holy space of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Megalomartyr St. George the Victorious in Edmonton to determine to what degree the beauty of the Lord’s house affects the worshipper, and most importantly, to what degree it fosters a prayerful attitude. The APC in co-operation with the iconographers has done its utmost to achieve the goal that it had set itself — to build and adorn the most beautiful and exemplary church in Canada that could serve as a model for others. It is for the faithful to decide to what degree this goal has been reached.
1. Given the subjective nature of the question, these temples will remain unnamed.
2. Asieiev, Iu. S.. Mystetstvo Kyïvs’koï Rusi. Arkhitektura Mozaïky Fresky Ikonopys Miniatiura Dekoratyvno-uzhytkove mystetstvo. (Kyïv: Mystetstvo, 1989). Lohvyn, H. N. Sofiia Kyïvs’ka. Derzhavnyi arkhitekturno istorychnyi zapovidnyk. (Kyïv: Mystetstvo, 1971). Powstenko, Olexa. “The Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev.” The Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S.vol. III-IV, no. 4(10) – 1,2 (11-12). (New York, 1954).
3. Asieiev, Iu. S.. Mystetstvo Kyïvs’koï Rusi. ill. 157 and 158.
4. Dionysios of Fourna. Painter’s Manual of Dionysius of Fourna. (London: Sagittarius Press. 1981).
5. Konstantynowicz, J. B. Ikonostasis. (L’viv: Buchhandlung der Ševčenko-Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1939). Lidov, A. N. (ed.) Ikonostas. Proiskhozhdenie – razvitie – simvolika. ( Moscow: Progress-Traditsiia, 2000).
7. Asieiev, Iu. S. Mystetstvo Kyïvs’koï Rusi. ill. 174. Hordyns’kyi, S. Ukraïns’ka ikona 12—18 storichchia. (Philadelphia: Provydinnia, 1973): 29, 39.
8. Asieiev, Iu. S.. Mystetstvo Kyïvs’koï Rusi. ill. 70 and 71.
9. Genesis 14:18.
10. Genesis 22:1–14.
11. Cf. the analogous composition in St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. Lohvyn, H. N. Sofiia Kyïvs’ka. ill. 69–88.
12. Lohvyn, H. N. Sofiia Kyïvs’ka. ill. 38 and 40
13. Lohvyn, H. N. Sofiia Kyïvs’ka. ill. 46.
14. Luke 2:6-20
15. Matthew 3:13-17
16. Matthew 17:1-9
17. Acts 1:9-11
18. Acts 2:1-4
19. Genesis 18:1-15
20. Mary 3:8-10
21. Mary 3:11; Protoevangelium 4:8-10; 5:6-9
22. Mary 4:1-7; Protoevangelium 7:3-5
23. Luke 1:26-38
24. Luke 1:39-56
25. Luke 2:22-39
26. John 11:1-44
27. John 12:12-15
28. John 13:1
29. John 13:4-11
30. Mark 14:32-42
31. Mark 14:43-45
32. Mark 14:46-47
33. Mark 14:53-64
34. Mark 14:66-72
35. Mark 15:1-5
36. John 19:1
37. John 19:2-3
38. Matthew 27:31-32
39. Matthew 27:35
40. Luke 23:50-53
41. Luke 23:55-56
42. Nicodemus 13-20
43. Luke 24:1-10
44. John 20:26-29
45. Hapgood, I. F. Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church. 3d ed. (Brooklyn: Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, 1956): 73.
46. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-14. Ordinarily, this composition should have been located on the central western wall above the choir loft but the number and size of the windows on it made this impossible and instead the neomartyrs were painted there.
47. 2 (4) Kings 2:11-13
48. Exodus 3:2-5
49. Daniel 3:13-25
50. Isaiah 6:6-7
51. Isaiah 11:1
52. Genesis 32:25-31
53. Genesis 28:18-22
54. Genesis 28:11-17
55. Acts 9:18
56. John 2:1-11
57. Luke 7:11-17
58. Acts 1:8
59. John 10:9
© Andrij Hornjatkevyč, 2007 Chairman of the Artistic Planning Committee