St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton, Alberta, is one of the finest monuments of Ukrainian Church architecture on the American continent. Its architect was Fr. Philip Ruh, OMI. Construction of the church began in 1938; it was consecrated in 1947, as a Basilian Order parish church. It is set in the traditional position, with the apse at the east end, and is located on 97th Street, between 108 and 108A Avenues. It can be seen from a distance of several city blocks.
The church is not designed in any one of the historical architectural styles, but contains elements of several. Thus the cornices on the drums which support the cupolas and part of the façade suggest the Roman style; the shape of the cupolas and drums, set on each of the large cupolas, are Renaissance; and the columns in front of the façade are of the pseudo-classic or American colonial style.
The Cathedral has seven octagonal copper cupolas, each topped with a cross. On the central one is a true open cupola; the others are merely decorative. The walls are of red bricks, with pilasters of darker bricks, and ornamental crosses of yellow bricks in the upper sections.
The cross-shaped cathedral has two stories. The upper story is the church proper, which consists of the sanctuary, the main nave, the transept and four added square areas in each corner where the transepts meet the nave – two of which are sacristies, and the narthex. The spacious choir gallery extends over part of the nave and the narthex. On the lower floor is the parish hall and meeting and utility rooms.
The church is 127 feet long, 105 feet wide at the transept, 100 feet in height (to the tip of the cross on the main cupola). The transept chapels are 30 feet wide and 36.6 feet long; the added transept areas and sacristies are 16 by 16 feet. The façade is 43 feet wide.
Inside the church, the sanctuary is raised three steps above the floor; the first step is three feet wide and serves as the solea; but there is no ambo.
The fine iconostas was designed by Prof. J. Bucmaniuk, who, before his death, managed to paint the icon of the Mother of God. The icons of Christ, St. Josaphat and St. Nicholas, as well as those on the royal doors and deacon doors, we painted by Parasia Ivanec. The festal icons were painted by Ivan Denysenko.
Approaching the task of painting and decorating the interior of the Cathedral, Prof. Julian Bucmaniuk chose the traditional elements of the neo-Byzantine style, against the background of the traditions of universal and Ukrainian church art. In particular, he used the baroque style, with realistic traits, which had become, as it were, the Ukrainian style, accepted under the influence of Netherlands’ baroque, with some Byzantine elements.
In his cathedral paintings, the artist not only created an external work of art, but also portrayed the qualities, interior dispositions and character of the individual subjects; he also succeeded in putting spirit into the portrayed actions. He attempted to respond to the mentality and receptivity to art of today’s person, and so his subjects are full of life, grace and realism, possessing a profound religious sense.
For this painting Prof. Bucmaniuk, used tempera prepared by himself from powdered pigments, oil, eggs and milk. His dominant colours are blue and yellow, as well as the secondary colours derived from them. The blue stands for heaven and serenity; the yellow provides brightness and tranquility. As a result, in the Edmonton Cathedral, one senses a freshness and joy and the presence of God. In depicting the individual figures, the artist made exclusive use of live models, and many parishioners of the day can be recognized in the paintings. Commenting on Prof. Buchmaniuk’s art, Betty Tomlinson said on the Edmonton radio station that “the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton has one of the finest interiors of all churches in Canada.”
The Sanctuary (Holy of Holies)
The focal point of the Cathedral sanctuary is Jesus Christ – the King of Glory, Ruler of the Universe, and Divine Teacher. Professor Bucmaniuk has painted Him seated majestically on a throne. The Lord’s eyes, and the expression of His face, suggest that he is looking into your soul and calling you to Himself: “Everything has been entrusted to Me by My Father… Come to Me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me . . .” (Mt 1:27-29).
In His left hand Christ holds a book with the Alpha and Omega inscription, signifying that He is the beginning and end of all. His right hand is raised in blessing, with the fingers positioned in the Byzantine way. The throne is supported by four six-winged seraphim (cf. Isaiah 6:1-2). On each side of Jesus is an angel in motion, bowing in veneration; one is holding a cross, the other a scepter.
On the lower apse, below Christ, is the Lamb, in front of a cross, standing on a rock from which seven streams flow. The Lamb is Christ, Who sacrificed Himself on the cross for the salvation of the human race. The Lamb also symbolized the Resurrection. The rock is the Church, founded by Christ; the streams signify the Seven Holy Mysteries. On either side of the Lamb are the Apostles – six on each side.
On the upper portion of the apse is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the dove, sending out rays of light. On the arc, which encloses the apse are symbolic angels, and the inscription in Old Slavonic, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3). The semi-arcs of the apse are decorated with grapes and wheat symbols of the Holy Eucharist.
In the centre of the ceiling above the altar is a painting of St. Josaphat – the patron saint of the Cathedral. He is standing with arms outstretched and is clothed in a Basilian habit and bishop’s mantle. On either side, on the lower ceiling, are St. Josaphat’s symbols. On the left there is a cross with a hatchet and palm leaf, a rose and a palm tree; on the right there is a cross with a hatchet and a palm leaf, a sunflower and a lily. The cross, hatchet and palm are symbols of martyrdom. The rose, which was part of St. Josaphat’s crest, symbolizes the Mother of God to whom he was deeply devoted. The sunflower symbolizes the humanity and obedience of the monk, whose attention should be fixed on Christ from sunrise to sunset, as the sunflower is fixed on the sun.
At the front end of the sanctuary in the lower portion of the wall on the left side on the background of a maple leaf (Canada’s emblem) is a pillar of fire surrounded by a wreath of periwinkle – the Basilian emblem – a reminder that the parish was founded and served, and the church built, by Basilians of the Canadian Provinces. On the opposite side are a bishop’s cross and crosier, and mitre, and a Roman hat circled with a laurel wreath.
Paintings in the Cupola and Drum
On the hemispheric ceiling of the cupola Prof. Bucmaniuk painted a striking image of God the Father, in whose lines and expressions he tried to express the divine attributes of majesty, omnipotence and infinity. However, because of the severity of the facial expression, the painting inspired dread, and had to be toned down by the artist.
Read Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1:1-28; Daniel 7:9-14.
The serious and stately face of God the Father is meant to express His role as Ruler of the Universe; the high forehead – His thoughtfulness in the exercise of His Providence; the flame-like grey hair, eyebrows, moustache and beard – His all-embracing love; the eyes – His omniscience. The gaze of God seems to penetrate the most secret recesses of the human soul. His outstretched arms reveal His creative power as they cast the earth into the boundless space of the universe. This figure of God, some of whose facial features resemble those of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, is surrounded by angels.
In the drum, on which the cupula rests, below the windows are icons of four Old Testament prophets: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel; and four religious symbols: the phoenix, the pelican, a seven-branched candelabrum, and a ship at sea.
The candelabrum recalls the ever-burning lamps in the Lord’s sanctuary and symbolized the Old Testament. The Mosaic lamp stand for the Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, was according to the Lord’s command, made of pure gold (Exodus 25:31-40).
The ship symbolizes the Church founded by Christ, which conveys people safely across the sea of life. It also stands for Peter’s boat, that is, the Catholic Church, from which Christ taught the crowds (Luke 5:3).
The phoenix, the mythical bird which burns itself and rises from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle, became from early Christian times the symbol of immortality and the Resurrection of Jesus. Some saw it as symbolizing the immortality of the human soul; for a person at death enters eternal life.
The pelican, the large water fowl with a pouch in its bill for storing fish, and fabled to feed its young with its own blood, became in the Middle Ages the symbol of the Eucharistic Christ, Who feeds the faithful with His Precious Blood. In his Eucharistic hymn, Adore Te, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Pelican of mercy, Jesus, Lord and God, cleanse me, wretched sinner, in Thy Precious Blood.”
The Prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, proclaimed his message to Judah and Jerusalem between 742 and 687 BC. He was one of the greatest prophets, received his call to prophetic office in the Temple in Jerusalem, in 742 BC. Read Isaiah 6:1-13.
In Prof. Bucmaniuk’s painting, the prophet Isaiah is prayerfully looking to the distance and listening to the word of the Lord. To the right of him is a pair of tongs, holding an ember with which a seraphim touched his lips, cleansing him of his sins.
“And I [Isaiah] said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and i dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King the Lord of hosts!’ Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.’ And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, “Here am I ! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:5-7).
The Prophet Jeremiah was a descendant of the priest Abiathar. He was born about 650 BC, near Jesuralem. His ministry began in 627 BC, and ended sometime after 580 BC, probably in Egypt.
He is represented with a wooden ox’s yoke over his shoulders. His face radiates peace, but also concern can be seen in his eyes. The Lord ordered Jeremiah to place the yoke on his neck as a sign that a yoke will be placed on the necks of all the nations serving Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.
“In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. Thus the Lord said to me: ‘Make yourself thongs and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck” (Jeremiah 27:1-2).
As a prophet, Jeremiah suffered imprisonment and public disgrace, because he opposed the idolatry of his people. Nebuchadnezzar took King Jehoiachin into exile, and then destroyed Jerusalem, and exiled its leading citizens as well. Prof. Bucmaniuk’s intent was to represent Jeremiah as a symbol of obedience to the will of God in trials and tribulations in order to avoid greater evils.
The Prophet Ezekiel was a priest, whose ministry to those in exile extended from 593 to 563 BC.. To a helpless and hopeless people he brought hope of restoration to homeland and temple by the just and holy God. He is also the prophet who announces the final resurrection of dead, the people of God, on the final Day of the Lord.
Read Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Ezekiel is the prophet of the final resurrection of the dead. The artist has depicted him against a background of skulls, with the following words in mind:
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley… So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bon. And as I looked, there sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them… So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, and exceedingly great host. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; were are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O My people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, O my people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; they you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it,’ says the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:1-14).
The Prophet Daniel has been depicted by Prof. Bucmaniuk as the symbol of unwavering faith and complete confidence in God in the midst of dangers.
During the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, in they year 606 BC, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. To save the city, Jehoiakim allowed some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, handsome and skillful in all wisdom, knowledge and understanding, to be taken into exile. In Babylon, the noble youths were educated to serve in the palace of the king. Daniel was one of them. In Babylon, Daniel became a great wise man, an advisor to the king, with the God given gift to interpret dreams. Despite his high position, throughout his lifetime, Daniel remained faithful to the one true God. This almost cost his life.
Read Daniel 6:1-28).
Under Darius the Mede, Daniel violated a law of the Medes and Persians prohibiting prayer to anyone except the king for thirty days, and was thrown into a den of lions. They did not harm him, and Darius recognizing the miracle, had Daniel’s accusers thrown into the lion’s den. The story shows that God protects his faithful in times of persecution.
Below the drum of the cupola in the four triangular spaces, Prof. Bucmaniuk painted the four writers of the Gospels, and below them, their symbols. Towards the end of the third century, or early in the fourth, Christians began associating the symbols of a man, a lion, an ox an eagle with the Evangelists. The tradition became fixed by the Biblical scholar St. Jerome (340-420), who linked St. Matthew with the man, St. Mark with the lion, St. Luke with the ox, and St. John with the eagle. This symbolic association is based especially on the New Testament Book of Revelation, where St. John describes his vision of the heavenly throne and the creatures surrounding it. “The first creature resembled a lion, the second an ox; the third had the face of a man, while the fourth looked like an eagle in flight” (Rev 4:7).
The evangelist Matthew is symbolized by the image of a man, because he begins his Gospel with the human origins of our Jesus Christ, tracing his genealogy from Abraham.
Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax-collector. After being called by Jesus, Matthew left his own ways behind to follow Jesus as a disciples. He became one of the Twelve. After Jesus’ Resurrection, Matthew remained in Palestine for fifteen years and wrote down the teachings of Jesus for his fellow Jews in Aramaic, which was later translated into Greek. The Gospel of Matthew could have been written as early as 50 AD. It is the most Jewish of all the Gospels and testifies to Jesus being the fulfillment of Jewish messianic hopes.
The evangelist Mark is symbolized by the image of a lion, because he begins his Gospel with the prophesy that is fulfilled in John the Baptist: “Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, who shall prepare they way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (Malachi 3;1, Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist appears, roaring like a lion in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Mark, also known as John Mark, wrote his Gospel for the Christian community of Rome. According to tradition, he used the teachings of the Apostle Peter as his primary source, adding to it his personal experience. It may have been written shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The evangelist Luke is symbolized by the image of an ox, the sacrificial animal of the Old Testament. Luke begins his gospel at the Temple in Jerusalem, where daily sacrifices are offered to God.
By birth, Luke was a Gentile from Antioch, and by profession a physician. He was a fellow worker with Paul for many years. He may have written his Gospel as early as the 60’s or as late as the 80’s. The Gospel is addressed to “Theophilus,” possibly a Roman official who had become a Christian. Luke’s Gospel and the second part, the Acts of the Apostles, was meant to provide a history of the Lord and His Church for Gentile Christians throughout the Mediterranean world, as well as Jews and Samaritans living among them.
The evangelist John is symbolized by the image of an eagle, because he begins his Gospel, as an eagle in flight, rising to divine heights and proclaiming: “In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1).”
The Gospel of John, written about AD 96, is usually considered to be the last of the four gospels to be written. The Apostle John died in peace sometime between AD 96-100, having lived approximately one hundred years.
Walking down the nave from the transept towards the narthex, from east to west, we come to the first arc, which is decorated with paintings of fish. The fish is one of the oldest Christian symbols. The Greek for fish, ikhthys, is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the Greek words: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour. The fish soon became the identifying sign of Christians.
Crucifixion. On the first part of the ceiling is a painting of the crucifixion. The Mother of God and St. John are standing on each side of the cross. Prof. Bucmaniuk succeeded in portraying expressions of profound pain and sorrow, along with an unearthly peace and composure.
The Resurrection. On the second part of the ceiling of the nave, separated from the first with an arc decorated with a lamb, is an ethereal and transparent painting of Christ’s Resurrection. The Risen Christ is holding a cross in one hand, with the flowing linen cloth draping over the other; an angel is holding the stone that has been removed from the tomb.
The Holy Protection of the Mother of God. The third part of the nave’s ceiling, separated from the second with an arc decorated with lilies, is devoted to the Mother of God. She is depicted in the traditional Ukrainian Pokrov (protection, patronage) style, with a maphorion in her hands – the symbol of her protection.
On the ceiling above the choir gallery there are four harps – symbols of praise unto the Lord; and on the rear wall of the choir gallery are two angels with trumpets summoning people to praise God in song.
On the north and south walls of the nave, among the stained-glass windows, are paintings of several Basilian priests, who were connected in some way with the parish.
On the north wall are Frs. Paul Myskiw, the then protoarchimandrite; Sozont Dydyk; and Platonid Filas.
On the south wall are Frs. V. Shewchuk, the then provincial; N. Kryzanowsky; and Matthew Hura.
Jesus is the true Vine. On the ceiling beneath the choir loft is a painting of Jesus as the true Vine. Jesus says the following:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of Mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… Abide in Me, and i in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. he who abides in Me, and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5)
In the image, Jesus his holding a vine branch with His left hand. In Baptism, by the Holy Spirit we are grafted onto the Vine and become a living branch. Without nourishing, a branch will wither and die. Jesus is the one Who provides the nourishment. In His right hand, Jesus holds a chalice with His Most Precious Body and Most Precious Blood, veiled under the appearance of Bread and Wine. In the Most Holy Eucharist, Jesus the Vine, feeds and nourishes all His branches, and they bear good fruit as living branches. If they stop receiving nourishment, they will wither and die.
The Extended Transepts
The two extended areas at the corners where the nave and transept meet (corresponding to the two sacristies) can be seen as additions to or partial extensions of the transepts.
Second Coming and Last Judgment. In the north extended transept, on the north wall, Prof. Bucmaniuk depicted the Last Judgment. It consists of two scenes, separated by the cornice. In the upper portion of the wall, on the arc-shaped filed, is Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead, holding an open book on His knees. A cross and a scale appear on the covers of the book. On both sides of Christ are angels with trumpets, summoning all to the Great Judgment. On the lower portion of the wall, the painting represents an angel, with the blessed on his right, and the damned on his left in hell-fire; above them appears the skeleton of death with a scythe, and the devil.
“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say, to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited me I was in prison and you came to Me’… Then He said to those at His left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me’… And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).
Archangel Michael. On the adjacent west well, in the arc above the windows, is Archangel Michael, with sword and shield. He has Satan pinned underfoot.
Saints of Kyivan Rus.’ In the south extended transept, on the south wall, Prof. Bucmaniuk created the “Ukrainian Corner.” On the lower portion of the wall, on a background of tridents, he painted Sts. Volodymyr and Olha, and Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves. Prince Volodymyr (980-1015), who officially introduced Christianity into Rus’-Ukraine, is depicted with a cross and sword, and a crown on his head. Princess St. Olha, Volodymyr’s grandmother, who ruled in Kyiv from 945 to 964, is holding a cross and gazing heavenwards. Sts. Anthony and Theodosius are wearing monk’s robes. The Church of Holy Wisdom, and the Dormition Church of the Cave Monastery appear among the saints at the bottom of the painting.
St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. In the arc above the saints is St. Nicholas in Episcopal vestments. On one side of him is Christ, and on the other the Mother of God. Below them are St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
St. George the Great Martyr. On the adjacent west well, in the arc above the windows, the artist painted St. George, mounted on a steed and spearing a dragon. A young girl is kneeling in gratitude for being saved from the beast.
The Transept Chapel of the Mother of God
Although her icon appears in several places in the Cathedral, the Mother of God has had the north arm of the transept dedicated to her.
The Annunciation is depicted in the centre of the ceiling of the transept apse. Mary is standing with crossed arms and head bent forward, as she listens to the message brought by the Archangel Gabriel; he is show as a handsome young man holding a lily.
The Ark of the Covenant. On one side of the Annunciation scene is the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred portable chest of acacia wood and gold, which in the Old Testament contained the tables of the Commandments, a jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron that had bloomed. It has become a Christian symbol of the Virgin Mary, who became the New Ark of the Covenant that carried the Son of God. Jesus, born of Mary, will will establish a New Covenant, and a new Priesthood. He will become the Bread of Life.
In addition to the Annunciation, Prof. Bucmaniuk painted four other large scenes from Mary’s life in the north transept.
The Betrothal of Mary and Joseph is set against the background of the Jerusalem Temple. Mary and her attendants stand to the right of the high priest, and Joseph and his attendants to his left. Joseph is holding a lily in one hand and placing a ring on Mary’s finger with the other.
The Nativity of Christ is depicted in a cave, illumined by a shaft of life from the star. The infant Jesus is resting on a bed of hay. Mary’s countenance radiates peace, whereas Joseph’s eyes betray a concern. Shepherds, lambs, and ox and a donkey complete the scene.
The Meeting (Encounter) of our Lord shows Jesus, His mother, Joseph, Simeon and Anna in the temple according to the Gospel’s description of the event (Luke 2:22-39). The devout Simeon is holding the infant Jesus and uttering his canticle, Nunc Dimittis. Joseph is holding a pair of pigeons – the offering made by the poor, when redeeming their first-born male child, who had to be consecrated to the Lord (Exodus 13:11-13).
The Holy Dormition of the Mother of God is painted on the ceiling between the nave and the transept. Untraditionally, the Blessed Mother is depicted alone, without the the Apostles. With hands folded, she is gazing towards heaven. The background for this painting consists of the wings of seraphim and cherubim. She is carried into heaven, body and soul, on the wings of the seraphim and cherubim.
Above the image of the Encounter in the Temple, there is a scene of Edmonton showing St. Josaphat’s pioneer church, and the new Cathedral, with a seraphim or cherubim hovering over it.
The Transept Chapel of St. Basil the Great
St. Basil the Great. The south arm of the transept is dedicated to St. Basil the Great, one of the outstanding Fathers of the Church. In the centre of the ceiling of the transept apse Prof. Bucmaniuk painted an imposing figure of St. Basil in episcopal vestments on a background of rays of the setting sun.
The following symbols embellish Basil’s transept: a pillar of fire – the emblem of the Basilian Order; a triangle – the symbol of the Blessed Trinity, the teaching about which Basil stoutly defended against the Arian heresy; a dove – the symbol of the Holy Spirit, about whom Basil wrote an excellent theological treatise; and a chalice – a symbol of the priesthood.
In the centre of the ceiling on the forward part of the transept St. Basil appears again, but now in the robes of a Basilian monk, in recognition of his role as the patriarch of communal monastic life in the Universal Church.
In addition to these paintings of St. Basil, there are four large paintings in the south transept.
The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan present Christ standing in the water with His Baptizer. The Lord’s hands are crossed on His chest; His expression is inspired and peaceful. John, wearing a hair shirt, holding a staff in one hand, and with the other pours water on Jesus’ head. A crowd of men, women and children watch on the riverbank. The Holy Spirit hovers above in the form of a dove. At that moment the Fathers’ words are heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Above this Baptism scene appears the town of Mundare, Alberta – the cradle of Basilian monasticism in North America – with the first and later churches, the monastery and grotto. Above it a guardian seraphim or cherubim has spread his wings.
Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem was painted by Prof. Bucmaniuk’s son, Bohdan. Its many lively colours give it a feeling of freshness. Mounted on a donkey, Christ has His right hand raised. His face betrays a seriousness, while His eyes turn to sadness. The people are carrying branches of palm, and laying them, and their garments, before Christ.
The Transfiguration presents the ethereal figures of Christ, with arms outstretched, Moses, with the tablets of the Commandments, and Elijah, against a background of blinding light. Below them are the Apostles Peter, John and James in ecstatic admiration and dismay (Luke 9:28, 36).
The most striking feature in the Byzantine Church is the iconostas, which is symbolic of the Temple veil in the Old Testament. The iconostas is a large screen or wall that separates the altar from the nave of the church. It consists of four rows of icons. The bottom row has three doors. The large double doors in the middle are called “royal doors,” because Christ enters through them symbolically and actually in the Mystery of the consecrated Holy Gifts, as the priest brings the Precious Body and Blood to the congregation. They remind us that Christ alone is the door leading to communion with the Father: “No one comes to the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). One of the icons on the royal doors depicts the Annunciation, reminding us that Christ’s coming, that is, the Incarnation, is the gateway that admits us to the sanctuary of God’s presence. The four other icons are those of the Evangelists, the writers of the four Gospels. The two doors on either side of the royal doors are called the “deacon’s doors,” on which the icons of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence are depicted. To the right and left of the royal doors are icons of Christ, the Teacher, and of the Mother of God. To the extreme right is the icon of the patron saint of the Cathedral, St. Josaphat, and to the extreme left is St. Nicholas.
Immediately above the royal doors, in the second row, is the icon of the Last Supper. To the right are six icons depicting the major feasts of the Mother of God and to the left the major feasts of Christ. These serve as a visual Gospel to worshippers.
The central part of the third row has a large icon of Christ, as the centre of history, and on both sides are the twelve Apostles who first brought the Gospel of Christ to the world.
The fourth row shows us the prophets of the Old Testament; they were the great leaders of the Jewish people before the coming of Christ. At the very top is Christ crucified; the price He paid for our salvation.
Each icon in the iconostas has its proper place according to a definite theological scheme that is used for inspiration and instruction. Christ used His physical body to communicate to man, so the Church uses icons to make God known to man.
Icons in the Church
The church is the meeting place between God and man. It is here we experience God’s Presence. Within the church, the icon is a visible sign of the relationship between God and man. Christ, the fullness of this relationship is THE ICON, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). It is He Who leads us to the Father. The icon screen, placed between the sanctuary and nave, is another expression of this unity of God and man. The images of Christ, the Mother of God, and the Saints, remind us that we are created in the image of Christ. They are an invitation to come into His Presence.
The Icon – Our Invitation to Prayer
We stand in silence before the icon and grow in appreciation of its expression. Reading about icons is not enough; prayerful effort is required to sense inwardly the holiness of the icon. Much like meditation, silence begins to speak to us. As the icon is a spiritual form of art, it carries us beyond physical matter into the presence of the person depicted. It raises our consciousness to a new level, to the level of the Kingdom of God, where we begin to see according to the spirit
and not according to the flesh. In this manner we are able to speak about the icon bringing us into the presence of God.
We are called to venerate the holy icons. We bow before them and reverently kiss them. The teaching of our Church tells us that we are to venerate them with the same honour that is shown to the Book of the Holy Gospels, and the Cross; the honour that we show toward them passes to the PERSON who is represented. They are the symbol of our relationship with God, and the reverence we show to them is passed over to God.