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.
Information and images courtesy of UCEE.