Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Orthodox churches caught fire this week

In Boston
(Boston Globe) - One by one, they streamed into the cathedral Sunday, tears and grief filling their eyes. Four days had passed since a fire ripped through their beloved St. John the Baptist Albanian Orthodox Church, an old South Boston worship center and gathering space for Albanian families.

On Sunday, church members mourned.

“We’ve lost a beautiful church,’’ said longtime member Sofia Louise Andon after a private service Sunday. “I’m devastated. It was my second home.”

About 50 St. John members — including the choir director, Sunday school teacher, and others — had gathered at St. George Cathedral, a sister church on East Broadway that opened its doors to the displaced congregation. They huddled in a chapel, praying, reading Scripture, and sharing tearful stories of their memories of St. John: baptisms, weddings, funerals, and celebrations.

“We were all crying,’’ said Sandy Nazzaro, the Sunday School teacher and a member for 70 years. “Each of us had an opportunity to reminisce.”

Archbishop Nikon of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Diocese, said worshipers were upset about the loss of treasured icons in the fire — including depictions of the Archangel Michael and the birth of Christ. But he delivered a message of hope during Sunday’s service, reminding worshipers that they can move on from the loss.

“We listened to them,’’ said the archbishop. “They shared their thoughts, prayers, and hopes for the future. They were told that the church is not a building, but that they are the church.”

“No words can express the sympathy we have for our sister church,’’ said Father Mark Doku of St. George Cathedral after Communion Sunday. “Of course all of us saw the images on TV, but driving by this morning, it was extremely painful.’’

St. John’s pastor, Father John Scollard, said although the mood of the service was sad and contemplative, worshipers expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support from across the country. Scollard recounted the message he gave his congregation Sunday: God would carry them even in the worst times.

“We are in this water and we are in the storm. But we are not afraid,’’ Scollard recalled saying.

The fire began about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday at the church at 410 West Broadway, and it quickly consumed the building. Fire investigators determined the cause was an electrical short circuit in a ceiling light fixture in the vestibule area, located behind the main altar.

Cynthia Vasil Brown, the choir director and a member of the St. John parish council, said she accompanied fire investigators in the building Wednesday evening and witnessed the devastation firsthand. “It was 10 times worse than what I imagined,’’ she said, her eyes welling. “Everything was destroyed.”

Church officials said it will take two to three weeks for them to assess all that was lost in the fire, which ripped apart a rear section of the roof, whose charred wooden remains are visible from the street. Members said they will continue to worship at St. George until they decide on a new church home.

St. John, which dates to the 1800s, has been an Albanian Orthodox church since the 1930s, church officials said. The interior included a large mural of St. John. Members bought the West Broadway building in 1948.

Through the years, worshipers saved and scrimped to keep the old church humming. And it became a meeting place — a kind of homestead — for prayers, socials, and other gatherings for members who scattered around the region. Many of the members are related to one another.

Vasil Brown has been a member for 54 years: Her parents attended, she was baptized at St. John, and she and her husband, John, were married at the church.

“It was more than just going to church,’’ she said. “It was part of our lives.”

After the service, Skerdi and Vjollca Avrami of South Boston said they were buoyed by Sunday’s messages of hope and renewal. “The message was be strong and be supportive of each other — and keep our faith,’’ said Skerdi Avrami. “There will be another church.”

The church has started a fire recovery fund. The address is St. John Fire Recovery Fund, 143 Dorchester St., P.O. Box 125, South Boston, MA, 02127.
In Philadelphia
(NBC Philadelphia) - Parishioners of a Philadelphia Ukrainian Orthodox church say the four-alarm fire that destroyed millions of dollars in furniture and artifacts and left a gaping hole in the center of the historic building also revealed a miracle.

"The fire was blazing, so when we saw the fire, we thought everything burned," Saint Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church treasurer and parishioner Pasha Prasko said. "But now that we can see inside, we looked at it and said it’s amazing so many icons are still there."

Although a large portion of the church’s roof collapsed and more than 100 firefighters doused the building in water to tame the blaze, several icons remained untouched by the flames at the historic house of worship in the East Oak Lane section of the city on Sunday.

"It's a holy place, you know, and it's just not damaged the way we thought it would be," Prasko said. "We even talked about it yesterday and said it would be a miracle if her icon would be saved; and here it is, saved. I think it’s a miracle."
According to local historian Marita Krivda Poxon, in the Ukrainian Orthodox community, Saint Mary the Protectress is recognized as the protector of all Ukrainian people. A large painting of the Protectress and several other artifacts could be seen from the front door of the burned building in what appeared to be good condition.

"The church has a large icon, and in the center of it is the Saint Mary the Protectress herself. Apparently she was the saint in the Ukraine that protected the people of the country of the Ukraine," Poxon said.

"I think it’s a miracle that a few of the icons survived because they are mostly made of wood. I could only say that for believers they'll believe that it miraculously survived the fire; I mean the church burned, but her icon survived, and the congregation will survive. That's what it means to me."

Philadelphia Firefighter Arthur Davis said he's never seen anything like it before.

"Not one of those pictures caught on fire; not the ones on the wall, not the ones on the stage, not one of them was damaged," Davis said.

"What happened was it started on the roof, the fire. But it's still amazing that with the collapse and all, this stuff is not burned. They could take it right off the wall; a lot of the pictures are still on the wall, the glass isn't broken or nothing. When it comes to fires, I've seen it all, but I've never seen nothing like this before."

At one point, 125 firefighters and 33 engines were on the scene trying to get the fire under control. The cause of the fire has not yet been identified, but officials believe it was electrical.

Father Taras Naumenko, pastor of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral on 5th and Independence Street, says his parish will be supporting St. Mary's members while its leaders work to determine a plan forward.

"Their congregation will be holding their services at my parish until they figure out their future," Naumenko said.

When asked what he thinks the future could hold for St. Mary's, he said, "I think it’s too soon to even think about what their future will be."

John Prasko is chair of the parish board. He says the church is considering starting a fund to raise money, but says he's still unsure of any exact plans for rebuilding.

"Tomorrow we will have a meeting with the board to see what we will do," he said. "At that time we will have to make several decisions about moving and rebuilding, but I don't know exactly what they'll be yet."

Poxon says any attempt to rebuild would be difficult because of the historic elements of the church.

"The interior could never be rebuilt the way it was," Poxon said. "My hope is that they don't tear it down, that they don't bulldoze it and somehow portions of it can be salvaged and rebuilt because it’s a beautiful building. There are just so few stone masons that could even do the work to rebuild here."

Firefighters were still on the scene this afternoon removing large debris from the premises. Davis says church leaders should be allowed to enter the building to retrieve artifacts and mementos sometime this evening.

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