The enormous, striking domes of St. Joseph's Ukrainian Catholic Church in West Kildonan tower above surrounding buildings and can easily be seen from Main Street.
What is not so visible is that the interior of this neighbourhood landmark on Jefferson Avenue has been wonderfully transformed of late, the result of a major beautification project.
The thriving parish was founded in 1952 by Fr. Joseph Denischuk and is also an important holy place in Canada. It is home to the shrine and museum of Blessed Bishop and Martyr Vasyl Velychkovsky.
Persecuted by the Soviet regime for remaining faithful to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Velychkovsky was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
"Truly I believe St. Joseph's has become a majestic gem in the city," says Fr. Bohdan Lukie, the energetic 71-year-old pastor of St. Joseph's today, along with Fr. Frank Szadiak.
Fr. Lukie was awarded the Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for contributions to the betterment of Canada.
"We are always happy to receive the numerous visitors who wish to experience our church," he says. "The unique artwork often encourages them to stop, to meditate, to pray and to give thanks to God."
Work got underway in 2010 with the installation of a gigantic and beautiful stained glass window that was installed above the doors of the main entrance. The new window was created in the Byzantine tradition and depicts an enormous nativity scene.
Consisting of 39 panels, it is the work of prominent iconographer Sviatoslav Makarenko of Yonkers, N.Y.
Makarenko, along with his father, Boris, also created the many colourful mosaics that were installed in the church 22 years ago.
A large icon of the Resurrection fills the back wall of the sanctuary. Icons of Mary and Jesus sit on either side of the sanctuary facing the parishioners. The colours, placement, elongated features and otherworldliness of the depictions are integral to traditional Byzantine art.
Shimmering golden mosaics of the Stations of the Cross reflect the sunlight and line the walls on either side of the pews where young families and older ones come to sit, kneel and pray.
The brilliant, deep reds of the icons combined with the delicate red embroidery in the cloths draped over holy tables, and the flickering flames of crimson candles, imbue the church with an inviting warmth amid its traditional splendour.
One of the most beautiful and unusual features of a Ukrainian church, the iconostas, is a wall or screen containing various icons or paintings and is positioned between the sanctuary and the nave, where parishioners sit. St. Joseph's new iconostas was completed in 2011.
"The word 'icon' comes from the Greek 'eikon' -- which means to see," says Lukie. "It is an attempt for us to visualize the sacred persons and events of our faith, 'to see' them in the divine presence of God's great love for us."
The iconostas, he explains, is a visible sign of the union of heaven and Earth and helps to focus our attention on the sanctuary. This one displays icons of Jesus, Mary, St. Joseph and Blessed Vasyl, along with other sacred figures.
Decorative glass between the icons depicts laser-etched symbols -- wheat stems and vine grapes.
The most recent additions are colourful stained-glass windows placed in the central dome of the church. These were completed by Makarenko in late 2012, just in time for the church's 60th anniversary.
"Our wonderful Byzantine tradition dictates that a powerful icon of Jesus the Pantocrator be placed in the dome of our church. Since the skylight was only eight feet by eight feet, placing an icon of Jesus in such a small space would have the effect of diminishing the presence of Christ," says Lukie. "The iconographer therefore recommended placing a colourful stained glass symbol of Christ there."
In the corners are symbols of the four evangelists. The 36 tiny windows around the dome were replaced with blue and red stained glass depicting symbols of the 12 apostles.
"What is most precious is the joy and appreciation of the parishioners who truly love the new decorations created by Sviatoslav and have gladly funded this project," says Lukie.
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