Blessing the path: Russian Orthodox church prepares for renovation, exhibit

Posted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

While still celebrating Pascha, the Russian orthodox Easter, parishioners of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai readied for another type of resurrection -- the restoration of their very own historic temple.

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Mike McBride carries the alter cross Friday afternoon at the front of a procession to transfer items from the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, at left, to the Kenai Cultural and Visitors Center for a summer show in the facility's gallery.

On Friday afternoon, a small group of parishioners participated in a "Moleben" prayer service and processional to prepare sacred objects being moved from the church to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The religious icons will be displayed there over the summer in a "Sacred Space, Sacred Time" exhibit during the church's renovation.

"It's very exciting the exhibit will be here so other people will be aware the church is not just a living landmark, that it's an active church," said parishioner Rebecca Anderson. "It will make the church more visible to the community."

During the procession from the Russian Orthodox church to the visitors center, participants sang and chanted, some carrying various holy objects like an iconic banner and cross. Cars drove by seemingly ignoring the religious parade while incense swirled the air as a sign of the parishioners' prayers for the renovation. The procession was a way to bless the path for the church's icons.

"The procession is important because the continuity of the church's service itself may be interrupted by renovations," Anderson said. "It's a significant event in the life of the church and parishioners having icons moved around."

Father Thomas Andrew explained the Moleben prayer service held before the processional is a type of supplementary non-communion service in addition the weekly Russian Orthodox liturgies. Anyone can request these prayer services for special intentions, he said. The service for the renovation and exhibit was petitioning the Virgin Mary to ask for Jesus' blessing.

"Our church is one treasure our community and Peninsula has," Andrew said, while blessing the visitor center's gallery, where the icons will be housed, with holy water.

Laura Forbes, director of programs and exhibits at the visitors center, said that "Sacred Space, Sacred Time," will focus on three things, including the icons as pieces of art and history, the church's renovation, and the history of Russia in Alaska, especially on the Peninsula.

Much in the way that icons visually tell the story of the Russian Orthodox theology, she said, the exhibit will give a picture of the story of the church in Alaska.

Built in the 1895 by Russian missionaries, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church has dilapidated over the years. It is registered as a National Historic Landmark. The church, along with other organizations, secured grant funding for its renovations this year.

"Sacred Space, Sacred Time" opens April 23 with a gala reception at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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