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A church in Macedonia decorated by Ukrainian artists
The Church of the Holy Trinity which was consecrated in the town of Radovis, Macedonia, in October 2003, has already been dubbed “The symbol of Orthodox Christianity of the 21st Century.” The church was erected jointly by Macedonians and Ukrainians.
Anatoly Haydamaka, a Ukrainian artist, was at the head of a 40-strong team of Ukrainian painters and craftsmen who decorated the church. They created mosaics, stucco work, crosses, wrought-iron fences and grillwork, furniture, chandeliers and lamps. The frescoes cover more than 2,000 square meters of wall space, plus 180 square meters of mosaics. The domes and the iconostasis are covered with gold leaf. The construction which took over five years to complete, was funded by Risto Gusterov, a Macedonian businessman, president of the Rimacco Company, patron of art. The church cost six million dollars to build.
The church has been designed in the general style of old Macedonian churches and its interior, as is traditional with Orthodox churches, is lavishly decorated with murals which tell the Biblical stories in images. The central door has been made to resemble the cover of an ancient gospel, with the representations of St Cyril and St Methodius on them. Both saints, translators of the Bible into the Old Slavonic, are credited with the creation of the Slavic alphabet. They invite you to come into the church, the interior of which is replete with visual references to the design and illumination of the ancient Slavic manuscripts — in ornaments, carving, grilles and stained glass.
The floors of the church are covered with mosaics which spill out of the church and spread over the porch and further, all the way to the gate in the fence around the church. The fancy, wrought-iron gate has Risto Gusterov’s initials intricately “woven” into the lacelike design.
Macedonia is a country of a great many churches, both the old ones and new ones. About two hindered churches are built every year. Among the donors are private citizens and local communities. Many of the old churches are architectural landmarks that have been put under UNESCO protection. The Macedonians believe that prayers combined with singing of church choirs brings angels to the churches and consequently the more churches there are the greater is the grace descending on the land where these churches stand.
The Ukrainians engaged in the construction and decoration of the church were encouraged by Risto Gusterov to get to know Macedonia as well as they could, and he provided for their travels to different parts of the country to see the churches and meet the people.
They say in one voice that building and decorating the church has brought about considerable changes in them — they began to look at the world in a different manner, they began to understand Christianity better.
When asked why Ukrainian artists and craftsmen were invited rather than, say, Italians, Risto Gusterov said, “Because it was in Ukraine rather than in other country that I have found the Master capable of grasping fully what I wanted, of realizing the project and of finding the right people to do the work properly… I met him in his studio. Right there and then, at our first meeting, I bought five of his paintings. When I saw his sketches for museums, I immediately realized he was the man I wanted. Initially, I did not think the team would be entirely Ukrainian, and there were artists from other countries on it as well. But gradually, it turned out that only the Ukrainians could cope with the task properly. On my frequent visits to Ukraine, I discovered that the Ukrainian artists had what I wanted — great skills and high spirituality. I think it’s genetically built in them. However, unfortunately for them, their works in Ukraine are not appreciated the way they should be. But if you give them the right conditions and tell them what you want, you’ll get the staggering results. The Holy Trinity Church is an excellent proof of that.”
Anatoly Haydamaka, whom Mr Gusterov calls “Master”, is a remarkable artist indeed. For his work, he has been awarded an honorary title of “People’s Artist of Ukraine” and the Shevchenko Prize, the top award of Ukraine in the sphere of creative endevour. He is a corresponding member of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts. In addition to being a painter par excellence, he has provided designs of several museums and culture centres — the War Museum in Kyiv, the Chornobyl Museum in Kyiv, all of the Shevchenko museums in Ukraine, the Russian Centre in Kharbin, China, to name a few. His works have been shown at exhibitions held in many countries of the world; many of them have been purchased for private and public museums of the USA, Japan, Serbia, Croatia, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and other countries.
The construction of the church was under way at the time when NATO waged war against former Yugoslavia and when Macedonia was locked in a conflict with Albania.
“A house of worship built when times are hard is filled with a particularly strong, pure and vibrant spiritual energy which helps save both the people and the country. A church is a material embodiment of a prayer that goes straight from the heart and reaches heaven. And the prayers addressed to God at the time of troubles when the desire for peace and harmony is particularly strong, are especially effective,” said Stefan, Metropolitan of Macedonia.
The Macedonians believe that those who jointly build a church are united by the strongest spiritual bond possible.
The opening and consecration ceremony brought together many people, among whom were President of Macedonia Boris Trajkovski, Metropolitan Stefan and a delegation of Ukrainian MPs headed by Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the Nasha Ukrayina faction in parliament. During his premiership, Mr Yushchenko paid an official visit to Macedonia and the visit began with his coming to see the Holy Trinity church, then still under construction. The domes had just been completed. Mr Yushchenko made the sign of a cross in an Orthodox manner and wished the builders and artists luck in completing the construction with the best possible results.
On his second visit to the church, he made a gift of an icon, The Virgin Mary, traditionally referred to by the Orthodox Christians as “the Mother of God,” saying, “The surest way to attain economic and political cooperation is to proceed from a spiritual union. No matter what your official position is, what post you fill, even if you seem to be no more than ‘a machine for making decisions,’ you still have a heart that loves, commiserates and sympathizes. That is why it is so good when economic cooperation is supported on a purely human level.”
By Valeriya Bondarenko
Photos by Oleksandr Horobets