St. Vladimir priest taps faith as way to get through loss of fire-damaged church

Friday, 10 December 2021, 16:09
The sounds of “Rejoice, rejoice Emanuel” floated from the social hall Sunday in Arnold, where congregants of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church gathered for a Divine Liturgy despite having, at least for now, lost their house of worship.

Next door to the social hall, which once was a school, sat their empty 74-year-old church, no longer in flames but still coated with soot, water and the acrid smell of smoke after Saturday night’s fire. Neighbors, congregants and community members trickled past for most of the morning. Some took photos. Others shook their heads.

“I’ve walked past this church every single day,” said Ken Grabowski, who lives only a block away from St. Vladimir. “It’s just a sad day — this is a big loss. But we’ll rebuild as a community.”

The Rev. Yaroslav Koval said his message to his congregation was fairly simple: faith.

“The first thing is to keep alive our faith,” he said.

Indeed, the Divine Liturgy went on as normally as possible under the circumstances. Koval offered Holy Communion and read from the Gospel of Luke. After, he said, he and other parishioners would go next door to survey the damage and save what still could be salvaged.

The fire was reported about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and it took crews nearly three hours to bring the flames under control.

The church’s metal roof hampered firefighters’ efforts, trapping the flames inside and leaving crews unable to attack the fire from outside. Conditions became too dangerous to work from inside, and crews eventually resorted to trying to break through the fire-weakened roof with an aerial hose.

By morning, much of the metal was left in twisted shards protruding from where the roof had been, peeled back after the fire subsided.

Despite the massive flames that flowed through the roof the night before, many stained-glass windows remained intact. Light pouring through them showed little, if any, smoke damage. The pews, too, appeared somehow untouched.

As firefighters from multiple departments brought the fire under control, they brought out sacred items and artifacts that had been left unscathed: statues, shrouds, icons and more. Even the donations given at Saturday’s liturgy survived, as well as the pulpit and tabernacle.

Koval said they must increase their faith.

“Our church building we can rebuild,” he said.

Leaders of other nearby churches stopped to offer their spaces and anything else the congregation and Koval might need. Neighbors stopped by to see how they could offer funds or their services to help in the cleanup.

“They’ve helped the community so much,” said Sigrid Moore of New Kensington. “Just renting out their halls, their love — they bring people together.”

While she waited for the service to end so she could speak to Koval, Moore took a trash bag and began gathering up water bottles from around the area left behind by firefighters.

“So sweet, so sweet, so sweet,” she said of the congregation. “And the community is going to help them.”


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