Saint Vladimir priest uses faith as a way to overcome loss of church damaged by fire

Sounds of “Rejoice, Emanuel” floated from the social hall on Sunday where worshipers of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Catholic Church gathered for a Divine Liturgy despite having, at least for now , lost their place of worship.

Next to the social hall, which was once a school, was their empty 74-year-old church, no longer in flames but still covered in soot, water and the pungent smell of smoke after a fire on Saturday night. Neighbors, worshipers and members of the community passed by during the morning. Some took pictures. Others shook their heads sadly.

“I walked past this church every day,” said Ken Grabowski, who lives just one block from St. Vladimir. “It’s just a sad day – it’s a great loss. But we will rebuild as a community.

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

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

Indeed, the Divine Liturgy took place as normally as possible under the circumstances. Koval offered Holy Communion and read the Gospel of Luke. Afterwards, he said, he and other parishioners would go next door to assess the damage and save what might still be saved.

The fire was reported around 7:30 p.m. Saturday night and it took teams nearly three hours to bring the flames under control.

The church’s metal roof hampered firefighters’ efforts, trapping the flames inside and preventing crews from attacking the blaze from outside. Conditions became too dangerous to work from the inside, and crews eventually attempted to pierce the fire-weakened roof with an overhead pipe.

By morning, much of the metal was left in twisted shards protruding from where the roof was, peeled off after the fire was out.

Despite the massive flames that had passed through the roof the night before, many of the stained glass windows remained intact – the light passing through them showed little, if any, damage from the smoke. The benches, too, seemed somehow intact.

As firefighters from several departments brought the blaze under control, they pulled out sacred objects and artifacts that had remained unharmed: statues, shrouds, icons and more. Even the gifts given in the Saturday liturgy have survived, along with the pulpit and the tabernacle.

Koval said they had to increase their faith.

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

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

“They’ve helped the community so much,” said Sigrid Moore of New Kensington. “You just have to rent their rooms, their love – they bring people together. “

While she waited until the end of the shift so she could speak to Koval, Moore grabbed a trash bag and began collecting water bottles in the surrounding area left by firefighters.

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

Megan Guza is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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