By Clark Fair
On April 9, just five days after celebrating Easter, members of the small procession marching up Overland Avenue in Kenai sang in Slavonic as they strode in the bright sunshine:
“Christos voskrese iz mertvikh,
Smertiyu smert poprav,
I suschim vo grobekh
Over and over they sang the words to “Christos Voskrese” (“Christ Is Risen”), as well as a selection of other songs, as they edged closer to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, about a third of a mile from their point of origin, the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church on Mission Avenue.
The occasion was the official transfer of the first of the church’s icons, artwork and sacred objects to the visitors center, where they will become a part of a summer exhibit called “Sacred Space: Sacred Time,” which opens with a gala reception Friday, April 23, and will run through September while the church itself undergoes some major structural restoration.
While the remainder of the approximately 80 church objects in the exhibit traveled in the relative safety of a 15-foot U-Haul a few days later, the icons in this procession — an elaborately painted cross, a large old Gospel book and two banners (one depicting St. Nicholas, the other Christ’s resurrection) — were a part of a more formal and spiritual beginning.
For about 30 minutes before the procession began, the icons and the other objects in the church were blessed in a special ceremony called a moleben. The blessing was deemed necessary because of the rarity of allowing church items to leave the church. Many of the most important items are sacred and one of a kind; at least one of the icons dates back to the 1700s.
Resident priest, Father Thomas Andrew, and retired priest, Father Macarius Targonsky, along with lay readers Mike McBride, Rebecca Anderson and Marion Yapunich, performed the moleben before a small gathering inside the church.
Then McBride hoisted the cross onto his left shoulder while Dennis Shangin held the Gospel facing outward against his chest, and Ben Jackinsky and Ernie Jordan lifted the banners to about head level. Followed closely by the two priests, the four men led the way out the front door of the church and onto the narrow backstreets of Old Town Kenai.
When the group reached the visitors center, the march continued inside to the exhibit room, where Father Thomas blessed the space with several sprays of holy water from his hand-held aspergillum, and then thanked those assembled for their participation.
Then, a few days later, the real work began.
On Monday, April 12, a different kind of crowd gathered in the church. Assembled and industrious were Ted Gardeline and Rex Schloeman of the Anchorage Museum Exhibits Department; Holly Cusack-McVeigh, curator of exhibits and
anthropological collections, and Pete Lundskow, collections manager and curator, both of the Pratt Museum in Homer; and volunteers Sally Cassano-Archuleta and her son, Crockett Schipman.
With them was Dorothy Gray, church secretary and parishioner, and Laura Forbes, director of programs and exhibits at the visitors center. All of them were hard at work, carefully examining, cataloging and packaging church icons, artwork and other items in preparation for moving them into the center.
By the afternoon of April 13, large empty spaces loomed on walls all around the nave. By April 15, the last of the items bound for the exhibit had been transported to the exhibit room. By the week of April 19, Forbes and her assistants were busy unpacking church items and creating the displays for the exhibit itself.
Meanwhile, the church will continue as an active place of worship through May, when church officials hope that the structural repair work will begin. If all goes according to plan, another type of procession can be held in the fall to bring the church’s sacred items back home once more.