With God’s help. How Ukraine’s first military church in Lviv serves the Ukrainian army

1028 0
Crucifix made of the world’s most expensive wood, chapel for individual prayer, covered with sheets full of mathematical formulas, and organ with an embedded musical register of Austrian army – this is what you can find in the Garrison Church.
Photo: Church

Photo: Church's facebook page

The history of the majestic shrine dates back to September 1630 when it was first opened to the faithful as the Jesuit Church. Now, it has the status of a military church, as Greek-Catholic military chaplains serve there, and it’s closely connected to the Ukrainian armed forces. 6 December, on the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Garrison church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul celebrated the tenth anniversary of the resumption of worship under its amazing ceiling full of baroque-styled religious scenes.

This building, 41 meters long, 22.5 meters wide and 26 meters high, can accommodate about 3,000 people at a time. The church, located at Teatralna street, 11 is decorated with authentic frescoes by Francis and Sebastian Eckstein that was being painted for 10 years and illustrated secular and religious motives: from the life of Stanislav Kostka (a Polish saint of the XVI century who died when he was 17 years old) to various biblical scenes. 

Read also: Eight years on from the Euromaidan revolution’s beginning, spiritual leader urges Ukrainians to «learn to be free»

Representatives of famous and wealthy families of Yablonovsky, Didushytsky, Senyavsky, Potocki, Zamoysky, Vyzhitsky, Kazanovsky and other noble Lviv residents found their last rest in the church. In terms of the number of such burials, the church equals the Zhovkva Church of St. Lawrence, who is considered the «little Wawel».

In the dungeon of the temple, you can still see the remains of houses once located on its place. Some archaeologists date them to the Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia  (XIV century).

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which can be seen in the right nave of the temple, was black before the First World War. It’s made of ebony, the material which is considered to be the most expensive in the world. According to some estimates, the cost of 1 cubic meter of such wood reaches about 100 thousand dollars. In the sculpture of Christ, it was possible to realistically convey the structure of the body. It acquired a modern look after the First World War. The crucifix was so valuable that the Soviet authorities tried to take it to St. Petersburg’s Hermitage. However, thanks to caring people, the shrine was left in the Lviv church. 

Individual chapel is an exceptionally unique exhibit of the temple. The small room was intended for the prayer of just one person. Inside, it is painted with biblical motifs, which are sealed with paper of the Austrian period – sheets with mathematical formulas, records in Latin, Greek and German, newspapers and more. It is unknown today for what purpose this was done. Few such chapels have survived till this day.

The triptych icon of the Mother of God [the icon which includes three religious plots] is one of the greatest shrines of the church. According to some sources, it dates from the XVII century, and is the heaviest icon in Lviv; the thickness of the image is about 30 cm. It is made of wood, and four evangelists are depicted on the side «door». In the closed state, the scene of the Annunciation is depicted on the «door’s» outside. The triptych was forgotten until 2011, so its study of the historical and artistic side is just beginning.

There is information that at one time, the church was visited by two of the most famous hetmans of Ukraine: Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, who studied at the Jesuit College, and Ivan Mazepa. There is some debate about the latter, as only one Jesuit historian, Stanislaw Zelesky, mentions that the hetman visited the church in 1707, «escaping from boredom,» asking for a «sermon to be short,» and then simply looking at the interiors.

The organ [musical instrument] is a separate miracle associated with the army. In Austrian times, when the temple was considered a garrison, a rare 16-foot wind register Gvardian was included in the organ, which gave it a sound close to a real military band. Wooden ornamental and sculptural decorations in the Rococo style have also been preserved. About two thousand pipes of the organ were made of both metal and wood of various lengths. During the Soviet period, the organ was damaged.

Historians say that in the first half of the twentieth century, artillery shells hit the temple twice, but both times they did not explode. First time, this happened in 1919, and the second time in 1939, when the roof caught fire. Accordingly, the shrine was without a roof until 1959. The vaults were covered with a temporary plate, which only partially protected it from the weather. Full coverage was repaired during the restoration.

Since the mid-70s of the last century, during the last 20 years of Lviv’s Soviet history, the temple has been used as a repository for 2.5 million books and publications of the library named after Vasyl Stefanyk.

And only in 2011, a different room was found for the books storage. However, few people believed that the books could be transported in a short time. However, Lieutenant General Pavlo Tkachuk, the head of a local military school, started solving the problem, and the shrine was liberated.

«For us, the new generation of defenders of independent Ukraine, the belief in the importance of the vocation of a patriot officer, belief in the justice of the sacrificial struggle for the freedom of his people, for their right to choose a happy life is perhaps the most important virtue. It is within the walls of the Garrison Church, under the pastoral care of the clergy, that a new elite of the army is being formed with faith in the truth of the chosen path and convictions,» – Lieutenant General Pavlo Tkachuk said.

When the first wounded appeared on the Maidan, the church managed to raise more than 1 million hryvnias in two days. For the whole period – about four million, and during the war, the Garrison Church donated more than 30 million hryvnias. Father Taras Mikhalchuk, the current rector of the Garrison Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, considers this mission to be very important.

«Throughout history, particularly during the Revolution of Dignity, our church has become the core of organizational moments that helped volunteers send those who want to go to Kyiv to take part in the events that took place on the Maidan. Also in the temple, which served around the clock, was constantly collecting the necessary things, medicines. And when the Russian-Ukrainian war began, it was with the funds raised in the temple that bulletproof vests, Kevlar helmets, and many other necessities were purchased, which our defenders so desperately lacked. By the way, when the society saw the transparency of all these processes, how much money is being raised, and all this is transferred to the front, many compatriots rethought their vision of chaplaincy,» – the rector of the Garrison Church said.

In 2015, large-scale restoration work began in the Garrison Church. More than 20 scientists from Ukraine and Poland worked on the restoration of frescoes and facades. To restore more than 1000 square meters of unique paintings, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, masters used one of the largest scaffolds in Ukraine weighing 38 tons and almost 3.5 thousand m3.

Above the altar, you can see a painting of the globe depicting exotic animals, the names of countries and even the Great Wall of China. The fragment is a kind of reminder of the missionary work of the Jesuits, who visited almost all continents of the world. In the image, you can find an unrestored fragment, which was specially left for comparison with the original appearance of the mural.

The church opened 6 December in 2011 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Three like-minded people: Father Stepan Sus – the first rector of the church, and now the Bishop of the Patriarchal Curia of the UGCC, Father Taras Mikhalchuk, who is the rector of the Garrison Church, head of the Center for Military Chaplaincy and Father Andriy Khomyshyn, chaplain of the military, prisoners, students, orphans – made a lot of effort to make it happen. For a long time, the church was the only one in the country with garrison status, until in 2017, the Military Church of the Presentation of the Lord was consecrated, which also serves as priests of the garrison church.

«Today, priests and military chaplains take care of the temple. All of them belong to the Center of Military Chaplaincy of the Lviv Archdiocese of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The military shrine has also become a center of pastoral care for other chaplains, including the student chaplaincy, which cares for orphans, and so on. Therefore, the Garrison Church became a symbol, an iconic place that united the chaplaincy structures around it, «Father Taras Mykhalchuk concluded.

For reference

Greek Catholicism is a Christian confession which acknowledges Catholic doctrine and is in communion with the Pope, but maintains Eastern rites and rituals, including married priests. It emerged in 1596, when a part of the Orthodox Church recognised the supremacy of the Pope. 

Later, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church became mostly localised in the Western Ukraine, becoming one of the markers of the national identity for the region’s population during Austrian, Polish and Soviet rule. Currently, Kyiv is the center of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and it is present in many regions of the country, though Galicia, where Lviv is, still remains its bulwark. It also has a strong presence among the Ukrainian diaspora, espeically in parts of Canada, the United States, and Australia. 

Halyna Myronovych, translated by Vitalii Holich

Photo Garrison Church of Sts. app. Peter and Paul and from open sources

You can read a Ukrainian language version of this story here.

Follow Lviv Now on Facebook and Instagram. To receive our weekly email digest of stories, please follow us on Substack.

Читайте також:
Щодня наша команда працює над тим, щоб інформувати Вас про найважливіше в місті та області. За роки своєї праці ми довели, що «Твоє місто» - це медіа, якому справді можна довіряти. Долучіться до Спільноти Прихильників «Твого міста» та збережіть незалежне медіа для громади. Кожен внесок має значення!