WOONSOCKET – The St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church community is still recovering from the November fire that heavily-damaged its ornate 70-year-old granite and wood church at 74 Harris Avenue.
But coping with the near loss of their church won’t keep St. Michael’s parishioners from offering a special tribute to the firefighters who kept total disaster at bay back on Nov. 21.
“At the end of the Liturgy on Sunday, we have invited them to come in and we are going to present them with an icon of St. Michael, who is our patron saint but also the patron saint of firefighters,” Father Anthony Perkins, St. Michael’s pastor, said.
The parish had the icon specially made by Monastery Icons and is giving it to firefighters in the hope they will remain safe in their dangerous work to help others.
“We pray for them at every service,” Father Perkins said.
The parish has not been able to hold services in their Ukrainian-style church highlighted by two stone towers topped by gold-leaf ornamental domes since the accidental fire broke out inside the structure.
The parishioners instead gather for Masses in their modified church hall across the parking lot where an Iconostasis-- a type of separating wall between the altar and the congregation-- borrowed from another church has been installed.
“It is recognizable as a worship space now,” Perkins said of the fortunate temporary modification.
The parish is still working out the details of the repair of the damaged church with its insurance company and Father Perkins said he expects repair work will be starting in the near future.
The fire damage could have been much worse if city firefighters were not as successful at saving the significant city landmark as they were, according to Father Perkins.
“It was pretty close to being destroyed, really close, because the fire had gotten up into the rafters,” he said. “Once that happens, it usually becomes a total loss,” he said.
But the firefighters and their scene commanders kept in constant contact with parishioners as they battled the blaze and were able to work out a strategy that saved the church, he said.
“We told them where they could poke a hole into the rafters through the choir loft and they were able to go through that to put it out,” he said.
The firefighters also made trips into the sanctuary of the church to rescue important religious belongings of the parish that would have been otherwise lost to the fire, according to Father Perkins.
“And after they put the fire out, they were like a moving company and got everything out of there,” he said. “Not everything was able to be salvaged but the important things were. We had religious relics in the church and they were able to get the relics out,” Father Perkins said.
“They were tremendous,” he said. “They kept talking to us and telling us what was going on,” Father Perkins said. “They were able to stop it. It is going to need a new roof but we didn’t have to tear down the walls,” Father Perkins said.
In the aftermath of the fire, the parishioners held services outside the church right away but did not get a full understanding of the damage occurring in the fire until recently.
After visiting the church to see the damage himself, Metropolitan Antony, the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States, told Father Perkins he should take his congregation inside the fire damaged church.
“He said you have to bring the people to see this,” Father Perkins said. So the parish held a prayer service inside their church about a month ago and it was a “powerful” experience for the congregation, he said.
St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church parish is continuing to work toward the day it will once again hold services inside its church and Father Perkins said the ceremony honoring the city’s firefighters will be another step along that road.
In an effort to help repair the church, a benefit concert will be held on Sunday, May 19, at the Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland at 7 p.m. The concert will feature Ukrainian musician Julian Kytasty. The theater is at 549 Broad St. Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for children under 12. For more information call 401-725-9272.