Risen from the ashes:  Restoration of fire-damaged All Saints Church a “triumph of faith”

Fire and smoke destroyed the mural of the Mother of God over the altar.

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 5, 2006 – the eve of the first day of Great Lent – firefighters rushed to All Saints Church here as flames shot out of the roof of the 100-plus year old structure.

Parishioners rushed to save vestments and liturgical appointments, banners and icons.  The church’s murals – many modeled after originals painted by the well-known artist Viktor Vasnetsov in Kiev’s Saint Vladimir Cathedral in the 1890s – were destroyed, while the combination of fire, water, and smoke seriously damaged the iconostasis, the altar, and its magnificent mural of the Mother of God that watched over the faithful for nearly a century.

Undaunted by the fire, the faithful gathered in the church basement for services as reconstruction of their temple began.

While it took nearly five full years to restore the church, the results are nothing less than amazing – as amazing as the tenacity displayed by All Saints’ faithful, who never doubted that they could “rise from the ashes” – literally – in what Priest David Cowan, rector, calls a “triumph of faith.”

“Throughout this struggle, the parish has become more tightly knit as a family; a body of faithful and diligent laborers for Christ,” said Father David in a recent interview with the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Russian iconographer Ivan Rumantsiev puts finishing touches on mural.

Describing the church interior as “stunning,” “glorious” and “radiant,” Father David said that the project “resulted in a completely different building from the one before the fire,” even though “the character of the century-old church has remained constant.

“In the church, you know that you are standing in the awesome presence of the living God,” Father David told reporters.  “It was that way in this church before the fire, and it is that way still and, some here will say, to an even greater degree now.”

The new, floor-to-ceiling iconography that graces the refurbished interior is the work of Russian iconographer Ivan Rumantsiev.  Some of the church’s original icons are being professionally restored and framed and will grace the vestibule as a reminder of the parish’s first 111 years.

In celebration of the restoration project, His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, will reconsecrate the church on Saturday, September 17, 2011.  A detailed schedule of the weekend celebration and related events may be found on the parish web site at www.allsaintsolyphant.org.

In preparation for the celebration, His Grace, Bishop Michael of New York and New Jersey, will deliver a lecture on iconography, “Windows Into Heaven,” on Thursday, August 25, at 7:00 p.m.

“We survived this major challenge to our faith,” Father David said.  “Now, we will focus all the more intensely on putting the faith our temple symbolizes into action in our lives!”

Visit the gallery of photos detailing the fire and restoration efforts.