Pews, iconography, candles — almost every surface inside a pair of rural churches — are covered in powder that church leaders believe came from a fire extinguisher, and the disappearance of two “invaluable” crowns has Corey Leclerc pleading for their return.
Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox, St. Elijah Romanian Orthodox hit with what looks like fire extinguishers
Bryce Hoye · CBC News
An act of vandalism has members from two rural places of worship wondering who would do such a thing, while church leaders are pleading for the return of two crowns used in traditional Orthodox wedding services.
Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox and St. Elijah Romanian Orthodox churches in Lennard, Man., about 20 kilometres east of the Saskatchewan border near the northern part of Riding Mountain National Park, were hit by vandals with what is suspected to be fire extinguishers.
The damage included the theft of the gold crowns many have worn as part of wedding ceremonies, including St. Elijah president Corey Leclerc and his wife 25 years ago during their ceremony.
“It’s heartbreaking, heart-wrenching,” Leclerc said Tuesday.
“We were looking through our wedding album last night for some pictures of these crowns, but we also remember all the people before us that have worn those crowns … the ones that won’t have the opportunity to wear those crowns again if we can’t locate them.”
Russell RCMP received a report Saturday morning about a break-in and vandalism at the two churches, as well as the theft of the crowns, RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said in an email Tuesday.
A film of white powder, believed to be from fire extinguishers, covers the red carpeted floor, the furnishings and the religious artwork in both churches.
“I couldn’t believe the whole church was covered,” said Barry Sawchuk, vice-president of St. Elijah. “There isn’t an inch of space that’s not covered.”
Don Kobluk, an elder at Holy Trinity, was shocked to find a similar scene at his church.
He was driving by the church Saturday and noticed the door and a gate were ajar. He went in for a closer look.
“I didn’t know what happened…. I was stunned,” Kobluk said. “Everything was white. Our carpet in church is red, but it was white, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck happened here.”
Kobluk said there was an extinguisher in the church and he suspects it was used.
The icons, cabinets and more were left with a layer of dust similar to what Sawchuk found at St. Elijah.
“I can’t believe a person or persons that could do something like that,” said Kobluk, who has been a member of Holy Trinity for about five decades.
He isn’t sure how they’ll clean up the mess, particularly on the 40-year-old iconography by Vera Senchuk, a noted Winnipeg iconographer who’s since worked on churches across Canada and beyond.
Sawchuk suspects the incident will disrupt planned services at St. Elijah in the coming days.
It is going to take a lot of work to restore the church, he said.
“It’s just bad,” he said. “We don’t have very many members and everyone is getting old and trying to do our best to keep the church going, and something like this happens.”
Leclerc said the crowns are identical and have red, purple and blue jewels along the sides.
He asks whoever has the crowns to drop them at a local police station, store or anywhere that can return them to the church.
“Anyone that has taken them would have a hard time selling them or getting anything for them just because of the uniqueness,” he said.
“They are invaluable to our Orthodox church community and the people attached to our church…. Just bring them back.”
RCMP continue to investigate.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC’s Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC. He has won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade, and a 2023 Prairie region award for an audio documentary about a Chinese-Canadian father passing down his love for hockey to the next generation of Asian Canadians.
With files from Rachel Ferstl and Heather Wells