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October 8, 2012

Apocalyptic visions at Chernobyl

(Continued)

The door into a large chamber dedicated to the families and children of Chernobyl leads to the church iconostasis, with a radiation suit hanging in place of the Archangel Michael and barbed wire and a contamination sign blocking the way to the altar. High overhead is an icon of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of endangered children.

The altar is gone, replaced by a boat -- to carry souls over the waters of death -- full of children's toys. Under the boat, the blackness is full of the icons of saints.

The Chernobyl disaster was especially poignant, said Tkachev, because it struck a region that for many symbolized the innocence and safety of the past.

"The people here were simple people. They didn't have writers and journalists to tell their stories," he said. "This is an attempt to tell their story, using what they left behind when they were forced to flee the homes, their schools and their churches. ...

"Modern life separates a man who has deep faith from a man who has little. In these villages, life and faith were simply combined and you can see that here."

In one of the starkest images -- over a map of the stricken region -- the melting reactor literally shatters a famous icon of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, while an apocalyptic storm swirls around her.

"We are tempted to think that fire and water and all the elements of nature are at our command, but that is not true," said Tkachev, outside the final exhibit hall. "We can become victims. ... The more technologies are in our lives, the more danger there is that we become their servants, even their slaves."

The archpriest stroked his beard, thinking of another way of stating the ultimate message of this sobering tribute to lessons learned at Chernobyl.

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