DALLAS — Vladimir Grygorenko gazed at his decade-long work: extraordinary murals and canvases of religious icons that took an iron will to complete at St. Seraphim’s Orthodox Cathedral.
Then the 56-year-old artist turned to the crisis in his native Ukraine and the determination of his people. The unprovoked war there against Russian forces has claimed the lives of thousands – and attracted a stream of donations including body armor and helmets.
“They will resist until the last person is alive,” Grygorenko said, inside the incense-scented cathedral. “It’s not emotionality. It’s a fact.”
For decades, this congregation worshiped in Dallas Cathedral, which is part of the Orthodox Church in America. It is the center of devotional life for hundreds of Christian families, including those of Ukrainian and Russian origin. Today, these families of Ukrainian and Russian ancestry make up about a quarter of the congregation of 350 people.
Grygorenko and his family joined the church following his experience painting cathedral iconography. Now Grygorenko asks for prayer and understanding of the geopolitics between Russia, Ukraine and the United States.
Every day the artist calls family and friends in Ukraine. Among the relatives are those who participate in the military effort. “They are patrolling the streets to protect civilians,” he said, adding that other people living outside Ukraine were trying to come back to volunteer for the army.
The exodus of Ukrainians fleeing the country now exceeds one million – an incredibly rapid migration in a war that turned into an all-out invasion just over a week ago, said Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner United Nations for Refugees. “For many millions more inside Ukraine, it is time the guns were silenced, so that lifesaving humanitarian aid can be delivered,” he tweeted.
Geopolitics runs through Grygorenko’s devotion to his art.
He was born in Ukraine when it was part of the former Soviet Union. He was an atheist. But as he devoted himself to painting and religious art created in the Byzantine style of the 12th century, his belief in God grew. He embraced Christianity in 1991 shortly after Ukraine gained independence as the Soviet Union collapsed. The artist, who trained in mechanical engineering, is now a sub-deacon of the Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Seraphim.
Bishop Gerasim of St. Seraphim calls Grygorenko “a great person”.
The bishop says the challenges ahead must be addressed through prayer.
“We asked people to pray for them, learn more about them and their culture, befriend them and follow what is happening in particular,” said Archbishop Gerasim, rector of the cathedral. .
Grygorenko’s father was Jewish and Russian is his first language, he said. He grew up in Dnipro, Ukraine, not far from the birthplace of President Volodymyr Zelensky in southern Ukraine.
Zelensky, a former actor, is also Jewish. When he was first elected president of Ukraine in 2019, the entertainer said he was unimpressed. Now Grygorenko praises Zelensky’s ability to galvanize people for his nation, in Ukraine and much of the world. In a memorable speech, Zelensky said: “As you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.
Grygorenko calls Zelensky “a gifted politician. I definitely changed my mind about him.
In 2012, Grygorenko became a US citizen and a registered Republican. He voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. He is quick to add that he believes President Joe Biden legitimately won the presidential election.
He said he wasn’t worried about Trump’s friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States is a democracy in which the president does not rule alone, Grygorenko said. “That’s what I love about America.”
But Putin, on the other hand, is dangerous and wants to divide the United States, he said.
Putin’s effort to sell the invasion as an attempt at “denazification” has backfired, inspiring ridicule because the Ukrainian president is Jewish. Calling for denazification in Ukraine is like asking the United States to denazify because of the Proud Boys, Grygorenko said.
As the death toll mounts in Ukraine, in filtered light streaming through the cathedral’s arched windows, Grygorenko turns to prayer amid the icons that have brought him faith.
“It converted me,” he said, “It’s my conversation with God.”
A light reflects off a pin on his shirt. It is the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine intertwined with the red, white and blue flag of the United States
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