Astonishing new church in Russia

Church architecture reflects the faith of the people who build churches.

These days many of the modern Catholic churches I have seen look more like municipal airport buildings than structures to house the most sacred thing humans can undertake, the place where heaven and earth meet.

I was recently sent a link to a site about a new church in Moscow.  The church was recently completed and consecrated by Patriarch Kirill in December 2015.

A Miracle of Liturgical Art: The Church of the Protection of the Mother of God at Yasenevo


But most astonishing by far was the project to decorate the interior of the main church. It is ornamented in the style of the Sicilian Cathedrals of the 12th century – without doubt the most sumptuous and refined style that ever emerged in the Byzantine-influenced world. Virtually the entire inside of the Yasenevo church is mosaic iconography in glittering glass and gold. There have been but a handful of churches decorated like this in all of history, and this church ranks fifth among them in area of mosaics. The lower walls of the church are revetted in white marble and the floor is finished in splendid Cosmatesque marble and mosaic interlace. The church is lit with a great brass choros and a constellation of glittering chandeliers. The marble iconostasis bears jewel-like icons with a powerful Romanesque gravity. It is a vision of medieval splendor the likes of which have never before been seen in Russia, and only rarely in all the world.

The white-marble revetment in Norman-Sicilian style.

The Pantocrator apse mosaic, modelled upon that of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo.

The splendid marble floor.

The true miracle of the Yasenevo church, though, lies not in its richness, but its poverty. Astonishingly, this church, constructed in just seven years, had no major individual donors. There was no great oligarch or wealthy institution footing the bill. Rather, the money came in small donations from ordinary people and pious organizations – 80,000 donors in total.


Go there… really, go… to see the rest, astonishing pictures.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Michael says:

    I pray that within my lifetime we will see East and West reunited, such that the Church can once again breathe with both lungs, as Saint John Paul the Great so beautifully put it. I think it would greatly enrich both East and West. And it would be a significant step towards fulfilling our Lord’s desire that “all may be one.”

  2. Zephyrinus says:


    Did not Our Blessed Lady, at Fatima, urge us all to Pray for The Consecration of Russia to The Immaculate Heart of Mary ?

  3. benedetta says:

    Very beautiful, Father, thank you for this! Looking at the photos at the link, it was so encouraging to see the great number of young, smiling faces among the artisans of the mosaics! Incredible and hopeful sign that this church has been established in a place where belief was so long harassed violently out of sight. A sign that persecution never has the last word for Christianity.

  4. pelerin says:

    Absolutely breathtaking. With the link given by Fr Z you can see a panoramic view of this magnificent church and using the magnifying glass shown can view the stunning icons close up.
    What I find astonishing is not only the fact that it only took 7 years to build but that nearly all the workers were students and amateurs and all volunteers.

    Westminster Cathedral in London England was built in the Byzantine style and celebrated its centenary several years ago but is still not finished! Mosaics were due to cover the whole of the Cathedral but although new mosaics are due to be unveiled very shortly in one of the chapels there is still a vast expanse of dark brick. Actually many people think this contrasts dramatically with the wonderful gilded mosaics already finished – I certainly do – but to think that the Russian church was completed decorated as it has been in 7 years is truly remarkable.

  5. siculocatholic says:

    This church’s apse is almost identical to the one in Monteale, Sicily. Amazing.

  6. pelerin says:

    ‘Churches looking like municipal airports’. I’ve seen them resembling an underground car park and a clinical hospital theatre! The latter has a ‘ghost’ climbing the wall behind the altar, a lop-sided Cross (not Crucifix), the Stations of the Cross are modern squares and squiggles on the floor and the Tabernacle is in the shape of an old fashioned washboard. I came out very sad from this particular uninspiring church.

  7. That is absolutely stunning. I am so glad to see that beauty is still alive and well, as it so often is in the Eastern Churches. It reminds me of a small Ruthenian Catholic mission parish whose Divine Liturgy I attended last week. There were only 15 of us in a small building, but the vestments and all objects used for the service were of the highest quality.

  8. gracie says:

    Exquisite!!! It’s marvelous to see somewhere, anywhere, churches that transport us to the transcendent.

  9. siculocatholic says:

    I live in Boston and have two churches near me: Holy Cross Cathedral on Washington Street and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church across the street from me. I have to say that I rarely go into
    HC Cathedral with it’s drab interior but find myself in SJ Orthodox more and mote. Why? Because not only is the interior superior to that of HC but the reverence and chant is other wordly.

  10. JARay says:

    It certainly is a stunningly beautiful church. Although not as magnificent as this one, I recently visited a local Coptic church similarly built by immigrants to Australia. Much of the decoration within this Coptic church was imported by them from Egypt and it quite took my breath away when I came to look around it.

  11. Prayerful says:

    You should include a trigger warning for Modernists. No Star Trek altar.

  12. Agathon says:

    Incredible. Thanks for pointing out that the source of the funding was the poor. I’m bookmarking this for the next time someone claims that Jesus would be appalled that we have gilded cathedrals built with money that could have been used to help the poor instead. It is often the poor who build the cathedrals!

  13. Father G says:

    Here is the church’s official website:

    Aerial view of church exterior:

    View of upper part of the church:

    Virtual tour of church interior:


  14. Auggie says:

    The church photos shared by Fr. Z make my heart ache. So many Orthodox churches are sublimely beautiful, while too many RC churches are hideously ugly. How long, O Lord, how long, before we have inter-communion with the Orthodox?

  15. KateD says:

    Beautiful! Bring them home, Pope Francis! We need them as much as they need us right now.

  16. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Magnifique. Words escape me.

  17. PostCatholic says:

    I again consider it a poverty of imagination that nostalgic pastiche is the only form of church architecture some are willing to embrace.

  18. majuscule says:

    Oh my goodness. I almost missed it. I have seen pictures of this scrolling by on the internet but I didn’t realize that the pictures were of a new church!

    I hope this catches on!

  19. TWF says:

    Prayerful: nah, the modernists give the Orthodox a free pass. You’ll note they only mock traditional Cardinals such as Burke for elaborate vestments. You never hear a word against the truly awe inspiring magnificent golden vestments of the lowliest Orthodox bishop.

  20. Gratias says:

    Beautiful. Russia will be blessed for this.

    What Vatican Council II did to our Catholic Churches is unforgivable. We must mend our ways. My own parish, built in 1965, should be bulldozed.

  21. Jonathan Marshall says:

    “Nostalgic pastiche”, PostCatholic? Sheer beauty in my opinion.
    Perhaps you would prefer the ugliness of the HQ of my home Diocese, Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, England – a product of the 1970s. The first time I saw it I thought that the exterior of the Cathedral looked just like the outside of a multi-storey car park. I was therefore not entirely surprised to find that the interior was also just like the inside of a multi-storey car park.
    Stark, brutal concrete everywhere; not a crucifix behind the “sanctuary”, not a tapestry, not even a statue. The Blessed Sacrament shunted off into some side chapel out of sight. It could have been the assembly hall of an inner-city comprehensive school; there was no sense whatever of the sacred.
    The crowning horror was the so-called Stations of the Cross – a hideously ugly monstrosity of 14 totally unintelligible bas-reliefs.

    It struck me then that after centuries during which pious men and women had always laboured to produce buildings and objects of beauty for the glory of God, we were now in an age in which people actually laboured to produce ugliness – and to what end?

  22. Philokalos says:

    Reminds me of The Shrine in DC at CUA (the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception).

    …and the Cathedral of Florence.


  23. cwillia1 says:

    The photos of this glorious church are a sad reminder of that beautiful church in Manhattan that was elevated to heaven on earth through the efforts of one pastor and then wrecked by an iconoclastic successor. The icons on the pillars reminded me of what was trashed.

    I am sure that if I were lucky enough to walk into Protection Church in Moscow, I would know that I was in a Christian temple. I would know immediately that I was home. The very design of such churches is an expression of the Church’s creed. It is the perfect setting for the Divine Liturgy.

    Maybe some day, God will restore Hagia Sophia to us.

  24. cwillia1 says:

    If you take the virtual tour of the interior of the church that Father G links to above you can listen to Divna Ljubojevic, a Serbian, singing in Greek. She is singing the following hymn to the Theotokos that is sung most Sundays in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy.

    It is truly proper to glorify you, O Theotokos, the ever blessed, immaculate, and the mother of our God, more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption, gave birth to God, the Word, you truly the Theotokos we magnify.

    Well, words fail to describe Divna’s voice. Words fail to describe the beauty of Our Lady.

  25. siculocatholic says:

    @ Johnathan Marshall: Well said. When I enter a Church, I want to leave the world with all it’s noise, confusion and ugliness. That is what you get when you enter a traditional Catholic Church, Byzantine Catholic Church, and most Orthodox Churches. It’s a shame that I find more of a spiritual home when I sit inside St. John the Baptist Orthodox church while they chant Orthros as opposed to sitting in Holy Cross and having to hear about people’s weekends and ailments. Again, well said.

  26. siculocatholic says:

    What I meant is that you get peace when you enter the Churches I mentioned.

  27. benedetta says:

    “Nostalgia” — LOL! The only nostalgia that the young people in the photos and in all likelihood the believers who worship there must know would be of violent, extremist, atheist communist tactics to destroy all believers, if not only the churches and their architecture.

    I’m sure, PostCatholic, that you are very wrong in your assumption that everyone here only likes one type of church architecture. Within the diversity of orthodoxy within our communion, really there is a countless number of styles which I am sure most if not all would embrace.

    Which leads me to a bit of a rabbit hole for this thread but a concern that many of us have regarding destruction of the sacred in our midst, of that which is sacred by others for unknown reasons: have the sacred icons written by Kenneth Woo for the worshippers of the Church of Our Saviour, NYC, been worthily recovered yet?? Does anyone know? I certainly hope that the Cardinal intervenes there. It’s a violent end to what was created with the utmost gentle, loving care for the edification and mercy of those who pray in that sanctuary. A Blessed Sunday to all.

  28. siculocatholic says:

    Ciao Benedetta: Unfortunately most of the icons except that of Christ Pantocrator have been removed. I loved that church and every chance that I got to visit NYC I would make sure that I would stop in and pray or attend Mass.

  29. Nan says:

    Yes, Divna is wonderful. She sings like an angel.

    See as also, Savior on the Spilled Blood, the church built on the site of Alexander IIs death. It is also mosaics. I went to Russia several years ago and we were to drive past on a bus tour of St Petersburg but demanded to go in.

  30. siculocatholic says:

    I know that I have been knocking the churches in Boston but there are a couple in the Boston area that I go to that are beautiful: The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual of Help on Mission Hill, and St. Clements Eucharistic Shrine on Boylston Street which has perpetual adoration. This shrine is run by the OVM so there are no shananigans there.

  31. LarryGregan says:

    Anyone notice what is (properly) missing in these photos?

  32. Eric says:

    “80,000 donors in total.”

    The other half came from Kirill pawning one of his watches.

  33. Father G says:

    Photos of the consecration of the church by Patriarch Kirill:

    Some of the photos are just spectacular!

  34. Sandy says:

    Breathtaking! Thank you, Father, for posting the link to see more. Words fail me! The modernists just don’t get the concept of transcendence, that beauty such as this lifts one’s soul to God.

  35. Sandy says:

    Breathtaking! Thank you, Father, for posting the link to see more. Words fail me! The modernists just don’t get the concept of transcendence, that beauty such as this lifts one’s soul to God.

  36. Nan says:

    Larry, my ancestral parish is at the top of a hill in an eastern European village. No pews there either. Pews are an innovation.

  37. Pingback: Put To Shame By The Orthodox | Mundabor's Blog

  38. siculocatholic says:

    Nan, correct. The major badilicas such as St. Peters in Rome do not have pews installed as people back in the day stood to hear Mass and of course knelt w/o kneelers mind you at the appropriate times. We, these days, are pamperd.

  39. Marissa says:

    I notice the lack of pews too, many Orthodox churches don’t have them. They are a late Middle Ages addition to Catholic churches which did not catch on with the Orthodox.

    I also notice all the ladies working on the church have their heads covered and that is a beautiful thing.

  40. PostCatholic says:

    “I’m sure, PostCatholic, that you are very wrong in your assumption that everyone here only likes one type of church architecture.”

    Since I did not make that asssumption, I am not wrong at all in it. What I asserted is that it’s a poverty of imagination to only embrace the art and architecture of days long gone by as types worthy of the sacred. It’s also nonsense to imagine that major civic buildings shouldn’t look like churches or vice-versa; indeed in the architecture of every age they have mirrored each other. Some modern materials and some present-day designs won’t endure and that is as it should be. Some could. To constantly erect pastiches of what was the modern, cutting edge design of centuries past is a poverty of present-day imagination and intellect.

  41. benedetta says:

    PostCatholic, thanks for your clarification. I don’t disagree with your assertion. Nonetheless, one cannot deny that with the advent of ugly (?) church architecture and a resurgence of iconoclasm, people have left regular practice of worship in droves, whereas, in places which retain a sense of the sacral and transcendent in traditional expressions of beauty, at least the raw numbers are up. I would add to this that this is true whether pastoral leadership is pronouncedly orthodox in orientation, liberal politically or even dissenting actively from the dogmas of all times. So even if it is a mere assertion and not an assumption on your part I think the numbers counteract the truth of your statement and assertion and really demonstrates its falsity. Happy (U.S.) President’s Day to all.

  42. benedetta says:

    Obviously if people come to realize a rich and profound spiritual life and take part in spiritual community in places which retain and represent then one is at pains to conclude that a “poverty of imagination” is occurring. In fact, this indicates precisely the opposite is happening. Further, if people have had a thoroughgoing experience of art and architecture embracing the “post modern” gestalt in sacred worship and have by and large not been able to find expression of their heart of heart within that, clearly, the inclusion of elements of as PostCatholic calls it “days gone by” has not offered an enriched experience of imagination but rather just the opposite. It isn’t as if this approach as PostCatholic advocates hasn’t been tried, to the teeth. It has been tried, completely and exhaustively, and, it has been found wanting, by any measure or criteria one wants to apply.

    Also I take issue with PostCatholic’s presumption that things like icons and elements of sanctuary adornments, art, and architecture are employed only as reference to “days gone by”. The reality within the spiritual heart is not remotely in line with this statement. The reality is that icons persist because of their power, because of their blessings. A diversity within orthodoxy in the spiritual life persists, indeed flourishes, in spite of the many violent efforts in our time to crush it and its people who live it, because it is and always has been trustworthy, it works, it matters, and it is life itself.

    Clearly one does not assemble a sanctuary such as this just based upon the “nostalgia”. What demolished the original sanctuaries, that is something that has a finite and cheap price, so that was done with little thought and a vague sense of “nostalgia” and life depriving ideology. It doesn’t get rebuilt just on sentiment.

    It’s interesting, PostCatholic’s statements and this thread in general call to mind several passages in this excellent work:

  43. benedetta says:

    “Ecce ego facio nova,et nunc orientur, utique cognoscetis ea…”

    No need for anyone to get stuck in and mired in constructs, false, about things of old and what is real progress…

  44. LarryGregan says:

    Nan, siculocatholic, & Marissa,
    I am a Ukrainian Catholic in Canada. Alas, our parishes here have pews. (St. Elias in Brampton, Ontario is rebuilding after a fire. They have no pews with benches around the outside walls for those who require them. That is the only parish here I know of that has that setup.) We have to step into the aisles to do prostrations. On occasions when attendance is high, it is not possible for everyone to do so. It would be great if we could get rid of them but I can’t see it happening anytime soon.

  45. siculocatholic says:

    Larry, I think it would be a good thing to get rid of pews in our Latin Rite Churches and go back to the days when one had to stand to assist at Mass. That said, the only seating that should be available would be for the elderly and infirm. I attended a Divine Liturgy at Holy Cross Orthodox (Russian) where the only seats were along the walls and very few people sat. We should also go back to ad orietam worship but that’s an old argument…….

  46. KAS says:

    Oh they know how to do beautiful Churches! So pretty, so stunningly beautiful, so gloriously uplifting of the mind to God!

  47. Federico says:

    So next time you’re in Italy make a quick trip to Sicily and see the originals. Palermo (Cappella Palatina, Martorana), Monreale (Cattedrale), Corfù (Cattedrale) as a starting poing. The Cathedral of Palermo for the Arab-Norman fusion. And many more.

  48. siculocatholic says:

    Federico, my family comes from Marsala and I’ve been to the Chiesa Madre….beautiful.

  49. PostCatholic says:

    Ih. I would think that Christian church attendance is down for reasons unrelated to architecture. It’s hard to gather a crowd in some of the most beautiful and inspiring ecclesiastic spaces in Europe, old and new. Look elsewhere for the source of your troubles; it’s not architecture.

  50. benedetta says:

    PostC, well we’re not talking about “Europe”, here, we are talking Russia. Even if you won’t concede that the liturgy itself across Europe has been gutted of the transcendent in other liturgical arts if not the architectural shell that continues to play host to the Mass, at least you need to be honest that icons for Russian Orthodox do not represent “nostalgia”. Such a misrepresentation is shockingly untrue to the authentic practice of a huge swath of believers, which is really quite intolerant and disrespectful of their integral practice and worship. With respect to these photographs about which you first commented, the historical record is undisputed and overwhelmingly evident that believers stopped coming not because of doctrine or icons, but because these were destroyed by wrecking balls: there simply were no places to worship…and the believers and priests themselves similarly destroyed through a myriad horrible ways. The whole mechanism if this is the “elsewhere” you refer (?) is of a terrible xenophobia, a hatred of humans, dehumanizing.

    The elsewhere is totalitarianism and violent ideology. The source of “troubles” as you call it indeed has a significant locus in “architecture” as you pronounce it. If it were not so, why was it so very crucial that believers and their sanctuaries, the human sanctuaries and their humble structures of belief, necessarily had to be viciously, violently, methodically, wiped out?

  51. lairdangusmcangus says:

    I think it was Winston Churchill who said, of bombed-out postwar London, “First we shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”

    Alas, the modernists understood this all too well, while traditionalists were content to cede control of sacred architecture to the new class of cognoscenti. The old world was swept aside wherever possible and replaced with rigid steel-and-glass geometry of inhuman proportions.

    As for the Church, the neo-Calvinist, brutalist temples to austerity that have been built over the last ~60 years are both symptomatic and causal. I am convinced that the visible Church has been afflicted with Acedia during that time, one of the primary symptoms of which is an aversion to images of the sacred. This of course strikes at the very heart of Catholicism, which is a faith of personal devotions and “intimacy with the divine” (per Malachi Martin).

    So it is an error, in my opinion, to believe that simply building Churches like this one will result in any kind of resurgence in interest or attendance. Sadly, they are probably just as likely to cause some people to be repulsed.

    HOWEVER….building churches like this is part of the solution. Or more to the point, ceasing the construction of monuments to Acedia, is part of the solution.

    The Enemy is Acedia. We must name it and combat it on multiple levels: architectural, liturgical, theological, and devotional. It will not be an easy fight, but it is one we must fight and win if we are to have any hope of delivering the world from one of the arch-demons of Hell, the noonday devil.

  52. siculocatholic says:

    Post C, with all due respect, there is some truth to what you say in that regardless of what building, the faith that supports us is really all we need, especially in dire times when there might be no visible Church buildings. BUT, you have to admit the sense of the sublime when you enter into a beautifully appointed church oriented to the sacred rather than the banal, bland, protestantized edifices that hide the tabernacle, give us Crucfixes with an androgenous Christ (see St. Peter’s in Harvard Square, Cambridge), etc. There is no comparison and I dare say that a Church such as the one we are talking about assists in bringing the faithful closer to God than what we have been accustomed to in the last 50 or so years in the United States.

  53. Chiara F. Mathews says:

    Thanks Fr. Z for this post. Little correction: 800,000 donors, not 80,000. My 2 cents to the discussion….I’m not totally against modern architecture. I think it can be very spiritual if done well. Actually, looking at the exterior of this church, it is rather minimalist in comparison to many Russian churches. And as for standing at Mass….can’t get my brain around that. Sounds like a bad idea for families with a lot of kids, pregnant women and anyone who suffers with any physical difficulty.

  54. Chiara F. Mathews says:

    Is the link to my blog working yet?

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