Poland's minority Orthodox Church is to build a cathedral near Warsaw's airport for Orthodox Christians serving in the nation's armed forces. The cathedral will be the first new Orthodox place of worship for a century in this predominantly Roman Catholic city. It will also be highly visible to all those arriving at the Polish capital's main airport. A church leader said the Greek-style cathedral, on Defense Ministry land adjoining Okecie Airport, would testify to the Orthodox presence and add a "prestigious feature" to the capital.

"We are already building many beautiful churches in Poland, so this is really nothing unusual," said Bishop Miron of Hajnowka, head of the Orthodox ministry to the nation's military forces. "Our church occupies a legal position in this country, and is noticed by everyone. The numerous Orthodox community shows no sign of declining, so the cathedral is clearly needed."

The 42-year-old bishop told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that the cathedral, with seating for at least a thousand worshippers, would be built in the Byzantine form common in the Peloponnese region, without the onion-shaped domes characteristic of Russian Orthodox architecture.He added that the cost would be known when one of several architectural designs was accepted.The bishop will ask the Polish government to share the bill. "Since it will stand on Polish Army land, the [Defense] Ministry should be ready to help," Bishop Miron told ENI. "Meanwhile, as a prestigious feature, the Warsaw [city] council should also be prepared to contribute."

However, the chancellor of Warsaw's Roman Catholic curia has criticized the plan, saying Catholic Church leaders had not been notified and had heard about the project from the press. "The Orthodox already have a cathedral here, and [they] number just a few thousand out of a total city population of 1.5 million," the chancellor, Grzegorz Kalwarczyk, told ENI. "Looked at from outside, the Orthodox Church seems closest to the Catholic Church. But we have only official contacts—there are no neighborly gestures or courtesies."

The 570,000-member Orthodox Church, headed by Metropolitan Sawa, has seven eparchies (roughly equivalent to archdioceses) in Poland and a further six abroad, but is mainly concentrated in eastern parts of the country.The military pastorate was founded in 1994. Its clergy minister to an estimated 17 000 Orthodox soldiers and conscripts among Poland's 180,000 military personnel. The pastorate has 20 priests and seven parishes, but only one garrison church—at Ciechocinek—and is based at St Mary Magdalene Cathedral in Warsaw, one of two Orthodox places of worship in the capital.

Rzeczpospolita, a daily newspaper, said the prime site at the airport had been agreed on last March after the Defense Ministry had suggested several other locations. The newspaper added that the foundation stone for the cathedral and surrounding complex, including diocesan offices and a publishing center, would be laid this year.

Bishop Miron told ENI that his church had relinquished claims to two other early twentieth-century Orthodox churches, which were now in the hands of other denominations. He added that his diocese had "no special problems" cooperating with Poland's majority Roman Catholic Church, which has 180 priests in its ministry to the armed forces. The bishop added: "We haven't interfered with the building projects of other churches. They shouldn't interfere with ours."

Andrzej Debski, spokesman for the 90,000-member Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (Lutheran), told ENI that his church's leaders were pleased the Orthodox pastorate would be able to give witness to Orthodox presence by establishing the new cathedral, adding that its location as the first church visible to visitors at Warsaw airport was "not significant."

However, he said that the Lutheran church was trying to recover ownership from the government of the historic headquarters of its own military pastorate in Warsaw. "After having had to rely for years on a temporary site, we would appreciate a satisfactory solution to this problem, in view of the work the Lutheran church does for the Polish Army," Debski said.

"We were informed in a roundabout way about plans for the Orthodox cathedral, and if the Defense Ministry has funds available to support such projects, we hope they'll be divided fairly."

The chancellor of Poland's Catholic ministry to military personnel, Leszek Koloniecki, said the new cathedral was a "purely Orthodox matter." He added that each church's military pastorate was a "sovereign, independent entity" within the Polish Army.However, the Warsaw curia official, Grzegorz Kalwarczyk, said he believed Warsaw's Orthodox community had enough churches. "At one time, the Orthodox had a huge church at the very center of the city, which was built * on the orders of the Russian Tsar," the 58-year-old Catholic priest said. "The Orthodox follow their own paths and always have a complex about Catholics. In Russia they've opposed a visit by the Pope and done everything to stop Catholic priests going to care for their faithful."

The Catholic Church, which has three cathedrals and about 200 churches in Warsaw, is also constructing a US$50-million Church of Divine Providence in thanksgiving for the collapse of communism.

Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

For statistics on Poland's religion, including the Polish Orthodox Church, see Adherents.com