There is no more iconic image of Belskoye Ustye, say so many of our volunteers from summer camps over the years, than the church. Crossing the bridge from ROOF’s Baranovo House towards the village of Belskoye Ustye, it stands in front of you the whole way. A huge church, apparently once beautiful, but now in ruins. Sometimes there has seemed to be activity there. A couple of years after ROOF started working in the the orphanage in Belskoye Ustye, someone replaced the cross on the top of the dome, or what was left of the dome. Some years later, some official restoration work began, scaffolding was erected, and the roof was repaired. Since then, although the scaffolding remains, little has been done. The church still has no floor, and the foundations are full of rubble. There are still some signs of fresco work, especially high up on the walls inside, but there is peeling paint, falling plaster, and graffiti. In many ways, it seems symbolic of everything that goes on: once beautiful and full of life, then almost completely destroyed. Small signs of hope, efforts at reconstruction, and periods where nothing at all seems to be happening.
A lot of the time, it seems people are waiting. Waiting for someone to come and do something about it. The hope has been that if the church could be reconstructed, a priest would be found to live in the village, and services would start again in the church. But more recently, a local parishioner said that she realized this thinking had been all backwards. To bring life back to the church, rather than waiting for someone else to come and set it up, it was better to begin by simply gathering there and praying. As the spiritual life came back to the church this way, resources would be found and work would begin also on the building itself.
ROOF hopes to play some part in this effort. The church is iconic of the whole village. While it stands there, derelict, a sign of past glories, who can really believe that Belskoye Ustye can ever again experience the fullness of life it experienced in the past? But if new life can come into the church — new life, not simply a replay of past glories — then perhaps new life can come into the village as well. This is why, as part of the summer festival 2013, ROOF hopes to play its part in both spiritual and physical renewal of the church in Belskoye Ustye.