Unknown Wrocław: Orthodox church

Right at Pl. Jana Pawła II square, near the former Babiński Hospital, there is one of the four temples of the Four Denominations District – the Nativity of Saint Mary Orthodox Church in Wrocław, which belongs to the Wrocław-Szczecin Diocese and is one of the most ecumenical temples in Wrocław.

Once it welcomed people arriving in Wrocław from the west through the Mikołajska Gate (Brama Mikołajska), as it was located very close to the city borders, almost adjoining the moat. Now, visible from a distance, the chequered pattern of the temple tower tells us that we are entering the city centre. It is normally the main church of the Orthodox Wrocław-Szczecin community, the seat of Archbishop Jeremiasz and the temple of one of the parishes of Orthodox believers in the capital of Lower Silesia.

Temple of three communities

When we visited this place, the meeting of Wrocław students participating in the municipal program ‘Education in Places of Remembrance and Cultural Paths' was just coming to an end. They were being told about the tradition of the Orthodox Church and the specific features of Orthodox temples by Rev. Protodeacon Mieczysław Oleśniewicz, who has become our guide, too. 'This is perhaps the most ecumenical temple in our city,' says the priest, and it is hard not to agree with this. Looking at the history of this place, it was originally occupied by a Catholic funeral chapel, which burnt down in 1400. It was replaced with St. Barbara's Church – a branch and a funeral church of the parish of St. Elizabeth. In 1526, the temple was transferred to the Evangelical Church and was used by its members for over 400 years. Having been restored after its destruction during a World War II, the building was transferred to the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church in June 1963.

Typical... and untypical Orthodox church

Although this temple does not look like a typical Orthodox church, its interior fully conforms to Orthodox liturgical tradition.

What attracts our attention among artistic and liturgical decorations of the Orthodox church, is the iconostasis with contemporary icons by Jerzy Nowosielski, Adam Stalony-Dobrzański and Sotiris Adamopulos. The stained glass window in the presbytery, which show events from Mary’s life, was also painted by Jerzy Nowosielski. ‘The iconostasis includes, among others, an icon of the Last Supper, which contains eleven apostles,' says Rev. Oleśniewicz and explains that, apart from that icon, each iconostasis should also include images of Christ, the Mother of God, the Annunciation and the Four Evangelists. ‘Other icons are actually a matter of free choice, but the thing that towers over the entire iconostasis is the most important Christian symbol: the cross,' explains the priest.

If we look more closely at the vault, we will notice an inscription in Hebrew that denotes the Name of God. ‘Although some say that Christians have departed from Jewish tradition, this inscription is one of the proofs that this is not so,’ says our guide.

Mysterious door

On the left side of the presbytery there is the door adjacent to the Holy Mountain Icon. Associated with the Catholic Church, the icon actually has its roots in Orthodox tradition. ‘In 1326, the Empress Helena was granted this icon during her stay in the Holy Land,' recollects Rev. Oleśniewicz.

We go through the said door. Inside, there is the chapel of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which is always indicated by the icon placed on the right side of the altar. ‘It is normally used by the parish community,' says the priest. The iconostasis in this place was transferred from the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Sosnowiec that had been demolished shortly before World War II.

Judgement and dumplings

We also enter the choir loft, where we can see clearly the western stained glass window showing the Last Judgement.

At the very end of our tour, we take a look at numerous epitaphs on walls and, obviously, at the southern side of the tower with three clocks – the so-called ‘dumpling’ clock and two sundials. ‘Why two sundials? One before noon and the other after noon,’ explains the priest. And why the ‘dumpling’ clock? We wrote about this some time ago - read here. ‘Now it does not slow down, and I often see passer-by looking at it – you have to learn this clock, because it has only one hand.'
However, the hand shows that our visit has come to an end.

Arkadiusz Cichosz