New Church in Helsinki

Plans for the construction of a new Russian Orthodox church have been approved by Helsinki building authorities. The Orthodox Congregation of St. Nicholas, which operates under the Patriarchate of Moscow, has been hoping to build a new church in Itäkeskus in the east of Helsinki since 2004. However, the traditional Russian onion-domed church as been difficult to adapt to the urban landscape of the area.

In addition to the church building, there will also be a parish hall and a cultural centre.

The church will have modern buildings around it. All of the buildings in the church compound are to have plaster cladding and will be painted white.

The biggest cross will be at a height of 40 metres, rising as high as the nine-storey apartment buildings around it.

The congregation first tried to get approval for a design drawn up in Moscow.

The drawings circulated in various municipal offices. Finally the authorities insisted that a Finnish architect be commissioned for the project.

The congregation chose the architectural office of Markku Aalto for the job.

Markku Aalto designed the parish hall and a building with six apartments. The sanctuary of the church has space for nearly 500 people at a time. The parish hall has space for 100 people, and has a number of separate rooms for various activities.

Finishing touches are being put on the plan, and the congregation will soon submit an application for a building permit.

The cost of the project is estimated at EUR 9-10 million.

"The constantly growing group of Russians requires a new church. Between 150 and 160 new members join the congregation each year", says Orest Chervinski, Dean of the Congregation of St. Nicholas.

Many of the Russian immigrants in the Helsinki region live in the east of the city.

"Seventy per cent of them profess the Orthodox faith", Chervinski says.

Some who are not members of the parish nevertheless want to have their children baptised in the church, for instance.

The congregation is asking for financial assistance from Moscow. "The Russian church has built as many as 700 new churches last year", Chervinski says.

He expects the parish hall and the residential building to go up first.

It will take longer to build the church itself, because the building will have to be completely dry before frescoes can be painted on the inside wall.

The City of Helsinki gave its approval for the local town plan in April 2006. The congregation is leasing the land from the city.