Orthodox bells will be silent in 2000

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The Independent Online
THE BELLS of the only Christian dome in Britain to be built for the millennium will be silent at midnight as 1999 turns into 2000 because the project has run into a financial crisis.

Building work on a new Russian Orthodox cathedral in London has been halted as the project is pounds 500,000 short of its pounds 2m target. The shortfall has arisen because a hoped-for grant from the Millennium Commission has been turned down and private donations from the expatriate community have slowed to a trickle since the collapse of the Russian economy.

The 70ft-high church by the M4 motorway in Chiswick, west London, was the idea of Count Andrei Tolstoy Miloslavsky, a descendant of the novelist Leo Tolstoy. The project won the support of the Prince of Wales, who made an undisclosed donation.

The building would be the first purpose-built place of worship in this country for the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad which has been separate from the Russian Orthodox Church since the revolution of 1917. The Russian Orthodox Church already has its own cathedral, a former Anglican church, in Knightsbridge, London.

The plan was for the cathedral to be built in traditional Russian pskov style, complete with a bell tower and a distinctive dome painted with gold and blue stars. The ornate interior was to be decorated by Russian craftsmen and it was to take a congregation of up to 300 worshippers. A crypt, library and studio for the teaching of icon painting were also planned.

The building was intended to be the seat for the church's spiritual leader, the Most Reverend Archbishop Mark of Germany and Great Britain.

Gregory Wolcough, church warden for the project, said it will provide a striking landmark for visitors to London arriving from Heathrow and the west. "If we do not raise the rest of the funding for the project the bells will not be ringing out for the millennium. We are halfway through but desperately need more money if we are to have services at the cathedral.

"We were turned down by the Millennium Commission which refused us funds because it only provides for church repairs - not for complete projects. But if they only gave us half of the total cost of the scheme we would be able to finish it in time for the millennium."

Archbishop Mark, who lives in Germany, said the cathedral is significant for diplomatic as well as religious reasons.

"Our community in England has never had its own purpose-built church," he said. "We have always used other churches and premises that could be available. It will be vital in the part it will play in terms of Russian English relations. It will look beautiful and sound beautiful."