In Tallinn, Estonia old town, on Laboratooriumi Street, is a little Ukrainian Greek-Orthodox Church, established in 1990, that probably will not show up on your list of top Tallin attractions. It is not only a church, but a bright and holy place for all sufferers – plants, people, and animals. It is open to people of all nationalities and denominations whose hearts support defenseless living beings. The church is consecrated to the defender of the innocents, the three-handed Virgin Mary who is traditionally the protector of all guiltless sufferers.
In the limestone wall of the Laboratoormi Street is a holy postbox, where one can send news about people, plants, and animals unjustly treated. In the church, they pray for all of them. The artist painted a message in several languages for passersby that reads:
Church to the Blessed Virgin with Three Hands. She is the protector of the innocent who have been wrongly convicted, deceived and sinned against. You can describe your problem and put a letter into the box. The priest will pray for settlement your question.”
Once you enter the tiny church complex, you will find yourself in a tiny inner courtyard where several rare plants grow. At the top of the trees here, migrating birds nest, as if they know that within these walls is a safe-haven.
Also inside of these walls is the monastic arts school, where ‘Labora‘, paper is made by medieval techniques, and ink is produced from ink mushrooms (shaggy mane, Lat. coprinus comatus). With this ink and on this ‘old’ paper are drawn Estonian plants in danger of extinction, and poems by Timo Maran accompany them, like little icons.
In late 1997, the church was destroyed by fire, with arson that ended a criminal trial. On 14 October 2000, the church was restored and consecrated in honor of the Virgin Mary. The ceremony was celebrated by Archbishop Ljubomõr Guzar of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the church has paintings by the artist Lviv Petro Gumenjuk, and the interior was designed and built by one of his assistants Anatoly Ljutjuk.
All Masses are celebrated in Ukrainian language.
By ordering a tour in advance (fee to be negotiated upon reservation), you will see the church, the Ukrainian Cultural Centre school, Labora workshops, handmade paper and postcards, Tallinn toys, ornamented eggs, etc. It will also be possible to participate in a variety of master classes.
The answer is very simple. Many years ago, Russian painters misunderstood and misinterpreted an original Greek icon painting on which huge numbers of hand-painted copies were based. While it is true that the original icon had three hands, only two of them were intended to be Mary’s hands. That is something that the process of copying the icon repeatedly changed, just as repeated copying of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible resulted in great numbers of changes and variations in readings. The third now is said to belong to John of Damascus, a Syrian monk of the 7th to 8th century.
Over the years, there were so many copies of Mary with three hands, that it became its own thing.
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