The Russian Orthodox Church in Al Yarmouk is the biggest Russian Orthodox Church Complex outside the former Soviet Union. The complex also includes a cultural centre. Image Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News

Sharjah: Next to the Mar Thoma church in Al Yamook, the five blue domes of the Saint Philip the Apostle Russian Orthodox Church Complex rise tall, reminiscent of a little piece of Moscow in a sandy Sharjah site.

The first Russian Orthodox Church in the Arabian Peninsula held its first service and opening ceremony Saturday.

It is the biggest Russian Orthodox Church Complex outside the former Soviet Union that also includes a cultural centre, and was named after Saint Philip, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ.

With the first stone laid in 2007, the church was financed by Ukrainian businessman Yuri Sidorenko, 50, chairman of the advisory board of the EDAPS consortium which produces identification documents and information systems such as electronic passports. He is also the adviser for International and Corporative Development of the Specialised Enterprise Holography.

Wall of icons

The church has a capacity of 900. Inside, one of the walls is adorned with images of religious icons hanging in ornate golden frames. Called the Wall of Icons, it separates the church from the altar.

The wall is made of Indian teak wood, carved and plated with gold leaf in the UAE. Each of the icons was painted in Moscow and brought to Sharjah.

Above, a painted fresco adorns the high domed ceiling with four smaller frescoes of Jesus Christ's apostles representing Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

"One cannot over estimate the importance this church has for the 200,000 Russians in the UAE. It is the first Russian Orthodox Church in this part of the world and people have been wanting to have it for a long time," said Sidorenko, who was given the highest award for the Russian Orthodox Church, the order of Glory and Honour First Degree by the Holy Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.

"It was not hard getting it built thanks to the support of Sharjah leadership, who expressed a sincere desire for a cultural monument to be located here," he added. "We are grateful to the UAE government."

Father Alexander Zarkeshev, 46, said he was overjoyed this day had come.

Saint Philip the Apostle Russian Orthodox Church Complex will start regular services in September. The building will be open to people of all faiths.