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'We will rebuild': Fire destroys 118-year-old Orthodox church in eastern Alberta

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A Romanian Orthodox church east of Edmonton burned nearly to the ground on Tuesday. 

St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church was built and blessed in 1905 outside a Romanian settlement called Boian northwest of the community of Two Hills. 

The Two Hills County fire department was called around 6 p.m. and asked for help from the RCMP a short time later.

Police are investigating but told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday it was too early to know whether the fire is suspicious. 

At the end of July, the church was scheduled to host a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Romanians' arrival in Boian.

According to the church's website, St. Mary's was designated a provincial historic resource in 1976. 

The Canadian Romanian Society of Alberta in a public statement said it was working "out a way for all of us to help and to rebuild the church in a timely fashion." 

The Romanian Orthodox Bishop of Canada, in sharing photos of the church and fire on social media, asked for prayers for the community. 
Violet Lutyck got married at the church 74 years ago.

“My grandparents are buried here, my husband is buried here, we got married here, our nephews were baptized in this church," she told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday.

She raised her daughter Wanda Lutyck-Neufeld in a home about five kilometres north of the church site.

“Driving up today, when I got to the highway and I’m looking over it's like you can't tell this spot exists anymore. You know what I mean, it's like there’s nothing there,” Lutyck-Neufeld tearfully told CTV News Edmonton.

She said seeing the photos of the fire was heartbreaking.

"When I saw the one of the church with the fire literally in the church. To me it almost defied belief like it’s burning internally, it’s devastating. I felt like it gutted me.”

Mircea Panciuk served as the priest at the church for 54 years.

He retired in March, and now lives in Montreal.

He had returned to the community on Tuesday for what was supposed to be a farewell dinner.

"I flew in yesterday and landed, got some phone calls right away. Yeah, very very shocked about what happened," he said.

"Already I've found a feeling of we will rebuild, we will continue what was left to us by these pioneers that came here."

The church plans to hold services outside in the interim.

Two Hills is about 140 kilometres east of Alberta's capital city.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Marek Tkach 

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