"The people here were simple people. They didn't have writers and journalists to tell their stories," he said. "This is an attempt to tell their story, using what they left behind when they were forced to flee the homes, their schools and their churches. ...
"Modern life separates a man who has deep faith from a man who has little. In these villages, life and faith were simply combined and you can see that here."
In one of the starkest images -- over a map of the stricken region -- the melting reactor literally shatters a famous icon of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, while an apocalyptic storm swirls around her.
"We are tempted to think that fire and water and all the elements of nature are at our command, but that is not true," said Tkachev, outside the final exhibit hall. "We can become victims. ... The more technologies are in our lives, the more danger there is that we become their servants, even their slaves."
The archpriest stroked his beard, thinking of another way of stating the ultimate message of this sobering tribute to lessons learned at Chernobyl.
Finally he offered a litany of simple images.
If a man builds a bicycle and it breaks while he is riding it, then he will be hurt when he falls, said Tkachev. If he builds an airplane and it breaks, he will almost certainly die when it crashes.
"Now, if we build a nuclear reactor in our backyard and it breaks, then the catastrophe will kill many and it may last into future generations," he said. "What this teaches us is that we must fear God and try to be humble about the things that we build with our own hands."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
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