KIEV, Ukraine — The first temple lesson learned by LDS Church members attending Sunday's cornerstone ceremony of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple was to share.
You see, the Kyiv temple — the first built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Eastern Europe as well as in the former Soviet Union — is not Ukraine's anymore.
And it doesn't belong to the Latter-day Saints who live in the nine Eastern European nations that comprise the temple district, from Armenia to Moldova and from Russia to Belorussia.
"It is your temple now," said LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson in the opening cornerstone ceremonies of the first of Sunday's three dedication services. "But in a few minutes, we will give it to the Lord."
Ukrainian church members will be pleased to welcome their peers from neighboring nations to visit the church's 134th operating temple worldwide and the 11th on the European continent.
President Monson is the first LDS Church president to visit Ukraine since a 2002 conference at Kiev's Palats Ukraina concert hall featured President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Joining President Monson for the dedication ceremonies were President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency; Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder William R. Walker of the Quorums of the Seventy and executive director of the church's temple department, the wives of the latter three leaders and the East Europe Area presidency.
Sister Frances Monson did not travel with President Monson.
The Kyiv Ukraine Temple is the latest event in the LDS Church's rapid ascent in Ukraine. The first missionaries arrived in October 1990, the church was formally recognized the next year by the new nation's new government after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine Kiev Mission was organized in 1992, and the temple was announced in 1998.
Even though the temple was not completed and dedicated for a dozen years after its announcement, no other nation besides the United States has received a temple faster than Ukraine after the introduction of the LDS Church or its missionaries in that country.
Vladimir A. Kanchenko, president of the Kyiv Ukraine Stake since it was organized in 2004, said the new temple will drastically reduce the time and cost for the approximately 31,000 members in the East Europe Area to travel to the temple. Before, they had to spend several days crossing many borders to attend temples in Germany, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.
"Now all of Ukraine and all of Russia and these other countries can attend the temple as often as they want, not only as often as they can," said Kanchenko, adding that the temple will bless the members with increased knowledge, strength and personal revelation.
Elder Nelson echoed the theme of the temple's accessibility for Eastern European LDS members.
"It will be a temple available to people from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan and, of course, Russia," said Elder Nelson in an interview with the Deseret News and Church News earlier this month.
"The dear people from Russia who wanted to be endowed had to go to Sweden and Finland. This will be a lot easier — politically and economically. It's still a big, long trip for them. But a temple in the former USSR — no one can underestimate the significance of that."
Elder Nelson quoted a statement from then-Elder Boyd K. Packer's apostolic blessing on Ukraine, given in 1991: "We see the day when there will be stakes of Zion set firmly and permanently on the fertile soil of the Ukraine, and in due time, the spires of temples will be seen across this great land."
Currently, the LDS Church has 11,000 members in 64 congregations in Ukraine, including one stake and three missions.
The temple features an exterior of Amarelo Maciera granite, which is light in color and contains quartzite crystals that reflect the sunlight.
The interior design and stained-glass windows suggest a wheat theme, including the plant's upright stem and the diagonal pattern of the kernels.
Labeled the former USSR's "bread basket," the agriculturally rich Ukraine is well-known for its fertile soil and its abundant wheat and grain fields.
The temple's spire stands 42 meters tall — nearly 138 feet high — and is topped with a gilded Angel Moroni statue. Just beneath the sphere upon which the statue stands is a series of flashing red lights that are turned on at night, since the temple is located near a small, local airport.
Sunday's cornerstone ceremony was the only public part of the day's three dedication services for the temple, which is different than church's more common meetinghouses used for public worship and activities.
Following the dedication, only worthy LDS members can enter a temple, where church members believe Jesus Christ's teachings are taught and ordinances for members and their deceased ancestors are performed to unite families for eternity.
"It is a day of freedom — a day you will have all the ordinances of the gospel," said President Monson during the cornerstone ceremony. "It is a time to do the ordinances for your ancestors, for the people who cannot do it for themselves.
"I promise that when you come to the temple, you will have a feeling in your hearts that you have given the greatest gift to them," he continued. "For that is what temple work is all about."
Ukraine gets temple 20 years after introduction of church
After the United States, where the LDS Church was first organized, Ukraine is the country with the least amount of time between the introduction of the church and its missionaries to the completion of an LDS temple.
Ukraine: Church introduced 1990 — Kyiv Temple, 2010 — 20 years
Dominican Republic: Church introduced 1978 — Santo Domingo Temple, 2000 — 22 years
Philippines: Church introduced 1961 — Manila Temple, 1984 — 23 years
Ghana: Church introduced 1978 — Accra Temple, 2004 — 26 years