The Parish History|
To the allied nations of world war II, the 9th of May, 1945 brought Petery and hope for a more prosperous and peaceful future. To the axis powers, it brought defeat and their utter annihilation. However, for the refugees displaced from Communist held countries, or from those nations which were captured by the Communists, it brought uncertainty. This uncertainty lasted for a period of almost five years. For many, forced repatriation, changes of personal and national identity, and innumerable other miseries were their lot. Their common goal was to leave the uncertain situation they found themselves in, and go anywhere, anywhere that is except to return to one's communist held homeland. They were repatriated by allied governments and the newly formed United Nations to new countries, new lands, where circumstance forced them to start their lives anew. For some, it was for the first time this had happened, for others who fled the tumult of world war I it was their second displacement.
A small group of those refugees who were of Russian descent, and were granted by God's grace and with His help, the opportunity of settling into a new life in Cleveland Ohio set about creating a sense of normalcy in their lives by establishing for themselves a place were they could worship their Lord, and find spiritual nourishment and comfort. Thus a small and humble Russian Orthodox parish was founded in Cleveland. Amongst this small group of refugees was the their first pastor, the young heiromonk Anthony, who later proceeded St. John Maximovich as Archpastor of the Western American diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). This group, having built for themselves a new life in America, strived to maintain strong social and cultural ties amongst themselves, and thereby preserve the spirit and life they had known from their earliest years in their Russian homeland. Following is a description of the humble beginnings of St. Sergius of Radonezh Parish.
Having arrived in America, the small group of refugees provided for their livelihood as best as they could given the difficult circumstances in which they found themselves. For many, America was totally unfamiliar and, some would say, alien. At that time, the jurisdictional problems that existed between the various Orthodox Churches in the United States and the synod of Bishops of the ROCOR were not clearly understood by many, and the refugees initially attended Orthodox Church of America (OCA) parishes. The refugees did not become members of these parishes, this was because a large number of the "displaced persons" or "DP's" as they were called back then, found the spirit that permeated these parishes somewhat foreign to their Russian Orthodox sensibilities. They sought to form a Church with a priest who belonged to the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, who they felt provided a spiritual atmosphere that was more comforting and familiar.
Thus this small group of refugees first began parish life by gathering for prayer and social communion in private homes. During these gatherings discussion centered on what they could do to form a parish and a Russian Cultural Society. These were people who harboured within themselves a sincere desire to create a Russian community and, most importantly for the salvation of their souls, the building of a church.
Some of the first activists who worked especially hard for the Russian community and church in Cleveland Ohio, were: O. N. Mironenko, Yu. C. Mikhailov, P. A. Selenoi, S. S. Berezkin, L. V. Kashkarova, the Sarinov family, Plotnikovs and many others, whom unfortunately, may be forgotten. As stated previously they often met at each other's homes. At one of these meetings, it was decided that the first priority was to organize the building of a church. One of the attendees was assigned the task of writing a letter to the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile and request that a priest be sent to us to organize a parish in Cleveland.
In the middle of September 1950, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile sent Fr. Antony (Medvedev) to serve the immediate needs of the community. Heiromonk Anthony had also fled communist Russia, and spent some time at the exiled Synod headquarters in Serbia.
After the first vespers service, which was served at the home of L. V. Kashkarova, all those attending took part in a meeting at which a parish under the jurisdiction of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Exile was formed. Because the meeting was held on the eve of the commemoration of the miracle worker St. Sergius of Radonezh's passing, he was chosen to became the parishes' celestial patron. The parish feast day is October 8th (September 25 according to the Julian calendar). The second parish feast day is July 18 (July 5, Julian calendar), which is the commemoration of the day in which St. Sergius's relics were found in 1422. (read his life) A temporary parish council was elected at this same meeting. The parish was assigned to the Detroit-Cleveland diocese which was administered by his grace Archbishop Ieronim. At the services, the following names were commemorated: Metropolitan Anastasy, as first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad; Archbishop Vitaly of the Eastern United States and New York; and Archbishop Ieronim of Detroit and Cleveland.
In such a way the spiritual life of the parish of St. Sergius began. However, in a short period of time, the need to find a more suitable place of worship arose. Holding the services in a residence was inconvenient. For a short while services were held in a local sporting club that had generously donated their space for this purpose. It was only in November of 1950, that a separate building was found - a former garage. The structure was very dirty and showed signs of neglect. Parishioners banded together and came during work evenings to renovate it, and make it a place worthy of Orthodox worship. Everyone contributed in some form or other - some cleaned, others plastered the walls and ceiling, some laid new linoleum or painted the walls of the structure. The work was carried out diligently and lovingly under the capable supervision of E. K. Mironenko and Yu. E. Lappo. An altar and table of oblation were built along with the iconostasis, vestments were sewn and donated. In such a way the newly rennovated "garage" church was readied for services by the feast of the Nativity of Christ.
Even in the humble garage church, all the services were well attended both at vespers and at liturgies. It is fondly remembered that, while the refugees were still very poor they always found time amidst their struggles to make a living to attend and support the church, often in great numbers. Many of the members of the parish remember the prayer at the services in the garage as being especially warm and spiritually comforting.
Heiromonk Anthony lived in a small room in the garage owner's house. The youth of the parish were often in his cell receiving from his pure soul words of edification spiced with the grace of God. These spiritual conversations took place after each liturgy. The parish youth grew to love their spiritual father and, strove with even greater zeal to attend all the services, in order to take part in these discussions with their spiritual father. The youth also sang in the choir or served in the altar. The choir was large, sang smoothly and piously. The first choir director was Mr. Sklarov.
The parish worshiped in the garage for only a short time. In the spring of 1951, a decision was made to look for land for the construction of a church. Heiromonk Anthony with the blessing of his grace Archbishop Ieronim consented to the construction of a new church. A parcel of land was purchased on the East side of Cleveland at E 67th street, between Superior and St. Clair. O. N. Mironenko and Yu. E. Lappo were entrusted with organizing a committee to oversee and plan the construction of a suitable church on the purchased land. The church design was formulated by the parish member and accredited architect A. S. Nazaretz.
Fr. Antony, unfortunately, did not remain with the parish for long. In mid-summer of 1951, he departed for Canada, where he assumed greater responsibilities in the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile. He left behind a newly consecrated priest and spiritual son Fr. Michael Smirnov to serve as the parish priest.
The Very Reverend Michael Smirnov was born in Dakudova, Russia in 1907. He graduated from the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Vilna, and then received a Masters in Theology at the University of Warsaw.
Before coming to America he served as a parish priest in Kobrin, Poland, and established a church in Hanover, Germany, which is still active today. Arriving in America, he helped build and establish the parish of St. Andrew in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is also active to this day. The Synod assigned Fr. Michael to St. Sergius parish in 1951, Fr. Michael remained Rector for 26 years.
In 1977, he retired to the St. Andrew parish in St. Petersburg, Florida, where on Sunday, May 15, he reposed in the Lord after delivering the Sunday Gospel homily. In this way, he ended his pastoral service to our Lord in the Church where he began his pastoral service in the United States.
It was during Fr. Michael's tenure as pastor of St. Sergius that the church on the East side of Cleveland was designed and built, and the current church structure in Parma was designed.
The construction of the church on the East side of Cleveland progressed smoothly under the capable direction of Mr. Alexander Nazaretz. Much care was taken to ensure that the architectural flavor of the church building preserved a sense of Russian culture while remaining functional and accessible. Archbishop Gregory of Chicago and Cleveland Consecrated the East Side Church in 1955. Shortly thereafter in 1957 Archbishop Ieronim of Detroit passed away and the diocese was expanded to include his parishes in Detroit. This was when the diocese was expanded and named Chicago, Detroit and the Midwestern United States. 1957 also marked the passing of Archbishop Gregory. The spiritual governance of the Diocese was passed on to his grace Archbishop Seraphim, who oversaw the flock of Christ in this Diocese until his passing away in 1987.
In the new church, the choir found renewed energy singing. The acoustics were considerably better than those of the garage. The church was always full on both evening vigil services, and Liturgies. Here the faithful Russian émigrés found a spiritual home and source of much comfort amidst the tumult of the rapidly changing world around them. And it is also here, into this newly consecrated church, that many of the first generation Russian émigrés were born, baptized, and raised by their parents to love the Orthodox church, and do their part in preserving Orthodox life in their own homes and lives. Many of the parishioners of today's St. Sergius parish are first and second generation descendants of those original parishioners.
During the tenure of Fr. Michael, the Russian Cultural Society was formed, and many small organizations grew from the seeds sown by this organization. A Russian dance group was formed, along with a band. They delighted all of those who attended the annual "Yolka" Christmas party, and many other social events at which they performed. Groups met to read poetry, and discuss Russian literature, as well as to learn the history of the Russian Church, much of which was new to them as they had been deprived of a broad education in Russian spiritual history while attending schools that were under the communist yoke.
The descendants of those who formed the Russian Cultural Society remain active in the Parish and sit on the Parish council, help with singing in the choir, and also help with the St. Sergius Parish Russian School. They also remain active in the Russian Cultural Society which continues to organize social events for those of Russian descent in the Cleveland area.
The Cossacks who managed to flee the Soviet Army, and settle in Cleveland also formed a "Stanitza" in Cleveland. This Stanitza was composed of Cossacks from the Donski area, the Terski area, the Kybanski area, and others. The first Attaman of the Stanitza, Ivan I. Zaharchenko, passed away in 1988, he was succeeded by Daniel D. Pianov, and several others. The current Attaman is Evgeny M. Tkachenko, who still remains active in the organization of events such as the annual memorial panahida for those who lost their lives during the betrayal of the Cossacks that took place in Lenz Austria in 1945.
May God grand life eternal to all those, who participated in the God-pleasing work of establishing our parish and constructing the church on the East side of Cleveland, many of whom have now departed this life. May God grant many years to those, who are still amongst us and who also toiled in the establishment of these parish edifaces. The new generation is eternally grateful to them as they can see with their own eyes the fruits of their labors. It is impossible to list everyone, who took part in this endeavour, since all of the parishioners lent their talents, their physical and spiritual labours and their charitable contributions in the construction of the garage and East-Side churches.
The now flourishing parish of St. Sergius the miracle worker is located in Parma Ohio, which is a suburb of Cleveland. The decision to move the parish from the East side of Cleveland to the South-west suburbs was made with much spiritual trepidation and soul searching. Many of the parishioners were very fond of the old Church, however, the area that the church was located in had seen a dramatic increase in street crime during the 60's and 70's and many of the older parishioners did not feel safe or comfortable attending evening services there. Thus the decision was made to seek and find land in the suburbs, and a new generation of Russian émigrés, the descendants of those who had established the church on the East-side of Cleveland, set about organizing the construction of a new church, which was to be designated a Cathedral, in the suburb of Parma.
History of the Parma Cathedral