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By the Very Rev. Vladimir S. Borichevsky, Archpriest

Dean of St. Tikhon's Seminary


The history of the Orthodox Church is best told through the lives of individuals - men or women who in a unique way represent the church at a particular period in Her life. The history of the Church was first told and summed up in the life of Jesus Christ our Lord. Indeed, His life is the very heart, mind and soul of the Church, as He Himself promised, "For I am with you always, even to the end of the world." The individual follower of Christ is called to follow in His way and to do His work in the world to proclaim and spread the Good News throughout the world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord was first spread by His followers, particularly the Apostles Peter and Paul, whose story is told in the Acts of the Apostles. After the apostles, many outstanding Christians embellish the continuing story of the life of the Church: Saint Athanasius the Great, defender of the Orthodox Faith at the beginning of the period of the Ecumenical Councils; Saint John Chrystostom, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint Basil the Great - Fathers of the Church, great Hierarchs and Teachers of the Faith.

In the history of the Church eight centuries later, in the Slavic lands, we remember the holy brothers, Saints Methodius and Cyril, Evangelizers of the Slavic peoples, the Apostle of the Russian nation, Saint Vladimir and his two sons, Saints Boris and Gleb, the founders of monasticism in Russian, Saints Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves in Kiev, and the great Saint Sergius of Radonezh. Then, years later, closer to our own times, Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, great hierarch and teacher, and Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the greatest spiritual teacher of his time and inspirer of the Orthodox renewal in our own time, and his contemporary, Saint Herman of Alaska, both of whom shared a common spiritual elder, Nazary of Valaam.

The young Church in America, whose entire history spans little more than two hundred years, has its unique individuals, leaders and teachers of the Faith: Juvenaly, the martyred monk-priest, companion of St. Herman of Alaska, the first to die for the Orthodox Faith in America; Peter the Aleut, who was the first native martyr for the Faith, a layman who was tortured and died in California in the early nineteenth century; Father Jacob Netsvetov, first native American to be ordained to the priesthood; Bishop Joseph (Bolotov), head of the first mission to America, consecrated in 1799 as the first bishop of Kodiak, but who perished with his companions on his return journey to head his missionary diocese; Metropolitan Innocent (Veniaminov) who gave his name to the golden age of the Alaskan mission - a great and tireless missionary priest and bishop, who was elected Metropolitan of Moscow after he had retired from missionary work.

After the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, the missionary work in Alaska faltered but did not cease. The center of activity moved to the west coasts for a brief period, when San Francisco was the center. Bishop Vladimir will be remembered as the head of the mission who received into the Faith Father Alexis Toth and the parish of the Pokrova in Minneapolis on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, March 25, 1891, thus inaugurating the era of the return to Orthodoxy which continues to our own day. This period of great missionary activity among the immigrants, especially the "Russins" of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (i.e., the Carpatho-Russins, Uhro-Russins, Galicians, Lemkos, Rukovinians and others) brought to America some of its great missionary leaders. Bishop Vladimir had conducted the first English services in San Francisco on a regular basis in the 1890's. Father Sebastian Dabovich, the first American-born of Serbian extraction to be ordained to the priesthood in America, preached regularly in English and published several books for the mission in English. The mission in America before the beginning of the twentieth century was truly an American Church. It included, in addition to the very small percentage of Russins, native Aleutians, Alaskans and Eskimos, aboriginal Americans who comprised the majority of the faithful, and lesser numbers of immigrants Serbs, Syrians, Greeks, Albanians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Romanians, Carpatho-Russins, Galicians and others. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the number of Orthodox in America had not reached 50,000, but it already had several distinguished converts to the Orthodox Faith from Protestantism and Roman Catholicism: William Hoskins, an eighty-nine-year-old Civil War veteran who was a Baptist from Los Angeles, who traveled to San Francisco to meet a living Orthodox Bishop (Tikhon) and to become acquainted with the True Faith he had discovered in books; Father Nathaniel Ingram Irvine (a convert from the Protestant Episcopal Church) and Father Nicholas Bjerring, a Roman Catholic theologian, ordained a priest in Russia (May 17, 1870), the first Orthodox priest of the first parish in New York City (1870-1883).

Several missionary schools had been established in Alaska and California. A seminary had been founded in Sitka in 1841, which lasted for seventeen years before it was transferred to Siberia, and thus, it can be said that America gave its first seminary to Siberia. Bishop Vladimir opened a seminary in San Francisco, and before the turn of the century in 1897. a missionary school was founded in Minneapolis and another in Cleveland, Ohio.

In addition to missionary work in Russia, Alaska and the United States, Orthodox missionaries began to work among not only the Bukovinians and Galicians, but also the Serbs, Greeks and Rumanians, as early as July, 1897. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the home of Theodore Nemirsky, in Limest ne Lake, Alberta, on July 12, 1897, by Father Dimitri Kamnev. Within two years a church was built and the town was renamed to Vostok to commemorate the event. Here many Uniates were received into the Faith. The incomplete church was dedicated to the Holy Trinity by Father Dimitri on May 9, 1899. The First church in Canada had been begun by Bukovinians in Gardenton (Onutska), Manitoba, in 1897. It was completed in May of 1899, and that same year Father Constantine Popov began to visit the church annually from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In 1895, the American Mission began the publication of the weekly bilingual American Orthodox Messenger, under the editorship of Father Alexander Hotovitsky. It was not, however, the first Orthodox publication to appear in English in America. The Slavonian, a newspaper, began publication in 1870 in San Francisco, and Father Nicholas Bjerring published a parish paper in New York in English in 1879. He also printed a service book in English for his parish earlier in 1876.

Under the spiritual leadership of Bishop Vladimir (Sckolovsky) 1888-1891, the work of reunion of the Uniates became increasingly important. Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) 1891-1898, Archbishop Tikon (Belavin) 1898-1907, and Archbishop Platon (Rozhdestvensky) 1907-1914 were all deeply involved in this work, and by 1918 more than one hundred parishes were received into the Orthodox Church.

Orthodox bishops and clergy who came to America at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries were familiar with the problems of reunion. In 1889 the Orthodox Church in Russia celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the reunion of the Uniates of western Russia under the leadership of Metropolitan Joseph (Semashko), Archbishop Antony (Zubko) and bishop Vasily (Lyashevsky). The return of the Uniates in America was a continuation of a movement which had begun fifty years earlier in Europe. The medal struck on the occasion of the reunion in 1839 manifests the spirit of this movement. On the face of the medal is depicted the icon of Christ with the superscription, "Such is the High Priest that we have." (Heb. 8:1), and below it, "Separated by force - 1596; Reunited by love, 1839." On the obverse, the image of the Russian three-bar Cross, surrounded by rays of light and the inscription, "Triumph of Orthodoxy," and below the Cross, the date "25 March 1839."

Forty-two years later, on the exact same day, the movement of return began under the leadership of Father Alexis Toth in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As the movement of Uniates to America increased in momentum, so did the movement of return to Orthodoxy. Many Russins were caught up in the spirit of reunion when they found themselves outside the coercive environment of the Austro-Hungarian political state.


Two events, one in America and another in Europe conspired to initiate the great wave of Russin immigrants which began about 1878. In the late 1860's and throughout the 1870's the labor situation in the anthracite coal region deteriorated as the chaotic labor unrest caused by the changing economic and social situation led to strikes in the coalmines. The laborers, primarily Anglo-Saxons, Irish, English and Welsh, attempted to organize the unions in order to gain higher wages and better working conditions. The coal barons were not inclined to settle with the workers, and began to search for an alternative supply of raw labor. One source they discovered was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There, too, social and political unrest built on difficult economic conditions made many of the minority groups of the multi-ethnic empire of the Hapsburgs to search for alternatives. For the Russins of the Carpathian mountains, the Lemkos, Galicians, Bukovinians and others, the uncertain future with the increasing threat of war made them excellent recruits for the agents of the coal barons and the shipping lines, for immigration to the "promised land," America. At first, the immigration was only a trickle. Before 1880, there were 1,900 Slavs in the anthracite region. By 1890, the number had reached 40,000, and by 1900, it was 81,000. In the three-year period of 1905-1908, 200,000 poured into the anthracite region alone!

Mayfield Pennsylvania to this day remains a small borough, whose total population has never exceeded 2,500. Yet Mayfield in many ways is representative of the many towns, which sprang up in this period to absorb the great number of immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the first immigrants arrived in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the mining towns were springing up overnight around the mines in what is now called the Midvalley of Pennsylvania, which stretches from Carbondale south to Dickson City Pa. Many of the towns that were built at that time have since vanished, and today Simpson, Carbondale, Mayfield, Jermyn, Peckville, Jessup, Olyphant, Dickson City and a few others are all that have survived the total extinction of the mining industry in the valley.

The first immigrants from Lemkivshchina in Austria-Hungary arrived in Mayfield about 1878. The Midvalley at that time was covered by almost endless forests with only an occasional homestead to house the first miners in the area. The first Russins came from the area of Gorlice and Grybow, from the villages of Belyanka, Losye, Stavisha, Brunari, Klemkovka, Snetitsya, Domnitsya, Visova, Peregrimka and others. These villages are located on the northern slopes and foothills of the Carpathian Mountains between the East and West Beskids. At present, this area is located in Poland. Most of the villages were situated in the valleys of the Bialy and Dumajts Rivers, which flow north from the Carpathian Mountains. Mayfield is located in the valley of the Lackawanna River, where it cuts through the Moosic Mountains, which rise to 2,400 feet in the area between Carbondale and Mayfield. The valley, its mountains and forests, were not too different from those of Lemkivshchina before the appearance of the terrible scars, culm banks and slag heaps around the tipples at the mineshafts. The first settlers remembered the Valley when it was still covered by forests and before the large towns filled the area.

Within a few years after the arrival of the first Russins in the anthracite region, the young men began to form brotherhoods, patterned in part in the societies of their homeland. The best known was the Society of Michael Kachkowsky. Organized in 1874 by the great spiritual leader and educator, Father John Naumovich, to increase the knowledge of the Russins of Galicia of their Orthodox Faith, their native language, and their traditions and customs. It was named for Michael Kachkowsky, a great benefactor of young writers, poets and journalists who favored the Russin ideal. When Kachkowsky died in 1872, his will stipulated that his considerable fortune of 40,000 guldens be used to further the cause of Russin literary ideals. In forty years, the Society's membership numbered some 30,000. Many young immigrants were members of the Society and received its booklets, pamphlets and other publications on history, culture and religion. Although there are no accurate statistics, one estimate states that the literacy of the immigrants from Galicia was 65.8% (cf. Reports of the U.S. Immigration Commission). This explains the rapid growth of newspapers and other literary publications among the Russins. The first brotherhoods in America were also influenced by the mutual aid insurance organizations of the Anglo-Saxon and Slavic neighbors. From them they also adopted the love for uniforms, for military parade and drill.

In 1888, the brotherhood of Saint John the Baptist was organized in Mayfield. This was only two years after a similar brotherhood in Shenandoah had succeeded in persuading Metropolitan Sylvester Sembratovich of Lvov to send the first Greek Catholic priest to America to minister to the many Russins in need of religious and spiritual leadership. Father John Volyansky was a married man when he arrived in America. He was greeted with great enthusiasm by his own people. But too soon he discovered that everyone else treated him with open hostility, particularly the Polish and Irish Roman Catholics. They simply could not accept the idea of a married priest under the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. Father Volyansky finally was forced to celebrate his first Divine Liturgy in a private home. The great festivity of this occasion was described by Dionisij Salaj, one of the founders of the parish, in the "Remembrances of my Journey to America in 1881." The first Russins in the area had attended the Irish and later the Polish church, but always they had dreamed of the day when they could have a church of their own rite. When that day came, every Russin in the anthracite region traveled to Shenandoah to participate, "All the 'diaki' (cantors) of which there were quite a number from Galicia and Uhro-Russin, tried to outdo each other. It was like the Syrian Church in New York during a hierarchal liturgy!" Soon after this service Father John traveled to Philadelphia with a delegation of the most distinguished members of the Russin colony, for an audience with the Roman Catholic Archbishop. Archbishop Ryan refused to speak to the delegation or to recognize Father Volyansky as a priest, since he was a Greek Catholic and a married man. The delegation returned home greatly frustrated and at a loss as to their next course of action, in that they lacked authority to begin construction of a church without the permission of the proper ecclesiastical authority. Their troubles were compounded by vicious attacks from the pulpits of both the Irish and Polish Roman Catholic pastors, who took the action of the Archbishop as approval of their own prejudice. However, under the advisement and encouragement of a young Polish friend of the Russin colony, one Casimir Raise, who told them to ignore the Archbishop since this was a free country and in that Father Volyansky had the necessary authorization from his own Metropolitan in Lvov. Land was purchased and the blessing of the foundation of the new church brought together a huge crowd of Russins for the festive occasion.

The Irish and Polish priests, having learned of Archbishop Ryan's refusal to meet with Father John and the delegation, increased the tempo of their attacks on the Greek Catholic community. They forbade their flocks to have any contact with Father Volyansky's flock, under pain of excommunication. Diojisij Salej in his account of the occasion of the blessing of the foundation of the new church describes the event as follows: "The lots were purchased and the construction began. When the foundation was completed, the ceremony of blessing was arranged and a great number of people gathered to participate. The weather was beautiful. When the rite of blessing was begun, great tears of joy watered the ground. We are incapable of describing the joy, even though we saw the insulting behavior of the "lyakhs" toward us, for they did not remove their hats before the holy Cross. But they did this because of their fear of Lenartowicz (the pastor of the Polish church), who threatened every Pole with expulsion from the church if he dared to participate openly in the blessing of the foundation of the new church."

This feeling of passionate hatred for the Greek Catholics on the part of their Roman Catholic brethren was the dominant attitude for many years, and which lasted well into the middle of the twentieth century. Although, in all fairness to the individuals involved, there were many Casimir Raises who stepped forward to help the Russins. However, if one were to examine the official biographies of both Archbishop Ryan and Archbishop Ireland (who had an historical encounter with Father Alexis Toth in St. Paul, Minnesota), he would find no mention whatsoever of either father John Volyansky or Father Toth. One must assume that either the incidents, which loomed so important in the eyes of the Greek Catholics were completely unimportant to the two hierarchs of the Roman Catholic Church at that time, or it remained for many years a source of real embarrassment to them. Possibly in the future a more objective telling of these two crucial encounters as well as many others will be presented for the edification of all Christians.

Father John Volyansky ultimately built the church in Shenandoah, and more Greek Catholic priests arrived in the next five years to establish parishes in Hazelton, Kingston, Olyphant, Freeland, Wilkes Barre, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Jersey City New Jersey and Minneapolis Minnesota. In 1890, on the 29th of October, eight of the ten Greek Catholic priests in America at that time held their first formal meeting in the parish home of Father Alexander Dzubay in Wilkes Barre. The two who refused to attend did so because they preferred to meet in a hotel room rather than in the parish home. Despite the pleas of Father Alexis Toth, Father Constantine Andruhovich of Shenandoah and Father Cyril Gulovich of Freeland did not attend this first historic meeting. The clergy who did participate met under the presidency of Father Alexis Toth of Minneapolis. The two secretaries of the meeting were Father Theophan Obushkevich of Shamokin and Father Eugene Volkay of Hazelton. The other participants were Fathers Alexander Dzubay, host-pastor of Wilkes Barre, Joseph Zapotosky of Kingston, Gregory Grushka of Jersey City, Gabriel Vislosky of Olyphant and Stephan Yatskovich, co-pastor of the Wilkes Barre parish.

After the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, including a remembrance of Many Years for their bishops, Metropolitan Joseph of Lvov, and bishops John of Prayashev and John of Peremysl, and the singing of Eternal Memory for the newly-departed, priest Zenovij Lyahovich, the clergy held a formal meeting in the rectory. The agenda for the meeting was a comprehensive survey of all the major problems the Greek Catholic clergy and their parishioners faced in an ethnically and religiously hostile climate. The agenda was couched in formal phraseology, but reveals nonetheless problems of deep emotional, spiritual and psychological depth and complexity. Point two of the agenda states: "to beg our home bishops (ordinaries), not to release us from their jurisdiction, and not to turn us over to the care and jurisdiction of the Latin bishops here." It was one of the most important items on the agenda, for it struck at the very heart of the dilemma of the Greek Catholic Uniate priest who found himself trying to organize a parish life while under the authority and jurisdiction of bishops who were either indifferent to him or who openly rejected him as a priest. They had even gone so far as to make formal complaints to Rome, asking that the Uniate priests be forbidden to come to America. This problem was real, for the Greek Catholic priest was totally different from the Roman Catholic priest. His rite was not the Latin, but Eastern; his nationality was Russin (or "Ruthenian" as the Roman Catholics called them); he was married and had a family; the language of his church was Slavonic, not Latin. Though the Roman Catholic bishops and clergy were familiar with the Greek Catholic rite, theirs was book knowledge, an abstraction. They had never had occasion to meet them in their home countries, let alone have them living across the street in their own towns. Archbishop Ireland's meeting with Father Alexis Toth was an emotional explosion which Father Alexis describes in graphic detail. So intense were the emotions involved that Archbishop Ireland's hand trembled continuously for the fifteen minutes it took to read the introduction from Toth's own bishop. One wonders how such an emotional conversation as described by Father Alexis could have been carried on in Latin, a language normally reserved for prayer and formal ecclesiastical documents. "When Archbishop Ireland said, 'I have already protested to Rome, and asked them not to send such priests here,' Father Toth asked, 'what kind of priests do you mean?' Archbishop Ireland replied, 'Such as you.' Father Alexis protested, "But I am a Catholic priest of the Greek Rite. I am a Uniate; I was ordained by a canonical Catholic bishop!' Archbishop Ireland said, 'I do not consider either you or that bishop Catholic. Besides that, I have no need here for a Greek Catholic priest. It is enough that there is a Polish priest here - he can be priest for the Greeks also.' Father Toth, dismayed, protested, 'But he is of the Latin rite. Our people do not understand him or the rite. It is very unlikely they will turn to him. After all, that is why they built their own church!' Archbishop Ireland retorted, 'I did not give any permission for that, and I do not give you jurisdiction to act here!" Father Toth writes, "I was deeply hurt by such crass fanaticism of a representative of the papal church, and answered sharply: 'In that case, I need neither your jurisdiction nor your permission. I know the rights of my church (Father Alexis was a canon lawyer in his diocese). I know the agreement under which the Unia was formed, and I will act accordingly." Father Toth continues, "The Archbishop exploded, and I no less. Words followed words, and it went so far that it is not worthwhile to reconstruct our conversation."

No doubt it would have been impossible to reconstruct a conversation of such deep emotional content. One must remember that neither Archbishop Ireland nor Father Alexis Toth were able to express themselves fluently in their own native tongues. The profoundly emotional explosion had to be held within the rigid confines of a Latin vocabulary and formal grammatical structure. It was a formal battle, reminiscent of two medieval knights jousting on the field of honor, each in an unwieldy coat of armor, encased from head to toe. The description Father Alexis Toth has left us, despite its brevity, reveals the awesome dimensions of a formidable struggle between two giants. It would be interesting to read Archbishop Ireland's description of this event, (if such a description exists in his personal diary), or of his secretary, who was no doubt present.

The near encounter of Father John Volyansky and the all-too-real encounter of Father Alexis Toth clearly indicated the religious climate at the highest ecclesiastical levels.


St. John the Baptist Church in Mayfield was in the process of being organized during this earliest period (1870-1900) of Greek Catholic expansion in the anthracite region. Father John Volyansky was visiting priest in the Lackawanna County area at this time. He organized the Olyphant Parish, the first in Lackawanna County, which was the nearest parish to Mayfield (about eight miles away). Also, in this period, the Russins of Mayfield arranged for Father John to conduct the first religious services in Mayfield in the local Baptist church, which they rented for the occasion. As more Russins arrived, plans to build a church were initiated, led by the Brotherhood of St. John the Baptist, which was organized in 1888. Also in this same period, a "Cooperative store" was organized, patterned after stores that were organized in other Russin communities - In Olyphant and Minneapolis. These soon became the source of much contention and misunderstanding. Nevertheless, one can only admire the enterprise of these immigrant pioneers, such as Joseph Simeanovich and Alexis Shlanta, the organizers of the cooperative store in Mayfield. In a short time, the store, an ever-increasing source of contention and misunderstanding in the community, was closed. The community had more important concerns and interests, and its energy was being sapped by the cooperative store until it passed into private hands.

Many of the first families of Russins are prominent in Mayfield to this day. A partial list contains many family names in the valley today. Adamiak, Andrush, Brudsky, Buranich, Chaykovsky, Chulik, Demchak, Dzvonchik, Elchak, Evanik, Fek, Gambal, Grapchak, Halchak, Hanchak, Homiak, Hubiak, Jubinsky, Kanya, Kelechawa, Kitick, Konstankevich, Korba, Kuzmich, Kayduch, O'Buck, Pawliak, Petsushek, Pochatek, Rak, Sabat, Semeonovich, Shlanta, Smey, Sweda, Telep, Wachna and Yurkowsky. These names are found in the lists of charter members of the Brotherhood, the societies, as well as the parish.

The first church was built by 1891. The community wanted desperately to have their own house of worship, built for Orthodox worship. They felt completely estranged from the unfamiliar services, rites and language of the Latin Church, which some attended. The occasional service of Father John Volyansky and later Father Theophan Obushkevich accelerated their plans for a new church. It was built according to the style of churches in Lemkivschina, with a large four-sided cupola over a tall bell tower at the front entrance of the church. The tower was topped by a three-bar cross of the Galician style. The first pastor and organizer of the church was Father Theophan Obushkevich, who came to America at the age of fifty years, having been a successful pastor in the area of Grebow in Lemkivschina. Father Theophan was a very successful organizer, a Galician patriot, and an accomplished musician. He organized the first choir and parish band in Lemkivschina, which was known throughout Galicia. He was the builder and pastor of the Greek Catholic church in Olyphant, but as a result of a bitter dispute, left that parish to organize and build St. John the Baptist Church in Mayfield. Although a Uniate priest all his life, except for a brief period of one year (1916-1917) as an Orthodox priest, he was an active worker for Orthodoxy. When the parishioners of St. John's expressed an interest in Orthodoxy, he encouraged them. During his pastorate, he organized the Mayfield Church Choir, which has remained throughout the entire history of the parish an outstanding church choir. He organized a parish orchestra and established an excellent church school and a library for the Society of Michael Kachkovsky. The parishioners of St. John's were well instructed in their religious and cultural heritage under the leadership of the outstanding Russin pastors of this period. The Society operated their library and reading room, and also organized lectures. It produced and presented theatrical plays and conducted regular choral and orchestral programs. Regular evening classes were held for adults who did not have the opportunity to study in the old country. Although, according to the official statistics of the Immigration Department, the Russins who emigrated here from Austria-Hungary were 65% literate. The evening classes also offered courses in the English language and American citizenship. Thus, in a relatively short time, many recent immigrants were prepared to receive American citizenship. The parish had a membership of around six hundred in its early years, and grew to a membership of 1,200.

The Russin communities were born in the midst of religious and ethnical strife. The original indifference of their Latin brothers turned to animosity and often to open warfare against Greek Catholics. But their numbers increased and organized communities began to spring up throughout the anthracite region. The attitude of the hierarchy in particular changed noticeably. Attempts were made to get the Greek Catholic communities to sign their churches over to the Roman Catholic bishops. The subject of property ownership was a matter of great contention among the Roman Catholics. Many of the national groups resisted loss of the control of their properties, which they had acquired on their own without assistance of church authorities. It was this same dispute that resulted in the organization of the Polish National Catholic Church, with headquarters in Scranton. The intensity of this primal dispute is testified to by many court trials of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century throughout Pennsylvania.

The Parishioners of St. John's resisted all efforts made to have them accept a new charter for their parish, to sign it over to the Ordinary. Father Theophan encouraged his parishioners to resist. He refused personally to break his vow as a Uniate priest, but promised to find a priest who would take them into the Orthodox Church. In 1902, he left the parish and Father John Olshavsky, his immediate successor, immediately petitioned Bishop Tikhon to receive him and his parish into the Orthodox Church.

Alexis Shlanta, one of the leading parishioners who was better versed in the laws of this country than most, arranged for a simple transition of the church property. The old charter was sold for a minimal sum of one dollar, and a new charter was acquired under the name of Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist. There was the addition of one new word, "Orthodox," which was not found in the original charter, even though the "Russins" considered themselves always as Orthodox - i.e., "Pravoslavny."

Since there was no opposition, the transfer of church and parishioners occurred without any incident or court trial. There were sixteen signatures on the new charter: Alexis Shlanta, Konstantin Konstankevich, Michael Kitik, Jacob Adamiak, Ozim Dzvonchik, Theodore Wachna, Kitkita Grapchak, Anthony Demchak, Peter Korba, Theodore Jubinsky, Alias Chulik, Peter Sabat, Paul Pawliak, Lem Hubiak, Julius Yurkovsky, Michael Pochatek, Simeon Kuzmich, Nicholas Telep, Luke Chaykovsky, John O'Buck, Gregory Smey and Andrew Evanik.

The formal reception of the parish together with its pastor Father John Olshevsky took place on November 21, 1901. The service was conducted by Father Alexis Toth and Father John Hotovitsky according to the established rite of the Orthodox Church. In the evening, the All-Night Vigil was celebrated, and the parishioners of St. John's participated in an Orthodox celebration of the service for the first time. The congregation knelt during the singing of "Glory to God in the Highest" in which all participated. After the Matins, the clergy heard the confession of the faithful.

The congregation left for their homes concerned and apprehensive because of the incidents that had happened in other parishes at the time of their entrance into the Orthodox Church. But Mayfield fortunately had no incident. It was a quiet night. The next day many visitors arrived from the Orthodox parishes in the anthracite region. Representatives of many societies were present for the historical event, and many arrived in full uniform. More confessions were heard. There was a Blessing of Water and the church was blessed. An Orthodox antimins was placed on the altar.

The Divine Liturgy was begun by the Orthodox clergy, Father John, fully vested, stood with the congregation outside the sanctuary until the time of the reading of the Gospel. Having read the Gospel, Father Alexis Toth addressed the congregation. In words full of emotion, he described the triumph of Reunion. He briefly sketched the history of the Unia, which was forced upon the Russins. "Three hundred and sixty years have passed since the appearance of the Unia, but even now it remains as it was from its introduction . . . a deception!" The sermon was a long one, delivered with great fervor and conviction. And when at its end, the parishioners were asked, "Do you reject the papacy and its false teachings?" they answered with one voice. And when asked, "Do you promise to the end of your life to remain in the Orthodox Faith?" they all answered "Yes!" with great fervor.

All stood on their knees as the prayer of absolution was read. A participant in this event, then a young boy, Peter Smey, remembers this event as the time he and the people in the church stayed on their knees for a very long time. When they arose the formal announcement was made: "By the will and blessings of the Holy Synod and love of the Archpastor of the Church in America, you (the parishioners of St. John's Parish) together with your pastor are received into communion with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

The visiting clergy exchanged the kiss of peace with the newly received Father John, with the words "Christ is in our midst. He is and shall be." Father John joined the clergy at the altar and the Divine Liturgy continued. The new Orthodox congregation all received the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and with this their reunion with the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church was sealed in the Body and Blood of Christ the Son of God. It was a long and glorious day, one that was long remembered by all who participated.

Archbishop Tikhon came himself to Mayfield a few months later on May 3, 1903. The parishioners of St. John's for the first time participated in a hierarchal celebration of the Divine Liturgy. (His sermon on this occasion is appended to this article.)

Since St. John's parish was established for several years, it had its own church, parish house and school (both built in 1896), and fully supported its own priest and choir director and teacher, there was a minimal concern on the part of the Archbishop for financing the new parish. There were several new brotherhoods and sisterhoods established in the parish within a few years of its entrance into the Orthodox Church. Father Arseny (Chapovetz) (pastor from 1904-1908), a monk, succeeded Father John as pastor. Under his dynamic spiritual guidance the parish accepted a leading role in the establishment of St. Tikhon's Orphanage and Monastery in near-by South Canaan, in 1905. Several of the charter supporters of the Monastery were from St. John's parish in Mayfield. The participants in the opening of the Monastery and Orphanage in 1905 came, for the most part, from Mayfield. Many made the first pilgrimage to the monastery on foot on the day of its dedication, July 31, 1905, a distance of more than ten miles. The description of the event by a contemporary reporter gives a good picture of parish life at St. John's in 1905. On Saturday, the twenty-ninth of July, Bishop Raphael was met at the station by Father Arseny and his parishioners. The parish orchestra played stirring Russian music when the train pulled into the station. Four brotherhoods in full parade dress, each one led by a captain wearing full uniform with swords at their sides, officially greeted the hierarch. The uniformed men lined both sides of the passage from the train to the carriage as an honor guard. The captains, with swords drawn, stood at the carriage and escorted Bishop Raphael, Father Arseny and Father Elias Kloptovsky, who had accompanied the bishop from Scranton. The carriage traveled from the station to the church along the main street, which was lined with Russins from Mayfield and the rest of the valley. Bishop Raphael gave his arch-pastoral blessing to the gathering continuously as the procession moved to the church. The procession was met at the church by the school children in their Sunday best, and the parishioners carrying banners and cross waited at the church entrance. It seems that the population of the entire valley had gathered at St. John's parish for an unprecedented festive occasion. The bishop was greeted by Father Alexander Bogoslavsky with the cross, and having been vested in his mantia, he entered into the church which was lavishly decorated, brightly illumined by candles and overflowing with a standing congregation which sang the Hymn to the Theotokos. After venerating the icons, Bishop Raphael listened to the official greeting of the pastor, which began: "Your Grace, fortunate is the flock in Mayfield to greet you joyously this day of your arrival in our midst. We have not yet recovered from the feelings of joy we experienced at the recent visit of our first hierarch, Archbishop Tikhon, and now the Lord has given us this opportunity to receive and greet with proper festivity Your Grace, and once again to see a hierarch and hear the celebration of the hierarchal service. You have come to us as the first hierarch of the Syro-Arabian Church in America, in order to share with the Russian people the joy of the opening of the Orphanage and the establishment of the Holy Community . . ."

Bishop Raphael's response, delivered in Russian, was full of gratitude and joy for the opportunity granted him so soon in his Episcopal rank, to the representative of Archbishop Tikhon at such a great moment in the life of the Orthodox Church in America, to "bless the ground on which shall be built a holy monastery, which land was acquired by your efforts, which deserve the greatest praise, and the generous donations of your devout parishioners." The next day, Sunday, the bishop celebrated Divine Liturgy, with Father Arseny assisting. Father Arseny preached on the theme of the Paralytic, and spoke of the great Christian spirit of charity, which prompted the organization of the new orphanage and monastery.

St. John's parish has continued to this day to play an important role in the life of the Church in the anthracite region. Its special relationship to St. Tikhon's Monastery, Orphanage and Seminary has continued to the present. Father Michael Skibinsky (pastor from 1908-1911) followed Father Arseny. He organized a society for temperance, and worked with the youth, encouraging them to continue their studies in higher schools of education. Father Vasily Vasiliev (pastor from 1911-1912), Father V. Oranovsky (1912-1914) and Father Jonah Milasevich continued the pastoral work. Father Jonah (1914-1917) was pastor during the First World War, when the parish participated actively in Red Cross and other wartime charities. The next pastor was Father Joseph Fedoronko (1917-1920), who worked zealously for the freedom of Carpatho-Russia, and encouraged the parish to send money and clothing to help the devastated homeland and its people. Father Michael Repella was pastor from 1920 to 1936, which was an especially difficult period in the life of the parish. A new generation was taking over the leadership, and despite the economic depression, a new church was built to replace a structure that was too small for the needs of the growing community. The church that stands today is this structure.

The next pastor was Father Philip Pechinsky, who was pastor during World War II, when the parish sent hundreds of its young men into the armed forces, and participated actively in all aspects of the patriotic war effort. Fathers Andrew Vanyush, Hilary Madison, Daniel Geeza, Vasily Stroyan, Dimitri Ressetar and Daniel Osolinsky were pastors in the period from 1948 through 1971. The present pastor is Father John Sorochka.

St. John's parish was host to the Seventh Convention of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society, held on February 18, 1907 in the presence of Archbishop Tikhon. From February 20th to the 23rd of the same year, the First Sobor of the North American Orthodox Church was held again under the presidency of Archbishop Tikhon. The chairman of this historical first Sobor was Father Leonid Turkevich, the Rector of the Seminary in Minneapolis. The major theme of the Sobor was presented by Archbishop Tikhon: "How to Expand the Mission." He called not only for an increase in the missionary work of the Church, but also for more independence in her financial life from the Mother Church in Russia. The proposal for the incorporation of the Church in North America was set aside, because it was felt it would limit the rapid growth of the Church in the United States, Canada and in the other American countries. However, it was decided, at the insistence of the Russins that the official title of the Mission in America be: "The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in North America" under the jurisdiction and spiritual leadership of the Church in Russia. The ever-important task of finding the financial resources to increase the mission was turned over to a special committee of clergy and laity. It was decided that frequent Sobors should be held to discuss all aspects of Church life in America. The problem of variation in ritual and liturgical forms was discussed. It was decided that proper education of the laity about the form of ritual differences was the first essential, so that they could understand why they existed and the reason they were permitted to exist. The final act of the Sobor was an address by the chairman, Father Leonid Turkevich. He called for a proper recognition of the eight years of labor in the American Mission of Archbishop Tikhon on the occasion, and announced his impending transfer to the Diocese of Yaroslav in Russia. The Sobor ended with an expression of gratitude to it by Archbishop Tikhon, after which the assembly sang "Many Years" to the Archbishop in both the Galician and Russian melodies. A final decision was that a suitable memorial be erected in the church to commemorate this historical event.

St. John's parish in Mayfield played an important role, not only in its community, but also in the whole Church. Its choir has from the inception of the parish remained one of the better choirs in the Church. In the 1940's, it was featured on several occasions on the CBS broadcast, "Church of the Air." It has had outstanding choir directors with such names as John Lampert, Constantine Leontovich, Alexander Kibalchich, Peter Mondratenko-Ianchuk, Peter Didenko, Victorin Pavlov and George Roth.

The Russin community has always provided the leaders of Mayfield from the earliest days. Alexis Shlanta was probably the first Russin pastor in the United States. The parish organized its own fire company, called the "Russian Hose Company." The children of the parish were encouraged by their parents to continue their schooling - the parents discouraged their children from going into the mines. Indeed, most Russins considered the mines a necessary evil, and left them as soon as possible, long before the mines themselves disappeared.

The number of individuals of St. John's parish in Mayfield that have gone to college and received advanced education is very high. At the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the parish, an incomplete listing of more than one hundred college graduates was compiled. The administration of Mayfield Borough and School District has several members of St. John's parish every year.

The Mayfield parish has a number of chapters of brotherhoods and sisterhoods, in both the R.O.C.M.A.S. and the R.B.O. In the past years, it has had such auxiliary groups as an Altar Guild, Quilting Club, Good Will Club and Choir Club. Besides parochial societies, the members of St. John's parish have played an important role in the national organizations of the R.B.O., the R.O.C.M.A.S., and the F.R.O.C., as well as in the Church Councils.

There has always been a highly developed sense of Orthodox Christian social consciousness in her membership. As early as 1917, we read that a young schoolteacher, John Gregory Dzvonchik from Mayfield, and Gregory Dorosh from Old Forge, went to Canada to teach school in the Russin colonies in Canada. These young men were bilingual, and thus, were able to make a valuable contribution to the Russin immigrants to Canada. This was an earlier example of the Peace Corps principle, employed by young, idealistic first-generation Russins, intent on establishing themselves in a strange new land.

Virtually every major profession is represented by St. John's. Dr. Vladimir Shlanta, son of Alexis Shlanta, one of the founders, practiced medicine in Olyphant until his death. Paul Dutko and Vladimir Hopyak entered government service. Paul served in the diplomatic service for more than thirty years in Harbin, Marchuria, Riga, Leipzig, and Vienna and in Washington, D.C. Paul Hunchak was a well-known lawyer for years in Washington. Peter Senyo was a Federal Inspector of Mines. John Tarpak, Olympic weight lifter, and Paul "Lefty" Wargo, a baseball pitcher in the minor leagues, were two of many outstanding sports figures from St. John's.

From their inception, Mayfield has had many members in the various fraternal organizations: R.B.O., R.O.C.M.A.S. and L'ubov, and several St. John members have reached the highest levels of administration - Paul Lzvonchik, President, and Peter Yurkovsky, Secretary of the R.O.C.M.A.S.; Michael Senyo, Treasurer, Peter Smey, Recording secretary, John Bzvonchik, Editor and Michael Kusmiak, Comptroller in the R.S.O.; Peter Lyalus, Financial Secretary, and Stephan Telep, editor of L'ubov - to name a few.

The successor of Alexisi Shlanta as Postmaster was Stephan Michael Telep. He was also the owner of a print shop, which at one time published the Russian paper L'ubov, and he also published the Mayfield News, which was edited by his son, Andrew Telep.

The public schools of the valley in the past had many teachers from St. John's. Before the 40's there were Paul Pawliak, Michael Kulik, John Iwanik, Justina Smey, Peter Hubiak and Bohdan Shlanta. In the past thirty years, the number of teachers is far greater.

The young people of St. John's have always had the advantage of a rich parish life with outstanding pastoral leadership, a good religious education program and the inspiring example of devout and zealous parents and elders. The young people were lead to participate in the life of the parish, and in the work of the church.

Priests from St. John's parish included Archimandrite Afansy Markovich, for many years until his death pastor in Denver, Colorado; Father John Adamiak, an active parish priest for many years until his death; Father Joseph Dzvonchik, a priest in several parishes, including St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. An active organizer of the youth and frequent contributor to church publications, Fr. Joseph worked for many years in the highest administrative echelons of the Church; Father John Telep, a very well-known pastor, respected preacher and dynamic organizer until his death.

Among the active parish priests today, there is Father Paul Robitsky of Frackville, Pennsylvania, treasurer of the Diocese of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania. There are also a great number of mutushki (priests' wives) from Mayfield parish.

Damaged by fire, the church building was remodeled and rededicated in 1960. A new school and auditorium was built at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars, in 1967, replacing the old school which served the community for so many years, and was one of the landmarks of Olyphant. The parish has now embarked on a program to replace the parish home, the last of the original structures that the parish built at the end of the last century. At the same time there is to be an extensive re-landscaping of the land around the church and parish home. St. John's Church, school and parish home continue to be the center of not only the parish, but also of the community of Mayfield. Despite the replacement of the school and parish house, and the refurbishment of the church, the old Russin Orthodox spirit, which gave birth to St. John's church, is very much alive among its parishioners to this day. Some of them are three or four generations removed from the pioneer founders.

The history of St. John's parish cannot be reduced to a few pages of printed words. For no eloquence can describe the heart and spirit of an organic spiritual life of the family or the parish, two basic units of the Body of Christ, his Church. Highlights of the events of eighty-five years, and the accomplishments of a few of its outstanding individual members of the past can only serve as the skeleton of a dynamic living organism, which is St. John's parish. And yet St. John's is not the oldest parish, nor is it the largest. It is a typical parish of the Orthodox Church in America in some ways, yet is distinctly unique. It is one of many parishes, which returned to Orthodoxy in the first quarter of this century. It has remained a loyal and devoted supporter and defender of Orthodox ideals throughout its history, imparting these ideals to all of its members.

The founders of St. John's came to this country during difficult times. They struggled to let down their roots in a new soil. Even though the land was resistant, and at times inhospitable to strangers, they established a parish which is a living memorial to their love for Russin ideals and the Orthodox Faith, following the example of Father John Kaumovich, Father Alexis Toth, and Archbishop Tikhon, who during his episcopacy in America formally received the parish and visited it on several occasions. His memorable address on his first visit to St. John the Baptist Church, on May 3, 1903, is a spiritual legacy for the future generations to read, ponder and follow.


MAY 3, 1903

(See Russian American Orthodox Messenger, for 1903, #9, pp. 134-136

Christ is risen! Peace be with you! (John 20:20.)

My first visit with you, my beloved brothers, coincides with these days when the Holy Church joyfully remembers the appearance of the Resurrected Lord to his disciples. Late that Sunday evening, when the disciples were together behind closed doors, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them. "Peace be with you!" He said. (John 20:20.) I come to you with the same holy greeting, my brothers, "Peace be with you."

Christ the Savior brought peace to all by his sufferings, and reconciled us with God, destroyed the curse, bestowed on us His blessing, overcame death and gave us eternal life. Today there is no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus. God has justified - who can condemn? Christ Jesus, who died, has also risen from the dead. He alone is Truth and Peace. May the peace of Christ be with you also, my brothers!

Peace be with you, and the blessings of our Mother, the Holy Orthodox Church. Your fathers were Orthodox and fought for their Orthodox Faith, though you have only recently returned to the bosom of the Orthodox Faith. As once the Apostle Thomas, having touched the resurrected Christ, believed in Him and cried out, "My lord and my God!" so now you, with your own eyes and ears have become convinced in the truth of the Orthodox Church, your own natural Mother. In Her holy hierarchal priesthood you have recognized the true and canonical pastors and teachers, and in the unity of love with them you have found peace for yourselves. Therefore, brethren, stand firm in the Orthodox Faith, and cherish it as a great, priceless treasure. (I Cor. 6:13.)

Peace be with you and the blessings of the Holy Synod of Russia, which received the news of your return to the Orthodox Faith from me with expressions of joy and thanks to God, and which sends you a Blessed Scroll.

Peace be with you also from my unworthiness. By your reunion with the Orthodox Faith you have abundantly filled our heart with joy and happiness, having given us the consolation to see that the Lord has blessed your work here, and has increased the children of His Church.

Accept from me this blessed holy icon of the patron of your church, St. John the Baptizer of our Lord. For he was the candle, the light and the mountain; he witnessed to the Light, and he came to love the divine Truth above all, more than the truth of men. He suffered for the Truth, rejoicing. He prepared the way for the Lord, and towards Him he directed your steps, for he was the preacher of the Light, and he brought the Light to you, who keep his memory in this church. Therefore, walk in the Light of the Orthodox Faith; be lovers of the Truth, and rightly walk in the ways of the Lord.

May peace be with you and with your pastor, together with whom you have entered into the bosom of the Orthodox Church, and who to this day teaches you in Truth by his word and life. For his efforts, the Holy Synod bestows on him the holy cross. Hold him in your love for his efforts for your benefit.

May peace be in your midst. In your parish there are several brotherhoods; and you especially revere the memory of Saints Cyril and Methodius. May this not be in name only, but in word and truth. Live one with another in a brotherly fashion - in peace, love and harmony - as lived the brothers Cyril and Methodius. Help one another; encourage each other in faith and love.

May the God of peace make firm and strengthen you in this by His Grace.

Archbishop Tikhon



11/23 DECEMBER 1898

Translated from the original Russian

By Sergei D. Arkhipov



On this, my first visit to you, my dear brethren, I recall the words once spoken by the Lord through the Prophet Hosea: "I will say to that which was not my people, Thou art my people; . . . I will love her that was not loved." These words referred to the pagans, and meant that when many people in Israel, God's chosen people, did not accept Christ, the Lord revealed Himself to those "who did not seek Him," (Rom. 10:20; Isaiah 65:1) and He called the pagans to His Church.

By God's boundless mercy, the pagan inhabitants of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands were called to the Church of Christ. They were surrounded and illumined with the Light of the Christian Faith by the monks of Valaam, who first sowed the seeds of the Gospel's Good News here. After them, their holy work was continued by your previous priests and Aleutian hierarchs, especially by Archpriest John Veniaminov (later Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow), and by my predecessor, His Grace Nicholas, who was a man strong both in word and deed. And I, by the will of God, was summoned to the Apostolic Mission here, and now I will call "that which was not my people," my people and those I have not loved, my beloved. Up until now we were strangers to one another, and we have never before seen one another. But the Lord Himself has placed us into an intimate relationship - that which exists between a bishop and his flock, and the flock and its bishop. In the writings of the Holy Fathers, this relationship is likened to a marriage, where the bishop is the bridegroom, and the flock is his bride. And as the husband loves his wife so much, that he leaves his father and mother and goes to his wife, marries her, and lives with her, so must a bishop love his flock. Likewise, as a wife gives herself to her husband, so must the flock give itself to its bishop. By understanding this, the relationship of a bishop to his flock, and being betrothed to the Aleutian flock, I have left my beloved Homeland, my very, very old mother, my relatives and friends dear to my heart, and I have come to a distant land, to you, a people completely unknown to me, so that from now on you would become "my people and my loved ones." From this moment on, I dedicate all my thoughts and efforts only to you and to your welfare; my strength and my ability, I dedicate to your service. Brethren, I come to you with love, and I ask that you accept me with love. My love will be expressed in my care for and protection of you, in my serving you; and your love must be shown in your obedience to me, in your trust in me, and in your cooperation with me.

These words of cooperation I direct first of all to my closest associates - the clergy of the Aleutian Church. I am here in this country for the first time, and I know little about it. But you have been here long before me, and many of you have adopted it as your own. Others among you have been born here. I pray that during my stay with you, you will show me great assistance with your knowledge of this land and of its people; and with your expertise you will truly become my associates - men of wisdom and counsel.

But I ask for cooperation, not only from the clergy, but also from my entire beloved flock. The Holy Apostle Paul wisely likens the church to the body. The body has not one, but many parts (I Cor. 12:14) and they each have a separate function (Romans 12:4). The eye has its own, and the hand has its own; but every part is necessary and cannot do without the other, and each part is equally concerned for all the others. (I Cor. 12:25-26.) Likewise, you, brethren, together "are Christ's Body," (I Cor. 12:27), and everyone of you has been given a gift by Christ "and to every one of you is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Eph 4:7) "for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph 4:12). by "speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. ( Eph.4: 15-16) Again, St. John Chrysostom says: "Do not lay all the burden upon us, the clergy; you yourselves can do much, you know one another better than we do…" Therefore, brethren, do you also edify one another: " 'warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all. "See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, "( I Thes. 5:15-16). "may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." (Peter 5:10-11)

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