About the Orthodox Church in America
We are not a colony of a foreign church, seeking to duplicate here what the Mother Church elsewhere can do much better at home. We are not an ethnic club, seeking to preserve Old World customs, languages or cuisines. We are not in exile from somewhere else, a Diaspora that needs direction from a distant homeland.
We are Orthodox Christians in America, convinced that America needs Orthodoxy as the fullness of her Christian vocation, that without Orthodoxy, American Christianity and America herself will remain unfulfilled, and the world, the whole planet will suffer from America’s spiritual deficiencies and “incompleteness.” We must offer [all Americans] the completeness, the wholeness of the Orthodox Faith, not to preserve any ethnic heritage, not to replicate an ancient but alien cultural tradition, but to save this country ... and to make America “all that it can be,” sanctified by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in His Holy Church.
—Archpriest Michael Oleksa, Alaskan Diocese
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them... We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.
—Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Philosopher of Science (+1994)
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Welcome to the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection and Chapel of St Innocent of Irkutsk, one of the main places of Orthodox worship in New York City.
We are a warm and welcoming parish community with a great diversity of people, young and old, native New Yorkers, transplants, and immigrants. We are united in the belief that we can experience God’s love and sustaining presence in our lives in the world, and share that good news with all who may welcome it. We seek to live in gratitude for all things, and work acquire the Holy Spirit in and through the teachings and example of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures, and the life and activity of the Church as His continuing presence in the world.
The Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of New York & New Jersey
of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
. The Orthodox Church in America is the youngest autocephalous (self-governing) church, and is united to the worldwide communion of fifteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches, which includes the ancient Christian Patriarchates of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria and elsewhere. We profess the same faith as the Apostles of Jesus Christ, which was articulated in the Letters of the Apostle Paul and defined by the earliest Councils of the original, undivided Church held from the 4th-9th centuries. These same Councils formulated the Holy Bible with the Old and New Testaments, and provide the earliest and most authentic teaching of Christ held in common from the time of the Apostles by the early Christians. These teachings were not subjected to the changes brought about in the Roman Catholic church and, later, the many branches of Protestantism which were derived from early Roman Catholic variations and additions.
While the major Orthodox Churches are found in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, today Orthodox Christians are spread throughout the world and there are few countries without an Orthodox presence. In the United States, the Orthodox collectively form the third largest Christian community, having some 4 million members. Most of the local autocephalous Orthodox Churches are represented here, principally the Greek Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but also the Russian, Serbian, Antiochian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Russian, Bulgarian, Georgian and Albanian Orthodox Churches.
At first sight, Orthodoxy can appear as something foreign, a purely Eastern form of Christianity. In fact, it is a universal faith, with roots in this land over 200 years old. The missionary monk, Herman from the Russian monastery of Valaam, who settled in the Aleutian chain of Alaska, first brought the Orthodox faith to this continent in the 18th century. A bishop, Innocent (Veniaminov) was assigned to this newly established diocese in the 19th century. Later, toward the beginning of the 20th century, the center of the diocese was transferred to the “lower 48,” first to San Francisco, and then, in 1904 with the growth of immigration, to New York City. From among these early pioneer bishops, priests, monks and laymen, and those who would follow them, we have recognized and venerate more than ten saints of the Church. You will find icons of them in our Cathedral.
The Cathedral Parish
The parish originated in 1870 as the Russo-Greek Chapel of Holy Trinity to serve the needs of the Russian and Greek Embassies. In 1895 it was re-organized as the Church of St Nicholas and the community began to flourish under the pastorate of Archpriest Alexander Hotovitsky, who began a vigorous campaign to raise funds to build a permanent church. In 1898 Bishop Tikhon (Belavin) arrived in New York, and in 1904, after the completion of construction of a new church on East 97th Street, he transferred the center of the Diocese from San Francisco to New York City, raising St Nicholas to the status of Cathedral.
Church life in America was thrown into turmoil during and after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and in the process, the government of the militant atheist Soviet Union sued for ownership of all properties built with Tsarist funds abroad. It would only be in New York City that they would prevail and win control over the cathedral building on East 97th Street in 1926. The dispossessed community led by Archpriest Leonid Turkevich and others, re-organized as the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, and was greatly aided by the Episcopal Church which gave them use of St. Augustine Church at 105 Houston Street, a chapel of Trinity Episcopal Church Wall Street. After 17 years, they finally raised funds to purchase the Olivet Memorial German Reformed Church at 59 East 2nd Street, our present home.
The building, constructed in 1867 and designed by renowned architect Josiah Cady, was easily adapted to Orthodox worship. The icons were painted at various times and are of both traditional Byzantine style as well as the westernized style popular in Russia in the 19th century. In recent years we have made a conscious effort to adhere to the traditional Byzantine style that better communicates the other-worldly theology of the Orthodox worship.
Liturgy and Worship
You will notice immediately that there are no pews in the church. In general they are not favored by the Orthodox because we believe that it is appropriate to pray standing or kneeling in the presence of God, and pews restrict the freedom of movement necessary in Orthodox worship. Chairs are placed around the side of the church for the elderly or the infirm and for those who find it difficult to stand throughout the service (it is however, customary to stand whenever the main Holy Doors are opened and especially for the reading of the Gospel and during the consecration of the Holy Gifts at the Divine Liturgy).
The templon (icon screen or iconostasis) that delineates the sanctuary has a two-fold significance. It reminds us of the fact that we are pilgrims on the way to the kingdom of heaven and that this must be the basic purpose of our lives in this world. Equally, the icons of Christ, His Most-Holy Mother, and the saints turned toward us proclaim the good news that, in Christ, our fallen human nature is already redeemed and taken up into the life of heaven: Christ has entered ... into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9.24). Thus, the templon does not separate heaven and earth, the sanctuary and the nave, but rather unites them.
The general structure of the Liturgy will be familiar to members of Western denominations. It consists of psalms, Epistle and Gospel readings, the Creed and the prayer of consecration, followed by the Lord’s Prayer and the Communion. The Liturgy takes the form of a dialogue between celebrant and people, in which the function of the choir is to give voice to the prayer of the congregation. Intercessory prayer, in the form of litanies chanted by the deacon to which the choir responds “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord,” occupies a prominent place. In the Orthodox tradition, services are always sung without musical accompaniment, as the human voice is felt to be the fittest instrument for the praise of God. The services are primarily in English with some Slavonic, Romanian and Georgian.
The reception of Holy Communion is reserved to baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians who have duly prepared themselves by fasting, prayer, and the sacrament of Holy Confession. Non-Orthodox are welcome to also participate in worship by being quietly open to the presence of God in this holy place and by attending to the words and actions of the services. Printed texts of the Liturgy may be bought at the bookstore, but we suggest that you study them before or after the service; there is much that may be missed if one is absorbed in the printed text.
You will see people lighting candles; this is done in honor of Christ and His Saints, whose invisible presence is manifested by the icons. Likewise, the icons are censed during the services, as are the people. This is done in reverence to the image of God that abides in each of us. Small bread rolls (prosfora) are offered at the Sunday Liturgy with the names of those Orthodox Christians, living and departed, for whom we wish to pray. These are taken to the offertory table in the sanctuary, where the priest removes a small portion and places it on the paten next to the bread that is to be consecrated, praying for those Orthodox Christians for whom it was offered. At the end of the Liturgy everyone is invited to come and venerate the Cross and receive a blessing. On Sundays coffee and tea is served in the parish hall after the Liturgy and you are most welcome to join us. At the Vigil service, all who wish may come to venerate the Book of the Gospels and to receive an anointing with oil (Ps 23.5), and on feasts, a distribution of blessed bread and wine.
Though founded by immigrants from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the parish membership is ethnically diverse including a large contingent of Georgians and Romanians, and nearly 35 percent of our members are adult converts to the Orthodox faith.
A Church School for children ages 3 and over is held every Sunday from 11:15 pm to 12:15 pm from September to June. From time to time there are talks and classes on some aspect of Christianity. The Andronoff Library has a good collection of texts on Orthodox Christianity. A Book and Icon Shop carries a large array of study and prayer guides, icons and crosses. Throughout the year we work with various Orthodox churches and institutions in the city on joint charitable and missionary activities. A parish newsletter The Semandron–A Call to Prayer contains sermons, parish news, spiritual reading and articles on Orthodox faith and life.
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection of the City of New York, Inc., is a parish of the autocephalous (self-governed) Orthodox Church in America, and is independent from the Church in Russia (Moscow Patriarchate), and any foreign government. We oppose any actions or laws limiting liberty, justice, the right of self-determination, freedom of speech, and civil rights throughout the world. We pray for peaceful coexistence of all nations and peoples in the unity of the Holy Spirit and as the logical extension of our incarnational theology.
Archimandrite Christopher Calin, Dean
More on our History
Excerpts from One Man in His Time: The Memoirs of Serge Obolensky (New York, 1958)
[with a few minor corrections]
At that time the attack on the priests was under way. The churches were still open, but thousands of priests were being killed. The people still continued to go to church, and the priests kept on saying masses [sic]. In times of stress, people pray. And how they prayed in Russia throughout this time! They packed the churches. Only the Communists themselves did not dare go, and people too closely affiliated with the Bolsheviks to risk being seen by them in any act of prayer. Many of the latter were people, like me, with jobs in industry. I assure you I rarely went to church during this time.
The Communists then began their antireligious propaganda. There is a belief in Russia that saints don’t deteriorate corporealy after death. They exhumed the bodies of the saints, and forced thousands to march past their decayed remains. Then they put God Himself on trial, showing He was guilty. And they had embalmed Lenin, their saint, who would not decay. But it still made no difference. The churches were jammed more than ever. They were unable to destroy the people’s faith. Finally the Bolsheviks gave up, and their antireligious propaganda dwindled away. The Bolsheviks have since tried to neutralize the church, infiltrating it, putting in their own priests, but can they ever be sure of them? Masses [sic] are said on a quid pro quo basis. You the Church do something for us, and we will allow you to sing so many thousand masses in a year. The Church survived. What really mattered was the Russian people, who wouldn’t give it up. Everybody was afraid of the terror, but they went to church. (Page 199).
I was then suddenly deeply involved in a legal complication affecting the Russian Church. In Russia, the Bolsheviks had slacked off their frontal attack on the Church, but had decided to turn their eyes elsewhere. They had been unable to depose the head of the Church in Russia, the Patriarch Tikhon, who, after having been imprisoned, was released and returned to his monastery in Moscow. There he maintained his full prerogatives as head of the Church.
Many years before, parishes had been established in America under the old imperial regime, and were basically a mission under the jurisdiction of the senior Metropolitan, who had his seat in New York. By this time there were 360 valuable parishes of the Russian Church in America. To get control of them would be a plum for the Soviet regime. The Soviets, despite Tikhon’s disapproval, had organized a small synod of dissident priests and bishops, and called in “The Living Church.” Then they sent a bishop of this “Living Church” to New York with credentials that supposedly authorized the removal from his post of Metropolitan Platon and appointed the “Living Church” bishop as his successor. When I arrived, there had been litigation. The American judge, who had been unaware of the subterfuge, had ordered the Cathedral on 97th Street to be handed over to the new bishop and Platon to be removed. Metropolitan Platon summoned me when he learned that I was in New York and told me of these dangerous events. He said he was fearful because the deeds of all parishes were held under the jurisdiction of the legally recognized head of the Russian Orthodox Church in America. This head was now bishop of the “Living Church,” and one by one this man could throw out the clergy, put in propagandists as priests and take over the properties of the churches.
Serge Gagarin and I founded a committee, including Rachmaninoff and Sikorsky, to raise funds and appeal the court order. With the great help of Bishop Manning and the Episcopal Church, we achieved our financial goal and secured the assistance of George Zabriskie, the prominent attorney, Charles Sabin of the Guaranty Trust Company of New York, and Haley Fisk of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Through their help we won the appeal.
As a result, the Bolsheviks’ “Living Church” withered away, and Metropolitan Platon, now back in power, turned over to their respective parishes all the deeds to Russian Orthodox church properties throughout the country. Thus such a situation could never arise again, and henceforth the parishes could elect their own priests and bishops, come what may. I patted myself on the back, because it was one of the few times that the Soviets were really defeated.
During the lengthy fracas, the intricacies of Russian Church law became too much for me, and I got Peter Zouboff to come to the United States from Estonia to help us. I got him a visitor’s visa through the intercession of Bishop Manning, who recognized his importance to the Church. I went to meet Peter at the boat along with his former troop commander, Serge Boutourline ... (pp. 307-8)
(Provided by John Chiappe)
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