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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 embrace God’s loving presence in our lives, 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, which began as the Russian Mission to Alaska in 1794, was granted autocephaly (self-governance) in 1970, and is united to the worldwide communion other 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 complied the Holy Bible with the Old and New Testaments, and provide the earliest and 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 glance, Orthodoxy can appear as 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 rapid growth of immigration, to New York City. From among these early immigrant bishops, priests, monks and laymen, and those who would follow them, we have recognized and venerate more than twenty saints of the Church. You will find large icons of these two earliest missionaries on the right wall of the Cathedral narthex (entry hall).

The Cathedral Parish

Our 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 (now Saint) Alexander Hotovitsky, who began a vigorous campaign to raise funds to build a permanent church in the city. In 1898 Bishop (now Saint) 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.

Orthodox 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 take possession of the cathedral building on East 97th Street in 1926. The now dispossessed community led by Archpriest (Saint) Leonid Turkevich and others, re-organized as the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, and were greatly aided by Bishop William Thomas Manning of the Episcopal Church, who generously offered them use of St. Augustine Church, a chapel of Trinity Episcopal Church Wall Street. located at 105 Houston Street. After 17 years, the community was able to raise funds to purchase the Olivet Memorial German Reform Church at 59 East 2nd Street, our present home.

The building, constructed in 1891 of rock-cut Kentucky limestone was designed in 1867 in the Gothic style by renowned architect Josiah Cleveland  Cady, who would later build such iconic New York City landmarks as the original Metropolitan Opera House, and the West 77th Street frontage and auditorium of the American Museum of Natural History, among others. The large nave was adapted to Orthodox worship, and adorned with icons painted at various times, and are of both traditional Byzantine style as well as the westernized style popular in Kyiv in the 19th century. In recent years as we contiunue to upgrade and adorn the church, have made a conscious effort to adhere to the traditional Byzantine style that communicates the 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 church for the elderly or the infirm, and for those who find it difficult to stand throughout the service. It is however, customary to for all present to stand whenever the main Holy Doors of the Altar are opened, for the reading of the Gospel, and during the consecration of the Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy.

A templon (icon screen or iconostasis), similar to the rood screens in some western churches, but adorend with large icons of christ His Mothe, Angels and Saints, delineates the nave from the sanctuary (altar area), and has a two-fold significance. It reminds us of the fact that we are on a  pilgrmage church on the way to eternal kingdom of God, and that this is the purpose of our lives in this world. The large principal icons facing us are "windows to eternity," proclaiming the good news that, by the incarnation of Christ, our fallen human nature is already redeemed and taken up into the eternal life in God: "Christ has entered ... into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Hebrews 9.24). Thus, the templon does not separate heaven and earth, the sanctuary and the nave, but rather serves as a means to unite them both.

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 lead and give voice to the prayers of the faithful. Intercessory prayer, in the form of litanies and petitions chanted by the deacoor priest, to which the choir responds “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord,” occupy a prominent place. In the Orthodox tradition, services are always sung without instrumental accompaniment, as the human voice, created by God is thought to be the fittest instrument of praise. The services are primarily in English with limited elements of Slavonic, Romanian, Greek, Georgian, Amharic, Arabic, and Spanish.

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 visitors are welcome to 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 obtained from a Greeter at the entrance, but we suggest that you review 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, the Giver of Light, and His Saints, whose invisible presence is manifested by the icons. Likewise, the icons are incensed during the services, along with the people present. This is done in reverence to the image of God that abides in each of us.  At the end of the Liturgy everyone present is warmly invited to come and venerate the Cross and receive a blessing from the preist. On Sundays coffee and tea is served in the parish hall after the Liturgy and you are warmly welcome to join us. At the Saturday evening Vigil service, all who are present are invited to 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.

Though founded by immigrants from the former Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, our parish membership is ethnically diverse including a large contingent of Georgians, and nearly 40 percent of our members are adult converts to the Orthodox faith.

Other Activities

Ministry activities for children ages 3 and over and youth are held every Sunday following the Liturgy, from September to June. From time to time there are talks and classes on some aspect of Christianity. Catechism Classes for inquirers are offerd at various time througout the year as announced in advance. 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 other religious leaders of the East Village, as well as other institutions in the city on joint charitable and civic activities. 

Statement

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)

These articles are copyrighted. It is forbidden for any person or organization to use these articles or any part thereof without written permission from the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection.


  • Sat
    20Jul

    Prophet Elias
    5:30pm Vigil Service
  • Sun
    21Jul

    Prophet Ezekiel
    9:00 Hours & Divine Liturgy
  • Sat
    27Jul

    GM & Healer Panteilemon
    5:30pm Vigil Service
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Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection (2nd Street Cathedral)
59 East Second Street; New York, NY 10003
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