Celebrations in Beryozki

On Sunday, August 1, 2004, at the Church of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God in the town of Beryozki, an one-hour drive from Toronto, a solemn service was held, led by His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan, Administrator of the Eastern Canadian Diocese.

Next year, 2005, the long-time residents and founders of Beryozki will mark the 50th anniversary of this picturesque corner of Canadian Russia.

In contrast to the famous town of Churaevka in the USA, founded by the author Grebenshchikov, where at the crossroads of Pushkin and Tolstoy Streets stands a chapel built according to a design by Roerich, Beryozki grew naturally, as though by itself. In 1955, in the splendid Canadian woods that remind one of central Russia, among tall birch trees, a summer cottage was first erected by the large Artyiukhov family. The Artyukhov sisters, then young girls, are the founders of Beryozki. This family even today directly participates in the church life of Beryozki, despite the fact that the sisters, Maria Yakovlevna and Alexandra Yakovlevna, must devote a great deal of time to the largest parish of the Russian Church Abroad, Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto.

The present Warden of the Church of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, Victor Vasilievich Pechnikov, settled in Beryozki soon after, also in 1955.

Trapeza luncheon.

The last few years, some ten Russian Orthodox families have settled in Beryozki from among the many who have moved to Canada. There is waiting list for people wishing to become residents of Beryozki, because houses for sale in Beryozki are few and far between. Beryozki has transformed itself from a summer retreat to a permanent residence for many. The number of parishioners is growing, and for this reason, the Eastern Canadian Diocese has decided to gradually change this into a permanent parish with service the year roung (previously, services were only conducted during the summertime). For this reason, then, a permanent priest will be needed, since now the Rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Protopriest Vladimir Malchenko, oversees the chapel. Of course, because of his overwhelming responsibilities, he cannot conduct regular services in Beryozki, and this responsibility lay upon the eldest of clergymen, Fr. George Belyaya, who can no longer perform these services for reasons of health. This summer, Priest Stelian Liabotis of Christ the Saviour Church in London, ON, has been serving regularly. Fr. Stelian assisted His Grace Bishop Gabriel last Sunday.

His Grace Bishop Gabriel greets the worshipers during trapeza.

Usually, the annual celebrations in Beryozki are scheduled not only for the feast day, but on the anniversary of the consecration of the first, wooden church here, built through the efforts of Fr. Sergei Schukin. This year the celebrations coincided with the celebration of the Translation of the Relics of St Seraphim of Sarov.

His Grace Bishop Gabriel arrived in Beryozki on the eve and headed the meeting of the Parish Council, attended not only by the Council members but many parishioners as well. Opening the meeting, Vladyka, in part, said: "On order that the greatest number of parishioners could participate in the feast day, the celebrations were moved to the end of the week. But this Sunday we will celebrate the Translation of the Relics of our Holy Father Seraphim of Sarov. His eternal words, addressed to innumerable worshipers coming to him from all over Russia, were: 'My joy, acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved.' If we are able today through the prayers of Father Seraphim to obtain the spirit of peace at least a little, and if our meeting is held towards the benefit of the Church, it will be to the joy of all who attend."

The ways of changing the Beryozka church from a "branch" of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto to an independent parish were discussed, and a date was decided upon to conduct a review and election meeting. His Grace Bishop Gabriel then answered numerous questions.

That morning, the greeting of the bishop began in a manner uncommon in today's practice but in accordance with ancient Russian tradition: Vladyka, in his mantle and holding his staff, escorted by subdeacons and altar boys, walked along the street from the warden's house, where he spent the night, to the church narthex, where he was greeted by the ringing of bells.

Incidentally, the church is expected to have a new bell tower soon, according to the plans of the new residents of Beryozki. They feel that the founders of the town built a splendid church (a stone church replaced the original wooden church in 1987), and their successors must complete the project by erecting a bell tower.

Twenty-five year old Vladimir Vladimirovich Gitov, the deputy treasurer of the parish, was ordained as a reader.

At the end of divine liturgy, all those present, over 200 people, shared a delicious luncheon prepared by the sisterhood. Members of the municipality and county were honored guests on this day.