EAST CANADIAN DIOCESE: December 19, 2004

Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of St Nicholas Cathedral in Montreal


A good amount of snow had been on the ground for a week already by the winter-time feast day of St Nicholas, and on the eve of the holiday, December 5/18, a frost struck the region. The final days of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of one of the oldest parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia truly possessed a Russian flavor.

The anniversary celebrations actually began a year ago, so that their high point would be culminated on St Nicholas' feast day in 2004, which this year fell on a Sunday.

The Parish of St Nicholas Cathedral, the founding of which is closely-bound to the blessed Archbishop Ioassaf (Skorodumoff), whose memory is dear to all Russians in the diaspora, and to Archimandrite Amvrosii (Konovalov), appeared in the troubling times for Russian Orthodoxy, both in Russia itself and in North America. Two waves of immigrants had already arrived in the USA and Canada by the 1920's from all corners of the Russian Empire. In Canada, Orthodox parishes were already established through the efforts of the future Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, St Tikhon, while he was posted in America. After the tragedy of 1917 and the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, her churches in America, which accommodated Russians who were forced to leave their Fatherland and settle in the New World, were first under the omophorion of Archbishop Apollinarius (Koshevoy) and then under Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), an old colleague of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory, the founder of the Russian Church Abroad.

St Nicholas Parish was since its early days always a part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. By the end of the 20th century, as proprietors of the magnificent building in the best neighborhood of Montreal, the see of the Canadian Diocese, became famous in the Russian diaspora for good reason among the most flourishing churches.

But the Parish of St Nicholas Cathedral did not elude terrible sufferings, allowed by the Lord. The utterly destructive fire of the winter of 1988 turned the Cathedral into ruins; only a portion of the walls survived. Following the fire were arguments, conflicts and division. By the feast day of St Nicholas in 2001, all the funds gathered for the reconstruction were completely exhausted, yet the work was far from finished.

Yet, by God's mercy, through the intercession of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, the speedy assistant of all those who earnestly pray to him, the catastrophe which seemed to all to be unavoidable was averted. Through the efforts of our First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, and the Administrator of the Eastern part of the Canadian Diocese, His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan, a new Diocesan Administration was formed in Eastern Canada, and in the Cathedral itself, a new Parish Council was established. Then, through the efforts of all the parishioners of the much-suffering Cathedral, who selflessly and with brotherly love set aside their disputes and quarrels, in a true conciliar manner, managed to transform the situation. Over the last three years, all the necessary reconstruction work on the building was completed, and by very the beginning of the anniversary celebrations in 2003, a magnificent copper cupola was elevated into place. But most importantly, the parish itself was reborn and began to blossom. The number of parishioners quadrupled in comparison with the tragic year of 2001, and Sunday liturgy draws an average of 180-200 worshipers. Among them are "Russian Canadians," the recent immigrants, and those who returned to their old parish. New faces are seen at practically every service, so that the Senior Clergyman of the Cathedral, Protopriest George Lagodich and Priest Michael Metni must fulfill their pastoral duties from early morning to late at night, despite both holding down civil jobs and attending to their families.

The Parish grows day by day; Metropolitan Laurus and Bishop Gabriel were greeted at the beginning of all-night vigil by almost 250 worshipers, despite the icy winds and bitter weather. Almost 100 of them were guests; a chartered bus from Toronto brought fifty parishioners along with their pastor, Protopriest Vladimir Malchenko. The famous choir director George Anatolievich Skok and the President of the Charitable Fund of Grand Duchess Olga Aleksandrovna, Olga Nikolaevna Kulikovskaya-Romanova, were among the guests.

His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and Bishop Gabriel were joined in the altar not only by Fr Vladimir from Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto, Fr George and Fr Michael, but also by priests coming for the Cathedral's feast day from Eastern Canada and the USA: Protopriest Vladimir Morin (Christ the Savior Church in London, Ontario), Protopriest Peter Perekrestov (Cathedral of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow" in San Francisco), Priest Michael Luboschinsky (Veil of the Holy Mother Church, Hamilton, Ontario) and the newly-ordained Hieromonk Nicholas (Perekrestov), along with Protodeacon Victor Lochmatow, Protodeacon Joseph Jaroschuk, Deacon Michael Soloviev, Deacon Seraphim Chemodakov and Deacon Vasily Milonow. In the center of the Cathedral, placed on analogia, were the visiting Protectress of the Russian Diaspora, the Miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, and beside it was a full-size icon of St Nicholas containing a relic of the saint, painted for this feast day by Alexander Nikolaevich Shelekhov (son of the famous icon-painter N.N. Shelekhov), donated to the Cathedral by a pious protopriest from the United States.

It would be difficult to express in words the beauty of the singing during vigil performed by the Cathedral choir, which was joined by visiting singers and choir directors. Blessed indeed were all those who attended. In any case, the singing by the clergymen of the magnification touched the hearts of the worshipers and brought many to tears.

Directing the choir were Readers N.E. Androsoff and G.A. Skok, the second Cathedral choir director, Subdeacon G.V. Borovik and the director of the youth choir, young Reader I. Dublshtein.

On Sunday, December 6/19, a copy of the now-lost Iveron Icon of the Mother of God of Montreal joined the Kursk-Root Icon and that of St Nicholas. The history of the Iveron Icon, as that of Brother Jose Munoz, the Icon's keeper, is bound to that of St Nicholas Cathedral.

After the greeting of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and the reading of the hours, at ten o'clock in the morning, there were already over 450 worshipers in attendance. The large altar of St Nicholas Cathedral, renovated and adorned in time for the feast day, barely accommodated all the clergymen, who were joined also by Priest Stelian Liabotis from Ottawa along with subdeacons and altar boys.

During the minor entrance, Fr Michael was awarded the skufia for his earnest and excellent service to the Church. After the Eucharistic canon, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus ordained Alexander Morin into the deaconate, who had served for many years as a subdeacon in Toronto. The newly-ordained Deacon Alexander is being assigned to Holy Trinity Cathedral, where he will assist Protopriest Vladimir Malchenko: his parish is now not only the largest in Canada in number, but it is said, in the entire Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

One of the more popular radio stations in Montreal and the nearby outskirts of Quebec Province simulcast the service from its beginning at ten o'clock in the morning.

His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and Bishop Gabriel administered the Eucharist from two chalices. Counting adults and children, over two hundred people communed of the Holy Gifts.

In his sermon at the end of divine liturgy, His Eminence Vladyka reminded everyone that they gathered to glorify the memory of the holy man of Christ, St Nicholas, the heavenly protector of their parish. "Here with us is the Miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God," continued the First Hierarch. "This is a great joy for us all. The Most-Holy Mother of God is with you in Her image, brothers and sisters, sharing your parish feast day celebration and your anniversary. For the duration of this parish's existence, your grandparents and great-grandparents, and your parents, too, were spiritually born in this church through the Mystery of Holy Baptism. And further, all who were baptized here lived on through the Grace-filled Holy Gifts, which the Church gives Her children until the very end of their earthly lives, escorting them to the eternal life." The First Hierarch touched upon the painful divisions inflicted upon the Russian Church Abroad. "All of us, brothers and sisters, are in sorrow that our long-time Archpastor, Vladyka Metropolitan Vitaly, is not among us today. In 2001, for reasons of his health, Vladyka asked the Council of Bishops to release him from the obedience placed upon him. But then, under the influence of those around him, he left our midst. For us, this is a great sorrow."

In his conclusion, His Eminence wished the further flowering and strengthening of St Nicholas Parish, "so that all who participate in church life would prepare themselves for salvation."

Afterwards, a moleben of gratitude was served before the Kursk-Root Icon, the icon of St Nicholas and the Iveron Icon. Upon venerating the cross, worshipers were given printed copies of the icon of St Nicholas with the words of the troparion to the Saint.

It was already three o'clock when the celebration moved to the Delta Montreal Hotel, where the parish of St Nicholas Cathedral organized a banquet attended by over three hundred guests. Two other parish rectors of Eastern Canada came: Mitred Protopriest George Skrinnikov (Holy Protection Memorial Church, Ottawa, Ontario) and Priest Viatcheslav Davidenko (St Xenia the Blessed Church, Kanata, Ontario).

The ceremony began with the greeting of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, who was presented with the traditional bread and salt by the Cathedral Warden, Alexander Nikolaevich Volkov.

Afterwards, His Grace Bishop Gabriel, Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Administrator of the Eastern Canadian Diocese, gave St Nicholas Parish a gramata [decree of blessing] from the Synod. Vladyka Gabriel, speaking to the parishioners, noted that this decree is given to each parishioner who through his own personal, tireless efforts, enabled St Nicholas Parish to rise up once more to its feet. There were so many such persons, that it was impossible to list them by name, and so the hierarchs of our Church issued this general decree of gratitude.

The decree states in part: "The 75 years of St Nicholas Parish are truly years of the work of the Lord, through fear and joy and trepidation before Him. We know how many difficulties and troubles were endured by your parish over these last few years. But through a divine miracle, through mutual brotherly love, meekness, humility and persistence, together with the young pastors, the parish was able to successfully continue the reconstruction of the Cathedral, to attract a multitude of new parishioners and return more than a few former ones. Today, St Nicholas Parish reminds us again of its finest days, which it not only regained but is becoming yet more splendid, larger and more beautiful before the Lord."

The Deputy Rector of St Nicholas Parish, Protopriest George Lagodich, responded.

"St Nicholas Cathedral played a role in the lives of all those present here today," said Fr George. "My brethren priests who are visiting with us today are connected in one way or another to Montreal: some were ordained here, some began their pastoral service here, some were (and remained in their souls) Montrealites.

"I would like to say a great deal more in this brief address, but first of all I wish to say that the peace and serenity that now reign in our parish, which we had sought so earnestly, is truly a sign of the Divine Grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit. People so easily forget that, as though this was something achieved by our own efforts, but I ask everyone to remember that without the direct will of the Lord, we would never have emerged from that situation in which, through our own sins, we found ourselves. Let us always thank the Lord in our prayers.

"But most of all I wish to say a few words of thanks to you, my dear parishioners of this much-suffering church. May the Lord save you for your prayers, for your labors, for your devotion to the Church. 'But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved,' is the promise given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and the words of God are always fulfilled to the very last period."

After Fr George, a wide-ranging lecture was given by the President of the Anniversary Committee, Subdeacon Peter Pavlovich Paganuzzi, who is also Secretary of the Parish Council. The speech was on the history of the parish, with masterfully-chosen slides, unique photographs in which many of those present saw themselves and those dear to them. Mr Paganuzzi's tale was very moving and equally informative.

E.V. Photopoulos congratulated the parish on behalf of the Mayor of Montreal, herself a long-time parishioner--from a family of parishioners--of St Nicholas Cathedral, presenting a decree signed by the Mayor himself to the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Elena Vsevolodovna joyfully remarked on the events of the day and reminded everyone of the traditions of years past, when the head of the Canadian and Montreal Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, on Orthodox Pascha would present the city's leader a red egg and a kulich [Paschal sweet loaf]. "We expect you at the Mayor's residence this Pascha, bearing a red egg," said Mrs. Photopoulos to Metropolitan Laurus and Bishop Gabriel.

In conclusion, the First Hierarch shared with all those present his memories of Vladyka Ioassaf of blessed memory, the bishop of Canada and founder of St Nicholas Parish.

All those with whom the author spoke were unanimous: the anniversary celebration on this feast day of St Nicholas the Wonderworker was held with genuine, soul-brightening joy.

-A participant