His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus Leads the Celebrations of St Vladimir's Day

In 1938, on the 950th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the Synod of Bishops recommended to all the diocesan bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to organize large celebrations of this glorious jubilee of our Fatherland, as a result of which Russian Abroad marked what became known as the Year of St Vladimir.

But the Diocese of Eastern America and Jersey City, headed at the time by Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko, +1960) of blessed memory, fulfilled this obligation with greater breadth and depth. At his initiative, besides the regular anniversary celebrations, it was decided to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia by erecting on American soil a grand St Vladimir Memorial Church, just as the 900th anniversary was memorialized with the construction in Kiev of St Vladimir Cathedral.

Archbishop Vitaly chose a site for the Memorial Church where Russians could gather in large numbers in the town of Cassville (later renamed Jackson), NJ, near ROVA Farm, one of the oldest and most populated Russian establishments of the time. For the construction of St Vladimir Memorial Church, Archbishop Vitaly founded the Society of St Vladimir, the primary aim of which was the construction of this church. The Society purchased a one-acre plot of land in the center of ROVA Farm, which at one time had an Episcopal church, or chapel, and a few gravesites of the owners of this property. Upon the sale of this property, the owner stipulated that it could only be used for religious purposes.

This location, situated atop a hillock, has become known as "St Vladimir's Hill."

In 1940, the solemn laying of the cornerstone of St Vladimir Memorial Church was performed by Metropolitan Theophilus, Archbishop Vitaly and Bishop Makary. At the time, the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA was united, only later splitting into three groups. Soon a foundation was constructed, but it proved unstable and had to be removed and rebuilt under the supervision of FS Bondarchek.

In 1948, Archbishop Vitaly appointed Hieromonk Anthony (Medvedev, +2000) as Acting Rector of St Vladimir Memorial Church; he later became Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco and Western America. That year, the construction of the lower church was begun, which was not included in the original plans. By the end of 1965, the walls of the church were erected, a gold cupola with cross placed on top, and the interior was plastered. In the 1980's, a multi-tiered iconostasis was completed, and the walls frescoed by Archimandrite Kyprian (Pyzhov). On the 1000th Anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, Metropolitan Vitaly headed the great consecration of the church along with all the members of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Interred in the lower church are the remains of Archbishop Vitaly and Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky, +1976).

This July 28, St Vladimir's Day, and on Sunday, July 31, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus headed the solemn services on the Memorial Church's feast day along with Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov, Mitred Protopriest Boris Kizenko, Protopriest Philip Petrovsky, Protopriest Lubo Milosevic, Protopriest Serge Lukianov and Priest Leonid Goferman, along with Protodeacon Joseph Jarostchuk, Deacon Dimitri Temidis, Deacon Konstantin Semyanko, Deacon Nicholas Lukianov, Deacon Serge Ledkovsky and Deacon Alexander Kichakov. A combined male choir under the direction of Protopriest Serge Lukianov of St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Lakewood sang during one of the services.

On July 31, the Sunday usually reserved for the expanded celebration of St Vladimir's Day, His Eminence gave a sermon to the parishioners and worshipers at the Memorial Church, in which he said in part:

"In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"Beloved Russian people:

"I am happy to congratulate you on the All-Russian celebration of the feast day of St Vladimir, when we honor our Illuminator and the Baptizer of Rus. We have gathered here today at St Vladimir Memorial Church, whose foundation was laid in 1938, during the 950th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus.

"The cornerstone was laid by our Abba, Vladyka Archbishop Vitaly, and his co-laborers. Archbishop Vitaly thought that this church should remind all of us Russian people of the great work performed by St Vladimir by his illumination of Rus with the light of the faith of Christ.

"Vladyka Vitaly, having obtained this plot of land, decided to erect a grand Memorial Church in the middle of this town, which one could call a Russian town, with its center being ROVA Farm.

"The beginning of the construction of the church began slowly. The foundation was first poured, and since war soon broke out, construction was halted. It remained undeveloped until the end of the war. Work resumed in 1948-49.

"In early 1950, pilgrimages to this place began, and divine services were performed under the open sky on the feast days of St Vladimir.

"Gradually, the construction of the church continued, slowly but surely. After the external erection of the church, interior work and icon-painting commenced. All this lasted some 50 years. By the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the church was finished and consecrated.

"Vladyka Archbishop Vitaly labored greatly in the building of the church, as did Vladyka Archbishop Nikon. Thank God, they had good helpers, and together they steadily completed building the church.

"Helping in finishing the interior of the church painting the frescoes was His Grace Bishop Daniel of Erie. He built the iconostasis and painted a few of the icons for it. Fr Archimandrite Kyprian (Pyzhov) also painted the frescoes and some of the icons for the iconostasis.

"Thanks to the Lord, we now have a beautiful Memorial Church, where we gather every year to pray and mark the feast day of St Vladimir.

"Praying together with us are the founders and builders of this church, Archbishop Vitaly and Archbishop Nikon of blessed memory, who lie in repose in the lower church.

"Brothers and sisters, let us in our prayers thank the Lord for His great mercy upon us sinners, that He helped our late archpastors and all the reposed fathers, brothers and sisters in their contributions towards building this holy church in honor of the Millennium of the Baptism of the Russian people.

"Now we will commence blessing the water in memory of the Baptism of Rus. Let us try, brothers and sisters, to live by Divine Law, by the legacy of our Baptizer, for then we will be able to become the children of God, and will earn the right together with all the saints of the Russian Land and with our Illuminator, St Vladimir, to be the heirs of the heavenly abodes. Amen."

After the veneration of the cross, the Memorial Church Sisterhood offered a trapeza.