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DIOCESE OF SAN FRANCISCO AND WESTERN AMERICA : March 28, 2006-03-27

"Orthodox Christians in America Preserve the Traditions of Russia "
(a Novosibirsk Missionary Visits San Francisco )

A priest of the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in the city of Novosibirsk , Protopriest Konstantin Rabota, and a member of the Brotherhood of St Alexander Nevsky, Dimitry Indiniuk, were invited to visit America by Nikita Buick, head of the San Francisco aids the local Russian community.

Fr Konstantin says that he met Mr Buick in St Petersburg . He was performing a moleben at Smolensk Cemetery at the relics of Blessed Xenia of St Petersburg; afterwards, a man speaking good Russian approached him and introduced himself as the head of RACS, saying that he had heard a great deal about the missionary work of the clergymen of Novosibirsk Diocese, but was interested in learning more. Two weeks later, Nikita Buick called Fr Konstantin and proposed that he come to San Francisco, CA, to tell the Orthodox Russians in America about the missionary work in Siberia, and in general about the life of the Orthodox in Novosibirsk. Mr Buick sent a proposal to His Eminence Archbishop Tikhon of Novosibirsk and Berda, and Vladyka granted his blessing for the Siberians to travel to the US .

"It is interesting that I received my visa on the day of St Xenia," said Fr Konstantin in an interview with the Agentstvo natsionalnykh novostei [National News Agency]. "The next day I called Nikita Evgenievich and told him about the doubly-joyous event. But because of the time difference, he found out about it on the same day as I, the feast day of St Xenia!"

Fr Konstantin believes his first meeting with Mr Buick and the resulting meetings with Russian Americans occurred under the protection of St Xenia.

According to the priest, Russian Orthodox Christians in America zealously preserve the traditions and customs of Russia . For instance, not far from San Francisco is a state-owned national park. Located on a scenic area overlooking the Pacific Ocean is the southernmost Russian settlement in America , Fort Ross. Representatives of Russian-American social organizations restored the old Russian cemetery near the fortress, placing Orthodox crosses over the gravesites. Today, one family takes responsibility for each grave, guaranteeing its upkeep. The fort itself was restored, the old buildings rebuilt, as was the Chapel of the Most-Holy Trinity. On important holidays, church services are held here. Russians from all over gather here, sometimes reaching several thousand in number (seven percent of the population of San Francisco is Russian).

The fort still contains old cannons, operational to this day. Fr Konstantin, as a "VIP," was allowed to fire one. He admitted that despite the ear muffs he was forced to wear, the sound was so loud that he was deafened somewhat.

The fort contains typical Russian items—a Russian oven, wooden tables and benches, embroidered cloths, a samovar and other utensils, animal skins, icons on the walls. The icons were not for decoration. Russians in America are as a rule people of profound faith. Many venerate Tsar Nicholas II. His portraits and icons hang in Russian homes.

"The church for them is not just a lifestyle, it is a means of preserving their identity, a method of surviving American culture," stresses Fr Konstantin.

The head of RACS is also an Orthodox Christian. Nikita Evgenievich's uncles were icon-painters, one of them brought His Holiness St Patriarch Tikhon's will and testament out of Russia . Before assuming the leadership of RACS, Nikita Evgenievich was the Warden of the Cathedral of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow" in San Francisco .

Nikita Evgenievich is now active in charitable work, in particular feeding elderly Russians. Every day, some 200 seniors gather in a special cafeteria where they are given a delicious and filling meal. Those who cannot make the trip get the food delivered to them. Only the highest-quality products are used in preparing the meals.

Fr Konstantin spoke of his numerous meetings with interesting people. For instance, he met a woman who was a friend of Jose, the keeper of the Miracle-working Iveron Mother of God Icon of Montreal. He also met an elderly woman whose husband helped one thousand Russian people immigrate to America .

Fr Konstantin's lectures lasted 4-5 hours. He would then answer questions posed by his Russian-American audience. He spoke in detail about the activities of Novosibirsk 's "Center for Religious Studies," whose members gather information on the destructive totalitarian cults active in Siberia . He also described the patriotic summer camps for children and youth, the church-ship, the rail-car chapel on the train named Zdorovie [Health]. Many Russian Americans went to hear the priest from Novosibirsk three or four times, and brought their children with them.

It turned out that Russians abroad know little of what is in fact happening in Russia today. For example, it was a genuine revelation for them that hundreds of new churches are opened in Russia every year, that people come to church every day asking to be baptized. The pace of the rebirth of Orthodoxy in the Novosibirsk Diocese was stunning to these Russian Americans: the number of parishes there grew from three to one hundred thirty in the last fifteen years.

When Fr Konstantin showed photographs of a procession of the cross in Novosibirsk, held on the Day of Slavic Literature on the feast day of SS Cyril and Methodius, the audience found it hard to believe that such a multitude of people participated in a religious procession—not in Moscow or St Petersburg, but in a remote Siberian city.
"I thought I would be faced with a language barrier, but this was not so," said Fr Konstantin. "The Russians I met in America over the course of two weeks spoke Russian fluently. The language of the elderly Russians was devoid of the neologisms that pollute contemporary Russian language. So I had to admit that those of the first wave of the emigration speak more correct Russian than we do."

Fr Konstantin spoke warmly of Protopriest Stefan Pavlenko, Rector of the Church of All Russian Saints of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in Burlingame , CA .

"A soul of a man, one of the most educated and authoritative priests of the Russian emigration; he participated in the translation of the relics of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco ," said the priest of Novosibirsk of Fr Stefan.

One other pleasant acquaintance was Protopriest Yaroslav Belikov, who serves at the Cathedral of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow" of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, where the relics of St John abide. It was in this cathedral that the IV All-Diaspora Council will open on May 7, 2006.

Fr Yaroslav was born of a Russian family in Argentina . But he speaks Russian perfectly. As he himself recounted, when his classmates were playing soccer, he was studying Russian with his mother.

The lower portion of the Cathedral building houses the "lyceum" and SS Cyril and Methodius High School . Protopriest Peter Perekrestov, Protopriest Sergei Kotar and his wife, other priests and laypersons teach Russian language, literature, history, the Law of God and other subjects here. Children study apologetics, which allows them to expertly defend Orthodox teaching against other religions, pseudo-religions and totalitarian sects, which proliferate throughout San Francisco .

"The average student graduating this Orthodox high school knows incomparably more than most Orthodox Christian adults in Russia ," said Fr Konstantin.

The priest talked to the children, many of whom expressed the desire to visit one of the military-patriotic children's camps of St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Novosibirsk . Some of them asked to be taken on as novices at the church-ship "Holy Apostle Andrey the First-Called," which makes an annual missionary excursion up and down the Ob' River.

Dimitri Kokoulin

Center of Religious Studies, Novosibirsk