His Eminence Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand Performs the Great Consecration of the New Protection Cathedral

On Sunday, September 24, the newest church in the Diocese of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand, in the Brunswick East section of Melbourne, received its great consecration. This was a joyful and long-awaited moment in the life of Protection Cathedral parish and, indeed, in the life of the entire Diocese. Such events rarely take place; I know of people who live to a venerable age who have never witnessed such a ceremony.

The construction of the church is not always quick and easy. In Russia, it often took decades to build a church. The scale of construction and its internal work: mosaics, frescoes, carving in stone and wood, always demand time and expense. Despite all the difficulties faced by the Russian people in the homeland and abroad, their love for divine beauty never waned—that beauty which elevates the spirit of mankind away from the fuss of daily life. This yearning of the Russian soul was always expressed in church-building. Churches were sometimes built by tsars and wealthy noblemen, but most often it was the spiritual art of the people. And so it was with the creation of our new cathedral in Melbourne.

Nicholas Sherman's 2005 documentary “Merri Creek Dreaming” tells this story from its beginning. In 1954, the Melbourne parish, one of the oldest and largest in the diocese, acquired a church built by Anglican missionaries in 1875. This church provided safe harbor for Russian refugees from Europe, and then from China. The old cathedral's main feature was its location in the center of Melbourne, since our parishioners were scattered throughout many neighborhoods of the city. Yet, by the 1970's, when our immigration “matured,” minor insufficiencies in the church complex in Collingwood became apparent: there was a lack of space in the church hall (the church and hall occupy 744 square meters), no surrounding fence, no parking, traffic restrictions that made it difficult to arrive by car on weekdays. All this was noticed by the young, energetic Rector, Fr Vladimir Evsukoff, who took measures to find a new church for his parish. The tragic death of Fr Vladimir prevented him from manifesting his dream.

The Parish Council resumed its activity in this area when I was appointed to the parish in May 1981. After a long search for either land or an existing church, the idea came forth to build a church in the traditional Russian style. At the end of 1983, a member of the Parish Council, engineer Alexander Sergeevich Alexandrov, found a parcel of land upon which the new church complex now stands. This plot extended to the river, but after transferring a strip of riverside land to the municipality for a footpath (some 900 square meters), we had about 3,550 square meters left, that is, some 5 times more than the old church had. In 1984, the Parish paid $82,250 for the land. Of course, this was a gift from heaven (very cheap even at that time), but it was hard to believe that the church would face a lakeside park. The area at the time was unattractive, full of litter, and many parishioners worried and wondered how we could build a church here.

Still, on November 5, 1989, His Grace Bishop Paul (Pavlov, +1995), blessed the foundation along with the clergymen of Victoria. By this time, the Building Committee, consisting of the builder Vasily Kozulin; engineers Kirill Maganov and Damian Ford; architect Nicholas Khlebnikovsky and the Rector, prepared detailed instructions to the architect, which included not only practical and engineering parameters but included sketches of a church in the Yaroslavl' style of the 17 th century. In the opinion of Protopriest Dimitry Alexandrov (now Bishop Daniel of Erie and Vicar Bishop for the Old Rite believers), contemporary Russian church architecture must proceed according to this authentic Russian style, the last one before the approach of Western influence. The further external decoration of the church would employ the colors of old Melbourne, so that it would not seem alien in its surroundings.

The preparatory stage of the Building Committee revealed that we could only complete this project if we built it with our own hands. Warden Innokenty Pavlovich Kozulin, elected in 1988, headed the cadre of volunteers, most of whom had experience in construction. Working with the Warden were: Ivan Bochkareff, Andrei Vostrikov, Sergei Denisov, Theodore Ivlenkov, Fr Simeon Kichakoff, Stepan Kichakoff, Gregory Kozhevnikov, Ivan Komissarov, Chris Kurbetis, Nectarius Kurbetis, George Kozulin, Kirill Kozulin, Trofim Kozulin, Basil Pervushin, Eugene Romanovsky, Michael Styrkul, Theodore Styrkul, Alexei Tobolov, Basil Tobolov, Anatoly Tretyakov, Damian Ford and Michael Yakimov. Ten to fifteen volunteers began to come every Saturday to build. At times others who had no building experience helped them. Some Saturdays drew forty and even sixty persons.

It is difficult to list all the tasks taken on by the volunteers. Every year, a detailed report on the project was written. This began with the heavy work in digging the foundation, the installation of a steel armature, the pouring of cement, welding, etc. In total, all the concrete work, carpentry, metal work, stuccoing, painting, detailing, the assembly and finishing the cupolas, drums, bell tower spire, doors, and the internal work took our workers 10-12 years of labor. Over the last 5-7 years, the fresco work was partially done, the iconostasis and altar table carved, the icons painted for the iconostasis (executed by Archimandrite Alexis [Rosentool] and Antonina Ganina; carved by Sergei Anikeev and Michael Bendryshev). These last years, the community center was built, and the volunteers steered their efforts to this project. This large building occupies 450 square meters. It consists of a basement, which is for the time being used as a workshop and for storage; a main storey which includes a hall, a restaurant-grade kitchen and restrooms; and an upper floor where a kiosk, library, classrooms, showers, restrooms and a small superintendent's apartment are planned.

Last year the hall was finished, a concrete parking lot around the church, and the landscaping has begun. This work would not be possible without the stream of donations from individuals and collections made by the Building Fund, the Sisterhood, the kiosk, the Cathedral Choir, the Women's Chamber Chorus and others. By June 30, 2006, expenditures on the project totaled $3,526,730. In addition to this amount, some two million dollars of volunteer labor was donated. Building such a large church complex today would cost no less than seven million dollars. A parish chronicle has been proposed to preserve this effort for posterity. The names of the builders, consultants, main donors and parish workers are all included in the aforementioned documentary. Only the upper floor remains to be completed, and the payment of outstanding debts on the construction of the church hall. A new stage in the life of the Parish now lies ahead.

On September 24, His Eminence Archbishop Hilarion performed the great consecration of the Cathedral along with its clergymen and visiting clergy. Today our Cathedral opens its doors for regular services, and the church hall will host the traditional Melbourne Sunday luncheons, which have for decades gathered the parishioners at the table after Divine Liturgy. The old cathedral will not be left without divine services, either. This will be the first time in our Diocese that one parish will be accommodated by two churches. This is made possible by the fraternal clerical staff consisting of three priests and a deacon.

Protopriest Nicholas Karipoff
Parish Rector