Interview with Protopriest Nicholas Karipoff,
Rector of Protection Church in Melbourne, Australia
The online publication Unification interviewed Protopriest Nicholas Karipoff, Rector of Protection Church in Melbourne, Australia.
Protopriest Nicholas Karipoff participated in a benefit luncheon for the Orthodox convent being built in Bungarby, Australia. Fr Nicholas spoke with the editor of the online publication Unification, on the completion of the painting of frescoes to mark the 70th anniversary of the parish, on his ministry with youth, whom he instructs via an “online institute.”
Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in Melbourne was founded in 1949, and this year is marking its 70th anniversary. Many ships bearing refugees from the West and the East were landing in Australia in those years, people who had endured the burdens of war and tried to find a safe haven for themselves and their children. Two large waves of immigrants, tens of thousands of Russians from the displaced-persons (DP) camps in post-War Europe, and also from Shanghai, Harbin who were forced to flee China, came to their new home. After a brief sojourn in the emigre camps in Bonagilla, Bathurst and Greta, families headed for work and settled in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Newcastle, Perth and Tasmania. Russian Orthodox Churches were soon established in all these locations.
Services in the nascent Melbourne parish began in rented premises, and in 1954, they bought an Anglican church building which they transformed into an Orthodox church. Soon it was no longer able to accommodate the worshipers, who numbered 500-600 on holidays. In the 1970’s, Priest Vladimir Evsyukov, then Fr Nicholas Karipoff, his replacement since 1981, and the parish administration, decided to build a new church. They selected and purchased a parcel of land in East Brunswick. Preparations for construction dragged on with more than one quarrel about whether they should build, and if so, where to obtain financing. Despite all of that, a beautiful cathedral rose up with five golden cupolas and a bell tower, along with a large parish hall. The work of countless volunteers limited the construction costs without sacrificing quality; the entire project cost only $3.5 million, which is incredible. In 2006, Vladyka Hilarion performed the great consecration of the new Protection Cathedral, and since then, regular divine services are performed there, a Russian school is operated in the parish hall, and there are traditional trapeza luncheons after Sunday Liturgy.
Construction was completed over a decade ago, but improvement continue, new icons are obtained, frescoes are now being painted. The newest of all Russian churches in Australia became one of the most beautiful. Many years of labor and persistence of clergymen and parishioners brought forth wonderful results, which will serve the community for many decades.
— Fr Nicholas, how are the frescoes coming?
— The completion of the frescoes is at about 80%. Of course, it’s very expensive. Recently we succeeded in obtaining authorization from the Australian Cultural Foundation which will allow donations to be temporarily tax-deductible. Not only parishioners but Australian locals have responded with donations, totaling almost $98,000 so far.
— We at Unification have also advertised the effort and we’re happy to see it succeed.
— Of course, that helped. Now we’re completing a fresco covering Gospel passages. The northern part of the vaults are done, we’re working on the southern side now. The fresco scheme is pretty complicated, there are three levels: the upper level includes angels and scenes of heavenly life; the middle tier is history through the prism of feast days of the Lord. The lowest tier includes the Gospel cycle. The depictions are chronological; one scene follows the last. The main concept and most of the painting is done by Antonina Ganina, but we collaborated with her on the design. Helping Ganina are three other icon-painters. Archimandrite Alexis (Rosentool) recenty painted a large triptych, Fr George Laparding, the Senior Priest of the Sydney cathedral, painted a series of icons, and another of the cathedral’s icon painter is the splendid artist and carver Vladimir Tsurkan.
— Is there a deadline for completion of the project?
— This July our parish will celebrate its 70th anniversary. We would like to organize a series of events to mark the occasion, including the completion of the frescoes. We will make an announcement when the decision is made. In Melbourne we have a number of interesting events planned; recently your publication wrote about this, a Russian festival was held during Cheesefare Week. It took place on the church premises, and across the street.
— How is the parish changing? We understand that the older generation is fading, so who is replacing them?
— We are obviously at a crossroads; changes await us. I am thinking about transferring more responsibilities to the new generation. Now we wish to attract young families to active parish work, to social and cultural activity.
— Can you name some of the young families you refer to?
— Of course, we have a lot of young families, many children, which is a great joy. I am talking not only about our parish, but look at the problem more broadly, to understand how we who live in a foreign land with a different language and culture, will continue to develop in the future. Many parishioners want portions of divine services to be conducted in English. We cannot remain a closed ghetto and stew in our own juices, we must be open to Australian life and society. At the same time, we must preserve our identity.
— What are the first steps to be taken in this regard?
— At the recent cultural festival I mentioned, we opened the doors to our church, and a great many people came to see it, among them native Australians. Many of our neighbors entered the church for the first time. “We have always admired the exterior of the church and wondered what the inside looked like,” they would say. They listened attentively to our explanations and admired the frescoes.
Since we live in Australia, we have a lot of mixed marriages both in the old and new emigration; we can’t lose these people.
— There are several church choirs in Sydney that include many young people.
— In Melbourne we also have a magnificent choir and two choir directors. One is Nikolai Kovalenko who also works with Australian choruses. We have held concerts of liturgical music not only by Russian choirs but by Australians who sing Church Slavonic. This helped draw a larger audience, with whom we shared our spiritual wealth.
— Your cathedral has several priests.
— We have four priests and a deacon. This allows us to use the priests in various ways. Bishop George is working towards getting young people who are active in the Church, including readers and subdeacons, to gain a theological education. Our diocese has established an on-line college. It is fully accredited and attached to Adelaide University, and is authorized to issue diplomas.
— That is to say, they don’t have to travel to Jordanville?
— That is correct. We’ve lost a large number of clergymen who remained in America after graduating from Jordanville. Many go there, meet Russian-American girls, get married and stay.
Today among the students of our online institute are parishioners from Sydney and Melbourne. We began classes last year, and I taught the first-semester course “Introduction to Christian Thought.” For more information you can visit SS Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Institute, www.scmoi.edu.au. Our Director, Professor Revernd Peter Hill, lives in Adelaide, Fr Michael lives in Victoria, and students live in Australia and even New Zealand.
— Thank you. I see that there’s a great deal of progress in the Melbourne community. We congratulate you on your upcoming anniversary, and hope that Unification continues to spread word of the Melbourne parishes, plus the ROCOR parishes in Dandenong and Djeelong, as well as parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate.