[Interview] -- November 30, 1936Interview with Mr. N. I. Kozak: Historical Information about the Society
The Russian Independent Mutual Aid Society was founded in Chicago in 1912, but at that time its name was Russian National Orthodox Society (Russkoye Narodnoye Pravoslavonoye Obshchestvo). On the day of the Russian Easter in 1912 a very large crowd of people had gathered at the Russian church of the Holy Trinity on Leavitt Street. Naturally, the amount of money collected was also very large, - it amounted to $600. The members of the church committee counted the money and gave it to the priest, Rev. L. Alexandrov. The latter declared on the next day, after the church service, that he had received only $500, which was not true. When the committee demanded that the priest show the entry made in the debit and credit book of the church, the priest not only refused to do so but berated the members of the committee, and declared that all those who did not trust him would be driven from the St. Nicholas Brotherhood of which he was the chairman, and that new officers of the fraternity and the parish would be elected. Many of the 2members of the fraternities of St. Nicholas and of the Holy Trinity were revolted by the dishonesty of the priest and insulted by the way he had treated them. They consulted about the best way of protecting their interests from the greed and arbitrary rule of the dishonest priest. Ultimately they decided that they should form a new fraternity and not admit the priest to the office of chairman. The "rebels" started to organize the new fraternity and mutual aid society which would unite the members of both the St. Nicholas and the Holy Trinity fraternities in one organization. But they met with the opposition of the priest. The first meeting of the new society was held in the school building connected with the church of the Holy Trinity. Just as the meeting had been opened by a prayer, the irate priest rushed into the room where the meeting was being held and started to drive them out of it, shouting at them all kinds of insults. But those who had gathered refused to disperse. Then the priest called for the police which arrived and cleared the room.3
Many of those who had come to the meeting decided that they would not be intimidated by these violent methods of the priest. They went to the Columbia Hall on Division Street.
The speakers almost unanimously declared themselves for the unification of the two fraternities into a new one which should bear the name of Fraternity of St. George the Victorious (Polyedonosets), who is greatly revered in Russia. Most of the speakers agreed also to the proposal of leaving the mutual aid society connected with the Leavitt Street Church and organizing a new society which would be quite independent of that church.
Mr. Michael Pasyuk, who was at that time chairman of the fraternity of of the Holy Trinity, spoke as follows: "For us, who have all been expelled from the fraternity, there is no more room in it. We have to work now independently of those who remain with the Leavitt Street Church. We shall be able to satisfy our religious needs without these 4people. Perhaps we shall not get another priest, but we shall find some way out of this difficulty." Voices were also heard warning that the enemies of the emancipation of the Russian workers from the autocratic rule of some selfish and scheming priests would not give up their power without struggle and would not mind using dishonest means of attaining their aims.
One of these far-sighted members, Mr. I. Putilovsky, spoke about the danger approximately as follows: "We have been expelled from Leavitt Street, but you must realize that this is not all...., we shall again meet with opposition from our enemies. But we must not be disheartened. We must behave ourselves as it behooves gentlemen; we must be sober and seek scientific knowledge and enlightenment. Our enemies are not sleeping. They will denounce us to the authorities as dangerous disturbers of peace in order to interfere by such means with our legitimate pursuits. But we shall not return to Leavitt Street. We are about 300 men, and we 5need not be afraid of anything. The laws of the United States will protect us."
Unfortunately, Mr. Putilovsky was right. The scheming priest made another attempt to prevent the formation of a new mutual aid society and fraternity of which he would not be the boss. As he had found out that he had to deal with a very numerous opposition, he pretended to be willing to conclude peace with it. He invited the "rebels" to a meeting to be held in the church, telling them that, as Christians, they should seek a peaceful way out of the conflict. The "rebels," thinking that he may be sincerely wishing a reconciliation, went to the meeting. But what reception did they find there? When they had come to the church the priest sent for the police. As soon as he found that his opponents were not intimidated by him and spoke up and criticized his conduct, he called the police and 6had sixteen of the most energetic members of the opposition arrested. During the disturbance which the intervention of the police had created, the priest hit several of his opponents with a cross that he was holding in his hand.
In spite of all that, the new fraternity was organized and its members begged the Russian archbishop in New York, the Most Rev. Alexander (Nemolovsky) to send them a new priest. But the Russian ecclesiastical authorities in New York insisted that the members of the new Fraternity should repent and submit to the old priest. This they would not do. They bought a house on Wood Street which could be easily converted into a church building, and Mr. Ioakim Tsekalo who had been elected chairman of the new parish ultimately found the right person to fill the office of priest. It was the Rev. Timofey Pyeshkov, an able and energetic man. Thanks to him the new parish developed an intense activity. A school was founded, lectures were organized, and new fraternities and branches 7of the Russian National Orthodox Society (as the new mutual aid society was called at that time) arose. This society helps its members in case of sickness and gives relief to the widows and orphans. All the church and other property is owned by the society, and the priest of the parish is not appointed from New York, but is invited by the society and paid by it for the work done in connection with his priestly office. In this the Russian Independent Mutual Aid Society, as it is called at present, differs from the fraternities and mutual aid societies connected with the Leavitt Street Church, where the parishioners and their organization have to submit entirely to the rule of their clergy, the latter being the legal owner of all property belonging to the church.
The Russian Independent Mutual Aid Society had a hard time, financial and other difficulties, during the revolution in Russia which affected also the Russian organizations in other countries. Yet the society had been steadily growing. It has eighteen branches at present, of which ten are in Chicago and suburbs.8
Note: This historical sketch has been compiled by me partly from oral information given to me by Mr. Kozak, partly from the Russian National Almanac, J. J. Voronko, ed., Chicago: The Russian National Orthodox Society, 1929. This almanac contains several short notices about the history and activities of the Russian Independent Mutual Aid Society. Cf. especially pp. 78-81.
II D 1, III C
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