Russkii Viestnik -- August 15, 1925The Decennial Jubilel of the First Independent Orthodox Church in America By T. Peshkov
The Cause and Origin of the Church.
For those who are not interested in questions of religion, it is difficult to understand the cause of the origin of the first Independent Orthodox Parish in Chicago. It may appear bewildering how plain Christian believers could undertake such a revolutionary feat as to secede from the Synod Mission and to found their own Independent Orthodox Church, to elect a priest who would suit them, to issue their own certificates of birth, which prompted the Mission and the tsar's consulates in America to persecute severely those who did it. There are also many who think that the originators of such revolutionary acts were not believers, but bolsheviki, Socialists or heterodox Sectarians. This is not true.
The founders of the first Independent Orthodox Church of the Saint and 2and great martyr, George the Victorious, were profoundly religious, earnest men. They did not even believe in the necessity of any changes in their faith and endeavored to preserve all the rituals of the Orthodox Church. Not the leaders of the bolsheviki, or of the Socialists, or of any heterodox Sectarians have forced the believing Russian people of Chicago to build their own church at 917 N. Wood St., but the leaders of the Synod Mission in America.
I shall not enumerate the defects of the Russian Orthodox Mission in America, for much has been written about that by others, but I shall try to describe the condition of Russians in Chicago in the year 1915. At that time there were believed to be in that large city and its suburbs about 25,000 Russians belonging to the Orthodox Church, and for all this large number of people there were only two Orthodox churches. It can be safely said that 95% of all the Russian immigrants in Chicago were at that time peasant from the western provinces of Russia. Russian intellectuals were almost entirely absent, and if a few were there, these few did not belong to any of the Russian organizations. At that time 3there existed in Chicago two Russian branches of the Socialist Party; but in both these branches there were altogether no more than 100 regular members, and of these 90% were Jews. There was a society for relief to political exiles, but here also the great majority of the members were Jews. Some Bulgarian had some protestant mission on Maxwell Street, where some fifteen Russian Sectarians used to attend meetings. There existed also a small group of Russian Baptists, whose leaders and preachers were Letts. There was a union of Russian workmen. This group was also very small and had fallen entirely under the influence of the I. W. W. As to bolshevism, nobody knew anything about that except a few Socialists. Letts, Jews and Bulgarians could not attract to their organizations even one hundredth part of the Russian colony of Chicago. The great majority of the Russians did not belong to any organizations. Those who had families and the majority of those who were single belonged to the church. Being members of the church they had to baptize their children in the church to which they belonged, to get married there and to have the funeral rites performed by the 4church if some member of the family would die. Thus most of the Russians in Chicago were bound by strong ties to the church. Most of these believers did not know at that time the American customs and the English language, and because of that they could get only the hardest and most dangerous jobs paying the least remuneration. They could be exploited by anybody who would choose to do so, for there was nobody there to protect them.
With their hard-earned money the Russians built a fine church on Leavitt Street; they were paying good money to the priest for performing the church rites and donated money for the adornment of the church; but they did not have the right to demand from the priests any reports about the spending of the money. According to the testimony of former parishioners of the church of the Holy Trinity, the committee of that parish requested the priest Vladimir to give an account of the money he had spent. But Father Vladimir did not give any account and threatened that anybody who would start a revolt against his rule, would be arrested.5
The committee reported all that to the parishioners, and these decided to demand at all costs that the clergy would give an account of how they were spending the money. One Sunday the parishioners of the church of the Holy Trinity were so revolted by the high-handed way in which the priest was acting, that after the service they remained in the church and demanded that the priest give them right away an account of the way he had spent the money. The priest was just expecting that something like that would happen so that he could find some pretext for teaching a lesson to the "rascally rebels." He called the police and told the policemen to arrest the instigators of this mutiny, and of such instigators there were about two hundred. All the "mutineers" were arrested in the church and taken to the police station. The matter was taken up by the court, and the priest declared under oath that he did not know those parishioners who had been married by him and whose children he had baptized. The parishioners were obliged to pay the lawyers, the costs and a fine. The parishioners complained to the bishop, but the latter took the side of the priest. The state of affairs 6became so serious that the bishop had to come to Chicago in order to pacify the "rebellious" parishioners. A meeting of all the parishioners was called, and bishop Alexander himself in the speech he made tried to whitewash the priest and to persuade the parishioners to return again to the old parish. But the parishioners felt insulted and angry and were not inclined to submit to the rule of the clergy. Instead of that they elected representatives who told the bishop about all that had happened in the parish. After this meeting, arranged by the bishop, the parishioners felt still more angry. The bishop did not punish the priest neither for the arrest of innocent parishioners, nor for hitting some of them on their heads, nor for forswearing himself.
The whole Russian colony learned about that which had happened in the parish of the Holy Trinity church. Many of the Russian Orthodox people lost at that time all faith, not only in the church, but also in God. Some of these disappointed men took to drinking, began to lead an immoral life, to play cards, and forgot about their wives, fathers and mothers 7in Russia. Some others joined the I. W. W.; others again became Baptists or even Roman-Catholics and renegades, having renounced all that was Russian and fallen entirely under the influence of the Polish clergy. But the members of the Brotherhood of the Saint and Great Martyr George the Victorious, being men for whom their faith in the Orthodox Christian religion and in God was far more precious than any mortal priests and bishops, after holding several meetings decided to build their own church and to request the archbishop, Yevdokim Meshchersky himself, to give them a good priest. They collected about $1,000, bought from some Germans two houses at 917 N. Wood Street, and converted one of these houses into a church and the other into quarters for a school and parsonage.
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