Holy Virgin Cathedral: Reflections on the Beginnings
Reminiscences of V. L. Maleev about the Founding of the Parish Church in the city of Los Angeles
The first idea of founding a parish was voiced in the fall of 1922 among a group of Russian immigrants who, on the initiative of E.A. Begliarov, secretary of the Russian Department of the International Institute, gathered from time to time in a building of the International Youth Club on Pleasant Avenue. In November 1922, E. A. Begliarov sent around an invitation to all Russians (whose addresses he had) to a meeting to consider the question of a Russian Church. At that meeting appeared 12-15 people of whom I remember: V.M. Zaikovsky, N.P. Maleev, V.A. Pleshkov, K.V. Iakovlev and, as I recall, S.A. Rastegin. At the meeting it was decided to try to arrange for church services in the Russian language. It was also decided to invite older Russian immigrants, like N. I. Belikov, T.N. Dol, and others. Professor V.L. Maleev was elected President of the organizing group; Co-President, V. M. Zaikovsky; Treasurer. V.A. Pleshkov; Secretary, K.V. Iakovlev. These persons were given the task of finding a Priest and a place for Divine Services. In San Francisco at that time there was already both a large space providing many Russian church on Green Street and its Rector, Father Vladimir Sakovich, who had shortly before this come to Los Angeles and served in the Orthodox Serbian Church.
Through Father Sakovich, we succeeded in getting Father Paul Razumov, who had recently arrived from China. Father Razumov arrived soon after Nativity and served the 2nd and 3rd Liturgies on Sundays in the Serbian Church. However, the Serbian Church and the cemetery where it had been built were at that time located on the easternmost boundary of the city, and not many Russians were agreeable to traveling there.
K.V. Iakovlev, who knew English very well indeed and had many American acquaintances and friends, found out that the Episcopalians had a church on the corner of 9th and Wilson where services were no longer being held. After approaching the head of the Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, Bishop Stephens, K.V. Iakovlev received permission from him for the use of the Church building at no cost and indefinitely, as well as the hall under the Church building for meetings. At that Church there was a large space providing many spaces for cars. The manager, the Episcopalian nun Sister Mary, was an extremely happy sort in general and well-disposed to us Russians. Through her Father Razumov got a good apartment free, at the same Church, and M.N. Beloblodskaya, who organized the Church choir, got an apartment for a very very low rent.
The first Liturgy in that Church was celebrated by Father Razumov in February, 1923. For the occasion S. Rastegin, who was an expert in everything, made a very beautiful candlestand out of wood. Candles at that time were purchased from a store belonging to Roman Catholics. The wooden candlestand built by Rastegin still stands in our Church. On those rare occasions when Father Razumov could not serve, he was replaced by Father Sebastian Karpenko. The parish in those days was very poor, and we were unable to pay a Priest more than fifty dollars a month. In order to exist in such circumstances, Father Razumov worked weekdays in one of the city’s buildings operating the elevator.
After Liturgies Matushka Ann Vasilievna Razumova would invite the active members of the parish for a cup of tea in their apartment, and it was at those teas that the idea was born of founding a Ladies’ Circle with the purpose of working for the magnificence of the church services, obtaining icons, vestments for the Priest and decorating the Church on the Great Feasts. The first President of it was T.N. Dol and an active role was taken by O.I. Bekish (relative of Metropolitan Ireney +B.T), M.N. Beloblotskaya and others.
Administratively and spiritually our Church was actually in the care of Metropolitan Platon, but partially under the direction of the Vicar Bishop of Chicago, Most Reverend Theophilus. Bishop Theophilus’s son, Boris Pashkovich, lived at that time in Los Angeles and was a member of our parish. Among those who took part in the activities of our parish at that time one must mention: N.J. Beliakov, K.I. Dragun, I.I. Nasedkin, P.I. Orlov, I.K. Reutovich, A.K. Kostygin (also a member of the Committee)(who is now a Priest in the San Francisco Cathedral), N.I.Damaskin, F.A. Lodyzhensky, M.I. Vavich, and I.I. Rasson. The life of the parish flowed along peacefully. The number of parishioners grew; the financial situation improved and there appeared, though not that much, some money in the bank. People began to say that it would be good to build their own Church. This was given a push by a good collection of money—taken up during the meal after the Paschal Liturgy in, I think, the spring of 1924.The money from that collection, together with that saved up previously, appeared to be enough for a down payment for a piece of property for the Church. There could be no question of a Church in the center of the city, and everyone agreed to buy two good lots in the new area around Ramon Boulevard. Some thought this was too remote for most, but agreed that this represented a necessary economy. And so it seemed. At the end of 1927, when it seemed the amount was just about all collected, it was found to be enough to buy a lot on Micheltorena Street, a purchase that we could not even think of in 1924.
From the very start of the parish until 1926 the President of the Church Committee was uninterruptedly V.L. Maleev who at the annual general meeting in 1926 declined to be on the ballot and nominated F.A. Ladyzhensky as President. The following year F.A. Tolubeyev was elected President, and one must attribute the success in building the Church on Micheltorena to his energy and abilities. He also selected the name: the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God: “Rescuer of the Perishing,” that is located in Moscow in the Church of Christ’s Nativity “on Palashakh” and which is celebrated on February 5th, old style.
In conclusion it must be added that for the Church building eight icons on the Iconostasis and many others were painted at no charge by General Anatoly L’vovich Schultz, who was one of the most energetic raisers of money in building the Church and also Starosta for many long years.
Parish History 1973-1983
by Archpriest Stephen Fitzgerald
Fifty years of the Holy Virgin Mary parish came to a conclusion with the jubilee celebration of February, 1973. At the anniversary banquet at the Roger Young Auditorium, the parish Starosta, Mr. Ilarion (“Larry”) Worontzoff, rose and began to give a truly inspirational address to the assembled guests. At a particularly exalted moment in this address, he collapsed and fell asleep in the Lord. It had been a glorious day—His Beatitude Metropolitan Ireney and His Eminence Archbishop John had presided over church services. Fr. Dimitri’s son, Seraphim, had been ordained Deacon at the Divine Liturgy. During the same Liturgy, Fr. Dimitry was awarded the privilege of wearing the jeweled pectoral cross. Fr. Dimitri’s health problems were brought on, in the writer’s opinion, by long years of overwork and the stresses of building up and maintaining, in the face of the onslaught of visible and invisible enemies, especially at the time of the controversies accompanying the attainment of a fully canonical and independent (autocephalous) status by the national Orthodox Church in America, of the oldest and largest Russian parish in Los Angeles, and, by 1980, in the Diocese of the West. While financial and material burdens are borne, more or less, by all the parish, the main part of spiritual burden had to borne in this case by Fr. Dimitri. That the parish survived the attacks of these irrational forces so well, when many did not, is due in large part to Fr. Dimitri’s wise and energetic, and self- sacrificing leadership.
So it was that Fr. Dimitri’s retirement was greeted with many tears, and feelings of insecurity, and while Fr. Dimitri’s retirement dinner in the parish hall was marked by splendid greetings from church and civic leaders, including His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, and Fr. Dimitri’s childhood friend, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, still the whole parish had to now gather together the strengths it had built up under Fr. Dimitri’s pastorship and rely on the Lord God to continue to bless all the activities leading to the salvation of mankind.
The Parish Council, together with Fr. Dimitri, forwarded a resolution to Metropolitan Theodosius, then “locum tenens” of our diocese, asking the Fr. Stephen would be appointed Rector and another priest be appointed as assistant. While Fr. Stephen was appointed rector immediately, it took some time to locate a second priest. In the interim, Archimandrite Mark (Pemberton), on loan from the Antiochian Patriarchate, served at the English services, until, in June, Fr. Alexander Lisenko arrived in the parish from Santa Rosa, California. Fr. Alexander was uniquely suited for the next phase in parish life. Instead of, as in the past, one priest being assigned to do English services and one priest doing Slavonic services, and consequently, serving an “English side” and a “Russian side”, respectively, Fr. Stephen decided that each priest should serve the whole parish, and so the English and slavonic services are served alternately by both priests, and the idea of “sides” of the parish is therefore weakened or changed from a divisive to a complementary factor in parish life.
In July 1980, Bishop Basil tonsured V. Morosan and H. Soot Readers in his first official visit to our parish. In August the parish council voted to help out two new missions, in Sacramento and Santa Maria, with cash loans. In October a new liturgical custom was added to our already rich liturgical life. In view of the really large number of sick and elderly parishioners, Fr. Stephen instituted the practice of having a special prayer for the sick on the first Sunday of every month; thus, those who have loved ones in hospitals and convalescent homes, are urged to come to divine Liturgy, confess and commune, offering prosphora (altar breads) for the health of their loved ones, then having attained to the height of Communion with our Lord and the whole church, to lift up their hearts in redoubled prayers for the sick and diseased, handicapped, and those undergoing operation. At the parish feastday in 1981, a new portable icon, “Rescuer of the Perishing”, painted by a former parishioner, iconographer frene (Saruba) Guttierez, was donated to the Church by Mr. and Mrs. Gregory and dedicated by His Grace Bishop Basil. In March a group of parishioners got together and decided to form a local chapter of Religious Books for Russia, Inc. This organization, now headed by Mrs. M.R. Gisetti, is dedicated to seeing that works of religious literature of all kinds are sent, mostly by clandestine means, to be sure, to the Christians of the Soviet Union, who by government policy, are starved of such spiritual food. In May of the same year, this new benevolent society was joined in the parish by L.O.V.E.S. — a group of parishioners met with Fr. Alexander Lisenki and determined to do something about all those sick and older people living alone or in convalescent and rest homes, who feel forgotten and left out of society and church life. The name L.O.V.E.S. is an acronym for Los Angeles Orthodox Visitors to the Elderly and Sick. They now have their own van and regularly transport people to church as well as visit and cheer up shut-ins with regular programs. In the summer of 1981, parishioner Vincent Peterson graduated from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and took over the post of English Choir Director held by Alexander Cardenas since 1977. In the Fall, V. Morosan took a post at a college in North Carolina, and he was replaced by the famous Orthodox Choir Director, Michael Milosheff.
For some years the Saturday School had been experiencing a gradual decline in attendance; moreover, the character of its students had changed in that their parents had been mostly born, raised in the immigration and were not as proficient in the Russian language or the teachings of the Orthodox Church as those who had preceded them. Instruction became more and more difficult, since parents were able to give less and less in the way of home instruction, in many, many cases. Classes were changed from ten one-year grades to five two-year groups, and teaching methods were adapted more closely to those appropriate to the teaching Russian as a second language.
In July, 1982, Bishop Basil raised Fr. Stephen to the rank of Archpriest by decision of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. In September, Vincent Peterson decided to take another position in one of Detroit’s churches, and Alexander Ruggieri returned to Los Angeles in time to replace him. In the same month the decision of the Holy Synod to return to the civil calendar, that is, to return to the celebration of Christmas on December 25, as was done in pre-revolutionary Russia, was implemented in our parish, a step for which our parishioners had overwhelmingly voted as long ago as 1971. This gave rise to some sadness, unrest, and even misunderstandings at first, but as parishioners realized that the Holy Pascha and all the services and seasons dependent on it remained unchanged, these feelings did not develop into tragic ones.
All in all by the time of the 60th anniversary celebration of 1983, parishioners of our Holy Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Cathedral had no cause to be anything other than grateful to our merciful and compassionate God for all the blessings He has poured out us and continues to pour on us. We are alive and growing. We have a liturgical life unmatched by any other parish in the diocese. Our parish organizations are vigorous and working hard for the good of our Church and therefore of mankind. Throughout all the past ten before) our Sisterhood has been under the energetic direction of that unique person, Wulifert. She has been a true steward of entrusted to her by God and by the parish, and and loyal pillar of help to to the pastors of The ladies of the Sisterhood in their selfless need no special lessons in “Stewardship.” are themselves examples worthy of emulation Christian quality. We have to express gratitude impulses exist in our parish to do good for evidenced by the organization of the R.B.R. L.O.V.E.S. Such affiliate organizations as the which supports all Church functions, and helps national F.R.O.C. projects as well as local missions, the S.O.S. Fund, and the Hollywood Branch Russian Children’s Welfare society, Inc., also for hope that God will not desert us in the future, did not in the past. Thanks and Glory everything!
Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral was also a home parish for the famous Russian composer, Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, residing in L.A. for the past several years until his repose in 1943. This was also the place where his original funeral took place.