November 6, 2015, was the 50 th anniversary since the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in San Francisco, CA. Protopriest Peter Perekrestov, Senior Priest of the cathedral, granted an interview to Zhurnal Moskovskoj Patriarchii (Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate) (November, 2015). This is what every cathedral should be doing for the health and growth of the Church in America!
– Reverend Father, how did the parish originate, and how was the cathedral built?
– Exactly 50 years ago, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the great miracle-worker of the 20th century, Archbishop John (Maximovich) celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in the newly-built cathedral of the Most-Holy Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in San Francisco.
The first Orthodox Christian parish in San Francisco, and in fact in the USA, was founded in 1868 in honor of St Alexander Nevsky (almost 100 years later, by decree of Archbishop John, No. 201, dated October 22, 1965, St Alexander was designated the heavenly patron of San Francisco, and his name is commemorated during every dismissal in the city’s churches).
The episcopal church, built in the wooden gothic style, was outfitted in the style of ancient Russian churches by a graduate of St Petersburg Academy of Art, GA Ilyin. This church still exists and is known as the “old cathedral.” After World War II, when several thousand Orthodox immigrants arrived from China and Europe, the church on Fulton Street proved too small, so the decision was made to build a new, large cathedral in the Russian style. The foundation was laid in 1961, and in 1965, a half a century ago, after no small effort and many temptations, construction was completed. Over the course of 20 years (only during the summer), the frescoes were painted by the main iconographer of the Russian diaspora, the late Archimandrite Kiprian (Pyzhov) of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. The iconostasis was made under his supervision in the workshop of the same monastery.
– In what was is the cathedral in San Francisco distinct from other Orthodox churches in America?
– The main thing, in my opinion, is that for 50 years, Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a daily basis. Our church is the only parish church in North America, in any jurisdiction, that maintains the full cycle of daily services. Another thing: our cathedral contains the uncorrupted and miracle-working relics of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. We often say that the main reason that San Francisco, with all its beauty and all its sins, survives to this day because of the daily Liturgies and the relics of Vladyka John.
– Are there any other relics in the cathedral?
– The cathedral has many holy relics and icons: a portion of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord, some 200 relics, from Apostle Andrew the First-Called and St Mary Magdalene, First Martyr Archdeacon Stephan, Great Martyr Barbara, St Spyridon of Tremithus, Great Martyr Panteleimon, and St Luke of Crimea, Blessed Matrona of Moscow and St Nikolai of Zica. Among other relics is the altar cross from 16 th -century Byzantium. This cross, which was broken into pieces, was purchased by Fr Kiprian from an antiques gallery, restored it himself and placed in Holy Trinity Church in Jordanville. But it turned out to be too large for the altar, and in 2006, our First Hierarch at the time, Metropolitan Laurus, gave the cross to our cathedral. The cathedral also has a Church Slavonic Bible published during the time of Tsar Mikhail Feorodorich in the 17 th century, the skufia of St Mitrophan of Voronezh, the belt of St John of Kronstadt, a banner of the Simbirsk Cadet Corps saved from destruction by the communists, bashlyks –[Cossack headdress] of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas and Tsarevich Alexei, the Royal Family’s bible, a portion of the bloodied wall of Ipatiev House, where the Royal Family and their faithful servants were martyred, donated by Grand Duke Nikita Alexandrovich Romanov, as well as an icon of the Mother of God “Blessed Heaven,” which accompanied the Royal Family to exile in Ekaterinburg.
I would especially like to note that we have a new icon, of the heavenly patrons of San Francisco. It depicts ten saints who either lived here or passed through here, or were martyred here. These include Patriarch Tikhon the Confessor, St Innokenty of Moscow, St Nikolai of Serbia, St Nikolai of Japan, Holy Martyr Fr Alexander Khotovitsky and Martyr Peter the Aleut. This year the Serbian Church canonized a native San Franciscan, the first Orthodox priest born in America, St Sevastian (Dabovic) of Jackson, and also Serbian hierarch St Mordarij, who served in Chicago and often visited our city. We hope that in the near future we will receive an icon of St Sevastian with a portion of his relics.
– Tell us about the clergymen who have served at the San Francisco cathedral over this half century.
– First of all, St John (Maximovich) was bishop here, as well as Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) for many years, the author of what in my opinion is the best services to the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, liturgically and hymnographically speaking. Actually, during the 88 years of our existence, we had more than a few wonderful priests and clergymen. I recall a former prisoner of Solovetsky prison camp, Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, the author of the two-tomed New Martyrs of Russia. A clergyman of Chinese descent, Protopresbyter Ilia Wen, who died at the age of 110. Master of Theology Protopriest Nikolai Dombrovsky. Bishop Nektary (Kontsevich), the spiritual son of the last Optina Elder Nektary. We also had legendary protodeacons, Nikolai Patoev and Nikolai Porshnikov. In the 1960, the psalm-reader was Eugene Rose, the future Hieromonk Seraphim, the ascetic and author of spiritual works. The choir director for many years was the renowned composer of the Russian diaspora, Michael Konstantinov.
– Do you have your own traditions for divine services?
– The structure of divine services at the cathedral developed under the first clergymen of our parish. They were either emigres from old Russia, or arrived in San Francisco through China, where church life was carefully preserved on the basis of old Russian tradition. From 1962-2000, the rectors of the cathedral were Archbishop John (Maximovich), then Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), who were both students of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory. They paid special attention t the order, dynamics and meaning of divine services. So on one hand, our services are solemn, and on the other, there are interesting traditions established primarily by St John. For instance, before the Eucharistic prayers, the concelebrating clergymen approach the altar table and in hushed tones say the prayers along with the bishop or senior priest. The royal doors and deacon’s doors are closed not after Liturgy on Bright Saturday , but during vigil on the eve of “anti-Pascha,” the Sunday after Pascha, during the singing of “the doors were shut,” the first sticheron after “Lord I called thee.”
Also, we remove the plashchanitsa from the altar table not on the apodosis of Pascha, but after the end of Liturgy on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, after the Holy Chalice is brought out, as the priest utters the words
“Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Thy glory over all the earth.”
For a half a century now, in the tradition of Uspensky Cathedral in Moscow, we have the rite of the washing of the feet on Great Thursday, and the full anathema rite during the Sunday of Orthodoxy. On Pascha, and for the rest of the forty days, in accordance to pre-Revolutionary tradition, we don the white vestments. Many who visit us think that we are not a parish but a monastic church, because they see our small daily services with a few worshipers singing simple monastic melodies.
– In 2006, your cathedral hosted the historic 4 th All-Diaspora Church Council, during which the question of reestablishing communion within the Russian Orthodox Church was deliberated…
– Yes, and this wasn’t the only event important for the Russian Church that occurred within these walls. Here, in the cathedral, the heavenly protector of North America, St Herman of Alaska, was canonized, as were the Holy Martyrs of China and St John (Maximovich). Three all-diaspora youth conferences were held here, as well as Councils of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and meetings of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR. Our parish welcomed holy relics and icons-the miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign,” the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, the Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon, the “Reigning,” “Sitka” and “Softener of Evil Hearts” icons.
– Do many pilgrims visit you?
– Our cathedral is visited by Orthodox Christians from throughout the world, since the uncorrupt relics of St John are here. We constantly welcome visitors from Russia, Serbia, Romania, Australia, Greece, Georgia, Jerusalem, Ukraine, and of course, from the US and Canada. In early September, our cathedral welcomed His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, and primates of other Local Churches, pious elders from Russia, Sinai, Mt Athos, renowned theologians, famous politicians, scholars, athletes and artists. Many consider our cathedral to be the main one in America. Of course, there are other churches in the USA that are larger, richer than ours, maybe even more beautiful, where they sing beautifully and great preachers speak. But probably only one church in America attracts pilgrims from afar, our cathedral and the relics of St John.
– How close are your ties to Russia?
– Parish life in the Russian Church Abroad always had ties to Russia, to Russian Orthodoxy. We have tried to preserve the spiritual legacy of Holy Russia. The Church Abroad did not separate itself from the Russian people and the once-persecuted Church in Russia. In the 1990’s, an organization called “Ochag” [“hearth”] was established to help Russian Orthodox Christians. Containers with humanitarian aid were sent to Russia, hundreds of spiritual books, monetary donations, computer technology and even printing equipment. “By its character and sweep of social and philanthropic activity, the Russian community of San Francisco is deemed among the greatest centers of the entire Russian diaspora,” wrote Professor AA Khisamutdinov of Vladivostok in his book “Russian San Francisco.”
When the Iron Curtain fell, people from Russia started to come to San Francisco: writers, social activists. We often organized events for them to speak, and our parishioners listened with interest to descriptions of life in contemporary Russia. In 2004, before the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Church, we hosted the next All-Diaspora Youth Conference in which a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate first participated, Protopriest Maksim Kozlov. Now, bishops and priests from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine serve in our cathedral almost every month, and our cathedral’s clergymen, in turn, visit these countries and participate in the church life of the Local Orthodox Churches. It is worth noting that the clergymen and faithful from Russia generously donate to the maintenance of our cathedral. If in the past we helped parishes in Russia, in recent years, Russian often support us and help with renovation and maintenance of our cathedral.
– Do you have a lot of parishioners today? Who are they?
– Today our parish is not very big, but it is comprised of a wide variety of people: old emigres from China and Europe, their descendants, some of them married to Americans, new converts among them, Eritreans, Serbs and Romanians, immigrants from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. During Saturday vigil and late Sunday Liturgy, about half of the worshipers are pilgrims and visitors to the city, for many tourists come to San Francisco. The Lord leads many different kinds of people to us, and they arrive from different paths. Besides our own parishioners, there are many whom I call “satellites,” that is people who in one way or another are connected to our cathedral or St John. These include people who once lived in San Francisco, those who come for holidays and celebrations, pilgrims who often turn to St John for help and ask for our prayers, people who were miraculously healed or aided through prayers to him. These are people from all over Europe and Russia, who maintain ties with us, because they love him, and they are connected to us with living threads of love. I also consider them our parishioners. Thank God, church life in our cathedral, built a half a century ago, continues blessedly and joyfully.
Protopriest Peter Perekrestove is the Senior Priest of the cathedral and Secretary of the Spiritual Court of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America. He was born on August 14, 1956 in Montreal, Canada. In 1978 he graduated from Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY. Since 1980 he has been a cleric of the cathedral in San Francisco. In the 1990’s he became the Diocesan Secretary. In 2004 he was a delegate of the official ROCOR visit to Russia headed by Metropolitan Laurus. In May, 2006, he was a delegate of the 4 th All-Diaspora Church Council of ROCOR, and its Senior Secretary. In May, 2007, an official delegate of ROCOR in Moscow during the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Peter James says
Wonderful but not the first Orthodox parish in the USA in 1868. The year before the USA had acquired Alaska with its thriving orthodox community!!
Some day I will visit this glorious church, by the prayers of St. John. He has heard and answered so many of my prayers. I love him like I knew him personally.