Vladimir Alexandrof

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Fr. Vladimir V. Alexandrof (Jul. 14, 1871 - May 20, 1945) (also Alexander, Alexandroff, Aleksandrov, and Alexandrov) was an early priest to the Russian Orthodox mission in North America. He was one of the first priests to visit Western Canada, and travelled extensively around the western United States, particularly to Montana. His life was filled with scandal and controversy, especially through his tenure at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago (which created the schism that led to the founding of St. George Cathedral there), the family scandal that marred his tenure at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, his return to Russia and embrace of the Soviet backed Living Church, lawsuits in Seattle he filed over church property, as well as his eventual departure from the Orthodox Church into the Roman Catholic Church.

Mission Priest

Fr. Vladimir V. Alexandrof was born in Russia, but came to the United States in order to be a missionary. He started his ministry in Seattle in 1896, where he served as a Reader at St. Spiridon Church in Seattle while Fr. Ambrose Vretta was priest. He also taught singing and prayers there. As a reader, he assisted Fr. Ambrose Vretta as Fr. Vretta helped establish Holy Trinity Church in Wilkenson, Washington. Fr. Alexandrov married sometime around 1898, and shortly thereafter (1898 or 1899) was ordained to the priesthood. He was assigned as priest of St. Spiridon after Fr. Vretta was recalled back to Russia.

During this time, before and after ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Alexandrof made trips to many far-flung locales in order to minister to Orthodox Christians in the wild and lonely areas of the western United States (including Washington state, Montana, and Oregon) and British Columbia and Alberta in western Canada. He was present, as choir director, at the first recorded Divine Liturgy in western Canada, which took place in Wostok (northeast of Edmonton) on July 18, 1897.

Tragedy

Unfortunately, tragedy would strike the Alexandrof household in Seattle. In January of 1904, the Alexandrofs' oldest child, five-year-old Nicholas, fell ill, and his father accidentally gave him a teaspoon of strychnine, used for poisoning rats and other vermin, mistaking it for the child's medicine, which was in an identical bottle. The child Nicholas died as a result. Fr. Alexandrof was allow to continue serving as a priest, but another tragedy would strike the family in Seattle, that being the destruction of their home by fire.

Transfer East

After these incidents, Fr. Alexandrof would request a transfer to go east in order to try to leave behind the terrible sadness that Seattle held for him. He was first transferred to a parish in Pennsylvania, and then to Three Saints Church in Ansonia, Connecticut. While in Connecticut, Fr. Alexandrof helped the Orthodox community in Springfield, Vermont establish a church there.

Transfer to Chicago

In January of 1910, Fr. Alexandrof was transferred to Holy Trinity Church (now Cathedral) in Chicago. Holy Trinity was one of the most prestigious Russian churches in the United States, but by this time, finances were a concern and they needed someone who could help in this area. According to A History of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Chicago Fr. Alexandrof instituted a series of fees for services, and this seemed to help the financial situation somewhat. During his tenure at Holy Trinity, Fr. Alexandrof wrote that among the things he accomplished was helping support the parishes in Streator and Joliet and helped found the Protection of the Virgin Mary Church in Gary, Indiana (which has since moved to Merrillville, Indiana), as well as helped save Archangel Michael Church on Chicago's south side from becoming a Catholic "Uniate" parish. Furthermore, it was during this time that the "new" grand iconostasis in Holy Trinity was installed, and Fr. Alexandrof claimed credit for his contact with Charles Crane, the noted philanthropist, in getting this done.

However, there was trouble brewing with Fr. Alexandrof's time at Holy Trinity. One of the "reforms" that Fr. Alexandrof instituted was to change the deed for Holy Trinity so that instead of the "church trustees" holding the deed for the property, the ruling bishop would hold the deed. Holy Trinity's Parish Council approved this change early in 1911, although it was not a move that all agreed with.

Schism

This would not be the biggest trouble, though. Holy Trinity's Centennial book is very vague on details, citing the dispute between Fr. Alexandrof and a large portion of the Holy Trinity membership as probably stemming from an "unauthorized" land purchase of one of the church brotherhoods, the Russian newspapers in Chicago paint quite a different picture. According to them, on Pascha, 1912, the St. Nicholas brotherhood collected $600 in donations for the church. According to them, the count was witnessed and verified by brotherhood members. The next day, Fr. Alexandrof announced that the brotherhood had made a donation of $500. Knowing this to be in error, members of the brotherhood demanded to take a look at the entries made to the books regarding this. Fr. Alexandrof refused. As priest and head of the brotherhood, he also demanded that brotherhood members insisting on seeing this information be kicked off the board of the brotherhood. Chaos ensued, and Fr. Alexandrof called in the police, and, claiming that he didn't know who the "rabblerousers" were, had a large number of people arrested. Holy Trinity even footed the bill for prosecuting these people, one claim putting the price of this as high as $12,000, though by inspection of church books, it seems that the number was closer to $1000 (which was reimbursed to the church by the diocese).

The bishop was called in, and a second meeting was called. This "meeting" is notorious, since reportedly, things got so heated that Fr. Alexandrof took his cross and started hitting people over the head with it, allegedly injuring one woman in so doing.

Many of the Holy Trinity members who had been kicked out, getting no help from the bishop, decided to organize and create their own, "independent" Orthodox Church. They purchased a defunct Lutheran school located near to Holy Trinity, and over the course of the next couple of years, pooled their resources together to transform the building into the church. They also created their own brotherhood, and named both the brotherhood and the church after St. George. The bishop would have nothing to do with this parish, ignoring their requests for a priest or assistance, only receiving the message, once the property was purchased and the church built, that it would only be accepted as a parish if the property was deeded directly to the bishop. This church was to remain schismatic until the efforts of Bishop Leonty many years later.

(Chicago Russian papers also reported that after Fr. Alexandrof left, all the church financial records - except for records of Holy Trinity's debts - were "chewed by rodents", despite having been secured away in a lock box.)

Scandal in San Francisco

Fr. Alexandrof was soon moved from Holy Trinity in Chicago and eventually moved to Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, where he became head priest. In 1917, his wife, Rose, ran off with the assistant priest, Rev. Vasily Dvornikoff. They also absconded with $19,000 of the Alexandrofs' money, and tried to escape to Buenos Aires. Dvornikoff was arrested upon arrival to Argentina, and the pair were both sent back to the United States. In the meantime, Fr. Alexandrof made a desperate plea for his wife to return, which was published in the newspapers.

(Holy Trinity in San Francisco would soon have a new priest, Fr. Vladimir Sakovich, who discovered that the Cathedral was deeply in debt - including taxes that hadn't been paid, resulting in the State taking deed of the land - and needed immediate assistance of Archbishop Alexander (Nemolovsky) was needed in order to save the Cathedral. )

Activities as a 'Bishop' in the Living Church

Fr. Alexandrof apparently returned to Russia, and joined the Soviet-backed Living Church. During this time, he became "Archbishop", in the Living Church.

In the early 1930s, "Bishop" Alexandrof reappeared in Seattle, this time demanding church property in Alaska and St. Spiridon Church in Seattle. The demands for the Alaskan churches apparently went nowhere, but he filed suit in King County, Washington for St. Spiridon Church and won. (Undoubtedly, the church had been deeded to the Bishop.) The parishioners of St. Spyridon were so incensed that they came to the church and removed everything that wasn't nailed down. Pretty much all that was left to him was a building in dire need of repair and the iconostasis.

Renunciation of the Orthodox Faith

Shortly thereafter, in 1933, as the Living Church fell apart, Fr. Alexandroff renounced Orthodoxy and became Roman Catholic, after securing recognition of his rank, henceforth recognized as "Archbishop Elect".

In 1940, he was living at St Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, working as a "teacher". He died in 1945 and is buried in Baltimore.

Sources

For further reading