St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Mayfield, Pennsylvania)
St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, located in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, is one of the oldest Orthodox churches on the East Coast and is currently under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, operating under the Julian Calendar.
The Beginnings of the Church, 1878-1907
The beginnings of the cathedral dates back to the 1878 with the arrival of Carpatho-Russian immigrants from the western part of Galicia, known as Lemkovstchina. These early settlers possessed deep religious feelings and desired to worship in their own church. As a result, they began holding services in the Stec home, located directly behind the present church. Shortly thereafter, they rented an inactive Baptist church and immediately converted the interior to resemble an Orthodox church.
In 1888, the Brotherhood of Saint John the Baptist was organized. With an inordinate amount of support and encouragement from the growing congregation, plans were implemented to build a new church. This initial building was a wooden frame structure and was constructed in 1891. This church was located on the corner of Hill and Maple Streets in the geographic center of town at the cost of $6,500. The original name given was the Russian Greek Catholic Church of Saint John the Baptist.
The early immigrants in Mayfield were a very enterprising people. As a result, by 1896, the faithful had built a parish home and school building, which also contained a social center for church affairs. The people totally supported a priest and a choir-master, the latter of which also taught religious classes. The peoples' foresight and energy are exemplified by such accomplishments as the establishment of a food co-operative store, the parish drum and bugle corp, boy scout troop #85, a library, the Russian Hose Co. (present day Mayfield Hose Co.), and many other organizations.
Toward the turn of the century, more Greek Catholic churches were founded in the area. As a result, the initial apathy of local Roman Catholics evolved into overt hostility against these Christians of the Eastern Rite. The Roman hierarch demanded that the faithful of Saint John's adopt a new charter and sign their property over to the Roman Catholic Church. The parishioners vehemently resisted these pressures and became determined to reunite with the Orthodox faith that they did not realize they had left.
In 1902, Fr. John Olshevsky petitioned Archbishop Tikhon (now Saint Tikhon of Moscow) to accept them under his omophorion (spiritual protectorate). By 1903, the parish was officially accepted into the Orthodox Church by the celebration of a hierarchal Divine Liturgy with Archbishop Tikhon.
In 1905, the parishioners of St. John's played an integral role in establishing Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery and Orphanage in South Canaan, Pennsylvania (later the site of St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary (South Canaan, Pennsylvania). In the ensuing years, the parish was a prime financial supporter of the monastery and the orphanage, as well as offering food to help sustain the inhabitants. During those years, many parishioners would walk the distance of approximately 13 miles for pilgrimages from Saint John's to Saint Tikhon's. This same walk was done in May of 1980 by some forty plus clergy and parishioners from St. John's to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the monastery.
On January 7th, 1907, Saint John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church was officially chartered in the Lackawanna County Court. Soon thereafter, St. John's was honored by being chosen as the site of the first Orthodox All-American Sobor (council). This historic event was held from March 5-7 of 1907 and was presided over by Archbishop Tikhon.
The Early Years 1908-1950
During World War I, the faithful actively participated participated in the Red Cross as well as many other war-time charities. More significantly, many of the parish's young men were called to serve in the United States Armed Forces, and subsequently sent overseas during the war years. Three parishioners gave their lives in the service of their country. Their names were Michael Tomasky, John Kulenych, and Aleck Hrapchak.
As time passed, throughout the 1920's, the spiritual flock of Saint John's Church grew in leaps and bounds with families increasing in both size and in numbers. By the late 20's the original wooden church, now almost forty years old, was no longer adequate as a house of worship, and the need for a larger structure became apparent. In 1930, the old church was moved onto Maple Street and was still used for the cycle of services until the new church could be completed. The structure was to be constructed of steel and brick and was to be adorned with five cupolas at a cost if $64,692. To adorn the interior for Orthodox worship, the faithful raised and spent an additional $20,000. Aside from the fact that none of these people were wealthy, all was accomplished during the height of the depression. This makes the feat all the more impressive.
On Sunday, February 22, 1933, matins was served in the old church for the last time. This matins service was followed by a procession in which the clergy and parish faithful removed vital liturgical articles so as to serve the first Divine Liturgy in the new church.
The church was ultimately consecrated on September 4th (Labor Day), in 1933 by the Rev. Bishop Adam (Phillopovsky), under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Antony (Krapovitsky) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, as noted on the official document of the Act of Consecration. Prior to moving into the new church, the iconostasis was dismantled in the old church and re-assembled in the new church (it had been hand-carved by Mr. Dzubinsky, one of the early immigrants during the early 1980's). Though the old church was almost entirely dismantled, a small portion was kept intact and added onto the Kurlick home, which stands until today at the southwest corner of May and Maple Streets.
During the 1940's the faithful of Saint John's satisfied the debt they had incurred to build the new church and celebrated the burning of the mortgage. There again, many young men of the parish were called to serve their country during World War II in the United States Armed Forces. Among those who gave their lives: Constantine Dorish, Michael Chilek, Stephen Hrapchak, Paul Lawbosky, John Karliak, William Kulick, Alexander Kuzmack, John Oleynik, Andrew Bolash, Michael Hanchak, Stephen Demchak, Stephen M. Liptak, Paul Soroka, John Krisa, Peter Hladick, and Gregory Guzey, all of blessed memory.
The Middle Years 1951-1981
In 1951, the parish council petitioned Metropolitan Leonty (Turkevich) for acceptance into the Metropolia. This action came about as a result of circumstances which happened several years earlier. In 1946, at the Cleveland Sobor, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia indicated that the church headquarters would be moved to New York. A split then occurred in the American Metropolia, and the decision was by approximately half of the bishops to disassociate with the Russian Synod Abroad. The church council made their decision in 1951, based on the fact that their familiarity has been with those bishops who had aligned.
On February 10th, 1959, a fire erupted in the church. As smoke and flames spread, parishioners formed a human chain, removing sacred articles from the church. The fire took several hours to subdue completely and did extensive damage to both the interior and exterior of the church. The parish hall was used as a temporary place of worship until arrangements could be made to repair the church. With the help of the Good Lord, the church was re-blessed and the new altar was consecrated on May 29, 1960 by His Grace Bishop Dimitri (Magon).
Since 1896, the hall/school building served St. John's parish as a school for religious instruction, Russian and English classes, a place where the annual yolkas were held and where the choir featured many outstanding concerts and productions. The "Russian Hall," as it was more commonly referred to in the community, was also used by the senior classes from the local public school for activities such as class night and graduation exercises. The many Saturday night dances sponsored by different clubs within the parish were looked forward to and enjoyed over the years by people up and down the valley. The only hall was raised in 1966 and groundbreaking ceremonies for the new hall took place on Sunday, May 7th of the same year. Dedication of the new church hall took place on October 27, 1968 with Bishop Kiprian (Borisevich) presiding. The new parish center picked up where the old hall left off and provides ample facilities for the continued growth and development of the parish. On September 1st, 1974, the debt incurred while building the new hall was satisfied and the mortgage was burned.
In June of 1976, ceremonies were held for the groundbreaking of the new rectory and plaza area. On Sunday, June 5th, 1977, one year later, Archbishop Kiprian (Borisevich) came to Mayfield for the dedication.
In 1978, extensive work was done to the interior of the church, including new carpeting, bleaching and refinishing of the pews, and the addition of new main doors. Also, in 1978, after a period when a private caterer had been operating out of the parish center, it was realized that the parish could raise funds by organizing and operating a catering service on its own. The main auditorium of the center was then redecorated so as to entice outside organizations and bridal couples to book their affairs with Saint John's Catering Service. As a result of the tireless efforts of a limited number of dedicated individuals, the catering service has continued for over 25 years and has been a substantial aid to the operation of the parish as a whole.
On September 20, 1981, Saint John's celebrated the 90th anniversary of the parish. The faithful, on that occasion, erected a plaque in the vestibule of the church, quoting from Archbishop (later Patriarch and now Saint) Tikhon during his historic visit to Mayfield from February 20-23, 1907, when he presided over the first Orthodox All-American Sobor. Archbishop (Saint) Tikhon proclaimed: "Our North American Orthodox Church considers itself to be the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, embracing all nations, languages, and the world, as the first to proclaim the Orthodox Faith her in America." The Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Sunday, September 20, 1981, with Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor) and Bishop Herman (Swaiko) present.
Recent Years 1982-Present
In the winter and spring of 1982, parish meetings where conducted to address certain decisions which were made by the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America (former Metropolia which the parish had associated itself with in 1951). The issues concerned would greatly affect the Orthodox practice of the Liturgical life within the parish, among them being the celebration of the immovable feasts according to the Julian (Old Style) church calendar. These parish meetings were held to clarify the issues for the faithful, and gave them the opportunity to express their feelings. On February 14th, the faithful voted overwhelmingly (in excess of 98% of those present) to retain the Old Style Calendar. As the spring and summer of 1982 passed, the faithful were made aware that their decision to retain their liturgical traditions according to the Old Style (Julian) calendar was denied by their diocesan bishop, as well as by the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America. Mr. Pavuk, who has been serving as Starosta since 1977, was summoned by registered letter and personal notice to appear before Bishop Herman to answer for his actions in holding these parish meetings. He was ordered not to conduct any additional meetings regarding these issues. Mr. Pavuk, together with the church council, felt it necessary to call another meeting. On August 22, 1982, a gathering of parish faithful voted overwhelmingly (151-3) to disassociate the parish from the Orthodox Church in America and to petition Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) and the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia for acceptance under their omophorion (spiritual protectorate). During the same time, Fr. John Sorochka, because of deep feelings about these same issues, felt it necessary to resign as pastor under the Orthodox Church in America and petitioned the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia to accept him as a priest. His Eminence, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) accepted St. John's Parish and Fr. John almost simultaneously, and immediately re-assigned Fr. John as the pastor of St. John's. A letter dated August 29, 1982 was delivered on behalf of the parish to Bishop Herman (Swaiko) giving notice of the parish's disassociation. As a result of their decisions, Mr. Pavuk, Mr. Paserp, and Mrs. Telep were excommunicated from the OCA. Fr. John was suspended. Several years later, the suspension and the excommunications were rescinded.
This was the start of some difficult years in the life of Saint John's parish, which was created by a court action initiated by a handful of dissenting parishioners and the hierarch of the OCA Basically, an attempt was made to seize control of the church and all related real property from the exorbitant majority of the parish faithful. During the next six plus years, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, Superior, and ultimately the State Supreme Courts consistently upheld the decisions on the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas real property. Through the years, these court proceedings cost the faithful in excess of $75,000.
By the Grace of the Good Lord, the issue was finally brought to rest in 1988. Aided by constant prayer, thanks goes to Thomas Pavuk, Fr. John, and the council, who worked countless hours with Atty. Gene Goldenziel to bring this matter to a close. Gratitude is also expressed to Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) and Bishop Mark (Arndt), who clarified to the court the particular questions about church history, and to Andrew Sabric, Fr. Vladimir Shishkoff and Brother Isaac Lambertsen, who actively aided in the court proceedings, as well as to the S.O.C. (Save our Church) organization, which was formed to raise the necessary funds to cover the expenses incurred, and all those others too numerous to name.
To this day, Saint John's parish remains a sister parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, under the presidency of His Eminence Metropoliotan Laurus and Bishop Gabriel as Vicar Bishop. For over a decade, Saint John's parish has been blessed with growth of an unprecedented rate.