September 30, 2016
Mayfield, PA: St. John the Baptist Cathedral celebrates Quasquicentennial

On Saturday the 17th and Sunday the 18th of September, St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Mayfield, PA – the oldest parish in the Eastern American Diocese – marked its quasquicentennial: the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1891. Originally founded as a Byzantine Catholic church by Carpatho-Russian immigrants, the parish converted – or perhaps more accurately, returned – en masse to Russian Orthodoxy in 1903 (see Parish Background below for more information). Celebrations in honor of the momentous milestone were led by His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad.

The divine services were held under the aegis of the Most Holy Theotokos: present in church were not one, but two wonderworking icons of the Mother of God: the Kursk Root Icon, and the myrrh-streaming Hawaiian-Iveron Icon. Joining these two great images – the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora and the Icon of Unity – in the middle of the church was a new icon prepared especially for the occasion: the Holy Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and St. John the Baptist holding aloft St. John’s Cathedral.

At the All-Night Vigil on Saturday evening and Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, His Eminence was co-served by Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany & Great Britain, Bishop Sava (head of the Georgian Apostolic Church in North America), Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan (vicar of the Eastern American Diocese), and diocesan and visiting clergy:

-          Archpriest John Sorochka (cathedral rector)

-          Archpriest Petre Kruashvili (Georgian Orthodox Church)

-          Archpriest David Hritcko (rector of St. Basil’s Church in Simpson, PA)

-          Archpriest Claude Vinyard (rector of Holy Protection Mission in Lewisburg, PA)

-          Abbot German (Ciuba; rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Old Forge, PA)

-          Abbot Theophylact (Clapper-DeWell; cleric of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY)

-          Archpriest Dimitri Ermakov (rector of Holy Dormition Church in McKeesport, PA)

-          Abbot Seraphim (Bell; cleric of Holy Trinity Monastery)

-          Archpriest Seraphim Chemodakov (cleric of St. Alexander Nevsky Diocesan Cathedral in Howell, NJ)

-          Priest Athanasius Kone (cleric of Holy Theotokos of Iveron Church in Honolulu, HI)

-          Priest Gabriel Monforte (cleric of the Eastern American Diocese)

-          Protodeacon Nicolas Mokhoff (cleric of the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign in New York City)

-          Protodeacon Gregory Petrochko (cathedral cleric)

-          Protodeacon Paul Drozdowski (cleric of St. Alexander Nevsky Diocesan Cathedral)

-          Protodeacon Dionysius Lvov (cleric of the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign)

-          Deacon Michael Wengrin (cleric of St. Basil’s Church in Simpson)

-          Deacon Nathaniel Sorochka (cathedral cleric)

-          Deacon Dimitri Krenitsky (cleric of Holy Trinity Church in Vineland, NJ).

Also praying in the choir were cathedral clerics: Protodeacon Stephen Howanetz and Deacon Michael Pavuk.

At the Sixth Hour, George Sharonoff was tonsured a reader and then ordained a subdeacon for Christ the Savior Church in Sugar Notch, PA.

Archbishop Mark (Arndt) has had a long relationship with St. John’s parish that he has described with much love. In 1982, when the parish transferred jurisdictions from the Orthodox Church in America to the Russian Church Abroad, Archbishop Mark was the canon lawyer who helped the community to make its case in court. The clergy and parishioners, as well as Archbishop Mark himself, were determined to see him present for the jubilee. In his sermon during the Communion of the clergy, His Eminence said, in part:

"We have to remember that Christ is not to be defeated. Much is to be said, then, for our own free will. As long as we strive to live with Christ and in Christ, we have nothing to fear. But how often do we stray away from this pure and direct path that He has given us? How often do we make other things, other ideas, in our lives more important than Christ? How often do we make our feelings, our desires, more important than the Gospel? He is the One Who supports us, and as soon as we depend on His love for mankind, on His mercy for us, we will be undefeatable. Because He as God gives us – all of humanity – His power, if we truly become His disciples, and desire that His will be done in everything we do and wish for. The demons are not mortal; they have more power than any one of us. The Fathers tell us that the least among them could overturn the entire universe with his finger; and yet, if we have Christ in us and with us, than we are stronger than all of the demons taken together. Today, when we celebrate the 125th anniversary of this parish, we remember that those who founded it had Christ in their hearts. They had lost everything that man could hold dear in this earthly life. But they kept Christ in their hearts, they were strong in the Faith, and did not even for a single day betray Christ. They were steadfast in the Faith, and they passed their faith on – to you. On this great anniversary, dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to continue on this path, following Christ alone, never going astray from His path, always knowing that He gives us all the strength that we need to be His followers, Christians, in every sense of this word. Amen."

A multitude of the faithful communed from several chalices.

Upon completion of the Liturgy, a short moleben was served to the Most Holy Theotokos and St. John the Baptist. Metropolitan Hilarion then greeted the clergy and parishioners, congratulating them on the momentous occasion. His Eminence said, "Today is a joyous day, a day that is grace-filled and very memorable, a day when we celebrate the 125th anniversary of this cathedral, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. We give thanks today to God for His many great mercies over the course of the past one-and-a-quarter century. Today, in the presence of the Mother of God through her Kursk and Hawaiian Icons, we have many blessings, and I am certain that the parishioners of this holy church especially will remember many events from years past, when they lived and prayed in this community. Today we especially congratulate Fr. John, who has served as rector here for over four decades, and has been a faithful servant of God, along with his fellow clergymen and all of you, the faithful parishioners of this church. We all give thanks today for God’s mercy to us, and we pray that He will continue to send many blessings to this parish and the people who call this place home."

A gramota from the President of the Synod of Bishops was then presented to the parish, which read, in part: "Among our parishes in North America, the Mayfield church community is unique for its longevity, and in an era when others are suffering from dwindling parish populations and the inroads of a culture that is increasingly hostile to our Church, we note with gratitude the vitality of its people and spiritual leaders and their commitment to the Faith and traditions received from their honored forebears and spiritual fathers, such as His Holiness, Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow & All Russia, who oversaw the return of your parish to your ancestral Orthodox Faith."

Diocesan gramotas were presented to cathedral Protodeacon Gregory Petrochko in honor of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the diaconate and his many years of dedicated service to the parish community; and to the cathedral’s choir director, Paul "Gary" Brzuchalski, in honor of his 40th anniversary at his post. The gramota thanked him for his "magnificent talents in both composition and direction […which] have led Saint John’s choir to flourish under your leadership, as you continue to challenge your singers and demand their constant improvement."

After the dismissal, a reception was held for the clergy in the rector’s residence, after which the hierarchs, clergy, parishioners, and many guests proceeded to a festal banquet. There, they heard remarks and congratulatory speeches from Mayfield’s Mayor Alexander Chelik, Archbishop Mark, Fr. John Sorochka, and Metropolitan Hilarion. The First Hierarch began his remarks by thanking all of the members of the organizing committee and presenting them with mounted copies of the new parish icon.

Featured at the banquet was a collection of congratulatory certificates from the President of the United States, the U.S. Senate, the Governor, Senate, and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Commissioners of Lackawanna County.

Interaction between the clergy and faithful continued well into the evening, and everyone was slow to depart.

Parish Background: The earliest beginnings of St. John the Baptist Cathedral date back to 1878, with the arrival of Byzantine Catholic Carpatho-Russian immigrants from the western part of Galicia known as "Lemkovschina." These early settlers began holding services in the Stec home, located directly behind the present-day cathedral. 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 (which is still in existence) was organized and plans were implemented to build a new church. This initial building was a wooden frame structure and was constructed in 1891 in design according to the style to which these people were accustomed. The original name given was the "Russian Greek Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist."

By 1896, the faithful had built a parish home and school building which also contained a social center for church affairs and the community. The people totally supported a priest and choirmaster. The peoples’ foresight and energy are exemplified by such accomplishments as the establishment of a food cooperative 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 theses 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 their Orthodox Faith that they did not even realize they had left.

In 1902, Fr. John Olshevsky petitioned Archbishop Tikhon (now the Holy Hierarch Tikhon, Patriarch & Confessor of Moscow) to accept them under his omophorion. 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. During the following decades, the parish was a prime financial supporter of the monastery and orphanage, as well as offering food to help sustain the inhabitants. In 1907, St. John’s was honored by being chosen as the site of the First Orthodox All-American Sobor (Council), which was held on February 20-23, 1907 and was presided over by Archbishop Tikhon. By the late 1920s, the size of the old wooden church was not enough for the parish’s needs. In 1930, the old church was moved onto Maple Street and was used until the new church was completed. The Cornerstone of the new church was blessed by Archbishop Apollinary (Koshevoy) and Archbishop Adam (Phillipovsky) in 1930. The new church was first used on February 22, 1933 and consecrated on September 4 (Labor Day), in 1933 by Archbishop Adam, under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, as noted on the official document of the Act of Consecration. This feat was made all the more miraculous because the fund-raising and building of the church occurred during the height of the Great Depression. St. John’s was constructed and paid for solely by the donations of parishioners.

Read more of the parish’s history here.

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