One of the first Russian Orthodox churches in Canada and oldest Russian Orthodox church in Toronto will mark 100 years of service in 2015.
The history of our church is extremely rich with events and especially with people, participants of those events. As if in a focus, around and inside of our church, the whole eras of Russian life in all of its distinctions passed by. Russian Orthodox church of Christ The Saviour had been founded in 1915 by the first Russian immigrants in Toronto, with the blessing of the North American Metropolia Archbishop Eudochim. In 1916 the parish acquired a building at Royce avenue (now Dupont street); Fr.Panteleimon Bozhik became the rector of the church. In 1917 the Bolshevik revolution started in Russia, then Czar Family was tragically killed and civil war ensued. All those events of that period confused an average immigrant. Many people turned away from the Church and started believing in all that is “new”. Only few people were still faithful to the Orthodox Faith and their church. In 1918 the church building on Royce avenue was sold and parish disintegrated. Subsequently the Russian community joined the Bulgarian parish. Situation changed for the better at the beginning of 1920s, when a small group of older Russian immigrants, which refused to follow the Bolsheviks or, fashionable at that time, anarchists, was joined by the first post-revolutionary immigrants. S.S.Kocherva, D.V.Mityanin, P.S. Zozulya, I.P. Butko and others had then become active parishioners.
A small group of parishioners re-created the parish in 1921 with the blessing of Metropolitan Platon. Divine services are initially held in the Anglican chapel, and then in 1923 they managed to rent a house on Spadina avenue and set up the church in the lower hall. In 1928, His Beatitude Arseny, bishop of Canada, assigns Fr.Alexander Pyza a rector of this parish, and one of the most active parishioners – Ms. N.A.Gedeonova, - a regent, in order to create a choir and organize the Sisterhood. The work had started full speed. Everything went great until January 1930, when someone’s evil hand put the church house on fire on the night when everyone, who lived there, were preparing a Christmas party for kids at another place… This hit, which tried to destroy the parish, only made it even stronger. In order to correctly understand what happened, it’s worth mentioning that members of the parish were not rich, had low-paying jobs, at best. The only treasure the parish members had was the determination to have their church. In the same year the parish purchased a Lutheran temple building at 4, Glen Morris Avenue, for 8,500 dollars, with the cash down payment of one thousand dollars. So in order to collect the thousand dollars the parish started a drive to raise funds. Prince Nakashidze led fundraising among Canadians; Ms. N.A.Gedeonova conducted choir performances in Anglican churches with the same goal; Count Pavel Nikolaevich Ignatieff (Grandfather of current Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff) and his son Nicholas gave a number of lectures, and of course, all other parishioners together contributed their scarce funds. As a result, the collected sum, exceeding two thousand dollars (!), was enough not only for the down payment, but also to cover expenses to renovate the building and build iconostasis. In the fall of 1930, His Eminence, Metropolitan Platon, concelebrating with His Beatitude Bishop Arseny and other clergy, blessed the new temple.
After that great accomplishment came difficult times. The Great Depression and unemployment left many people without a piece of bread. The parish organized free lunches and dinners for single unemployed, which at the time did not receive any support from the government. At the same time, a small Russian community had to raise money to pay the mortgage, small (literally miserable) salary to the priest, cover temple maintenance and decoration. The parish budget of those years depended half from the church bazaar, towards success of which, all efforts of Sisterhood and parishioners, who had any artistic talents, were directed. Besides, the choir continued to sing in different churches and raised money to alleviate the church’s financial burden.
Nevertheless, the temple was becaming the center of the Russian life in the city, and a meeting place with all the Russians, which visited it. Among others, the Great Prince Alexander Mikhailovich, uncle of the late Czar Nicholas II, visited the temple. On the first arrival of the famous Cossack immigrant choir of Sergey Zharov, the parish arranged the reception. The Kedrov quartet, the prominent authors of Church music, whose work is still very popular, sang the whole liturgy with the choir, standing on the right side.
In 1936, the church rector, Fr. Alexander Pyza was transferred to Detroit, USA. Subsequently, the parish changed several priests and lost a number of parishioners, who left the city, and it became harder to work to support the temple. Finally, on March 9, 1941, Fr. John Diachina, one of the most remarkable priests in North America, was appointed a rector. Shortly after, Fr. John gathered parishioners, and despite the absence of many active members of the parish, restored the Sisterhood, choir, bazaar organization, and a parish school. Life of the parish normalized again.
In 1947, first post-war Russian immigrants from Western Europe and Philippines started arriving to Toronto and our temple again was filled up with worshippers on every Sunday service. It’s worth mentioning, that majority of Russian immigrants, which settled in Toronto at the end of 1940-s and beginning of 1950-s had passed through the doors of Christ the Saviour Cathedral; many of those immigrants were able to come to Canada thanks to the efforts of rector Fr. John and Mr. O.V.Rodomar-Vukotich.
In 1947 Great Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, sister of late Russian Emperor Nicholas II, arrived to Toronto. Great Duchess herself and all members of her family had become the most devoted parishioners of our temple. Great Duchess and her husband, Nikolai Alexandrovich Kulikovsky were always present at services and showed great care about the temple decoration and parish well-being. Thus, Great Duchess created icons for the second level of iconostasis as well as the image of the Mother of God for the ancient (16th century!) Greek “passage”, which was donated to our church a little earlier by the management of Royal Ontario Museum. It is installed now in our church on the right side from the altar (near the holy water tank). But, of course the main quality of Olga Alexandrovna was her attitude towards the people around her. Her non-exclusive kindness for everyone, openness and welcoming heart have left a deep imprint in the memory of the parishioners of Christ the Saviour temple. The Great Duchess was the soul and the heart of the parish and her repose in 1960 left none of the parishioners untouched and was felt by many as a personal tragedy. Great Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was buried at the Russian lot of the York Cemetery in Toronto near her husband, N.A.Kulikovsky.
On May 7, 1952 His Beatitude bishop Nikon De Greve was appointed as a new bishop of Toronto and Canada and temple of the Christ the Saviour received the status of Cathedral.
Count George Ignatieff, - representative of Canada in the United Nations, and father of Michael Ignatieff, the current Leader of the Liberal party of Canada - was a parishioner of Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
Thus, during the whole post-war period, as well as in 50-ies and 60-ies our parish had been growing and developing.
At the beginning of 1966, the government had announced that it was buying up several buildings and houses, including the building of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral on Glen Morris Avenue for the needs of University of Toronto. At the same time, as it was revealed, the Anglican parish of St. Cyprian, located at the corner of Manning and Follis Avenue, was being closed down. Our parish was given an opportunity to purchase its property, and on June 1, 1966 the parish of Christ the Saviour acquired a large temple and church house for 152,000 dollars.
Immediately the repair, rebuilding works as well as internal premises arrangement had been started. It is necessary to note the unusual level of help and sacrifice of parishioners, who worked hard and spared no effort and time. On October 30, 1966 a solemn blessing sanctification of the temple had been held by Metropolitan Irenaeus and newly appointed archbishop of Canada Silvester, concelebrating with the multitude of clergy, and in the presence of many invited guests.
Thus, after relocating to a new building, a new stage in the life of the parish had been opened.
On April 10, 1970, the Russian-American Metropolia of North America had been granted autocephaly by its Mother - Russian Orthodox Church. Autocephaly means full independence and becoming a national Orthodox Church. By having been granted autocephaly, our Metropolia had finally established its canonical standing with regards to the Moscow Patriarchate - now a Sister-Church, becoming the fifteenth in the list of local Orthodox Churches of the world. From that point, former Russian-American Metropolia had gotten a new name of Orthodox Church in America. Primate of our autocephalous Church current is His Beatitude Jonah, Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan of all America and Canada.
When we had received the autocephaly from the hands of mother-Church, our parish survived difficult times, because a large number of parishioners left our parish and joined the parish of Holy Trinity of the Russian Church outside of Russia. However, many of them still could not find their place in their new parish and founded the new parish on Winona Drive. We should frankly note, that the cause of those events was on one hand some misunderstanding of the relationship between Orthodox Church in America and at that time harshly persecuted and suffering Mother Russian Orthodox Church and on the other hand, ugly and false campaigning in some circles of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. Nevertheless, our parish continued to live and grow.
From 2002 to 2011 the rector of the temple had been arch-priest Oleg Kirillow, who previously had served for over 10 years in Moscow – at the church of St.Phillip, Metropolitan of Moscow on Prospekt Mira street, and at the church of St. Grand Martyr Catherine on Bolshaya Ordynka street (which is also the representation of Orthodox Church in America). Father Oleg put a lot of efforts into renovating the Church, growing the Parish and Church school as well as constantly educating people around him about principles of the Church life. He stirred up and organized many important events in the life of the cathedral, such as bringing over for veneration the Holy icon of Mother of God of Pochaev and relics of Holy Prince Vladimir from Ukraine.
Since 2008 we also have a second priest - Roman Pavlov - who is the assistant rector. The services are held on Saturdays, Sundays and feasts in church Slavonic language.
At the temple there are relics of venerable fathers of Kiev-Pecherska Lavra, relics of venerable Herman of Alaska, the miracle worker, relics of St.Luka (Voino-Yasenetsky), bishop of Simferopol and Crimea.
The parishioners seek to support and distribute the true Orthodox Christian spirituality in Toronto, as well as preservation of Russian Orthodox culture.
The parish has a Church school named after Great Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, where children study the God’s Law, Russian language and History of Russia, Russian literature, drama, and optionally math and art. Studies are conducted on Saturdays. The school also has a preparation class for children of kindergarten age.
Our choir, widely known in Toronto and all over Orthodox America always welcomes new members. Therefore, if you have ever sung in an Orthodox Church choir, or would like to learn, you are very welcome to join! Please call the regent Elena Oslopova at 416-833-8241 for details. Other traditional activities, organized in the parish include Christmas Party (Yolka), Maslenitsa festivities, and of course breaking the fast after Easter.
There are also an annual bazaar and an annual summer picnic. Besides, every Sunday, after the Divine Liturgy, the Pokrov Sisterhood invites everyone downstairs for lunch together, so that parishioners and guests of our parish could refresh with home-cooked food after the service and informally spend time together.