A PARISH WITH A REMARKABLE HISTORY AND A PROMISING FUTURE
The founders of Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Passaic, New Jersey were comprised of Russian immigrants who came to this country from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, primarily from a small geographic area of the Carpathian Mountain in the region of Galicia, the present-day border between Slovakia and Poland. These Carpatho-Russians, as they were called, began to immigrate to America around 1885, and a large percentage of them settled in the industrial cites and towns of southern Passaic and Bergen counties in New Jersey where they found work in the numerous textile mills and factories that were characteristic of the area.
The people of Carpatho-Russia were converted to Christianity by Saints Cyril and Methodius around 863 AD while the Church was still yet undivided, hence they were Orthodox for generations. After the Great Schism of 1054 AD in which Rome separated itself from the One Church, the pro-Roman Catholic Kingdom of Hungary (which by that time had rule over the Carpathian lands) began persecuting its Orthodox Carpatho-Russian subjects. By the 16th century shifting political boundaries found large numbers of Orthodox Carpatho-Russians residing within the Roman Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. In 1596 the Council of Brest-Litovsk forced the union of Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches within the Polish-Lithuanian State, hence the term “Uniat” is used when referring to those who were subjected under it. To facilitate their subjection, the Uniats were allowed to retain their Eastern Rite liturgical practices and external worship traditions, but those who refused to join the “Uniat Church” were persecuted, and thousands were martyred at the hands of Roman Catholic Jesuits. Facing fierce persecution, starvation and death, by the late 17th and early 18th centuries many of the impoverished and defenseless Carpatho-Russian people who kept their Orthodox faith were gradually forced into accepting Uniatism in order to survive. With the partitioning of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late 18th century, the Carpatho-Russian people once again found themselves under a repressive pro-Roman Catholic government within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Into the early 20th century, the Austro-Hungarian government imprisoned, tortured and starved to death many of the remaining Christians who kept the Orthodox faith and refused to submit to Papal authority. But in spite of generations of persecution, the rich Orthodox Tradition of the Carpatho-Russian people could not be completely extinguished.
The Carpatho-Russian Uniats began to arrive in America in the late 19th century, and in 1890 the leaders of their community, desiring a place of worship, organized a parish in the Dundee section of Passaic. They purchased the former Evangelical Mission Chapel on First Street and placed it under the heavenly protection of the Holy Archangel Michael. At that time the Roman Catholic Church in the United States was comprised only of Latin Rite bishops who rejected the Uniats because they adhered to Eastern practices such as the use of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and permitting married men to be ordained, and so many Uniats preferred to remain without a bishop in this country rather than endure the same persecution they lived through in Europe. In 1891 Fr. Nicephor Chanath, the rector of St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church (as it was called), along with two parish trustees, subjected their church and property to the Roman Catholic Bishopric of the Newark Diocese in New Jersey without the consent of the congregation. For 11 years the parish was divided by this action and by 1902 that division had reached a boiling point, compounded by the fact that their rector at the time, Fr. Nicholas Molscanyi, was firmly in favor of remaining under the jurisidiction of the Roman Catholic Church. Having exhausted all possibilities of settling the matter, a general meeting of the membership was held on March 24, 1902, ending with a resolution that the opposing members should sever ties with St. Michael’s Church and organize a new parish which would still be under the terms of the Unia while remaining outside of the local Roman Catholic authority.
It was decided that the new parish should be placed under the heavenly protection of the Holy Preeminent Apostles Peter and Paul. A Board of Trustees consisting of Joseph Timko, Joseph Olcholvsky, Peter Gladis, Michael Dudaschik, Peter and George Kmetz, Andrew Sidor, John Kiselica, John Kopcho, Michael Buriak, Andrew Cuper, Michael Mandiak, George Pirich, Joseph Tkach and Joseph Hudak decided to purchase the old Presbyterian church on Third Street and the adjacent land upon which the present Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral stands. Immediately following the organizational meeting, the congregation invited Father Vasilius Volosin of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, an ordained Uniat priest from the Province of Hungary, to assume charge of their newly formed parish. He accepted, and arrived in Passaic in April of 1902. Fr. Vasilius, along with the entire congregation, were subsequently excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church by the presiding Bishop O’Connor. The parish began making the necessary changes to the existing church building and procured a set of bells for the remodeled edifice. The first Liturgy was served in the new temple on July 13, 1902. In November of that year Professor John G. Boruch of Lansford, Pennsylvania was summoned to Passaic to take charge of the choir and parish school. He immediately organized a school for children and classes for the uneducated adults of the congregation. An adjacent house at 201 4th Street was purchased in 1903 for the sum of $1,000.00 and was used as the rectory.
Father Vasilius remained in charge of the parish outside of the jurisdiction of a local bishop until 1905, when a majority of the parishioners reconsidered their objection and submitted themselves to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Newark. Consequent upon this action Fr. Vasilius was compelled to vacate the parish and was succeeded by Fr. Eugene Homicsko, but the parishioner’s renewed relationship with the Roman Church wouldn’t last long. In 1908 Pope Pius X, an avowed Russophobe, sent a Vicar Bishop to America with a Papal Bull that violated the terms of the Unia and sought to force the Carpatho-Russian people in this country into the Latin Rite. Immediately the Roman Catholic bishop of Newark attempted to have the parish properties transferred to his name with the assistance of Fr. Nicholas Molscanyi, the pastor of St. Michael’s, and Fr. A. Godobay, who served as the Uniat Apostolic Vicar for the Greek Catholic churches in the United States. The parish, betrayed by the Roman Catholic Church, was led by Professor (later Priest) John Boruch into accepting the Orthodox faith, and for the second time the parishioners decided to break from the Newark Roman Catholic Diocese – this time seeking to return to the Russian Orthodox Church and accepting the Holy Orthodox Faith of their forefathers. In doing so they joined the larger movement of tens of thousands of Uniats in North America back to Orthodoxy, under the leadership of Father (now Saint) Alexis Toth. Fr. Eugene decided to remain under the Unia and was compelled to vacate the parish, with Fr. John T. Krochmalny assuming charge in February of 1909 as its first Orthodox priest in order to oversee the first year of the transition.
Fr. John left on February 15, 1910 and was succeeded by Father (now Saint) Alexander A. Hotovitsky. A few days later, on February 21, 1910, a general meeting of the parish membership presided over by Fr. Alexander and the Board of Trustees declared the title of the parish to be “The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul of Passaic, New Jersey”, and it was further resolved to seek acceptance into the Aleutian and North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. The inclusion of the term “Greek Catholic”, a name the Uniats gave to themselves in the late 18th century, was permitted by the ruling Archbishop Platon to be used in the incorporation of former Uniat parishes in an effort to ease the transition of the newly received Orthodox Christians. Resolution of this meeting was approved by Archbishop Platon on March 6, 1910, and the church became a part of the Aleutian and North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. At the request of the congregation Archbishop Platon assigned Fr. Elias Klopotovsky as Rector in April of 1910. Membership increased so rapidly that it was found necessary to enlarge the church facilities. Designs and plans were at once perfected and the new edifice was erected at the northeast corner of Third and Monroe Streets at a reported cost ranging between $80,000 and $125,000, of which $40,000 was provided through the generosity of our benefactor, The Holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II. The new church was consecrated by Archbishop Platon on September 14, 1913, and a detailed account of the day as reported by the Passaic Daily News can be found here.
Fr. Elias was succeeded in August 1913 by Fr. Joseph Stefanko. Fr. Joseph labored earnestly as the parish grew into the largest Russian Orthodox community in America, but while many individual communities in the United States were thriving with the influx of former Uniats, the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution created the chaotic uncanonical situation of multiple “jurisdictions” within the Russian diaspora in this country. Some of those jurisdictions, cut off from the Holy Tradition of the now-persecuted Mother Church, began developing a decidedly heterodox ethos influenced by the various confessions that were dominant in their new homeland. In many cases, individual pastoral opinions replaced the Patristic Tradition on the parish level. Those influences would eventually enter our parish as well, causing much spiritual harm to the faithful here.
The communicants of SS. Peter & Paul Church numbered about 2,500 souls by 1921. The parish school originally organized by Professor Boruch had an attendance of over 350 pupils during the same period, and all school age children were required to attend daily to be taught the Holy Orthodox faith as well as Russian language and culture. The choir during this period consisted of fifty members and was noted as one of the largest and best Russian Orthodox choirs in America, frequently giving concerts in other churches and on public occasions. A multitude of auxiliary associations created to support the Church as well as the material needs of the people flourished during the period 1903-1921. The Brotherhood of Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Benevolent Society (1903) had a membership of 550; The Saint Vladimir Brotherhood (1910) had a membership of about 100. The Women’s Altar Society and the Saint Mary Russian Orthodox Women’s Society (1916) had a membership of about 150 women. The First Russian National Protective Association (1909) had its headquarters at 175-177 Third Street. Including the recently purchased cemetery land in Saddle Brook, by 1921 the property value of the parish was an astonishing $400,000.
In April 1922 Fr. Michael Sotak succeeded Fr. Joseph as pastor, serving over 700 baptisms, 250 weddings, and 240 funerals during his eight year tenure.
On March 13, 1930, Fr. Joseph A. Havriliak arrived to begin his service as pastor, a tenure that would last until his repose over 39 years later. A strong-willed individual who kept a stern but loving eye upon his flock, Fr. Joseph guided the parish though the Great Depression, World War II, and well beyond. In March of 1932 Professor Boruch, a key figure in the spiritual development of the parish and its acceptance of the Orthodox faith, was dismissed from his position after 30 years of service under contentions circumstances. In the absence of Professor Boruch, Fr. Joseph created his own arrangements for many of the liturgical hymns sang by the choir. With Fr. Michael Gelsinger of Buffalo, NY providing the translated text, Fr. Joseph arranged the music for the first complete Divine Liturgy published in the English language. By the early 1940’s a number of renovations to the church interior had been completed, including the addition of pews, as by that time the congregation had conceded to many of the heterodox practices found in their new homeland.
By the mid-1950’s the parish was home to 1,500 families or about 6.00o souls, but the post-World War II baby boomer era in the United States, with its various social and cultural changes, began a significant decline in the spiritual life of many Americans. In our parish the effects of suburban migration, apostasy, and spiritual apathy caused a steady decline in church attendance. As intermarriage with non-Orthodox Christians became increasingly common, even the norm, many left Orthodoxy to accept the faith of their spouse and/or did not raise their children as Orthodox Christians, essentially cutting off any future generations of parishioners. The parish suffered greatly from a lack of adherence to the Holy Tradition of the Church and the increasing acceptance of ecumenism among most of our parishioners, causing them great spiritual confusion and harm that would have a lasting effect upon the community.
On February 24, 1957 the parish of SS. Peter & Paul was officially elevated in status as a Catholicon, that is, a parish of primary distinction, by His Holiness Patriarch Alexis I. The proclamation was read by Archbishop Dionisy, newly appointed Vicar of the Exarchate of North and South America, during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Although the whereabouts of the official written declaration is presently unknown, the public reading of the proclamation has sufficed for historical purposes. However, in translating the declaration into English the word “cathedral” was used. The title is understood as an honorary one, as the parish has never officially had a bishop in residence.
Beginning in 1958 additional properties along Third and Fourth Streets were purchased, and a parking lot for parishioners was constructed. With enough property available, Fr. Joseph envisioned a new center to house an auditorium and school facilities, and in 1963 a Cultural Center containing classrooms, office space, an auditorium, meeting space and kitchen facilities was erected on the site of the now-razed original church building.
On October 28, 1969, Fr. Joseph Havriliak entered into Eternal Rest and his son, Fr. Dennis Havriliak, who had served as Assistant Priest for the previous ten years, was assigned as Pastor.
Fr. Dennis was a gentle and loving pastor who, in spite of the physical suffering he endured almost all of his life, remained a zealous laborer in Christ’s Vineyard. Under his leadership major structural repairs to the Cathedral were accomplished, a new rectory was constructed and our parking lot was expanded. Father’s accomplishments were noticed and appreciated by Church Hierarchy. On Bright Saturday in 1973, Fr. Dennis was awarded the Jeweled Cross and named Dean of the Eastern States by Bishop Makary. In 1974 Father was summoned to Russia by His Holiness Patriarch Pimen and was awarded his first Patriarchal Cross. On Bright Saturday in 1976 he was awarded the Miter and the title of Right Reverend by decree of His Holiness Patriarch Pimen.
On July 12, 1980, the Feast of SS. Peter & Paul, Reader Eugene Carroll was ordained to the Holy Diaconate by Bishop Ireney of Serpuchov. In additional to his clerical duties, Deacon Eugene also served as choir director for the next three years. Deacon Alexander Krenicki also assisted Fr. Dennis during this time period.
In 1982, during a visit to the United States to address the United Nations, His Holiness Patriarch Pimen served Divine Liturgy at our Cathedral and presented Fr. Dennis with the second Patriarchal Cross. During Great Lent in 1989, His Holiness saw fit to award a third Patriarchal Cross. In November of 1989, after thirty years in the priesthood and twenty years as pastor of the Cathedral, Fr. Dennis retired due to poor health and his assistant Priest Alexander Krenicki began serving the Parish on an interim basis.
In February, 1990, with Fr. Alexander recuperating from an illness, Fr. Eugene Carroll, then Pastor of St. George Russian Orthodox Church in Bayside, NY, was summoned by Bishop Clement to temporarily tend to the spiritual needs of our parish. Having served his first Divine Liturgy on Sunday February 4, 1990 he was faced with the task of overseeing the burial of his good friend and Spiritual Father, as Fr. Dennis Havriliak fell asleep in the Lord the following day. Fr. Eugene continued to serve as interim Rector for three months, after which his appointment was made permanent. Fr. Gregory Onisko and Fr. Sergius Kosich were assigned to assist Fr. Eugene.
On July 12th, 1990, the Feast Day of our Temple, choir member Stephen Kaznica was tonsured a reader by His Eminence Makary, Archbishop of Klin.
In the Fall of 1991, immediately after the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union our parish received a surprise visit by His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All Rus’ on very short notice, and was tasked with arranging for a Great Vespers service and welcoming banquet for His Holiness and the dignitaries from the Russian Church and Orthodox Church in America who accompanied him. The service filled the Cathedral to capacity, with over 1,000 souls in attendance. The visit of His Holiness was not on the original itinerary, but rather he came at his own request, noting the parish’s reputation in Moscow as having remained faithful to the Russian Orthodox Church throughout its darkest years under Communist control.
Fr. Eugene Carroll’s quiet yet determined leadership had a significant impact upon our parish. Although he was content with his roles as Reader and Choir Director, the Lord deemed that he should attain the grace of the priesthood, and being an obedient servant he accepted. Under his pastoral guidance the parish purchased the long sought-after house and property at 197 Fourth St., a tract of land that had been sandwiched between existing church properties for many years. Fr. Eugene also laid the groundwork for the massive restoration project which was to come, but tragically he would not live to see it completed.
As Fr. Eugene grew seriously ill, many of his duties were assumed by his assistant, Fr. Gregory Onisko. On many occasions during his tenure as pastor, Fr. Eugene predicted that he would remain in that role for five years, after which he would repose. Having suffered much, Fr. Eugene entered into Eternal Rest on November 14th, 1995, 5 1/2 years after he was officially assigned.
Fr. Gregory, although in poor health himself, continued to serve the parish on an interim basis after Fr. Eugene’s repose. On Orthodoxy Sunday, March 3, 1996, His Grace the Most Reverend Paul, Bishop of Zaraisk, appointed Fr. Lawrence Bacik as pastor. Fr. Lawrence, who grew up as a parishioner of SS. Peter & Paul, was ordained to the Diaconate in 1987 and to the Priesthood in 1988. He served several Patriarchal parishes before returning to Passaic.
On July 11, 2001, under the guidance of Fr. Lawrence, the massive interior restoration project was completed. All of the icons and frescoes were cleaned and refurbished, and the entire interior was restored with additional murals and lighting fixtures.
Reader Stephen Kaznica was ordained to the Holy Diaconate by His Grace the Most Rev. Mercury, Bishop of Zaraisk on August 28, 2001 at St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York and was subsequently assigned to assist Fr. Lawrence. On November 4th of that year Fr. Lawrence was elevated to the rank of Archpriest by Bishop Mercury during a Hierarchical Liturgy to commemorate the completed interior restoration and reconsecration of the Cathedral.
On the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, January 7, 2002, our parish inaugurated its 100th anniversary. Our glorious centennial year was a year-long celebration, filled with various services and activities.
In June of 2004, with Fr. Lawrence having moved on to another assignment, Bishop Mercury appointed Fr. Andrey Kovalev as our new Rector. Through his zealous pastoral labors Fr. Andrey revitalized the liturgical life of the Parish and attempted to bring his spiritual children toward an adherence to Holy Tradition, but sadly his efforts were received by only a few faithful communicants of the parish.
On July 12th, 2006, choir member Michael Kupec was tonsured a Reader by Bishop Mercury during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy to mark the Parish Patronal Feast.
On December 19th, 2007, on the Feast of St. Nicholas, Deacon Stephen Kaznica was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Bishop Mercury and appointed as assistant to Fr. Andrey. Just a few days later, Fr. Andrey was dispatched to be temporary Rector of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco, and Fr. Stephen cared for the spiritual needs of the parish in Fr. Andrey’s absence. On December 18th, 2008, Fr. Andrey’s assignment became permanent, and Fr. Stephen was appointed as Pastor of SS. Peter & Paul.
As the “new” Cathedral approached 100 years old, our Parish welcomed a number of joyous events. On March 4, 2012 we hosted a historic Triumph of Orthodoxy Vespers service concelebrated by hierarchy and clergy from the Patriarchal Parishes, The Russian Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Over 50 clergy and 400 faithful were in attendance. On October 13th of that year we hosted a banquet at the conclusion of the historic joint ROCOR-Moscow Patriarchate Clergy Conference, attended by several hierarchs and 124 members of the clergy. A highlight of the conference was the visit to our Parish of the Myrrh-Streaming Hawaiian Iveron Icon of the Theotokos, the first of four visits that she has made so far. The year was not without its challenges, though, as many major repair needs began to manifest themselves. Our old oil burner was replaced by a new efficient gas unit in 2012, however it was quickly discovered that the original steam pipes located in trenches under the floor were compromised, and a steam leak caused major damage to several frescoes, the flooring and carpeting. As a result, another major repair project was undertaken, and we were forced to hold services in a temporary chapel located in our Cultural Center. By the Grace of God, the repairs were completed in time for Pascha in 2014. A few months later, through the generosity of a benefactor, a modern and efficient air condition system was installed in the Cathedral for the safety and comfort of our parishioners.
The declining membership of the parish within the past 70+ years has taken its toll, with the succeeding generations moving to the suburbs to worship elsewhere. Many fell into apostasy and chose to raise their children in schismatic faiths, while others embraced secular humanism and left the Church. However, in more recent years we’ve seen a gradual increase in our attendance from converts to the the faith as well as those of the “new immigration” from traditionally Orthodox countries.
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral has a long and distinguished history, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the Russian Orthodox Church which gave us the True Faith as well as to the generations of parishioners, our ancestors who labored so hard to build and maintain our magnificent temple. Yet, we must never forget that as heirs of the first Russian Orthodox missionaries we must follow their example and purpose by bearing witness to the True Faith among new generations of Americans from diverse backgrounds. Our vision is to create a spiritual home for all who see the truth, in uncompromising adherence to Holy Tradition and the unaltered Apostolic Faith. In doing so, it is our prayer that the Lord will bless our Parish with growth and spiritual prosperity in the years to come.
RECTORS OF SS. PETER & PAUL GREEK CATHOLIC CHURCH (IN SCHISM)
1902- 1905 Fr. Vasilius Volosin
1905- 1909 Fr. Eugene Homicsko
RECTORS OF SS. PETER & PAUL RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL (CANONICAL)
1909-1910 Fr. John T. Krochmalny
1910-1910 Fr. (now Saint) Alexander A. Hotovitsky
1910-1913 Fr. Elias Klopotovsky
1913-1922 Fr. Joseph Stefanko
1922-1930 Fr. Michael Sotak
1930-1969 Fr. Joseph A. Havriliak
1969-1989 Fr. Dennis Havriliak
1989-1990 Fr. Alexander Krenicki
1990-1995 Fr. Eugene Carroll
1995-1996 Fr. Gregory Onisko
1996-2004 Fr. Lawrence Bacik
2004-2008 Fr. Andrey Kovalev
2008- Fr. Stephen Kaznica