In Spring 2001 I jump-started my Genealogical researching once again, and one of the most exciting events of this restart took place in December of that year...
This photo is the oldest US image of my Father, aside from his Green Card photo.
It shows a recently arrived immigrant to the United States hanging out in a place that brings some of the familiarity, and comforts, of home to a man in strange surroundings.
Dad was of the Eastern Orthodox faith, and this is a scene from St. Andrew's Russian Orthodox Church, in Glendora, CA. in 1952.
This place was an anchor for him during the first 6 years of his life in America and, even after he met my Mom, it was a place that played an important part in his life, and that of his growing family in the late 50's, and all through the 1960's.
When I dove back into my Genealogy Research for a few years in the early part of this decade this side of the life of my Father was something I visited.
The following posts appeared elsewhere at that time:
12/2/2001: Looking for St. Andrew's
I discovered that despite it not being listed in local phone books, or when I call 411, the church that hitched my parents and where I was baptised aparently still exists. ;-)
St. Andrews Russian Orthodox Church
I called a Russian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles yesterday and a man told me he would call me back with the address and phone number.
If he doesn't call tomorrow, I'll call again on tuesday.
I have in my possession a parrish copy of a Wedding certificate, and a copy of the parrish record.
I want to learn if I can get a copy of my Baptismal Record, and see if they can provide me with any other information regarding my Father.
I have photos of my Baptism, as well as the earliest photo I am aware of of my Dad in this country (a pic of him in a suit, at the church a few months after he arrived in America).
I remember attending elaborate Easter Services every year,between 1965-68, that involved everyone holding lighted candles, following the Priest and other High Pooh-bahs chanting & waving incense, 3 times around the church, then going inside around midnight to participate in a ritual that culminated in everyone walking up the isle, getting a wafer planted on their tongue and incense waved in their face. ;-)
I didn't understand a word that was said but, with all the bearded old men in fancy robes & headresss worth a fortune waving golden goblets around, you bet yer sweet bippy this little kid was dutifully impressed with the seriousness of the spectacle. ;-)
I owe it to my Dad to find this place and, even if I get no more info on him, taking a few pictures of the place for posterity.
12/4/2001: Father Nikita
Father Nikita called and left a message! ;-)
He told me what time their weekend services were, and practically invited me to show up. ;-)
He said he would try and call back, as well. ;-)
The best part of his message was hearing my first name spoken with an Eastern European Accent for the first time since 1988. ;-)
12/5/2001: St. Andrew's
I had called around on Monday, and hit paydirt when I called a CATHOLIC CHURCH which turned out to be a few blocks away.
Looking at a map and seeing COSSACKS PL. & ST. VLADIMER ST. I should have remembered where the place was located on my own. ;-)
Since one of the calls I made had me worried the place may have been gone, I decided to hop the bus and dash over there right then. ;-)
My first reaction was:
Gosh, the building is SMALLER than I remember!
They replaced all the lawn around the building with a parking lot!
When did all the houses surround the place anyway?
What follows is my report of the visit.
12/22/2001: A visit down memory lane
On that Sunday morning, a couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the church about 10 minutes early.
At the gate was a well muscled chap of serious demeanor, in his 60's.
I introduced myself, and tell him Father Nikita was expecting me.
After grilling me on why I was there, and even my Fathers nationality, the susicious ol' Gent let me in and led me to the front door.
Suspicion is understandable because the church has been in the news in recent years because of a minor dispute with some cantankerous neighbors with no respect for those there before them.
Anyway I entered and stood just in the door in what I vaguely remembered was the same spot I last stood in 33 years previously. ;-)
There were 2 elderly Ladies standing inside.
So I stood too.
Another reason I stood was that at the front of the church behind a partial partition was the Father reciting words in counterpoint to chanting from a hidden choir.
So I stood.
For 2 hours.
Everyone who came stood, except toddlers, even though there were chairs lining either side of the room.
The choir was small and obviously middle-aged, and with no choirboys, various candle moving, page turning, and other actions were performed, as needed, by the elderly gent from the gate.
Most of the parishioners during the first hour were a few elderly women, and during the 2nd hours a small number of families with toddlers showed up.
Lining the walls of the church were beautiful pictures, and paintings of Christ, the Apostles, Saints and other Worthies.
At 7 spots around the room were "stations" with books opened to various Worthies pictures, and words, in Russian on the page. At each station, the parishioner would approach, leave a lighted candle, say a prayer, cross themselves, and kiss the book.
The paintings, the books,, The Fathers Robes and headdress, the cloths covering the tables, the crosses, all of it, was old, elaborate, and quite valuable.
Father Nikita came from behind the partion 3 times to say part of his service, including the brief English language part. Several times for one reason or another, unfathomable to me, the curtain separating him from the room was turned back so we could see him waving his incense around.
At the end, the parishioners all lined up to be blessed by the Father, and receive a wafer. Then he went off in a corner and various parishioners would come and go in private meetings with him.
A collection of sorts was taken at one point, and donations were made by each person who took candles, as well.
After the service, everyone went outside to partake in a community lunch that consisted of flavourful, soup, rice, and meat dishes made by various people.
I had a chance to finally talk with many of the older people there who told me a little about the history of the church, and were curious about my quest. Several people recognized the Reverend who baptised me, but no one present was around in my Fathers time.
After lunch I finally had a chance to meet and talk with Father Nikita, a seemingly frail man in his 70's who is obviously a tower of strength for his small congregation and even discovered that the gatekeeper was not quite the HardAss as he puts on.
Anyway a search for the info I seek was promised, including someone contacting a 95 year old Reverend who is apparently the only person left alive from my Fathers days in the 50's and 60's.
I have yet to hear back from anyone, but am in no hurry, and can only hope that they remember to do what they promised, and hope they re-contact me whether they find answers or not.
All in all, a very interesting day.
No-one ever contacted me again, but that's okay.
I already own the most important information, and will cherish being allowed to re-visit the church of my early childhood.
****UPDATE - 3/29/11****
Comments like the one below make all the years of my passion for writing, despite a miniscule readership for all my blogs combined, worth the effort, and struggle.
To think that, as boys, someone like me, struggling to make something of himself, even to this day, and someone who grew up to become a well respected Priest, and Associate Professor and Director of the DMin Program, in the Faculty of Theology, at St. Paul University, in Canada, as well as a vice-president of the Canadian Council of Churches, may have crossed paths, however briefly, is humbling to think about.
This is what he wrote:
Just saw this, and glad I did.
Thanks for the photo and background.
I was there 1963-68 as a boy, with my family, and church life left many warm memories.
Many years later I went on to study in an Orthodox seminary, was ordained a priest, and have served in many places, but never made it back to Glendora.
I am humbled, and honored, that whatever search he made online led him to read my post, and that he felt it worth his time to share his thoughts with me in this fashion.
It appears he's got a new website that still has much to be added to it. ;-D
According to his bio he is an Author, and Reviewer, as well as a columnist for The Ottawa Citizen.
****UPDATE 2 - 3/30/11****
I wrote a Dear John Thank You Note, last night, hee, hee!:
I love it!
What brought you to my very humble corner of the Blogosphere?
I am honored that you decided share your connection to my past.
I promoted your comment to an update at the end of the post itself and, after exploring your website, included a link to the main page, and your interesting newspaper columns.
Comments like yours make all the years of my passion for writing, despite a miniscule readership for all my blogs combined, worth the effort, and struggle. ;-D
That the 2 of us, who have gone on to 2 very different lives, have something in common like that is cool.
Just the thought that we could have, without knowing each other, disrupted some church service, or other, together, because of some typical childish figiting, brings a smile to my face. ;-D
Thank you for writing!
This morning he responded with a very cool explanation:
Thanks for your note.