Orthodox Church in California from 1806 until 1840


By Fr. Sebastian Dabovich



The sounds of Orthodox worship were heard for the first time in California at Fort Ross, where there resided a fortified Russian settlement for the purpose of trade with California Spaniards and the protection of the Russian-American Trade Company of Alaskaıs sea hunting. In the small bay of Bodega, fifty miles north of San Francisco, a Russian schooner took shelter with Aleut leather kayaks. Not far from the bay on a prominence stood Fort Ross, in which could be seen a modest chapel. There Russians, together with Aleut and California Indian converts to Orthodoxy sang and prayed according to the Slavonic Psalter and Book of Hours. The first Indian converts were apparently baptized by lay people, as once were the Aleuts on Kodiak island. But later [converts] were unquestionably baptized by priests who came here from Sitka to conduct divine services and rites. Among those priest-missionaries was the famous Fr. Ioann Veniaminov, who visited here from Sitka. In 1884 the writer of this notebook observed children of Russian and California Indian mixed marriages in the settlement of Novoarchangelsk (or Sit-kha in the Tlingit dialect) on Baranoff Island.

Thus Russia, or more precisely the Russian-American Company, first owned property in California back in 1808. Fort Ross was built and consecrated in 1812. The first Orthodox community in California comprised the major part of the population of these holdings. On feast days the entire population gathered for common prayer in the chapel, the ruins of which can still be seen today. The river, which flows through this region among the straight tall redwood trunks, has preserved the name ³Russian,² as has one of the hills in the city of San Francisco itself. In 1840 all this part of Upper California was transferred to the Americans. And so when the American Captain Sutter raised the American flag over the former Russian fort in Sonoma County, the sound of those singing the Orthodox ³Lord, have mercy² was no longer heard in the chapel. The site became desolate, and it seemed that the Orthodox Christian faith had left this land forever.


The Era of the Establishment of the Orthodox Community in the City of San Francisco and Visits of the Russian Fleet


After such a finale to the Russian Colony in California, it was hard to imagine that some day Orthodoxy would once more shine here. Divine Providence, however, was pleased to act in a totally different way.

The discovery of gold here attracted masses of people, not only from the distant states of America, but even from the far off countries of Europe. Among those seeking happiness in the New World were also Orthodox Serbs and Greeks. They started coming here at the beginning of the 1850s. In 1857 Orthodox Serbs could be found as well in San Francisco. And in the 1850s the first Russian Government Agent, Kostromitinov also lived here.

In 1859 for the first time since the transfer of Fort Ross, a Russian Navy ship appeared in San Francisco Bay. On this ship arrived the Hieromonk Kirill, who was enlisted in the Second Amur Squadron. He came on shore and the same year baptized several Russian and Serb children in Mr. Kostromitinovıs apartment on Rincon Hill in San Francisco. This was, it seems, the first divine service for the community in California since the closure of the chapel at Fort Ross. Then in January of 1862 another Russian Navy ship, the Kalevala, arrived offshore at San Francisco. On it was a Hieromonk from the Konev Nativity Monastery, Father Vitaly. He also performed the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation in San Francisco. In 1863, at the time of the American Civil War, six Russian Navy ships, under the command of Rear Admiral Popov, were stationed in San Francisco Bay for an entire year. Among these ships there were the corvettes Bogatyr, Riga, and Kalevala. (They came to protect the interests of the Federal Government.) On the flagship Bogatyr, there was a Hieromonk from the Tikhvin 1st class Monastery, Father Kirill. In 1863 he baptized several children in San Francisco, including the writer of this notebook.

According to the testimony of the local press, the Confederate ship Alabama did not risk coming to San Francisco once the presence of the Russian fleet became known.

On Pascha night in 1864, at the invitation of the Admiral, Divine Liturgy on board the ship was attended, along with Mr. Kostromitinov, by the Serbs Nicholas Dabovich, Peter Radovich and Andrew Chelovich. It is not known whose idea it was to establish the Orthodox Society in San Francisco, but it may be surmised that the initiative was taken by Admiral Popov, because he was present at the first meeting of the society in one of the halls of the city. Before the opening of the meeting, a Molieben with the blessing of water was served. Father Kirill, a middle aged man with a pleasant appearance, conducted the service. He was wearing a Cross awarded by the Synod, an indication of his many merits.

Toward the end of 1864 the newly established Orthodox society in San Francisco had $424.38 in a S.F. Savings Union Bank savings account. The following were the first members of this society: Nicholas Dabovich, Peter Radovich, George Lazarevich, Nicholas Gregovich, Bogdan Matkovich, Andrew Chelovich, Peter Bokanovich, Peter Zenovich, John Constantine, Michael Cheriasis, Luka Balich, Elias Vuovich, Gabriel Kustudio, Constantine Milinovich, and John Hertso (a Roman Catholic Slav). Each of these members made a contribution of $20.00 in gold.

Eventually the Russian ships weighed their anchors. And there were no more priests here. It would seem that, left without a church or a priest, this Orthodox community should have disappeared from the face of the earth, especially in the rush for gold, for wealthŠ Through the mercy of God, however, this did not happen. The Orthodox — Serbs, Greeks, and Russians — lived at that time in concord, and supported each other in a brotherly manner. On all major feasts, they gathered together with those who had families, and sang religious and folk songs. In those days the wax candle did not burn down and the bread loaf did not run out in families where they celebrated Krestno Ime (the Serbian custom of celebrating a familyıs Nameday. Every Serbian family and generation commemorates the acceptance of a Christian name instead of a pagan one.)

The modest Society had already established correspondence with the ³old country² and contemplated the acquisition of a ³pope² [priest in Serbian]. Such was the situation until 1867 when, finally and at no oneıs invitation, there appeared a certain Honcharenko, who pretended to be an Orthodox priest. (Detailed information about him, based on the correspondence of Metropolitan Philaret [Drozdov, now Saint Philaret of Moscow] and the Ober Procurator, may be found in Moskovskie Vedomosti.) At that time the Russian Consul in San Francisco was Martin Klinkovstrem, a Russian Finn, a pious man and a strict observer of his duties. He, together with the majority of the Orthodox population of San Francisco, suspected Honcharenko of fraud. They began to make inquiries, and indeed it was discovered that Honcharenko was an imposter. This Agapius Honcharenko was a tonsured monk from the Kiev Caves Lavra. Elevated to the rank of a hierodeacon [monk-deacon], he was assigned to the [Russian] embassy chapel in Athens. Eventually he was fired from that job for political crimes; but he did not return to Russia as he had been ordered. He lived subsequently in London and finally appeared in San Francisco, married no less. Here he managed to baptize the son of a Serb Lazarevich before his imposture was discovered. Honcharenkoıs brother now lives on Mount Athos. The former monk in charge of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra refectory, Father Martirius, served with him in Athens. Hegoumen George [Chudnovsky], who later served in the Alaskan Diocese, knew Honcharenko from Kiev.

The arrival of Honcharenko in San Francisco induced the local Society to consider more seriously their spiritual state. Under the leadership of Consul Klinkovstrem the Society finally became completely organized. Its Bylaws were drawn up in a true churchly spirit, and then in December of 1867 the legal existence of the society was ratified at City Hall. Among the new members were the following: John Franetta, Carl Baum, Archimandritov, Elias Chelovich, Sabbas Martinovich, A. Chausov, George Fisher, Lasar Jovovich, and Luke Jankovich. The Russian plenipotentiary in the transferal of Alaska to the Federal Government, Alexis Peschurov, signed up as a member of the Society and paid his dues for several months in advance.

At that time money was cheap in California. The country was not yet overpopulated. Monopolies were not fully established. Compensation for labor was generous. There were no cheap Italian, or especially Chinese, laborers. The Society members, with few exceptions, were generous in their support of the common cause. The Director of the Russian colonies in America, Prince Maksutov, when he passed through San Francisco on his way to Russia, consoled the brethren with a promise of petitioning the Russian bishop in Sitka to send them a parish priest. At the same time he donated two hundred dollars to the Society.

And indeed, in the following year of 1868 the Priest Nicholas Kovrigin and the Reader Basil Shishkin arrived in San Francisco from Sitka. Liturgy was celebrated in the house of the Serb Peter Sekulovich at 3241 Mission Street, near 28th Street. At that time this was considered to be outside of town. I remember that first service, to which I went with my mother. We had to walk a long way along unpaved streets. Furthermore we were mercilessly drenched by rain. At last we reached a small house; we crossed over a ditch (or temporarily excavated gutter) on a plank and entered the church. The ³church² was set up in a divided room. At the end opposite the entrance the Holy Antimension lay on a covered table. A little table in a corner served as the table of oblation. I remember two icons on the walls: the Savior and the Mother of God. There were approximately twenty communicants at that Liturgy. When it was time to approach the Cup of Salvation, my older brother followed my father and I wanted to follow my mother. But I was held back and told that ³no little ones are allowed there.² This circumstance requires an explanation. Western Serbs, e.g. Dalmatian and others, do not allow their small children to receive communion of the Holy Gifts. The clergy in some places to this day have been unable to restore the Orthodox custom of communion of children.

That same summer, the Priest N. Kovrigin returned to Sitka, but at the beginning of the following year, 1869, he came back to us with his whole family - to remain here as a permanent priest. The parishioners installed him in a spacious house with excellent new furniture at 516 Greenwich Street. In this houseıs parlor there was a temporary church without an iconostasis. I remember this house chapel for it was here that I made my first confession and communion. At divine services Consul Klinkovstremıs three adult daughters sang harmoniously. They, like their mother, were Orthodox. Joachim Chuda, a Serb, served as a reader and altar server; parishioners paid him $50 a month. Besides providing the monthly rent for the priestıs apartment and the space for the church, the parishioners also maintained the priest by their own means. The Orthodox community in San Francisco lived thus until the summer of 1871. In that year the first Bishop of the Aleutian-Alaskan Diocese relocated here with his staff from Sitka. And so San Francisco became the cathedral city of the Diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska.


The Church in San Francisco Headed by Bishops


The Right Reverend John


In summer of 1870 San Francisco parishioners were granted the joyous opportunity of seeing two Orthodox bishops. As far as I can remember, it happened in September, when the newly ordained Bishop John (Mitropolsky) arrived from Europe via New York. At the same time the Right Reverend Paul, the last Vicar Bishop of New Archangel in the far-flung Amur Diocese, was leaving America for Siberia from San Francisco.

In 1871 the Alaskan Spiritual Consistory, which is still in existence, was established in San Francisco. At the same time the bishopıs school was transferred here from Sitka. In that year the Russian church in San Francisco occupied a more suitable space than before, at 915 Jackson Street. The bishop took up residence in the same house.

From the time of the arrival of the Right Reverend John, priests, after his example, began to proclaim the word of truth to the flock in San Francisco. A Saturday school for the children of parishioners was opened where they were taught the Catechism and the Russian language. Here, under this bishop served: Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky, as Reader and later Deacon and Priest, Nicholas Mitropolsky (Vladykaıs brother), Deacon Michael Netzvetov, Deacon Basil Shishkin, Reader Moses Salamatov, Priest N. Kovrigin, Deacon M. Salamatov, Deacon Basil Kashevarov and Reader Peter Kashevarov. Michael Vladimirov was choir director and singing teacher. He also taught mathematics at the school. Besides the clergymen that taught at the school, Vladyka himself also had seven classes a week, in Holy Scripture and the Slavonic language. A native Greek, Dimitrios Frankiades, from the University of Athens, was teacher of the Greek and English languages.

At the time of the Right Reverend John as many as sixteen pupils studied at the bishopıs school in San Francisco. Of that number five are now serving in various positions of the local diocese. The Right Reverend John loved his school, one might say, with a singular love.

The church on Jackson Street was small: it was located in two rooms with sliding doors. It was consecrated to the Holy Orthodox Prince Alexander Nevsky. The iconostasis for this church and the majority of vessels, vestments, liturgical books and other items had been donated by His Imperial Highness, the Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich, from one of the ships of the Russian Navy. What was yet lacking for hierarchical services, was supplied by the reserves of St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral in Sitka. In 1873 the bishopıs church with all its various institutions was moved to another part of town, to the west, and namely to the huge house of Mr. Casebolt on Pierce Street between Vallejo and Green Streets (Green street was not yet laid out then), near the military base and fort Presidio. Members of the clergy lived, as usual, in private apartments, with the exception of the school superintendent, who lived in the bishopıs house. Although it was inconvenient and far for the parishioners to travel to church, they nevertheless attended, approximately 40 people in number every Sunday. At that time the Saturday school for parishionersı children was discontinued.  But the location was healthy and peaceful, and quite suitable for the diocesan school.

In 1874 the authorities established a new personnel list of San Francisco Cathedral Clergy, i.e. 1 Cathedral Dean with a salary of 2600 rubles plus 600 rubles living expenses, 1 Priest with a salary of 2300 rubles plus 500 rubles living expenses, 1 Deacon with a salary of 1200 rubles plus 400 rubles living expenses, 2 Subdeacons with a salary of 1000 rubles each a year plus 300 rubles living expenses and 2 Readers with a salary of 800 rubles each a year plus 300 rubles living expenses. In the same year of 1874 the Greek, Russian, Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society purchased land to be used as a cemetery, which was then consecrated by Archpriest P. Kedrolivansky. This cemetery was adjacent to the Odd Fellows Cemetery, well known in the city.  With the arrival in San Francisco of cathedral clergy the upkeep of the church and priest by the Society was discontinued, and the Society itself began to tend towards disintegration.

In 1875 five singers of the famous Slavonic Choir arrived in San Francisco. Since they were all seminary trained, they were received into the clergy. The Bishop was very gladdened by their arrival, because he was in great need of people. Priest N. Mitropolsky left for a position in Sitka in 1874. In that same year Deacon V. Shishkin was appointed a priest for Alaska. In 1875 Deacon M. Salamatov received a similar appointment to Alaska. In 1875 a priest from Montenegro, Father Sabbas Matanovich, arrived in San Francisco. He was received into the Bishopıs house and served two or three Liturgies, but as he was not assigned a position, he went back home after several months. At the present time the honorable Father Matanovich is an archpriest in Cetinje.

In the autumn of 1876 the Right Reverend John was called back to Russia, and the Diocese was left widowed.


The Church as a Widow from 1876 to 1879


The Orthodox Church in America became an orphan. This sad impression was left on everything. There were no more sermons heard in the church. The Cathedral School began to disintegrate. In 1877 the church was once more moved to the city. It was now housed in the building belonging to the Benevolent Society at 522 Greenwich Street. It was a wooden structure, as had been the previous ones. And here, as in former accommodations, rent was a comparatively greater sum than was allotted for living expenses. The clergy and school were housed in a separate little house behind the church. Now the church ceased to be part of a house. In its current location it could accommodate up to 500 worshippers.

1878 was especially memorable in the life of the Church in San Francisco. A horrible crime was committed on a priest, a man whom it seemed difficult to hate. The president of the Alaska Spiritual Consistory, Dean of the American Churches and Cathedral Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky was murdered on the night of 5-6 (18) June, 1878. The late Archpriest had served in this diocese since 1863. Here is what V. K., who served with him for 18 years, writes about him: ³Father Archpriest was continually occupied with keeping peace and quiet in the community with which he was involved. He was straight forward and even tempered, honest and not malicious. He was a benefactor to those in need, a true friend to his friends, reliable and trustworthy in his relations towards those with whom he served in particular and to all in generalŠ²

³The investigation into the death of Father Archpriest was conducted with no special zeal, and for that reason his killers were given the opportunity to set themselves up in such a way that they went unpunished. The jury reached the verdict ³murdered by person or persons unknown.²

In the autumn of 1878 a new archpriest, appointed by the Holy Synod, arrived in San Francisco. This was Bachelor of Theology of the Kazan Clergy Academy Vladimir Vechtomov, formerly superintendent of the Irkutsk Clergy School.


The Right Reverend Nestor


In 1879, once again the Lord regarded the humility of the Orthodox children of this Diocese and sent us a good shepherd in the person of the Right Reverend Nestor, who arrived in San Francisco in the spring, accompanied by the Hieromonk (and later Archimandrite) German.

As usual, the Western Churches followed closely the activities of the Eastern Churches, and in this matter the Anglican Church reported quite sympathetically on the Right Reverend Nestorıs assignment to America.

Here, for example, is what we read about this in the London Journal:


³The Holy Synod of the Russian Church has appointed to the Episcopal See of the Aleutian Islands the Archimandrite Nestor. Father Nestor was in early life known as Baron Zass; he was an officer in the navy, and besides his theological attainments he is well versed in secular learning, and understands fully the English language, in which he expresses himself fluently. He is distinguished for his lofty character, his Christian convictions, and his thorough devotion to duty. Father Nestor will be quite in his proper place in America, for at the time of Admiral Lesoffsky's visit to New York, in 1863, he made himself highly esteemed by the Americans. It is to be hoped that the Episcopate of Father Nestor may be a source of close and intimate relations between the Orthodox Russian Church and the Church of North America. A letter which came to the Holy Synod, not long since, from the American bishops gives reason to hope thus. God grant that through the cooperation of the future Bishop of the Aleutian Islands brotherly relations may be established [between] these two great Churches.²


Also in 1879 Bishop Nestor visited Sitka. In 1880 he traveled to Unalaska. In 1881 he made an inspection of Kodiak. Having made Bishop Nestorıs acquaintance, Americans regarded him most highly as a man adorned with every Christian and civic merit.

In 1881 the Cathedral Church in San Francisco was moved to its present location. On June 30 of that year the purchase deed for a house was signed by Gustave Niebaum for the sum of thirty-eight thousand dollars in American gold coin. This was a duplex house at 1713 & 1715 Powell Street near the wharves in North Beach between Russian and Telegraph Hills where Powell crosses the wide commercial thoroughfare of Montgomery Ave. Before the purchase of this property Bishop Nestor and Father Herman lived in a private flat. In the new house an apartment was arranged for the bishop as well as quarters for the Ecclesiastical Administration — a school, a storage area and an archive. The church with its new and elegant principal iconostasis, its new holy table, its new vestment wardrobe, etc. was formed out of two rooms (at 1713 Powell St.). In addition the large front room of the second story was removed, so that the altar area and a part of the church had high walls — in two worlds. The church was quite proper, and under the circumstances could not have been better.

In the winter of 1881-82 His Grace frequently complained of headaches and suffered from general malaise. Yet that did not prevent him from preparing for a trip to Alaska in the spring of 1882. This time he planned to visit the furthest reaches of the mission in Alaska and spend the winter of 1882-83 on the shores of the Kwipach (Yukon River) in the village of Ikogmut. In view of all this he prepared for his needs, including even a rubber ryasa and skufya. He obtained a small but well supplied medicine chest from one Doctor Palitsky, a San Francisco resident. His Grace left San Francisco in the first part of May on the steamship St. Paul, belonging to the American Trading Company, taking along one of the school boys, Ivan Shayashnikov, an unassuming young man of 17, as his traveling companion. Several months had passed, when suddenly in the evening of 1/13 August the St. Paul returned with the sad news that his Grace Nestor was no longer with us. He had drowned in the waters of the Bering Strait. It is difficult to imagine the horror and sadness with which all were overcome.

This unfortunate incident occurred not far from shore opposite the St. Michailıs Redoubt on the return voyage. His Grace, for some reason having abandoned his intention of wintering there, was desirous of returning to San Francisco, but he drowned. All the newspapers and magazines were filled with information about the late archpastor. As a rule all were of the opinion put forward by the main newspapers, the Evening Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Morning Call of 3/15 August, 1882. They wrote:

 ³On June 12 (n.s.) the ship left St. Michaelıs Redoubt headed for San Francisco. At a few minutes before eight Captain Erskine stopped by his Graceıs cabin to wish him a good morning, after which he left to fulfill his duties. A quarter hour later another passenger, Dr. Noyes, approached the captain and asked him if he had seen his Grace. The captain replied that he had seen him recently in his cabin. The doctor announced that he had just now come from there and that the bishop was nowhere to be found. Then out of concern his friends began to investigate the reason for his disappearance. Upon examination of His Graceıs cabin, it was noticed that His Graceıs papers and other things were carefully folded. But the fact that he had left some of his clothing, his watch and valuables (most likely his engolpion and pectoral cross) in the cabin gave rise to doubt. A further inspection of the entire vessel only confirmed the suspicion that the bishop, suffering unbearable pain as a result of his neuralgia, had cast himself overboard into the sea. The shipıs direction was reversed and an inspection made of the waters already traversed, but no vestige of the missing bishop was sighted. Consequently they returned to St. Michaelıs Redoubt and instructed a company agent to attempt in every way possible to recover the body of the drowning victim. Last Sunday, when the St. Paul arrived in port with the sad news of Bishop Nestorıs demise, his flock was struck with grief and sorrow.²

If the members of the Holy Synod or relatives of the late bishop (who live in Saint Petersburg and Arkhangelsk) did not form any conclusion about the cause of His Graceıs death from their relationship with him, the Consul General at that time in San Francisco, A. E. Olarovsky could not do any better. Through a notary he took the deposition of every officer on the ship and several agents of the Alaskan Trading Company, inquiring as to what they knew about the bishopıs death.  But as far as I know, all those documents only repeated what had been printed in the newspapers.

And thus was our Church widowed once more.


The Widowed Church from 1882 to 1888


After the death of his Grace Nestor (and for the space of 13 months) the Diocese of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands was governed by the Metropolitan of Saint Petersburg, the Most Reverend Isidor and the Saint Petersburg Ecclesiastical Consistory, through a member of the Alaskan Ecclesiastical Administration, the Cathedral Archpriest Vladimir Vechtomov. Father Archpriest Vladimir governed in a manner similar to that of the Right Reverend Nestor. He economized wisely in financial matters and gradually paid off the debts of the Diocese.  Through his efforts new parish schools were opened in the Diocese, etc.

When in the winter of 1885 the cantors of the Church in Sitka (at that time the priestıs position was vacant) reported to Father Archpriest that Alaskan Indians were being instructed in the teaching of the Orthodox Church and that fifty-two of them were ready to receive Holy Baptism, he made the journey himself in March of 1886 and baptized them all on the eve of the Annunciation in a solemn and moving service. Archpriest V. N. Vechtomov left San Francisco in August of 1888 for his home in Vyatka.


The Right Reverend Vladimir


The Right Reverend Vladimir [Sokolovsky-Avtonomov] arrived in San Francisco in March of 1888. The new Archpastor had been consecrated to the episcopacy on 16 December, 1887, and as is apparent from his speech upon ordination, he set forth on his spiritual labors with the clear understanding of all their difficulties and dangers and with a great love for the vocation to which he had been called.

³Archpastors of the Orthodox Church,² said the newly appointed bishop, ³through the election of your Holiness and the cooperation of the most sacred anointing of God, the Lord once again calls me to missionary service in the work of saving people living in a distant land, where there are few Orthodox Christians, and the vast majority walk in the darkness of religious error. I am called to service in America to preach the Gospel in the spirit of the Orthodox Church. I go forth in the rank of bishop to difficult labor in the struggle with evil in the world to that place where the ever-memorable enlightener of God, Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, undertook his apostolic endeavors. There he and those who followed him met with innumerable obstacles and vexations, suffering muchŠ

³And what should I, the least of all my predecessors to the Aleutian cathedra, think and do so that Godıs vineyard should not become empty in a land that is foreign to us, yet so friendly? The great authority of the bishopıs office and the responsibility before God and man of a very difficult missionary service bring fear and trouble upon my soul. I am obliged to remember the words of the Gospel, ŒFor to whomever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the moreı (Luke 12, 48). The judgment of God is righteous, but deliver me, O Lord, from the detraction of men, that I may keep Thy commandments, illumine now Thy servantŠ²

The last words of that speech were profoundly significant.

Twenty people arrived here with the Right Reverend Vladimir. Among them were priests, deacons and singer-students. On the Sunday immediately following, April 10, the bishop celebrated his first solemn Liturgy, in which all former, as well as all visiting clergy, servers and singers returning to San Francisco took part. This religious solemnity, not having been seen for a long time in the city, made a strong impression on all present, especially on those of other faiths, who attended in numbers equal to the Orthodox.

The bishop paid special attention in the temple to preaching the word of God in English, which was the language commonly understood. To this end the bishop himself, although not completely familiar with the English language, improvised talks in English, which the people readily heard.

Soon after his arrival in San Francisco the Bishop enlarged the house church to almost double in size. The temple became magnificent in appearance. Much was spent on icons, vestments and other adornments. But unfortunately this temple stood for not even a year. On May 9, 1889 on the feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, the templeıs patron saint, at two oıclock in the morning it caught fire. The bishop was the first wakened. He barely managed to escape from his office through a burning corridor to the lower floor, burned by shards of glass falling from the skylights. Hegumen George [Chudnovsky] fell into the flames and was nearly lost. The other thirty residents of the bishopıs house escaped through windows, down the fire escapes and over the fences. The interior of the church was gutted; the entire vestment closet was lost, ravaged by fire and water. The cause of the fire is not known to this day. So the Right Reverend Vladimir was required to rebuild the church and the house a second time. Apart from monetary subsidies received from insurers, at this time among the first the Right Reverend Gherman, a member of the Holy Synod, sent a thousand rubles. Parishioners in San Francisco and its environs donated somewhere around 970 dollars. The church was now consecrated in memory of St. Basil the Great.

While in San Francisco the Right Reverend Vladimir undertook three journeys to the north, to Alaska. With his blessing the publication in English in San Francisco of a local Orthodox magazine was begun, the second in America. The first was published in the 70ıs in New York by a priest of the Russian Church, Nikolai Bering. Unfortunately the magazine ceased existence after six issues for lack of funds.

To the deep regret of all true children of Orthodoxy, the bishop underwent many tribulations and moral anxieties as a result of disgraceful intrigues against his person on the part of certain nihilists. The labors involved in governing such a widespread diocese, demanding constant vigilance and much work, were not sufficient. To the bishopıs cross were added most grievous trials in the form of personal attacks stemming from the dark malice of several fallen individuals. But by the mercy of God in the end truth was victorious, and the bishop triumphed over his enemies.

The Right Reverend Vladimir was able to travel throughout the United States twice and to bring the first Uniate parish into the Orthodox Church in the city of Minneapolis.

At the request of the Holy Synod, Bishop Vladimir left America in October, 1891 and at the present time is Bishop of Orenburg and the Urals.


Our present hierarch, the Right Reverend Nikolai, Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, has occupied the San Francisco Episcopal cathedra since 29 September, 1891.


Hieromonk Sebastian

San Francisco

12 February, 1897



Amerikanskii Pravoslavnii Vestnik, Nos. 15 (1-13 April 1898, pp. 455-460), 16 (15-27 April, 1898), pp. 479-482

Translated from Russian by Robert A. Parent