Archpriest Jakob Pschenichniuk:

Archpriest Jacob (Yakov) Pschenichniuk (b. 1890; d. Aug. 10, 1954) was Holy Trinity Cathedral's priest from 1936 until 1949.

About the Home of Mercy in San Francisco

(A Review of the Establishment and Development of the Russian Women's Home of Mercy and of the Protection of the Theotokos Church of in San Francisco, California)

After the 1917 Revolution in Russia, many Russian refugees were forced to leave their beloved homeland and seek haven in foreign countries. Some of these refugees found a hospitable reception in the United States of America, and, in particular, in the city of San Francisco. Among those who arrived here were not only young, but also old people. At that time there were job opportunities of many kinds, and every newcomer easily obtained work. After 1929 the number of jobs began to shrink. The depression started which caused massive layoffs, and the newly arrived were the first ones to loose jobs. Life took a tragic turn. Many became unemployable, especially women of senior age, and many lost their providers.

Then the idea of establishing a home - shelter for needy and old women in San Francisco was conceived. The founder of this noble institution was the late Archpriest Fr. Paul Rasumoff. Archpriest Paul (Pavel Ivanovich) Rasumoff (b. 1867 or 1868; d. Oct. 27, 1931) was Holy Trinity Cathedral's priest from 1925 until his death.

In February 1930, in order to realize his idea, Fr. Paul issued an appeal to Russian women and gathered together a small group of those who shared his vision; he organized a fundraising committee for this good project. He wanted to organize a society to establish a women's monastery with the condition that it maintain a women's shelter. The monastery would be a lifeline feeding the shelter. Only under such conditions could one be completely assured that the old women would always be cared for, both materially and spiritually.

From the very beginning the Initiative Committee was met with the very negative attitude of the San Francisco Russians. They thought the establishment of a charitable institution without any means, and dependent on the generosity of others was sheer utop ia. There were moments when all efforts and labors appeared to be senseless. When strength was about to expire and energy dropped low, it was Metropolitan Platon[1] who, in a private correspondence, supported and encouraged Fr. Paul. "Be brave, Paul! - he wrote. - Remember, Father, that all great deeds are born in pains."

Several months of tormenting expectation passed, and, in September 1930, in accordance with Metropolitan Platon's instructions, Bishop Alexis[2] granted his blessing to open a home-shelter with its own temple.

In October, the constituent meeting took place, at which the "Provisional Rules of the Women's Monastery" developed by the Committee were adopted, and the temporary board of directors elected. A large three-floor house was rented on the corner of Divisadero and Sacramento streets. Ten rooms on the top two floors were set aside as a dormitory; on the first floor the temple was arranged. The house was blessed on December 7, 1930, and thus the Women's Monastery was de facto opened on that day. On January 5, 1931, Bishop Alexis solemnly consecrated the temple, dedicated to the Protection of the Most-holy Theotokos. Fr. Paul Rasumoff, who performed all his duties, in church and in the Society without pay, was appointed rector of the new church.

The attitude of the San Francisco Russians towards the Women's Monastery remained the same, but there gathered around the Rector a small circle of women who unanimously supported him in all his undertakings. At first it was difficult as the monastery literally had no financial means. In order to pay bills they had to borrow small sums here and there. Nevertheless, the good cause, the unselfishness of the Rector and the board members, and their ardent and unanimous efforts were fruitful, and at year's end the monastery was in the following condition: on average, there were eight occupants a day, nine rooms were completely arranged, and the cash box contained $270.00. At the Home they organized a school, where grammar, dress-making and sewing were taught. In order to bring worshipers closer together and to raise funds for the needy, the coffee hour was instituted after Sunday and Festal church services, which still happens today.

With the appointment of the Right Reverend Theophilus as Bishop of San Francisco[3], the monastery's situation sharply changed. The Bishop visited its temple and celebrated liturgy there. In his address to the parishioners, he declared his complete support for the monastery and regarded with favor the church's rector, Father Paul Rasumoff, and his holy project, and pledged his active support.

But the Lord willed to test the monastery with still new tribulations. On October 31, Archpriest Paul Rasumoff died. The Society's hardships were aggravated by the fact that the prospects of opening a monastery diminished since Mother Rufina had refused to move to America[4], and the board had to plan the future life of the monastery dependent upon its own resources. Besides, the monastery didn't have means to support its own priest who would not only conduct the services but would also be the spiritual leader and guide of the Society.

A few hours before his death, Father Paul Rasumoff wanted to have confession and called for Archpriest Constantine Lebedeff[5] who promised him that he would take upon himself the pastorship and spiritual leadership of the monastery after Fr. Paul's death.

Archpriest C. Lebedeff kept his word and continued this holy and helpful project for nineteen years, until his death on May 11, 1949.

The first years of the monastery's existence were financially very difficult since the Depression was not over yet, but the significant assistance that was offered to unemployed, lonely, and elderly women, was so obvious to the entire Russian colony of San Francisco, that gradually they began to support the monastery both financially and morally.

Already on July 1, 1934, there was more then $500.00 in the cash box and, at the urgent request of Archpriest C. Lebedeff, the board purchased the monastery's own three-floor house at the corner of Turk and Seymour streets for $5,000.00, with a $500.00 down payment and mortgage payments of $50.00 per month. On the two top floors, where the residents live, there are nine rooms and two kitchens and bathrooms. On the lower floor, there is a small church for 100 people with a hall for 60 people, and an office where a priest now lives.

At the same time that the house was purchased, the Society's By-laws were adopted, in which the "Women's Monastery" was renamed "Russian Women's Home of Mercy." The question of the necessity for the Society to have by-laws arose almost at its first year, but every year the adoption of by-laws was postponed, because the question of converting the shelter into a women's monastery was never resolved. Meanwhile, life itself demanded the necessity to have a charter and permanent by-laws in which the basic goals of the Society as an established charitable organization would be formulated exactly. Such by-laws were developed by a commission under the chairmanship of the Most Reverend Metropolitan Theophilus who wanted to personally participate in its composition. On July 4, 1934, the semiannual meeting approved the by-laws. Its text was translated into English, Mr. P. Teslyuk wrote the charter, and authorities confirmed these documents.

In September 1941, the Home of Mercy's mortgage was paid off, and since that time and during the war with Japan, the Home's directorate took care of and provided most generous help to children and all needy and hungry Russians, wherever they were: in Europe, Asia, and Russia. More than $1,000.00 was spent for this aid to the needy.

At the same time, the Board of Directors never forfeited the idea of widening its efforts to provide affordable rooms for needy Russians in San Francisco: requests for this were constantly received by the Society. The need for rooms has always been and now is greater then the number of rented rooms in the Home of Mercy. Many women have been waiting for vacant room for years. In the end of 1945, the Home of Mercy, meeting the urgent need for affordable rooms, purchased a second house, at the same corner but across the street. By December 29, 1948, the Home of Mercy paid off the last installment of the mortgage for this two story house with nine rooms and a basement, which totaled $7,875.00 with 5% annual interest. Such a rapid pay-off is explained by the unanimous support of the Russian community. Soon our increasingly aging community will need not one or two, but three or four houses like those that the Home of Mercy has. With the help of the entire Russian community of San Francisco, such newly-purchased houses could be easily and quickly paid off, and the old Russians would receive a beautiful and affordable "Little Piece of Russia."

All activities of the Home of Mercy are being overseen by the Society's Board of Directors, consisting of 10 women, elected at the annual general meeting, under the chairmanship of the Church's rector. The Home of Mercy's administration takes care of the shelter and the temple, and also spreads its charitable activity beyond the Home's walls, responding to every communal need and all necessities of the Society.

Life inside the Home of Mercy proceeds in complete unity and the cooperation of all residents who in fact are members of the Society and thus most interested in its prosperity. Therefore, as far as possible, they take care of the Home and help the administration in raising funds by organizing all sorts of lotteries, bazaars and parties.

In conclusion, we can say that the goals that have been laid as the foundation of the Home, have been achieved: in San Francisco there is a Russian shelter for needy women where they receive room, medical first aid, and the opportunity to fulfill their religious needs. And at an 80 miles distance, in Calistoga, there is our Metropolitan's Orthodox Women's Monastery.

The Board of Directors attributes these achievements to all Society members. But, as in every organization, there are some people who deserve special attention.

First among them is the group of founding members, i.e., those who took part in the organization of the Society.

Some of them, during this period of the Society's existence, have finished their earthly course, and their names, in recognition of their service, are written in the church synodic for eternal commemoration at the Home of Mercy's temple.

Translated from the Russian-American Orthodox Messenger, February 1952, pp. 23-26, by Rev. Victor Sokolov.

[Graphic to be added at a later date]

Caption: Archpriest Vladimir Sakovich, Archpriest Paul Massukoff, Bishop Alexis (Panteleeff), Protodeacon Peter Kotlyaroff, Archpriest Constantine Lebedeff, Archpriest Paul Rasumoff. Holy Trinity Cathedral, 1927 (?).

[1] Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky; b. 1866; d. Apr. 20, 1934) was a primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in America from 1924 until his death.

[2] Bishop Alexis (Panteleeff; b. 1874; d. Sep. 11, 1948) was Bishop of San Francisco and Rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral in 1927-31. In 1948 returned to the USSR were soon died as an Archbishop of Kazan.

[3] Metropolitan Theophilus (Theodore Pashkovsky; b. 1874; d. Jun. 27, 1950) arrived in San Francisco in 1897 with St. Tikhon; served at Holy Trinity Cathedral as reader, subdeacon, deacon, priest and rector until 1912 when he returned to Russia. After the Russian revolution and the Civil War, Fr. Theodore returned to America and, with the blessing of Holy Patriarch Tikhon, was consecrated Bishop of Chicago (1922). In 1934 Bishop Theophilus was elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada, and transferred his headquarters to San Francisco where he lived at the Cathedral that he built until his death.

[4] From China.

[5] Archpriest Constantine Lebedeff (b. ?; d. May 11, 1949) was Holy Trinity Cathedral's priest from 1927 until his death.

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Modified 2/7/97 -