Alberta Centennial Celebration (1997)

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Alberta Centennial Celebration
27-28 July, 1997
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 1997/1998]

On Sunday and Monday, 27-28 July, the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate of Moscow in Canada hosted the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the permanent Orthodox Mission in Canada. The event commemorated was the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the Theodore Nemirsky farm at Stary Wostok, Alberta (then the Northwest Territories) on 18 July, 1897, by Father Dimitry Kamnev, and the ‘dyak’ Vladimir Alexandrov, who had been sent from Seattle by Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov). [This was not the very first Divine Liturgy in Canada, as there is strong evidence of services in Lennoxville, Québec, some 20 years earlier, but that effort was only limited and specific.] By 1897, already there had arrived in the west large numbers of immigrants, mostly from western Ukraine, who had come to establish a new life on the virgin soil, and who considered the establishment of their church life to be a first priority, sometimes even before the building of their own homes.

The original celebration at Stary Wostok, some 100 km northeast of Edmonton, had included many other sacramental acts. There were a great number of the pioneers who received the sacrament of Confession and Holy Communion. Very soon afterwards, at Rabbit Hill/Nisku (about 50 km southwest of Edmonton), there was a similar celebration on the farm of Theodore Fuhr. And almost immediately afterward there came other services with other clergy in the Manitoba area. This marked the establishment of the permanent missionary presence of the Orthodox Church in Canada, which lasts until this day. On this foundation grew all that presently exists of the Orthodox Church in Canada, regardless of national ancestry. The Church later suffered many difficulties as the result of external politics. Now, in 1997, the Orthodox Church has become quite numerous in Canada, claiming over 500,000 adherents, but it is divided mostly according to national and linguistic distinctions at the present time. This divided state is unnatural to us, and it is a condition about which the various hierarchs steadily work and pray for a corrective solution. In this condition we are unable to be truly ourselves as the visible Orthodox Church in this land, and we suffer the costs of duplicated administration, outreach and charitable works.

Therefore, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at Saint Barbara’s Cathedral in Edmonton on Monday, 28 July (Saint Vladimir’s day, Old Style), was even more significant than the well-attended Divine Liturgy at Stary Wostok the day before. The beautifully celebrated and organised celebration and banquet at Stary Wostok was truly significant in its commemoration of the first Divine Liturgy. It was also served on the very ground that saw the first celebration, and that territory has now been acquired by the Patriarchal parishes, and suitable monuments erected. However, the extra significance of the Monday celebration was the extent of the inclusiveness of concelebrants that was achieved.

While Sunday’s grand commemoration had included the bishops and clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate and the OCA, Monday’s celebration was wider. Concelebrating together at the invitation of Bishop Mark (Petrovtsiy) of Kashira (Administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate Parishes in Canada) were : Metropolitan Philaret (Vakhromeyev) of Minsk and Patriarchal Exarch for Belorus (representing Patriarch Aleksey II (Ridiger) of Moscow) ; Archbishop Ireney (Seredniy) of Dniepropetrovsk, Ukraine ; Metropolitan Sotirios (Athanassoulas) of Toronto, the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Exarch for Canada ; Bishop Mark (Petrovtsiy) and Bishop Seraphim (Storheim). This is so far the most inclusive concelebration of bishops that we have achieved (and, had it not been for illness and certain technicalities, it would have been even fuller). This visible expression of unity in the concelebration was significant, and there were many words spoken about the importance of the moment. May God grant that this moment be repeated often in the future, and with the desired fuller participation ! Let me hasten to add, lest any be tempted to negative thoughts, these celebrations are not difficult to organise because there is any great unwillingness. Our own beloved Canadian geography, together with the great activity of the bishops are what make it particularly difficult.

Serving together with the bishops on Monday were : Protopresbyter Victor Petluchenko, vice-president with Metropolitan Kyrill (Gundyayev) of Smolensk of the Patriarchate Department of External Affairs (and formerly a parish priest in Alberta) ; Protopresbyter Michael Kit, rector of Saint Barbara’s Cathedral ; Archimandrite Constantine (Siarapis) of the Greek Orthodox Church in Edmonton ; Archpriests Michael Fourik and Alexander Smediuk of the Moscow Patriarchate parishes ; Archpriest Stephen Keaschuk of Saint Herman’s Church in Edmonton ; Priest Evan Lowig of our rural Alberta parishes ; Protodeacon Alexander Melnychuk of Smolensk, Russia ; and Deacon Ronald Poworoznik of Saint Herman’s Church in Edmonton. Also present, representing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was Archimandrite Alexander.

On both occasions those who participated were generously refreshed after the Divine Liturgy, and there were many good words spoken about the importance of this occasion in the context of our history. In “good old family style” almost as many as wished to speak were given the opportunity, something we are less used to these days, but important in its inclusiveness. This in itself, it seems to me, is significant because in all our rushing we have not forgotten how to spend time with each other and enjoy each other. On both days, there was no rush to leave, but a tendency to linger in the love of Christ.

Our Orthodox Church came to Canada by God’s will and the co-operation of faithful people. Those who did not know that they had such a calling became founders of the Church in Canada, simply because they knew where Christ stood in their lives – first. Like all the Orthodox Church in North America, we have all been called to be a visible witness and testimony for the truth and love of Jesus Christ. As Orthodox Christians, we all, in a multitude of ways, are called in the apostolic way to be missionaries of the love of Jesus Christ. Let us pray that we may be found even half as faithful as our ancestors, these God-loving founders.