Words on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Ottawa Cathedral 2005-03-25

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
Words on the Fiftieth Anniversary
Cathedral Church of the Annunciation to the Theotokos-Saint Nicholas
Ottawa, Ontario
25 March, 2005

My dear brothers and sisters, as we are beginning our celebration of these fifty years of worship and service to the Lord of this community, it is important that we remember to reflect as much as possible on our history, in order that we may not only be building positively on the foundation laid, but avoiding any mistakes of the past as well. It is a joy to make this reflection, particularly so because in these days there are so few opportunities to do this. In a way, it reminds me of the reflection that took place in Tbilisi at the Patriarchate in November last, following the consecration of the new cathedral there. It was an occasion almost like those in Viking sagas (I am told that recent evidence shows that the Viking people originated around the Caucasus mountains). The reflection, mixed with various recitations of poetry, singing, dance, and instrumental playing, considered the present in the context of past similar major events, and tried to suggest possible implications for the future. It is an important exercise, and I am glad that we have an excuse today to do a little of this, ourselves.

For my part, I would like to comment that this community has, in its fifty years, been unique. Its history is marked by a term I do not particularly like to use because of certain connotations, but I cannot at this moment find a better one. That term is the “leap of faith”. The establishment of this community, originally arising out of the former Holy Trinity Bukovinian parish, was part of a natural development, connected in part with post-World War II immigration. It was one of several such developments in Ottawa, resulting in Greek, Antiochian and other communities. Like many a similar mission beginning later (even in our days), it began in a house. And making the beginning required a great leap of faith, as it were. The first significant priestly leader of this Church of Saint Nicholas was Father Nikanor Komarnitsky, together with his wife, Maria. It seems that his and her particular love and generosity of spirit affect this community even now. Their descendants, and those of many of the founding families, remain active either in this community or elsewhere. This community consisted of an interesting blend of Russian-speaking aristocracy, intelligentsia, and others, who got along very well together.

When the current building was acquired, after a short time, Father Oleg Boldireff and his wife, Natalia, arrived and led the community. Father Oleg was a well-experienced pastor, and he already had a history of community-building (particularly in Québec). He is remembered most particularly for his pastoral love and his care for all, but especially for new immigrants. He participated in the development of several missions in Québec. In the later years of this time, there arrived in Ottawa Protodeacon Peter Svetlovsky and his wife, Nadezhda. Living in partial retirement, Protodeacon Peter had been a renowned vestment-maker in the USA, who worked together with his wife. They continued this work in Ottawa on a part-time basis. They were a strongly believing family, with long histories of Christian service on both sides. They were also a good example of the ways in which the diaconate may be seriously lived out in the Church.

There were, in these days (the first 25 years or so), many significant and hard-working lay people in the parish as well, some of whom have been recognised publicly for their labours of love, as is both good and right. However, there are many who have not been publicly recognised. This hiddenness of service in Christ and His reward is far greater in the end than any strings-attached service. It is important that we all remember that whether we are recognised or not in our days by our brothers and sisters for what we do, what really matters is that we are serving Christ, and that we are doing it for the love of Him. What matters in the end is this love, this unconditional and unwavering love. Even if, in the past, now or in the future, many such important persons are not openly mentioned or recognised, it in no way diminishes the importance of their contributions, all of them vital, necessary, and irreplaceable.

In the late 1970s, the Holy Transfiguration Mission was blessed by Archbishop Sylvester, and it was led by Father John Scratch and his wife, Suzanne. Again, a leap of faith was rewarded by the development of an English-speaking mission in a house. Poverty was the lot of the Christ-loving service of this family (and mostly still is) ; but even in the midst of numerous difficulties, joy and devotion to the Church have been the characteristic of this larger-than-average family. It has affected for good those around, even until now, and Father John is still an important figure in our life. The now Igumen Gregory (Papazian), in his support of the mission, left his own important mark on the believers, both in its spiritual and its liturgical foundation and development. The most unique contribution of this mission was, interestingly, in its end. It came to an end by returning, at the invitation of the Mother Parish, to help Saint Nicholas’ Church, which had come to difficult days, mostly because of the age of the parishioners. This process required a significant leap of faith by both communities. Not all survived well the test of blending two very different groups of people. Nevertheless, because of the mutual devotion to Christ and His Church, this blending brought a union of love which only continues to deepen with time. This blending also brought about a change of name. The Holy Transfiguration Mission gave up its name and distinct identity in this union, and the community was placed under the protection of the Theotokos ; but Saint Nicholas, so loved by all, had to remain a visible part. It was the decision of the Holy Synod of Bishops to name the new community “Annunciation to the Theotokos-Saint Nicholas”, and to recognise it as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Canada from 1990.

Father Andrew Morbey and his wife, Alexandra, soon came to the leadership of the community in the wake of the illness of Father John Scratch. They were the first fully-stipended family of the new community, and they were most formative, focussing and strengthening during the years of their service. This involved yet another of these leaps of faith, because no one knew how we could manage to afford this. However, with God’s guidance and support, it was well-accomplished. This family was supplemented by Father Symeon Rodger and his wife, Larissa, who both had secular work, but who, with their family, contributed and contribute fully to parish life. Father Symeon and Father John, as supplementary hearers of confessions in the parish, have had a deep influence on its growth and formation. More recently was added, in a similar way, Deacon Gregory Scratch and his wife, Taecey. During these years, the community grew substantially in every way : in mutual interpersonal responsibility, personal concern, and responsibility for the fabric of all, in education, in visibility, in inter-Orthodox communication, in participation in archdiocesan and OCA life, and in numbers.

At this time, before my concluding remarks, I want to mention the personal contribution to the archdiocese itself from the cathedral community, made by several particular persons. These are Olga Jurgens and Helene Culhane, who have been supporting the bishop in his office with frequent visits for almost eighteen years ; and Nikita and Mary Ann Lopoukhine, who have cared for the treasury, and for the communications of the diocese for just as long. Without these four, the bishop could not have managed to do much at all, and the diocese would not have managed to develop as it has.

As I am speaking of help, I must also mention with gratitude to God the great help given over many years in the past by the sons of Father John Scratch, who drove me as chauffeurs from place to place ; and one time, all across the country. If they had not been ready to give up so much time in their lives, very many things that were, by God’s Grace, accomplished, would not have been possible.

In the most recent years, with the arrival of Father John Jillions, his wife Denise, and their family, the cathedral community has entered again a phase of challenge. Once again, the personality of the rector adjusts the atmosphere of the community, as the Lord continues to guide the cathedral’s development. While we are at the beginning of this adjustment, while we are just getting to know and love the new rector and his family, we are faced with yet another big challenge, and yet another great leap of faith. The building in which we have prayed for so long is too small in many ways, and like those who have gone before us in this community, it is our responsibility to listen to God’s direction about what to do next, and where to go next. Every time that we have been faced with these changes, we have had to face a big stretch of our resources, both financial and personal. Regardless of whither we will be led to move, this will be the factor. What will be a variant is how great will be the stretch. However, every time that we have been ready to listen to, to discern, and to do God’s will, God has blessed the offering, and enabled the cathedral community to bear fruit, regardless of how almost impossible things seemed to be.

Regardless of the exact details of how things will happen in the next months and years, as we take these next steps, whatever they may be, let us never lose sight of our primary purpose, the purpose understood and lived out by all the faithful parishioners and leaders who have gone before us – the purpose of living in the love of Jesus Christ, serving Him, and doing His will first and above all, together, and personally in our lives. Let us be ready to serve as He leads, to feed His sheep, and to co-operate with Him as He increases His flock.