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Russian House “Rodina” Across the Years

 

Russian House “Rodina” was opened at May 26 2012, being a legitimate high-principled heir to the Russian-American Welfare Society “Rodina” founded in the 1950s.


The tragic yet sublime fate of Russian emigration left its intricate imprint on the history of the Society. Its echo is still reverberating and manifesting itself in the well-composed and laconic Russian language spoken by the local old-timers, in the marvellous old Russian harmony of the Divine services in the nearby Church of St. Alexander Nevsky as well as in their amazingly benevolent way of treating other people.

 

It all began in the United States in the first quarter of the 20th century in the township known as Lakewood, New Jersey, 50 miles south of New York when the first settlers from Russia appeared there. Chased from their homeland by the merciless hurricane of the revolution and the subsequent Civil War, seeking shelter from the bloody Bolsheviks’ repressions, they were attracted to this place by its primeval nature, mild climate, pure air and scarce population. Thick pine forests still bore the numerous traces of Indian paths and were inhabited by various animal species such as deer, turkey, rabbit, fox and bear.

 

It’s interesting to note that not far away from Lakewood there are such places as Freehold, Tennent and Toms River that also had their share of suffering during the American Revolutionary War of 1775-1783. It was here that the battle of Monmouth was fought in 1778 between the Continental Army led by Gen. Washington and the British Army under the command of Gen. Clinton.

 

The settlers gradually cleared the virgin lands, built their houses and founded small villages giving them their family names or names of events with which they connected the place. Most often the main income of the immigrants came from farming and, in particular, from raising chickens.

 

In the 1930s a group of Russian settlers (18 persons), the majority of whom were Cossacks, decided to form a Church community. Among the founders were:  L.A.Sinkler, V.V.Pozhidaev, P.K.Grigorovich-Barsky, V.M.Azhoghin, V.G.Grekov, V.T.Yuritsyn, E.E.Bobrovnichy and others.


At that time Dr. A.V.Plavskaya together with her mother decided to set up a country house – a sanatorium (health center). With that idea in mind they bought a large plot of land (5 acres, about 2 hectares). But in a short while they decided to donate it to Archbishop Vitaly (Maksimenko) who was then the Diocesan bishop providing spiritual leadership to the people of this area. His Eminence Vitaly seeing the needs of a newly-born Russian community, felt it impossible to use the donated land for the purpose of the country house – sanatorium - and gave the deed to the parish. The rite of laying the foundation for the new church took place on March 31, 1936. The celebration was headed by Archbishop Vitaly and at that time an oak cross was installed. During the ceremony the Archbishop said: “I pray to God that this first-born of mine should bloom as “the tree righteously planted near the waters”. The church and the parish were dedicated to St. Prince Alexander Nevsky (his feast day of August 30/September 12 coincided with the birthday of Dr. Alexandra Plavskaya). The street adjacent to the church was also named after the Grand Prince.

 

The first contribution to the church construction fund in the amount of 500 dollars was made by Dr. Plavskaya. Other poor families managed to collect 200 dollars more and with these meager amounts started to build the chapel initially and then (in 1938) the church itself. The layout of the chapel was designed by V. Zavalishin who took into account its further restructuring as a church. The stoic endeavors of the “Russian” Lakewood founders led to the chapel being built in less than three months. On the June 21, 1936, the construction of the chapel was completed. The chapel was consecrated by archpriest Serghij Panteleev. The first church warden to be nominated was L.A. Sinkler. One of the most ardent construction participants was V.M. Azhoghin who became the second warden, a position in which he remained for 40 years (1943-1983).

 

In the years to come the parish grew by leaps and bounds. In 1938 the church was enlarged for the first time and in 1948 it was enlarged for the second time. The Great Consecration was performed, as was done previously, by Archbishop Vitaly Maksimenko. Subsequently, the church was enlarged twice more and finally acquired the appearance that we see nowadays, but under another name. The parish was growing too, as well as that of its social life. The construction activity went on and in 1940 the dedicated parish house was completed and it was used for such cultural and charitable institutions as association of sisterhood, drama circle, library, department of aid to children in emigration, Russian invalids’ aid representation office, department of Russian-American union for the Soviet Union refugees protection and help, Foundation for the DP aid in America, Vladimir Society bureau, anticommunist center bureau etc.

 

On the September 12, 1989, on St. Alexander Nevsky feast day, the foundation for the new Temple Cathedral was laid. The Cathedral layout was designed by the architect N.S.Karsanov. At that time the Rector of the Church was Fr. Valery Lukjanov whose civilian occupation was that of a construction engineer. He actively participated in both the Cathedral design and in its further construction. In 1994 a small consecration took place and the first Divine service (Liturgy) was celebrated; in 1996 a group of icon painters from Jordanville headed by Fr. Andrew Erastov began painting the Temple. The interior painting of the Cathedral was completed in 2001. According to the parishioners’ and in the opinion of many pilgrims it is one of the most beautiful churches outside Russia. In October 1997 the Great consecration of the Cathedral was celebrated. The celebration was attended by the First Hierarch of the ROCOR Metropolitan Vitaly, His Eminence Archbishops Anthony of San Francisco and Western America, His Eminence Archbishop Laurus of Siracusa and Troitsk, His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, etc.

 

After the Great consecration of the new St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the old church, with the blessing of the ROCOR Hierarchal Synod, was renamed in honor of the icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin. This icon is known in the parish as “The Royal” because once it belonged to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia. In 1913 the Empress gave the icon as a gift to her dressmaker who had injured her foot while filling the imperial order. In this way the Empress expressed her sympathy and support for her dressmaker. In 1972 the daughter of the dressmaker O.V.Astori-Astafieva presented the icon to the St.Alexander Nevsky church where it is currently retained. On the June 9, 2011, the altar of the initial church in Lakewood was consecrated in honor of this icon. The consecration was celebrated by the ROCOR First Hierarch Metropolitan Hilarion. The wonderful image of Our Lady is a relic and an adornment of the St.Alexander Nevsky church where it has become “the temple icon” of the church, the walls of which have become permeated with so many tears and prayers across the decades from the moment of its construction in 1936. Nowadays the services are celebrated mainly in the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, but on special occasions the services are celebrated in the temple of the Tikhvin icon of Our Lady.

 

From the very beginning the parish paid great attention to the education and upbringing of children. The first 12 students started regular attendance at classes in the parish school in November 1941. Initially the lessons were held in the parish house, but by 1961 a school was built for 5 classes and in 1973 a school building for 10 classes was commissioned. The number of pupils totalled 120 children. The school exists to the present day and is open once a week on Saturdays. The following school subjects are taught: Law of God (Catechism), the Russian language, Russian literature, Russian history, geography as well as music and choreography. But most importantly, the children are taught the spirit of the Orthodox brotherhood, the correct attitude towards material goods and Christian love for their fellow creatures. The parish grew and developed, but it did not necessarily follow that its ecclesiastic and social lives went hand in hand. The stumbling block turned out to be certain cultural and entertainment activities on Saturdays. The church authorities were against Saturday entertainment, even banning some of the most ardent enthusiasts. But at the same time the Lakewood old-timers thought that Saturday was the only day of the week for them to meet each other, dance and enjoy themselves because the rest of the week they worked hard to earn their living and to make ends meet. Besides, the Cadet’s tradition was to give Balls on Saturdays and there were many Cadets not only in the vicinity but also among the parishioners.

 

In June 17, 1954, a group of parishioners, (78 persons) met in a private house and decided to constitute a cultural and educational Society which later was named “Rodina” (“Homeland”). On September 26, 1954, the first constitution meeting was held in a Lakewood  In the course of 15 minutes about 5,000 Dollars was raised to run the Society.  In October 1954, a piece of land bordering the existing church parish land was bought from G.Minaev for 8,000 Dollars. The Society property was now 12.4 acres. In April 1955 the foundation of the new building was laid and the New Year (31st December) was celebrated in the new surroundings. “Brandwood” hotel where it was decided that each Society member would buy at least one 50 Dollar share in the organization.

 

From the very beginning the activity of the newly founded cultural Society “Rodina” was intermingled with that of the parish. But from time-to-time there were difficulties in the relationship with the ecclesiastic authorities which resulted in bitter misunderstandings. Nevertheless, it was a community of Russian people troubled and feeling unrest for the fate of Russia and longing to preserve its cultural and historic heritage.

 

The “Rodina” Society has undertaken most of the parish’s social and charity activities. It housed drama performances, musical recitals of outstanding artists (S.Zharov Chorus, the singer S.Gedda, violinist Polina Shuster, ballet dancer N.G.Raevskaya etc), there were M.A. Lermontov “Art Studio”, Ya.V. Rzhevsky sports club “Vityaz”, “Youth Club” where one could choose from table tennis, chess, recitation, drawing, handcraft, old-time dances, wood carving and many other sections. By invoking the past, the enthusiasm and common spiritual awakening of the Russian community that found a new “Homeland” overseas, worked wonders. Grand Duchess Vera Konstantinovna Romanova, the younger daughter of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovitch visited the Society on many occasions.

 

It is particularly worth noting that the “Rodina” Society Museum was established and headed by the artist Vsevolod Pavlovich Steletsky for a period of 23 years. Other prominent people played an important role in the Museum, such as Baron G.N.Taube, famous aviator and airplane design engineer B.V.Serghievsky, and Prince S.S.Beloselsky-Belozersky. Over the course of time many other collections were added to the Museum, such as Nikolaevsky Military Cavalry School from Paris, Semenovsky, Izmailovsky and Pavlovsky Life Guards Regiments, Russian Cavalry, Konstantinovky Artillery School, Naval Association Union of Private Archives… But in 1994-1995 upon the decision of the Society Director the Museum, housing by that time some 40,000 objects, was transferred to Russia.

 

As we have noted, at the beginning Society life was closely connected to that of the parish. But as time went by these ties had became weaker and occasionally there were serious conflicts between the parish and the “Rodina” Society leaders. Another problem was due to the discord between the older generation and the young people regarding the management of the Society and the choice of programs. The Society founders grew older but there was no successor from the younger generation to take the reins of leadership.  Consequently, it resulted in a decrease in Society members and a decline in the cultural activity. After the Museum, the largest Russian History Museum in the USA, was transferred to Russia, Society activity became progressively less from year to year and in recent years its activity was reduced to “Bingo” games, New Year’s Eve celebration (31st December) and family holidays.

 

In winter 2011 the “Rodina” Society Council of Elders decided to sell the building along with the land. The contract was fully signed on January 5, 2012, and the building of the “Rodina” Society with its land (12.4 acres) passed into the ownership of the Russian House “Rodina”.

 

The name of the organization includes the word “Russian” which implies “Orthodox”. It has been decided that the activity will be correlated with the Orthodox Church and the Russian House welcomes all interested persons with different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds as well.
 

It has been decided to pay great attention to the activities aimed at children and youth.

 

Adults will have the opportunity to attend the exhibitions, recitals, festivals, drama performances, balls, dancing and other recreation activities, to celebrate birthdays, marriages etc.

 

Russian History Museum was restored and now his exposition updated with new exhibits.
The lectures, presentations, films and chamber music performances will be
held in the small cinema and conference hall. The Russian House “Rodina” is actively commemorating our outstanding compatriots: there will be “The Park of Glory”, a museum in the open air, with sculptures and monuments to honor prominent persons of culture, religion, science, the military and statesmen. Provisions have been made to build a chapel in commemoration of the warriors who perished in battlefields for the freedom of Russia. Plans are being prepared to build a state-of-the-art concert hall and sports facilities.

 
A huge amount of work remains to restore the building and to renovate the land, to renew the museum and the library, but the most important task is to unite people who love and appreciate their own culture!

 


 



 


 


Each of us has a desire to preserve, multiply and transmit to
future generations the cultural heritage of their ancestors.

That is the goal of the Russian House "Rodina."