On Wednesday, November 21, when the Orthodox Church honors the memory of the Holy Archangel Michael, Commander of the Heavenly Bodiless Hosts, the parish of the same name in Paterson, NJ, celebrated its patronal feast day.
Leading the archpastoral visit to the church that day was Eastern American Diocesan vicar Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan. His Grace celebrated the festal Divine Liturgy, co-served by: Archpriest Serge Lukianov (dean of New Jersey), Archpriest George Zelenin (cathedral rector), Abbot Arseny (Manko; rector of Sts. Cosmas & Damian Church in Passaic, NJ), Archpriest Seraphim Chemodakov, Priest George Kaplanov, and Protodeacon Leonid Roschko (clerics of St. Alexander Nevsky Diocesan Cathedral in Howell, NJ), Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky and Deacon Nicholas Ilyin (clerics of Holy Dormition Convent "Novo-Diveevo" in Nanuet, NY), Hierodeacon Panteleimon (Jigalin), and Deacon Pavel Roudenko (cleric of the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign in New York City).
Liturgy was celebrated under the aegis of the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora – the wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. Despite it being a workday, parishioners and guests from New Jersey and neighboring states attended the festal divine service. Many communed of Christ’s Holy Mysteries.
The parish community first began in 1944 in the German city of Bad Saulgau. At that time, the German government was allowing chapels to be opened in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. One such chapel was opened and ministered to by Archpriest Julian Olhovsky, a clergyman from Belorussia. People in the camps started to flock to him, and after the camps were closed upon conclusion of the Second World War, a majority of Fr. Julian’s parishioners ended up moving to the United States, where he himself would move in 1951. He was sent to serve in the city of Paterson. Gathering around their pastor, the parish rented a small corner in a pet shop, where the first services were held.
At that time, Paterson was one of the leading industrial cities on the East Coast, hosting a large number of factories. These provided much-needed work for Russian people who did not know English. The parish grew quickly, and in 1952 was able to purchase the building of an old Protestant church on Hamilton Avenue. After remodeling, the church took on the look of an Orthodox temple, and an iconostasis was added.
After Fr. Julian’s repose at the end of the 1950s, Archpriest John Legky was assigned parish rector. Fr. John had served in the Pskov Orthodox Mission, and would later become Bishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina & Paraguay, and later of Rockland. Fr. John led the parish for 28 years. It was under his leadership that the current church building was purchased. The iconostasis was transferred there, and a bell tower was later added to the church.
Parish life flourished during this time. In this years, up to 170 children were being taught in the church’s Sunday school.
Since 1998, the parish has been led by Fr. George Zelenin. "In these past years, new immigrants have begun attending and gathering around the church," explains the new rector. "Since there are about 20 parishes of various jurisdictions in our area, we decided to make our parish typically Russian, with divine services in Church Slavonic."
Unfortunately, the location of the church has become a relatively unsafe neighborhood, and over the past 15 years, parishioners have been working to move the community. Last year, a water-blessing chapel, dedicated to the "Unexpected Joy" Icon of the Mother of God, was consecrated next to the future church. There, an akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos is read every Wednesday. This year, construction has begun on the church itself, completion of which is anticipated in July 2019.
Congratulating the rector and parishioners with their patronal feast day, as well as namesday celebrants, Bishop Nicholas noted that this feast will almost certainly be the last one celebrated in the current church building. His Grace called on the faithful to prayerfully thank the Lord and all of those who labored in the past and prayed in this place, creating a church family, and in the new location to continue and augment their prayers, attracting more people to the true God and salvation.
Bishop Nicholas addressed parishioners with a sermon, in which he noted the importance of prayer to the Archangel Michael, to all of the Heavenly Bodiless Powers, and to our own guardian angel, that they might preserve us from all misfortunate and sorrow, from ailments and sins. "Let us abide in the light – for where the light is, there also is our Lord Jesus Christ."
The clergy then intoned "Memory Eternal" for Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), who reposed 33 years ago on November 21, and for the renowned theologian Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, who for many years taught in Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY. The clergy also commemorated the newly reposed Archpriest Andrey Kopeynik, who served in the Diocese of Saransk in Mordovia, and two years ago accompanied the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God to various churches of that republic.
Speaking of the upcoming parish move, Fr. George Zelenin noted how important it will be for parishioners to also take with them the prayerful atmosphere and the heartfelt warmth of those who prayed here throughout the years, and to make every attempt at restoring all of this in their new location.
Upon completion of the service, a luncheon was served in the parish hall for the clergy, parishioners, and guests.
Paterson, NJ: Bishop Nicholas leads Patronal Feast of St. Michael Cathedral - 11/21/18