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Before1890

THE PRE-ORTHODOX TIMES

In July of 1792, Captain George Vancouver dropped the ship Discovery’s anchor a few miles south of the site of what now is known as the City of Vancouver, British Columbia. He went north to explore the coast, turned to the east at the cliffs of today’s Point Grey and traveled down the inlet and through the First Narrows into the Inner Harbor of Burrard Inlet. And that was how this beautiful place, the future city of Vancouver, was discovered.

At the same time, in 1793, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great decided to begin missionary work in Alaska, and one year later, a group of eight Russian monks arrived on Kodiak Island and established the “American Mission” as a part of the Diocese of Irkutsk, in Siberia. Among those monks was the monk Herman, the future first recognized and canonized saint and wonder-worker of America. This happened because some fifty years earlier, Captains John Bering and Alexei Chirikov discovered Alaska and together with the entrepreneurs (promishlennikis) brought also to these land Orthodox clergymen. The first Orthodox Liturgy in America was celebrated on the ship St. Peter, under the command of Vitus Bering, which was anchored on the shores of Alaska on July 20, 1741. The Orthodox Faith was seeded on the North American Continent, put its roots here in this vast land, and started to grow slowly. Orthodoxy was well received by the Aleuts, the aboriginal people of Alaska.

During the next 70 years, the Orthodox Mission in Alaska started to bear the fruits of its work: native clergy were ordained; churches were built; the Gospel and church service books were translated into the Aleut language; and the native Orthodox population grew steadily, reaching approximately 12,000 souls by 1860.

In 1840, priest John Veniaminov, who took the monastic name of Innocent, was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and the Kurile and Aleutian Islands. The American Mission was removed from the Diocese of Irkutsk, in Siberia. In 1844, the Bishop Innocent consecrated a newly built Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Sitka with approximately 50 native priests in attendance.

The Russian entrepreneurs traveled the coastline extensively and some of them eventually settled in San Francisco. They acquired some holdings on the Russian River, eighty miles to the north of the city and, in 1812, built a chapel to St. Helen in the place, which is now known as Fort Ross.

However, since 1792 when Captain Vancouver dropped anchor on our shores, nothing had happened on the site of the future Vancouver. The area was surrounded by some of the world’s finest tall timber and the native Indian tribes enjoyed their life in this beautiful place, rich in natural resources.

In 1867, the Russians sold Alaska to the United States of America. In view of this, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church created the Diocese of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in 1870, and the Bishop’s see was moved from Sitka to San Francisco. The Holy Trinity parish in San Francisco composed of Greeks, Russians, and Serbians was founded in 1868. The church was built and consecrated in 1873.

Approximately at that time, the first entrepreneurs arrived here and began the exploitation of the natural resources of the area of today’s Vancouver. In 1869, there was only one sawmill on the south shore of Burrard Inlet. The non-native population numbered 146 persons, mostly ship jumpers and discharged soldiers. But the great natural harbor of Vancouver was inviting to the Captains of the ships cruising from California to Alaska and back, and the city started to grow. In 1871 British Columbia joined Canada as a province. The Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in Vancouver in 1887 and Vancouver was finally connected with the eastern provinces, and the large cities of Toronto and Montreal. Then the Klondike gold rush began in 1898 – bringing to the city more people and business.

In the 1890s, large numbers of Galicians, Bukovinians and Carpatho-Russians emigrated to America and many of them eventually settled in Canada, particularly in the Western provinces, where large areas of land were available for farming. Some of them eventually found their way to Vancouver thus increasing its Orthodox population. In San Francisco, Bishop Nicholas of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands had been receiving persistent requests for clergy from the Orthodox faithful in Canada, since 1894. He organized a few missionary tours with priests from elsewhere in the Diocese. In 1895, the first Orthodox Church in Seattle, Washington only 150 miles south from Vancouver was consecrated by Bishop Tikhon, the future Patriarch of Moscow and the saint of America.

Archpriest Dimitry Kamnev from Seattle visited Alberta and celebrated what is believed to be the first Orthodox Divine Liturgy on Canadian soil on June 12, 1897. In 1901, Bishop Tikhon consecrated three newly constructed churches in Canada and two years later, he incorporated the Orthodox Church in the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1906, already 18 Orthodox churches were in Canada. None of them in Vancouver. A year later, the parish of Sts. Peter and Paul was founded in Montreal.

On the break of the new century, the Orthodox churches of other than Russian origin began to form e.g.; Greek, Arabic, Romanian, Bulgarian and Serbian. Some of them commenced their formation within the Diocese and disintegrated later, some were already formed then by the mother churches abroad.

In 1916 the Orthodox Church in Canada was established as a separate bishopric within the North American archdiocese. Bishop Alexander (Nemolovsky), the Vicar of Alaska responsible for overseeing Canadian affairs since 1913, was transferred to Holy Trinity Cathedral in Winnipeg, thus becoming the first resident bishop of the Orthodox Church in this country. The same year, the parish of Christ the Saviour was established in Toronto.

Immediately after World War I, the immigration to the West Coast of Orthodox faithful of different ethnic backgrounds, besides Russians, increased. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 also helped, linking Vancouver with Europe. By that time, the Orthodox population in the city had grown substantially but wasn’t able to establish an organized Christian community.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 became a major disaster for the Orthodox Church in North America. With the chaos brought on by the Revolution, the disintegration of the Archdiocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America as it was known at that time, into separate ethnic jurisdictions began. The Greek Archdiocese of North and South America was formed in 1921 and Syrian-Antiochian independent jurisdiction established in 1925. Serbians joined the jurisdiction of the Serbian Patriarchate also.

At the end of the first quarter of this century, Orthodoxy was well established on the north, south and east from Vancouver and finally, 75 years ago, it came here into this wonderful place called Vancouver. The pre-Orthodox times vanished.

Glory to God Almighty!