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Anatole Portnoff – Russian Orthodox Society of Vancouver

MR. ANATOLE E. PORTNOFF’S MEMOIRS
About the Russian Orthodox Society in Vancouver

In 1935 the Holy Resurrection Church was experiencing a financial crisis. Universal joblessness was the main cause of that; the Sunday collection sometimes brought in as little as $1.50-2.00, while the debt incurred in building the church was tremendous – $4,500, and the monthly mortgage payments were in arrears. Father Rector could not expect any salary at that time; once in a while some of the more concerned parishioners would chip in with two or three dollars apiece to collect $15 and donate it to the priest for monthly living expenses. Finally the day came when the parish failed to make the due payment of principal, the creditors then foreclosed, locked the church and decided to sell it in an auction.

As it always happens at times of special crises in the life of a country or society, Lord God sends a man with the ability to save the situation and inspire people to sacrifice and hard work. In this case it was Vassily Alekseyevich Mironov, a resident of New Westminster, who saw that not only the House of God, but also Russian dignity needed to be saved. He knocked on the door of every Russian in the area, collecting donations and promoting the idea of creating a Russian Orthodox Society for the sole purpose of maintaining the church. Soon the needed minimum sum was collected, the Russian Orthodox Society was established and registered with the Provincial legislature.

The next step was dickering with the creditors in order to buy the church from them as cheaply as possible. The creditors knew full well that they would have difficulty selling the church, since the building had an unusual look and was not suited to house a factory, and the plot itself was worth $200 at most. After lengthy negotiations they agreed to sell for $2,800 with payment in installments. The Russian Orthodox Society now had the sacred duty to preserve the Russian Orthodox shrine, and its members got down to work in order to pay off the mortgage as soon as possible. The entire Russian colony was invigorated, burning with desire to help the holy cause. Numerous fundraising events were held: shows, concerts, bazaars. Very soon the debt was paid in full. Afterwards the neighboring house was bought for the priest’s residence.

The ordeal was over, it seemed, but further trials were offered by fate. City Hall decided to build a huge new Granville Street bridge, and one of the ramps of this bridge overlapped with the church building. The city offered to compensate the Russian Orthodox Society to the tune of $50,000, which sum was accepted. The Society’s members worked long and hard to choose a suitable plot and design a new church; with much diligence, sacrifice and love it was all accomplished. In July of 1954 our late beloved Primate, His Eminence Metropolitan Leonty with numerous other clergy conducted the solemn dedication of the new Holy Resurrection Church.

As is always the case with construction efforts, the contractors’ expenditures exceeded the estimates; instead of $50,000, the new church cost $75,000 to build, plus the neighboring house was acquired for the priest’s residence for $6,000. The extra $31,000 were a new heavy burden on the Russian Orthodox Society. But the love of the Orthodox people for their temple and their zeal to help were still there, and the new debt was paid off in 1959. The sacrifice was great on the part of the Society members and other parishioners, everyone labored to the glory of God, but the great effort of the Ladies’ Auxiliary deserves special mention. For thirty years this Auxiliary was not only a moral, but also a material support for the Russian Orthodox Society. These charming, hard-working ladies earned thousands and thousands of dollars with bazaars and lunches. The Orthodox Ladies Guild (English-speaking) must be mentioned, for they have been responsible for years for the internal decoration of the church and made many valuable gifts.

In 1965 the Rector’s house was rebuilt and overhauled, for the cost of $6,000. At present the Russian Orthodox Society owns nearly a whole city block in one of the city’s best neighborhoods, occupied by the Holy Resurrection Church, the Church Hall with two big halls one atop of another, and the Rector’s house. The property is currently assessed at $150,000. The Russian Orthodox Society numbers 114 members, of whom most belong to the older generation. Lately there is an influx of youth, which is encouraging. The forty-year-long labours of generations of Russian people should not go to waste; the day will come inevitably when the Russian Orthodox Society hands the property over to the North American Metropolia of the Orthodox Church.

Concluding this brief history of the Russian Orthodox Society, I can state sincerely that the era of crises, sufferings, internal strife and great creative efforts is over. Many remarkable people, members of the Society and parishioners, have reposed, but the survivors are thanking God for His blessings to the wanderers out of the Russian land. Cast out by the great storm of Russian history, scattered in many countries without knowledge of their languages, with no means of existence, humiliated and humbled, they preserved in their hearts the greatest treasure: the ORTHODOX FAITH, which warmed them at all times and lit their way. Within the House of God they always found peace for their souls and spiritual support, and to the end of their days they will zealously keep the faith of their fathers and serve selflessly the Holy Orthodox Church. Far from the motherland, on the shore of the Pacific Ocean stands one more monument to the Russian Orthodox Faith, thanks to the sacrificial efforts of a handful of Russian exiles.

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