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Home > About > History of St. Nicholas Church
Boris Levenetz, April 2004

In the 1940's, a group of Russian women, who had previously met and married Navy servicemen in China, along with other local people of Russian background who lived in the San Diego area, decided that they needed to have a Russian Orthodox Church in San Diego.

Metropolitan Theophilus of the "Greek-Catholic-Russian-Orthodox-Church" (also called the Metropolia) sent V. Rev. Makary Baranoff, who was from Alaska, to organize a Russian Orthodox parish in San Diego. As a result of his efforts, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated at St. Paul Episcopal Church, with 30-40 people in attendance. On December 14, 1940, the parishioners decided to dedicate their church to Saint Nicholas of Myra, a well-loved and popular saint in Russia.

In June 1941, Fr. Makary was transferred back to Alaska and the parish was serviced during the next 10 years by other priests that were assigned, all who made important contributions to the growth of the new Russian Orthodox parish in San Diego. During that time, church services were held in various buildings and in various locations in San Diego. It was during this time, including a period where there was no available priest, that Bishop John (Shakhovskoy) of Los Angeles encouraged the parishioners "not to extinguish the Holy Fire in San Diego, which illuminates everyone with Christ's Light."

In April 1948, the parish was finally able to purchase its own home, which was a tow story building located at 3875 Cherokee Avenue. The first floor was refurbished to be used for church services and the second floor was completed to provide living quarters for the parish priest. In 1953-1954, the parishioners developed plans for a new church building. In order to accommodate the actual church building, it was necessary to move the two story house to the back of the lot, to make room for the new church in the front, where the house had previously stood. Due to cost constraints, a fairly modest church was built, as the parish budget could not absorb the expense for a more elaborate church and floor plan, as many had hoped for. The construction plans were approved by Bishop John of San Francisco and the corner stone was blessed by Metropolitan Leonty. 

The construction of the church building was initiated in March 1957, and completed in December 1957. At that time, the parish prest was V. Rev. Leonid Gladkoff, and initially, the church warden was Mr. E. Gordenev, followed by Mr. D. Nixon(Nikitenko) as the new warden. The new church was consecrated by Bishop John. 

In April 1960, the new parish hall was constructed, and was integrated with the original parish house, matching a similar roof design to the church. The hall was designed with a large stage, whichwas instrumental in providing an environment for the many organized artistic events, which were organized as fund-raisers for the parish. All construction was financed by generous donations from the parishioners, by pledges and funds from the Sisterhood, and through a mortgage loan, which was repaid in full by 1965. A library was organized in 1953, whichincluded approximately 1,000 Russian books on various subjects, and which was regularly used by the parishioners, who paid a small fee to support it.

From the beginning, church services were conducted in Old Church Slavonic, which is somewhat similar to the Russian language. In 1965, the parish had 90 active (paying) members, along with others who attended rather regularly, but were not official dues paying members.

The church choir had about 10 permanent members. A very active youth group was established which was about 25 persons strong. The ethnic backgrounds of the church was mainly Russian, but there were also othersof European or American background who either understood Russian, or were familiar enough with the order of services, even though the services were conducted in Old Church Slavonic. 

In approximately 1969, the parish prepared for the imminent retirement of Fr. Leonid, and purchased a rectory, or parish home, for a new priest. The second floor of the original church house was to be used as a residence for a custodian, to secure, clean, and manage the church property, as well as make minor repairs. In addition to managing the church property, the person needed to be a practicing Orthodox Christian and speak both Russian and English.

In 1970, the "Metropolia" received full independence ("autocephaly") from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, and changed its name to the "Orthodox Church in America," which included the mutual understanding that the Orthodox Church in America will maintain the church services in accordance with Russian Orthodox tradition.

A small group of parishioners misunderstood the actions of the Metropolia and believed that it became dependent on the Russian Church in Moscow, which at that time, was controlled by the atheistic communist government. This group of people left St. Nicholas parish and joined with an independent group called the "Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia," which did not recognize the Russian Patriarchate.

Upon Fr. Leonid's retirement, V. Rev Michael Zelneronok was assigned as the priest. Fr. Michael introduced the English language in the church services, helped organize a Sunday School for young children, as well as an adult education program. Church services were now conducted in both languages. On the first Sunday of each month the liturgy was conducted exclusively in the English language.

In 1976, however, a small group of parishioners, who saw a need to establish an exclusively an English-speaking Orthodox parish in San Diego, left St. Nicholas, and thus the parish of St. John of Damascus was established in the North County area of San Diego. Due to the population growth in that area, as well as having services that are conducted in English, that parish has grown, purchased land, and built a church.

In 2001, thanks to the work and planning of the Starosta Nikolay Erokhin and his son Stephen, St. Nicholas received its current gold cupola, trucked here from its manufacturer in Ohio. Replacing the blue-tiled cupola that was weather damaged, it was unpacked, and assembled by volunteers, blessed by Fr Paul and installed. Since then, other smaller renovations have taken place; painting, landscaping, fencing, and interior renovations to the social hall. 

Today, unfortunately, St. Nicholas membership dues and weekly plate collections fall short of covering the ongoing expenses of the parish. What is the future of St. Nicholas?

The mission of an Orthodox Christian church, which includes the parish community and the clergy, is the salvation of souls - salvation for as many parishioners of the community as possible. It is the personal responsibility of each parishioner to help the Church in this mission, with their prayerful and generous financial support. Earthly 'problems' such as individual ambition, personal opinions, judgments, language preferences, and so forth, must not get in the way of our path to salvation, and must be tempered, keeping the mission of Christ's Church first and foremost the priority. God gave us free will and we all can make choices - if we choose correctly, with love and kindness, St. Nicholas Church will have a great future and will grow spiritually and materially, enabling it to further the Orthodox Christian growth in San Diego - for us, for our children, and for many others. Where do we start? We can take steps to increase communications between ourselves, our clergy, our parish council, as well as reach out to others to draw them into our community. We can work to establish closer contact with all the people who fill the church and overflow on to the sidewalk during Pascha midnight services every year, to those who are un-churched, and to those visitors that might join us on any Sunday during the year. 

Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church,  3873 Cherokee Avenue, San Diego, CA 92104 - Phone (619) 281-1093

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