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St. Vladimir Memorial Church

St. Vladimir Memorial Church
Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky)

In 1938, during the celebration of the 950th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the decision was made at the behest of Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) to mark this jubilee by erecting the majestic St. Vladimir Memorial Church in the town of Cassville, soon after renamed Jackson, at ROVA Farms (ROVA: Russian Mutual Aid Society), where many Russian people typically congregate in the summer months. The original architectural design was done by the talented Russian architect R.N. Verhovsky. In 1940, the triumphal laying of the cornerstone was performed by Metropolitan Theophilus (Pashkovsky), Archbishop Vitaly, and Bishop Makary (Ilyinsky), hierarchs of the then-united Russian Church in America, which later divided into three parts: the American Church, the Church Abroad, and the [Moscow Patriarchate]. St. Vladimir Memorial Church remained under the authority of Archbishop Vitaly. The Second World War halted construction. In 1948, the rector’s responsibilities were assigned to Hieromonk Anthony (Medvedev) and work on the lower church was completed by V.I. Vishnevsky and M.I. Yazykov, with the technical assistance of the engineer A.E. Boldakov.

In 1951, Archpriest Vasily Musin-Pushkin was assigned church rector, and work on the church under his leadership took on a new character of intensity – the church walls and apse were completed under the supervision of architect V.G. Glinin, after which supervision over the construction of the church was undertaken by N.D. Popov. On May 28/June 10, 1959, Archpriest Vasily Musin-Pushkin died suddenly, and the church’s deacon, the newly ordained to the priesthood Fr. Vitaly Faktorovich, became the rector, soon after becoming a monk with the name Vasily, in honor of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Vladimir, who took the name Vasily in Holy Baptism. Local architect S.N. Padyukov took over supervision of church construction. Upon Archbishop Vitaly’s death on February 21/March 8, St. Vladimir’s Society and the Building Committee for the Construction of St. Vladimir Memorial Church were led by Archbishop Nikon of Washington and Florida.  

Divine Service at the Walls of St. Vladimir Memorial Church
Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky)

The scorching sun in the torrid July days sinks below the evening horizon. A cool breeze blows, filled with the aroma of pine trees and green fields. It becomes easy to breathe.

The silver peel of a bell from St. Vladimir’s Mount at ROVA Farms calls Orthodox Christians to the All-Night Vigil with its slow, resounding blows, in the Old Russian tradition. Answering its call, diligent faithful flow from every corner of the Farms, freely spread across a thousand acres. The divine services are performed in the open air on a complex edifice prepared by our skillful experts, engineers V.I. Vishnevky and M.I. Yazykov for the pouring of the reinforced concrete walls. The massive structure is connected and covered in countless struts and clamps, and bears witness to the zealous and sacrificial work of the builders. They have also built the basic metal latticework of the ceiling. So it is that the builders of this church work for the glory of God.

At the bottom of St. Vladimir’s Mount is a sea of automobiles – guests at ROVA Farms, gathered here for the three days of the feast to recover from life in the big city. Not far off, the lake glistens, and the new arrivals gravitate toward it, looking to relax from the hot sun and the oppressive heat.

The reverent priest Fr. John inspiredly performs the divine service on St. Vladimir’s Mount, having recently arrived from Europe, to the harmonious and orderly singing of the churchgoers, under the direction of the tireless laborer, Hieromonk Anthony. The cover of night gradually descends on St. Vladimir’s Mount, converted for now into a church of God.

The next day, Sunday, in the bright rays of the morning sun, the hierarchal service of the Divine Liturgy is performed. A large choir of singers gathers from Lakewood and From New York, participating amicably alongside the natives of ROVA and other friends of St. Vladimir Church.

On this day, the Gospel is prescribed wherein a new law of life is established: "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' (Matt. 6:31). Can it really be true – that we can live thusly, not worrying about that of which we have become accustomed to thinking as the most important? In another instance the Lord said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4).

But how can we free ourselves of these cares for food and shelter?

The Gospel calls us not to be carefree or idle, but to carry the center of our interests from the base province of the material to the higher spiritual: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). If I am able to focus the interests and cares of my life on questions of a spiritual nature, on the Kingdom of God, on true life, then in the measure of my perfection I will be freed from the material cares that oppress me. Everything I need for my physical life will come to me without trouble or care, and if I should undergo the most unbearable hardships, I will face them calmly, joyously, and light-heartedly. If you will possess nothing save the richness of your soul, that will bring joy to those around you – they will take you into their homes, clothe you, feed you, be your father or mother, brother, sister, or friend. You will be a magnet, a source of light; rather, Christ’s light will shine through you. You will create a world of loving hearts around you. But even if such ones are not to be found, God will find another path by which to care for His servants. In order to achieve this, the grace-filled aid of Christ’s untainted Church. It is necessary that I, not with words or external actions, but in deed and earnest, seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness with the same fervor and persistence as the saints, or as shallow people seek material wealth. Then I will have nothing material to worry about. It is impossible to imagine, for instance, Fr. John of Kronstadt fretting about what he must eat or drink, or what to wear, or where to live. And with no worries on his own part, he was offered the most expensive and highest quality foods and clothes, and all were happy to serve him. But oh how he cared for his spiritual life. Daily he would rise for prayers at two or three in the morning, he would serve daily liturgies, crucified himself for others, accommodated everyone in his heart, all the while humbly and meekly counting himself among the worst and most careless of Russia’s forty thousand priests. His life was truly a life in Christ, as he called his journal. For that reason he could afford not to care what he should eat or drink or wear.

Does that mean that this Gospel commandment applies solely to the perfect?

No, it applies to all, because any improvement of my spiritual life is a relief, and removes from me the weight of life’s cares.

If the Lord were simply to have removed from us our life’s cares and sorrows, then this external freedom would necessarily bring us to grave internal servitude, to an increase of the passions, to pride, and to ultimate destruction. But the Lord wishes our salvation, and leads us to true life not only through joys, but through sorrows, as well. That is why the Holy Apostle Paul, called "the mouth of Christ," rejoiced not only "in hope of the glory of God," but rejoiced "in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us..." (Romans 5:2-5).

These apostolic words are read on this very day, and explain that law of spiritual life, by which in Christ’s true Church, in the Kingdom of Grace, the transfiguration of man from the terrestrial to the empyreal takes place, thereby making him capable of praising God not only for joys, but for sorrows… This is the lesson we learned on this day in St. Vladimir Memorial Church.

On July 4, American Independence Day, we served a thanksgiving moleben at these same walls, asking the Lord that America flouring and prosper, and thanking Him that we live in this country. What a young, yet simultaneously rich and powerful land! It is but 172 years since the declaration of its independence. And here stands our memorial to the 950th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. We had millennial independence, marvelous culture, might, and now we have been deprived of it all. Our nation has fallen into the worst kind of slavery that can exist. Internal freedom and external independence were given to us in Christianity by the Holy Prince Vladimir, and we must restore this freedom and independence. St. Vladimir Memorial Church must be a symbol of this, must be our spiritual standard.

July 24 is St. Vladimir’s Day. Let all those in whom beats a Russian heart, who love spiritual freedom, who thirst for the rebirth of our Christian life, gather at the memorial church on this day.

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