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Holy Resurrection - Holy Trinity Church, Tacoma - Wilkeson Washington
"...Divine Wisdom has built itself a house amongst them, and sacrificed itself and prepared a feast, but we must call them by the way and at the gates and from the tops of the high places (Prov. 8:19). Well, shall we be burdened by this? After all, we are but servants of Wisdom which sends us out for this purpose… Make this community, which is still small, grow like the mustard seed in the Gospel, into a shady tree (Matt. 13:31-32) under which those who are still outside our pasture might find shelter too. The community will draw people most if divine services are performed there reverently and devoutly; if church life is distinguished by its piety; if the members of the community live in peace, love and brotherhood."
So spoke our Father and Bishop Tikhon on April 1, 1900 in Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco in a sermon at the ordination to the priesthood of Fr. Vladimir Alexandrov, the first priest assigned to our parish. While Fr. Vladimir met with personal tragedy and many challenges throughout his life, he was instrumental in the foundation of our parish and its earliest years. These words, spoken by our holy bishop concerning our parish, are a precious gift to us, and they certainly have rung true with the passing of time. Bishop Tikhon was later to become Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia on the very eve of the Revolution, to suffer greatly under the Bolsheviks, and to be glorified a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His early influence and prophetic voice, the fact the he consecrated our first Temple, that a saint has walked among us, is a constant source of spiritual comfort and inspiration to us.
Wilkeson, Washington is a coal-mining town founded in the late 1870’s. It lies in the deep, forested western foothills of Mount Rainier. The earliest known record of Orthodox Christian activity in this small community is linked to visits by the noted Orthodox evangelist, Archimandrite (and recently canonized) Sebastian [Dabovich]. Saint Sebastian was born and raised in San Francisco, the son of pious Serbian parents. He was the first Orthodox priest born in the United States as well as the first to be ordained in this country. Saint Sebastian visited Wilkeson at least twice, first in 1892 when he met with local Orthodox Christians, and again in 1895 when he returned to assess the need for a permanent mission. As a result of Saint Sebastian’s efforts, our parish was founded in July of 1896 under the auspices of Bishop Nicholas [Ziorov] of the Aleutians and Alaska, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Holy Trinity parish came to life on a visit from Father Amvrosii Vretta and a young Reader (and our future priest), Vladimir Alexandrov. Both men were assigned to the newly founded church of St. Spiridon in Seattle. Bishop Nicholas was succeeded by Bishop Tikhon [Belavin], our future Saint Tikhon, Confessor and Enlightener of North America.
In 1900 Saint Tikhon preached the sermon quoted above, in which he described our first parishioners as “Arabs, Greeks and Slavs,” together with “Uniates [Byzantine Rite Catholics] who had reunited and were living in Wilkeson.” A small “prayer house” dedicated to the Holy Theophany was quickly erected in Wilkeson, but it was replaced in 1900 with a beautiful little temple dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. Holy Trinity Church was consecrated on September 22, 1902 by Saint Tikhon. Father Vladimir Alexandrov, who had participated at the founding of the parish, was responsible for its spiritual life during most of these early years. Michael Hlatke was an active member at that time. His daughter, Mary, married George Wytko. Descendents of George and Mary still worship in our parish. So very little is known about the pioneer days at Holy Trinity, Wilkeson. A picture survives of a wedding party on the front steps of Holy Trinity Temple. It is the wedding day of Maria Kochen and Vasili Krutilla on May 15th, 1904. An account of the day was written by Maria’s granddaughter, and may be found at the end of this article. A rather large icon of the Archangel Michael, rendered in oil, has hung in the Temple throughout the years, in a special shrine. In the year 2000, in celebration of the centennial of Holy Trinity Temple, it was cleaned and repaired (a small burn hole from a candle was repaired and painted over). The restored shrine was placed in the narthex above a special cabinet of various historic items which was also installed in 2000. There is a dedication on the icon, in Cyrillic:
For the life of Annie Semak, in memory of Mikhala Semak and Mikhala Eshtak.
We know that “Mike” Semak was killed on December 17, 1917, along with five other miners, in a mine inundation in the “Wilkeson Mine” of the Wilkeson Coal & Coke Co. James Bagley, State Mine Inspector, mentioned the incident in his 1918 Annual report. He reported that the daily wage scale for a miner at the time was $5.89. The 1910 Wilkeson census lists Mike Semak as being 35 years old, an immigrant with the appellation of Austrio-Slav. All we know about “Mike” Eshtak is a listing in the 1910 census for Mike Estok, 40 years old, naturalized in 1890. He had a wife, Annie (33), a daughter, Annie (14), and three younger children, John, Mike & Mary.
In these early years, following Fathers Amvrosii Vretta and Vladimir Alexandrov, the parish was served by Fathers Michael Andreades, Gregory Shutak, Andrew Kashevarov and Sergei Leporsky, the last known resident priest, who left Wilkeson for the parish in Portland, OR by 1929. Fr. Sergei, who had been raised, educated and ordained in Vladimir, Russia, and who had traveled to America via China, distinguished himself throughout his long priestly ministry, and retired in the 1950's in New York. In the 1930’s, with the advent of diesel, gas and electricity, coal production in Western Washington declined and the town of Wilkeson, which at one time boasted a population of almost 6,000, began to wane to its current level of fewer than 400 residents. It was in the 1930’s that Andrew and Anna Michal moved to the area. Through their leadership, and that of their children and grandchildren, parish life was maintained for decades: the Wilkeson temple was kept in good repair, visiting priests came from Seattle to provide services, and community relations were strengthened. Descendents of Andrew and Anna still worship and are active in our parish life to this day. During this time period the clergy from Seattle who served at Holy Trinity included Fathers Michael Danilchik, Paul Jeromsky, Michael Johnson, Nicholas Senin, and Vadim Pogrebniak. Fathers Michael Johnson and Nicholas Senin were assigned to Holy Trinity while living in Seattle and holding other positions. The other clergy were assigned both from St. Spiridon Cathedral and from St. Nicholas Cathedral (Russian Orthodox) in Seattle. They would typically visit Holy Trinity on certain Saturdays each month. Holy Trinity began to conduct most of its services in English rather than Slavonic during the ministry of Father Michael Johnson, and by 1985 Holy Trinity had become the first parish in Washington State to use English exclusively. In 1970 the Russian Orthodox Church granted the North American Church administrative independence (autocephaly), thus forming the Orthodox Church in America.
By 1985, Father Vadim Pogrebniak, the Dean of St. Spiridon in Seattle, successfully arranged for Holy Trinity parish to acquire Father John Pierce as its first full-time resident priest since 1929. After completing his studies at St. Vladimir Seminary in New York, Father John was assigned to Holy Trinity as his first parish and has remained here ever since. With a full-time priest providing leadership, the parish grew until it could no longer be contained in our historic Wilkeson temple. In the autumn of 1989 Holy Trinity Temple was added to the Washington State Register of Historic Places (it was later added to the National Register). His Eminence, Metropolitan Alexy of Leningrad visited Wilkeson for Vespers and the State ceremony, lending his comments to the special occasion. A year later His Eminence was elected the 15th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.
In 1996 our parish moved to a quiet country setting, just minutes southeast of downtown Tacoma in the Midland-Summit area. Holy Resurrection Church, Tacoma, is presently housed in temporary quarters on our new site there. In 2002 our parish gave birth to Holy Ascension Mission in Olympia. We also purchased more property adjacent to our Tacoma church, providing us with over nine acres of forested paths and grassy pastures. Buildings already in place have been improved for parish use, so that we now have an intermediate setting that can accommodate a growing church as we prepare to build a traditional Orthodox Christian temple for future generations. Our parish choir, under the direction of Matushka Katherine Pierce, has grown with the parish to provide a beautiful foundation for our worship. In 2005, with the help of St. Spiridon Cathedral in Seattle, we inaugurated a Slavonic Liturgy, served once a month on a Saturday, to minister to new Slavic immigrants in the greater Tacoma area. In October 2011 the Orthodox Church in America held its 16th All American Council in Bellevue, WA, a meeting that drew delegates from across the US, Canada and Mexico. While many such meetings have occurred in the Church since 1907, this was the first to be held in the Western United States. Holy Resurrection - Holy Trinity parish was quite instrumental in this historic meeting. No fewer than seven members of our parish served on the Executive Board and as Committee Chairs, and most members assisted in the effort.
Our pastoral ministry has been augmented and blessed by the ordinations of Deacon Luke Fordice (his wife, Andrea) in 2003, Father Daniel Armatas (his wife, Maria) in 2005, and Father Irenaeus Williams (his wife, Janice) in 2007. Our parish has been further blessed by the addition of Fr. Joseph Velez (his wife, Veronica) in 2009, and Fr. James McKee (his wife, Katherine) in 2011, as well as our Youth Pastor, Deacon Joseph Ramos (his wife, Marthie) in 2013. While being formally attached to Holy Annunciation, Milwaukie, OR, our parish was blessed by the ministry of Fr. Athanasius Shaw (his wife, Molly) from January 2009 to October 2011.
Between 1996 and 2006 our beloved Deacon Joseph Kerns (his wife, Elizabeth), may his memory be eternal, labored in this fertile vineyard. Truly embodying the title of “deacon”, meaning servant, Father Deacon Joseph will long be remembered for his service in the Altar, in building up our parish and serving the people of Holy Resurrection. To be closer to his family, Fr. John Garvey (his wife Regina) moved to our parish in his retirement from the east coast. Father John’s retirement ministry included strengthening the parish community by hearing many confessions, a ministry which he particularly grew to love, and which the faithful appreciated. Fr. John fell asleep in January, 2015.
As mentioned, our original home and birthplace, Holy Trinity Temple in Wilkeson, is listed on both the National and State Historic registers. Holy Trinity is maintained in excellent condition and used for special services throughout the year. Major work on Holy Trinity in 2010/2011 included a new cedar shake roof, a complete repainting of the exterior including the cupola & cross, and a rebuild of hand rails and stairs, as well as a beautiful new set of Altar covers. Work continued through the spring of 2012 to expand the 1,500 square foot temporary chapel in Tacoma another 700 square feet in order to accommodate more people (the 2010 average Sunday attendance was 120 people). Long-term plans in Tacoma include construction of a traditional Orthodox temple, a parish fellowship/education building, the first Orthodox Christian cemetery in Washington State, and a remodeled bookstore/administrative building. Our current facilities will be modified and used in various ways to build Orthodox Christianity in the southern Puget Sound area. St. Tikhon’s vision for the future of this parish has been realized through the tireless work, witness and sacrifice of both clergy and faithful from its beginnings in the 19th century up to this very day. We have grown into that spiritual shelter, that shady tree which he described in his sermon over a century ago. Divine Wisdom still calls us, and all who would join us, into the peace, love and brotherhood that is to be found only in Jesus Christ our Lord, in His holy Orthodox Church.
“Grandma” referred to below is Maria Kochen Krutilla, who was married Vasili Krutilla at Holy Trinity Church, Wilkeson, May 15,1904.
"For whatever interest it might be, I'd like to pass on to you some things Grandma has shared with me about the church during the years she and Grandpa lived in Wilkeson. Some dates Grandma remembers keenly - she recalls coming by train from her sister's home in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, to Tacoma and switching trains to arrive in South Prairie on the morning of April 26th, 1904.
Grandma smiles when she tells of a young man who met her when she got off the train - someone she vaguely recognized from a picture sent to her by her sister living in Wilkeson. That was my Grandpa and he carried her suitcase as they walked the distance from South Prairie to Wilkeson (5 miles, much of it uphill!). Grandma was 20 years old then and had been in America for about a year. Evidently Grandma's sister, Xena, and her husband Michael Polanski had been busy making plans for Grandma before her arrival. Some twenty days later, on May 15th, Maria Kochen and Vasil Krutilla were married in the Orthodox Church. Grandma recalls that the church was not completely finished on the inside at the time of their wedding - she explains that holy pictures were still being given to the church by families in the community. As he related to Grandma, Grandpa helped build the church with his hands and pocket book along with his fellow coal mine workers, although Grandma doesn't know what year that might have been. She recalls that Grandpa was elected "cashier" for the congregation after they were married and that the priest would come once a month from Seattle to conduct the Sunday Liturgy. Grandma has recalled how beautiful the altar was and had often told me that she wished I could see how pretty the church was inside.
It is because of her special stories about the church that Chuck and I ventured to see if services were still being held. Grandma recalled to us all the special Easter festivities - the candlelight procession, the blessing of the Easter food. (In the old country Czechoslovakia - Grandma recalls baking paskha - Easter bread - in the clay oven and carrying it to church wrapped in a linen towel slung over her back.)
And so we came this Easter season with very hopeful hearts that we might experience a little of what Grandma had known. There's so much joy in your church - it made us very happy to have the chance to participate and to tell Grandma how welcome each one made us feel. Again, let me say what a pleasure it is for my Grandma to know that the people in the congregation at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church are so kind to her grandchildren and that the church is still carrying on the holy traditions she remembers."
(Excerpted from a letter dated May 5, 1973, from Mrs. Jade Trevere Barth)