In the late 19th century, Rusyn immigrants from the territories of Slovakia and Moravia settled on the Marblehead peninsula. They were also known as Ruthenians, Uhro-Russians, and Carpatho-Russians. Most found work in the stone quarries here. These Rusyns came from the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe, a territory in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which today is located in the modern countries of Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, and the Ukraine. They held to the Eastern form of Christianity, and primarily belonged to the Greek Catholic, or Byzantine Catholic, Church under Rome. In 1897 the Greek Catholic Church of the Dormition (Assumption) of Mary was founded in Marblehead.
Around this time, many Carpatho-Russian Greek Catholics sought to return to the Eastern Orthodox Church of their forefathers. This movement to Orthodoxy occurred both in Europe and in North America. In America, the movement was begun by Greek Catholic priest Father Alexis Toth, whose difficulties in dealing with the Roman Catholic hierarchy here inspired him to seek to have his parish in Minneapolis, Minnesota, received into the Orthodox Church, which at that time in the USA was under the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow. That event became the catalyst for many other Greek Catholic parishes to return to the Orthodox Faith. Marblehead was no exception. A number of Greek Catholics here appealed to the Russian Orthodox bishop in San Francisco, Bishop Tikhon, and he traveled to Marblehead to work with them. Father Victor Toth, brother of Father Alexis, also came to Marblehead to encourage our people. Finally, in 1898, our parish, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Dormition (or Assumption), was received into the Orthodox Church. Three lots were purchased on Alexander Pike, and a church was built. Father Victor Stepanoff of St. Theodosius in Cleveland was the first supply priest.
Sadly, a deep division soon arose among them. A faction of our flock decided to leave the Orthodox Church and return to the Greek Catholic Church, also called the Unia, under Rome. The problem arose when they decided that they wanted to take our church with them! The controversy ended up in court, and in 1901 the church property was ordered sold at sheriff’s sale and the proceeds divided between the two groups. We found ourselves with less money, less people, and no church. Fortunately the Congregational Church in Marblehead had decided to sell a building, also on Alexander Pike, that they used both for services and as a social hall. We were able to purchase it, and once again we had a home. But circumstances again intervened, and the stone quarry wanted the property. They offered to exchange a prime piece of real estate on Main Street in the village for our land, and we accepted the offer. Unfortunately that meant we were again without a church.
Around this time, one of our people, John Onyock, had an idea. Hearing that the Russian Tsar was a man of Faith, he boldly wrote to the Tsar asking for his help in building a church. Amazingly, the Tsar answered his letter personally! He instructed us to proceed with the building of our church. Then he sent Bishop Tikhon again to us, with personal gifts from the Tsar, including four large icons for our iconostas, a communion set, and the Tsar’s personal check in the amount of $1200. That may not seem like a lot, but in today’s money, it was the equivalent of $38,688!
So in 1905, after a day of hard work in the quarries, the men of our parish came with picks and shovels and began the building of our new church. By the following year, 1906, it was completed. Archbishop Tikhon consecrated the church and celebrated the first Liturgy. Today it is considered the oldest Orthodox church temple in the State of Ohio.
Pride in their new church inspired our members to new sacrifices and, in spite of many hardships and challenges, the parish continued to grow. Milestones included:
- 1929 - The first formal choir was organized.
- 1929 - Parish youth formed Chapter #14 of the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs (FROC).
- 1942 - The Mothers and Daughters Club was formed.
- 1944 - The first formal church school was organized by Father Michael Dziama.
- 1940s - M. Rozdilsky completed 2 new icons for the sanctuary (altar area) and electricity was installed in the church.
- 1950s - Carpeting was laid, pews installed, and a new oil furnace was installed to replace the old coal stove.
- 1953 - A rectory was built and Father Daniel Hubiak was assigned as our first full-time rector. After 56 years, we were no longer a mission parish!
- 1966 - Iconographer brothers Nicholas and Peter Zadorozhny (anglicized to Roadway) adorned the interior walls with large icons of the Nativity of the Theotokos, the Nativity of Christ, the Annunciation, the Sermon on the Mount, and Christ in the home of Martha and Mary. Other icons they wrote were St. Helena, St. Sava of Zvenigorodsk, and the Pokrov (protection) of the Theotokos. They also completed an icon of the Holy Spirit attended by angels over the sanctuary, and the ceiling of the nave was adorned with the Sign of Victory (ICXC) and NIKA surrounded by four cherubs. Gold stars symbolizing the heavens adorned the remainder of the ceiling.
- 1969 - The parish hall in the basement was renovated.
- 1970 - The parish became affiliated with the new Orthodox Church in America (OCA), which the Church of Russia created by giving autocephaly, or independence, to its former Metropolia in North America. The parish voted at that time to switch to the New Revised Liturgical calendar.
After repairs to the ceiling and walls were completed in the late 1990s, in the early 2000s new iconography was installed in both the sanctuary and nave. Father Paul Albert of St. Elias in Toledo wrote the icon of the Panagia flanked by two angels above the sanctuary, the icon of Christ the Pantocrator on the ceiling of the nave, and the icon of the Holy Napkin above the doors to the narthex. Iconographer Dennis Bell wrote the icon of St. Sophia and her 3 daughters on the east wall of the nave.
Also in the 2000s our parish was extremely blessed to be given the holy relics of St. Tikhon of Moscow by our Metropolitan Theodosius…not once, but on TWO occasions! St. Tikhon was the ruling hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Aleutians and North America who came to Marblehead in 1906 and consecrated our new temple. He was glorified as a Saint in 1970. Icons of St. Tikhon were written by parishioner Lilian Kaitsa and also Mr. Dennis Bell, and reliquaries were installed in each. Today the icon of “St. Tikhon of Marblehead” written by Ms. Kaitsa adorns the narthex, and the icon written by Mr. Bell is on an icon stand where it is venerated by the faithful.
In the year 2000, the Orthodox Church of Russia glorified Tsar Nicholas II and his family as Saints of the Church. Tsar-Martyr Nicholas thus joined Saint Tikhon in the company of Saints as New Martyrs of Russia. So it is that the two men who had so much to do with the founding of our Marblehead church are now SAINTS!
For over 60 years, the parish has hosted its annual HALUPKI FESTIVAL on the third Sunday of August. The festival celebrates the Carpatho-Russian heritage of its founding members with delicious foods such as halupki (cabbage rolls), halushky (cabbage and noodles), perohi (pierogies), and kolbasi (smoked sausage), plus ethnic baked goods, refreshments, polka bands, a craft show, a demonstration of the art of psanky (egg decorating), and tours of the historic church. Thousands come each year from near and far for this event.