Friday, February 01, 2008

'Russian Jubilee' honors Orthodox parish's founding

Knez Jakovac, left, and Jon Ferber, both of St. Louis, play Slavic music at the "Russian Jubilee" concert celebrating the founding of Holy Virgin Protection Russian Orthodox Church in Goshen.
Tribune Staff
WriterIt is Orthodox tradition to pray for the departed, and the congregation of Holy Virgin Protection Russian Orthodox Church in Goshen wanted to honor its church's founders.
So, during the "Russian Jubilee" concert Sunday afternoon, its members took a moment to remember the Orthodox Christians who, in 1954, petitioned Archbishop Serafim in Chicago to bless the founding of the parish. Only three of the 43 founding members are still alive.
"We're giving thanks for people who (were) able to found this church, who (were) able to open their hearts and have a lot of faith to preserve the culture, to preserve the faith, in the most adverse situations," Ludmila Pichugena Chapman of Middlebury says of the event.
The church was started around 1952 by Russian immigrants who moved to Goshen after World War II.
Josef Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, viewed all Soviet citizens who had come into contact with Germans to be collaborators or traitors.
"All these people knew that if they went back home, chances were likely they'd get put in prison," says the Rev. Daniel Marshall, pastor of the church.
Organizations such as Church World Services found places for the immigrants, and a handful of local families, largely Mennonite, sponsored them.
The immigrants had large families and little money, but their faith was important to them. After the parish was blessed, they decided to build a meeting place. The first thing many parishioners did on payday was buy as many cement blocks as their circumstances allowed. Then, over the weekend, men laid the blocks.
"The love the founders of the parish had for Orthodoxy, their Christian faith, is really remarkable because they put it ahead of their own priorities," Marshall says. "They clearly felt that if they were going to raise their families and live in this new land, they needed to have their church with them."
Today, the church includes Americans who have converted to Orthodoxy and recent immigrants, as well as members of some of the founding families.
Danielle Ride of Goshen recalls when the church used to meet in homes. Her parents relocated to France, where she was born, during the war. She has never been to Russia.
"But I feel it because of the community here in the church," she says. "I belong there because that's where I'm from. (The church) feels like home."
Chapman, who grew up in Moscow and came to America 14 years ago, explains the importance of the church in her life: "For me and my small family to have Orthodox Church here is like to have an anchor ... to be able to preserve not just my culture, not just my heritage, but to preserve my Russian Orthodox faith and to pass it onto my children. This just means the whole world to me."
The concert, besides raising funds for the parish, was "a way for our parish to say thank you to everybody in the area who helped make it our home," Marshall says.
The Old Bag Factory in Goshen was chosen as a venue because some of the original members had worked there.
Women in the church spent the week baking Russian foods; children in traditional costume prepared several Russian dances to perform; and two musicians traveled from St. Louis to perform.
"It's just connecting with another culture, another area of the world. A very beautiful culture," says Kate Koppy of Jones, who attended with her family.
"I really like music in a minor key, so Slavic folk music is always nice to listen to. It's also fun for me to watch the kids as they interact with the music," she says.
Knez Jakovac, the featured performer, plays a brac (pronounced brach), an Eastern European form of the mandolin. He and guitarist Jon Ferber played Russian music along with world music and American standards.
"Knez is the real thing. He's the kind of artist you can only find in America," Marshall says. "Because he's at once both incredibly grounded in his own musical tradition -- that is, he's Serbian by background ... but at the same time, he's grown up in America, so he's had all these other influences with him."
Jakovac has played the brac since he was 11 years old.
"I'm not like some of these guys who decide to start playing some ethnic instrument and then decide to do something else," he says. "I couldn't get away from it. I'm stuck. In a way, it's the love of my life, and in a way, it's the ruination of my life."
During the concert, the men played the Russian favorite "Kalinka," while Gabrielle Ride, 24, of Goshen, sang.
"My mom (Danielle) and grandmother taught me Russian when I was younger, and so I just kept that up," she says.
Gabrielle grew up hearing the story of the church's roots from her grandparents, who helped found the church, and her mother. So, she was touched by a particular portion of the program.
While the musicians played, a 10-minute slide show featured a visual history of the parish. Photos were submitted by members of the congregation.
"That just brought memories, seeing the pictures. Even if I was not born, I knew who the people were," she says.
Gabrielle believes that not only did it take faith to begin the building project, but that parishioners' faith grew through the project.
"I think that gave them strength and belief in our faith. ... They finally got a place where they could serve church services instead of in homes."

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