St. George Russian Orthodox Church
1988-2013: The First Twenty-Five Years
In the summer of 1988, a handful of faithful Orthodox Christians from Cincinnati, Ohio petitioned the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia to establish a new parish. Their goal was clear: establish a traditional Orthodox parish which would follow Russian tradition, including keeping the old calendar (the Serbian parish had no priest at that time). Afanassy Thompson (†2000) deserves credit as the mission’s most enthusiastic organizer. Hieromonk Kallistos (†1992), who lived in St. Louis, Missouri, assisted in the early stages of the community.
His Grace Bishop Alypy (now Archbishop) of Chicago and Mid-America blessed their good intention and assigned Archpriest John Boylan to be the parish rector. In the late summer of 1988 they gathered to select a patron at Fr. John’s house with his family: Matushka Teresa, Karen, John, Christopher, Elizabeth, and Sarah. Afanassy Thompson was there with his wife, Alexandra, son Matthew and two-month-old daughter Mary, along with Maurice & Nadia Sill, James Flannery, Thomas & Ellen Webb, George & Tanya Joukov and their young daughter, Natasha, as well as Tom Vangeloff, the parish’s first starosta.
The names of several saints dear to those present were placed in a bowl; Natasha Joukov, the youngest present, drew the name of St. George. This was Providential, since Cincinnati had previously had a Russian Orthodox parish dedicated to St. George. Founded in the mid-1940s by Archpriest John Sobolevski, the parish had closed in the early 1980s. As Maurice Sill said at the time, “God wants St. George to still prevail.” The Sills, who lived near Wayne, WV on the property that is now home to the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, had been regular visitors to the old St. George parish and felt strongly about the need for a ROCOR parish in Cincinnati.
Several parishioners of the ‘new’ St. George parish had also attended the ‘old’ parish, such as Paul & Lydia Dragan and Vychislav & Anna Bokatsch, all of whom have since reposed. All that is left of the old St. George parish is a nicely framed paper print icon of St. George which now greets visitors in the narthex of the new Church.
As word spread of the community’s founding, it was joined by its first choir director, Dr. George Gaspar, his wife, Rebecca, George (Daniel) Yosef, Nicholas Valentine (†1999), as well as Mark & Tatiana Gilstrap and their children.
The parish quickly developed into a small, devoted group of faithful, but they needed their own space. It was learned that a Reformed church in Blue Ash planned to close. Fr. John Boylan and George Yosef arranged to rent this property at 4905 Myrtle Avenue, with the option to buy it later. The pews were quickly removed, an iconostasis constructed and a wall added to divide the nave from narthex/parish hall. St. George parish was ready to fulfill its mission.
Fr. John Boylan served St. George through Pascha 1989, but then moved to Texas for family reasons. Among those who had joined the parish in his tenure is our current treasurer, Marianna Friesel.
Hieromonk Gabriel (Loynes) became the next rector, bringing with him his small monastic community, including Hierodeacon David (Giles), and several novices. During Fr. Gabriel’s tenure the parish purchased the property in Blue Ash. The parish grew again, expressing its historic openness to language and ethnic background. Fr. Gabriel began to serve some in Old Church Slavonic while some of the Orthodox Christians from Syria who had recently joined the parish added singing in Arabic. The parish now includes Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Georgians, Romanians, Moldovans and Greeks, among others.
Fr. Gabriel served St. George through the spring of 1993. After his departure, the community was without a rector until that fall when Fr. Paul Bassett moved here with Matushka Barbara and their daughters, Martha, Mary, Susanna, and Andrea. A man who leads by quiet example and personal piety, Fr. Paul inspired devotion and faithfulness in his growing flock.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, a slow trickle of newly-arrived Russians began to visit St. George. The idea of building a new Church had been raised as early as 1992, but as the Myrtle Avenue Church began to fill up, discussions became more serious. In 2000, a 1.9 acre parcel of land on Loveland-Madiera Road in Loveland, Ohio was purchase under the leadership of parish Starosta George Joukov. The architecture firm of Dunn and Titus was hired to design a new St. George parish and hall. To raise money for construction, the parish sent out an appeal and, led by Larissa Sander, established its very successful fund-raiser: Russian Winter’s Night. The new parcel of land was paid off in January of 2007.
Difficulties ensued: bids to build the ambitious plans of the architect came back far over budget, the new lot turned out to have bedrock just below the surface adding more than $300,000 to construction costs, and then the economy crashed, making loans scarce and donations harder to come by. Worst of all, the parish’s beloved rector had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and by 2008 it had begun to affect Archpriest Paul’s ability to serve. Help arrived through the accomplished iconographer, Fr. Pavel Akmolin, who was assigned as an assistant to the rector in 2009.
Despite all this, the parish continued to grow, all too often making it uncomfortably packed. Through fervent prayers, solutions to some of the problems were found. A new parcel of land was purchased in Loveland on North Lebanon Road. One of the construction companies which had bid on the architect’s plans, Bruns Construction, offered to build a church with a fixed-price design/build contract. Through the labors of the building committee chairman at that time, Kurt Sander, a local bank was found which was willing to offer a loan.
As Fr. Paul’s health deteriorated, Fr. Pavel began to fulfill much of the work of a parish rector. Ultimately, he let the parish council know that he wanted to focus on iconography and did not seek to be rector of the parish. His Grace, Bishop Peter, Administrator of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America, assigned Fr. Daniel Marshall to be acting rector of the parish at the end of April, 2012. Matushka Anya and their children, James, Alexandra and Leo, moved from Middlebury, Indiana to Cincinnati in August of that year.
The parish signed a $1 million construction contract with Bruns in April, but difficulties in finalizing the plans pushed back site work to August. The final building permit was granted on October 4, 2012. Thanks to the generosity of Archimandrite Luke and the brotherhood of Holy Trinity Monastery, two pieces of the relics of the Great-Martyr George were given the parish in November 2012, arriving in Cincinnati just in time for the feast of the Founding of the Church of St. George in Lydda – the same day that Bruns poured the cement for the floor of the new Church! One piece of those relics now resides in the parish’s main icon of its patron.
By the intercessions of St. George donations toward construction grew, allowing the parish to fulfill a $50,000 challenge grant by the end of 2012. Bishop Peter granted Fr. Paul Bassett’s request to retire, making him rector emeritus and assigning Fr. Daniel parish rector.
Construction continued quickly. By the start of the new year, the walls of the new parish hall were already standing; the Church was framed in shortly thereafter. Bishop Peter blessed the cupola and Cross on February 12, after which it was placed on the Church. He returned to Cincinnati again in June to blessed the cornerstone and placed the relics of St. George in the foundation below the altar. Work on interior finishes and landscaping continued throughout the summer. Fr. Deacon Alexander Petrovsky and his wife, Colleen, joined the parish in August, 2013.
The parish was granted temporary occupancy on October 11; the last services were served in the Blue Ash church on October 12-13. The first services in the new Loveland church were on October 19-20. The final occupancy permit was granted on October 28, for which the entire parish is grateful to God and St. George!