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Parish History

~ Centennial History Photo Album
~ Centennial Program Book
~ Parish Centennial Celebration Photos, Part #1
~ Parish Centennial Celebration Photos, Part # 2

Before our beginning

Baltimore’s Washington Hill section saw its earliest development in 1790, long before it would serve as a home to Holy Trinity parish. That year, the newly-merged entities of Fells Point and Baltimore Town joined their two seaports, and thus, their commercial futures together, stimulating an influx of both merchants and workers. In addition to the neighborhood’s population of German, Irish, Lumbee Indian, and free African- Americans, by the 1860s, Baltimore became one of the nation’s largest ports of entry, bringing corresponding population boom to this part of the city. In a few decades, steamships were regularly bringing Russian, Polish, and other immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe to Baltimore. Newspaper accounts from the time described further land improvements in the mid-1850s on North Broadway and at Jackson Square in response to the area’s growing popularity, noting the fine view of the city and the surrounding countryside that the elevated ground commanded as well as its “salubrious and healthful” atmosphere.

On September 26, 1866, Jackson Square featured a ceremony laying the cornerstone of the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, the structure that over fifty years later became Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Independent Church. That cornerstone laying occurred just over a year after the American Civil War ended with full slave emancipation, and five years after Tsar Alexander II had emancipated the Russian serfs by issuing a document ghostwritten by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, a document that would serve as a direct blueprint for Lincoln’s subsequent Emancipation Proclamation. The building in question, designed by architect John W. Hogg, had originated as a wooden frame Sunday school built the year earlier for the benefit of neglected children. It would eventually transform into a structure featuring brickwork rising 95 feet into the air with plans for a fifty foot spire. The basement hall was fitted up as a Sunday school and used for meetings and other events.

By the spring of 1868, the Jackson Square Methodist Episcopal community found itself encumbered with a debt of $15,000 and its building still unfinished. This led to its annexation by the Broadway Station Methodist Church. The church was finally dedicated 26 Sep 1869. The pastor’s home adjacent to the church was built in 1872.

In 1888, the Jackson Square congregation consolidated with the East Baltimore Station Church, leaving the Jackson Square church unoccupied. For a time, it was rented by the Fourth Baptist High Street congregation. Then, in the spring of 1892, members of the German Immanuel Lutheran Church seeking a site for English-language worship purchased the Jackson Square Church and pastor’s residence for seven thousand dollars. Additional improvements were made to the church, and as noted in the Our Savior Lutheran parish’s Diamond Jubilee commemorative booklet, the church was “dedicated to the service of the Triune God on August 7, 1892”.

In 1898, the frame part of the spire on the Jackson Square church was blown off by gale winds, damaging the roofs of three houses and landing in an alley. Then in July of 1902, the Lutheran parish experienced a great hardship when the church was badly damaged during a raging storm. The roof over the altar was torn off by wind and the rear completely crumbled, wrecking the altar, pulpit and pipe organ. Newspapers reported that the noise of the falling walls and roof was heard for several blocks. Undeterred, the congregation repaired the church walls and roof, then redecorated and rededicated in March of 1903. Evidence of the repair work to the exterior brick wall can still be seen.

Over the next two decades, the area saw its increase in Jewish, Russian and other Slavic immigrants. Because many of the Lutheran church members moved to other sections of the city, the English-language Evangelical Lutheran congregation decided to relocate.

These East European Slavic immigrants, drawn mostly by hopes of economic opportunity in the industrial cities of the American northeast and Mid-Atlantic, settled in neighborhood enclaves in their various cities, as did other immigrant groups. In Baltimore, this meant a substantial contingent gathered in Washington Hill and Butchers Hill. The men among them, seeking association and mutual aid, tended to form lay brotherhoods that played a substantial role in their adaptation to the new surroundings. Indeed, many immigrant religious communities in America saw themselves emerging from such brotherhoods that had often doubled as burial societies or insurance associations. The brotherhoods involved both spiritual and social support in the unfamiliar context of the new country. Some of them went on to serve as the nucleus of emerging local parish structures; others functioned as links in broader, extra-parish structures such as the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society, or, ROCMAS, founded by Fr. (later Saint) Alexis Toth in Pennsylvania in 1895, which published its own newspaper, Svet, or The Light.

The Baltimore brotherhood, tied to the city’s first Eastern European Orthodox community—the church of the Resurrection—from 1907, and later in some form to Holy Trinity parish, played an important role in supporting a formal boarding house for immigrant Orthodox men operated by Fr. Constantine Seletsky, first pastor of Resurrection parish. Officially affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Christian Immigrant Society of North America started in 1908 by Fr. (later Saint) Alexander Hotovitsky, the Baltimore boarding home was one of only two such facilities in the country, the other being located E. 14th St. in New York City. Both of these residences offered not only shelter and food to the new chain migrants but also helped with employment, clothing, and other needs until the residents could acclimate themselves to the new environment and move toward self-sufficiency. The boarding homes included a chapel, a library, and classrooms offering classes in English language and religion.

As much as the Baltimore boarding home fostered the well-being of the city’s Eastern European Orthodox community, it closed after World War I during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, when its parent Immigrant Society ran out of money and fell into disorder. Also, the related lay brotherhood in Baltimore, like others in the country, saw several episodes of internal factionalism. Such factionalism was in no small way connected to the revolutionary chaos. Both the spiritual and financial support to the parishes in America from overseas came to a crashing halt. Further, various Bolshevik-sympathizing individuals sought to involve immigrants in their organizations and efforts in America. Collections of Slavic-American laity had already created a number of socialist clubs in America, including an official branch of the American Socialist Party which they titled the Russian Socialist Party. The many blue-collar Slavic Orthodox immigrants having come to the United States for economic reasons and hoping to find new opportunities in the industrial cities of America, were often targeted by these groups. By 1917, the group is reported to have featured around 600 members. Likewise, renovationist-minded priests and laity appeared in America hoping to instill revolutionary ideals into the church and its members.

While one might think that the socialists and even Bolshevik sympathizers would have been outsiders as far as church affiliation, the historical evidence shows that in many cities, “[m]eetings were often held concurrently with church services and featured lectures on such themes as ‘The Truth about God’ and ‘Religion and the State’.” A number of these varied complications existed in microcosm in Baltimore. A key episode on Christmas Eve, January 6, 1919 saw all of these factors come together, along with allegations of loose handling of church funds. The above-mentioned Fr. Seletsky, during the parish meal following Christmas Eve vigil at Resurrection parish, became involved with a debate alongside a dozen parishioners with others in the room over alleged misappropriated church funds and revolutionary political events. A subsequent history described this incident as key in spurring numerous parishioners to form a new parish community independent of these concerns and independent of inter-church debates.

Our Holy Trinity Church Parish

Following the dispute with Fr. Seletsky, these people initially found themselves without a church. Delegates were selected to seek guidance from the Rev. Father Vasily Kurdumoff, pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was during their first visit to Philadelphia on January 14, 1919 that plans were made for a mass meeting on February 9th in the Polish National Home in the 500 block of South Broadway. The delegation whose members were: Vasily Dubovik, Philip Turik, Anatoly K. Uchuck, Konstantine K. Uchuck and Stephan K. Uchuck, were responsible for the arrangements pertaining to this meeting. The Rev. Father Kurdumoff and the Rev. Father Deacon Vasily Petel (Andreevsky) of Philadelphia addressed and officiated at the mass meeting until the election of the following officers and committee: president Philip Turik, treasurer Pimen Hiluk, secretary Anatoly K. Uchuck, David Piseruk, Joseph Gonta, Konstantine K. Uchuck, Nikita Dragonuk, Trofim Nagorny, John Nagorny, Maxim Romanuk, Andrew Svatey and Stephen Shvetz. More than 500 attended this meeting and unanimously agreed to start an independent church owned by the people (Народную Независимую Церковь). Approximately $750.00 was raised at that first meeting to start a fund for their new parish. Loans were also requested, to which 19 people signed up for a total of $2,750.

At first, the American Hall on Lombard Street was rented as a place to hold church services and meetings. The committee members then canvassed the surrounding neighborhood for a permanent church building or property. They eventually came across a for-sale sign on the front lawn of the Jackson Square English Evangelical Lutheran Church on Fairmont Avenue. On March 6, 1919, the first payment of $1,000.00 was made on our present temple and adjacent rectory.

The name of the church was decided upon: the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Independent Church. Holy Trinity was selected because of the time of year that the church building was found and being purchased – shortly after the feast of Theophany, when the Most Holy Trinity was revealed. Independent was included to reflect that the parishioners owned the church property and that there would be no direct affiliation with any particular diocese. Because the majority of the members considered themselves Russian Orthodox, this was included in the name.

Official incorporation under the laws of the State of Maryland was completed on March 18, 1919 with the officers and committee members as founders, thus making Holy Trinity Church the second oldest established Orthodox Church in the state. Since it was very difficult to procure loans, a Tzerkovnaya Kassa (Church Treasury Fund) was legally established to allow the Russian people to lend their money to the parish when the need was present. Fr. Nestor Nikolenko was assigned as the first parish priest in March 1919. A psalomshtik (choir director) was also hired who organized a choir, lead services, and trained both adults and younger students twice a week. However, Rev. Father Vasily Kurdumoff and Rev. Father Deacon Petel continued to help the nuclear group to overcome the many difficulties they encountered in the beginning and alternated their services between Baltimore and Philadelphia until the church property was settled.

The Holy Trinity parish first started using their new church property in May 1919 and a month later, the final payment of $9,000.00 was issued. Thus, in five short busy months a dream became a reality with the responsibility of the mortgage of our temple being accepted by the parishioners. Great must have been their faith to invest their own money totaling over $15,000.00 to establish their own House of Worship in their newly adopted land.

After the church purchase was completed, the Evangelical Lutheran parish requested use of Holy Trinity Church’s school for religious services through December until they could move to their new church being built on The Alameda in northern Baltimore. In return, they donated to the parish a large painting of Christ the Savior which was mounted in the altar for many years and currently is located in the church hall stairwell.

The Early Years

Initially, Holy Trinity’s congregation consisted entirely of Russian and other Slavic immigrants who lived in the surrounding Washington Hill neighborhood. They were of various backgrounds ranging from poor peasant farmers to Russian royalty. Nonetheless, all were now viewed as equals in this new land of America.

From the very beginning, the church was more than a place of worship. It was also a focal point where people could gather and associate with members of their own culture. The parish regularly organized balls, concerts, receptions, picnics, Yolka celebrations and various other social events. The existing stage in the church hall was widened and raised and performances were regularly staged by the parish’s Drama Club, choir, and balalaika ensemble. Classes were held during the week in the evenings for children and adults, both in Russian and in English. Holy Trinity Church served an important role to the local community which at the time had many Russians and other Slavic people.

In May 1929 the parish unanimously voted to have an iconostasis installed. Fundraising for the iconostasis began as early as 1926 and $1,284 was raised by the time it was built. A committee was organized and in November 1929, a contract was issued to the Baltimore Lumber Company, owned by Stephen Bobenka, for $1,200. The icons on the iconostasis were painted by Philip Bonzuk for $545. John Engalitscheff, a prince of Tzarist Russia and an iconographer, helped design the iconostasis and painted a number of other icons for the church. A new crystal chandelier was donated by four parishioners. The remainder of the church was painted with decorations and gilded at a cost of $2,400. On Sunday May 31, 1931 the completed church was consecrated by Bishop Theodosius (Samoilovich) of Detroit, Michigan.

What can be considered the troubled years of our parish began in 1930 and continued through 1938. At one point, membership dropped to 33 families in the early 1930's. The Great Depression also put a strain on the financial condition of the parish, to the point where the top portion of the crystal chandelier was sold in order to raise funds. Nonetheless, there were some members who could not be discouraged and activities within the church community began to increase in spite of the disagreements. The Sisterhood was established in 1934 when 50 ladies of our parish joined together to carry on the ancient tradition of looking after the House of God. Their tasks included keeping the temple neat, properly supplied with altar furnishings and vestments, and taking charge of the culinary arts for the church dinners. In 1937, the young adults who had a club for the Russian youth in the congregation became known as the Baltimore "R" Club and received their charter as Chapter 103 in the Federated Russian Orthodox Clubs. The purpose of the club was to unite the youth and bring them into active participation in Church life. In 1938, the Holy Trinity Brotherhood was reorganized. During the first meeting of the original twenty-seven members, it was decided that all "brothers" had to be members of our parish. The Brotherhood was open to men, women and children. It is amazing that with all the friction, these were the years when the doors of our church community were open practically every day for Church Services, choir practice, Russian school, club meetings, dancing or other entertainment. This was truly an active community. However, the trouble was too deeply rooted and in 1938 a small group left the parish.

In 1939 Konstantine K. Uchuck volunteered and was appointed to conduct an intensified membership drive. Mainly due to his efforts in locating and contacting the Russian people who were now scattered throughout Baltimore City, the membership reached a total of 350 families.

Post War Years

After World War II, the Washington Hill community began to experience the phenomenon of urban decay. Middle class homeowners began to move to the suburbs with the help of the increasingly popular automobile. Many of the neighborhood’s homes were converted to apartments and low-cost housing. Baltimore’s receding population over the next two decades and a declining manufacturing sector eventually contributed to many deteriorating and boarded-up buildings.

Nonetheless, improvements continued on the church property. These were started in 1949 with the installation of new heating systems in both the temple and the rectory. Marc De Montfort, an artist from New York City, was contracted to paint the interior of the temple with icons and frescos. The exterior of the church property was repointed and painted. To complete the project the rectory was remodeled and refurnished. The parish was fortunate to have the Rt. Rev. Feoder Kovalchuk during this period of activity. Under his guidance the parish continued to grow spiritually and accepted their responsibility to share the improvement expenses, which totaled $24,000.00. The church was rededicated on May 14, 1950.

Additional assistance was being given by the individual groups within the parish. The Sisterhood purchased new vestments, altar and analogion coverings, as well as ordered the completion of the icon work on the front walls of our Church. The Holy Trinity Brotherhood assisted the ladies by purchasing the icons for the doors of the front wall. The Golgotha was donated by the parish’s members in the Brotherhood of the Great Martyr George. The Baltimore "R" Club donated two candelabras.

It was also during this time that changes to the parish’s demographics become more varied. In the earlier parish years, Holy Trinity’s congregation consisted entirely of Russian and other Slavic immigrants living in the surrounding Washington Hill area. By the 1950’s, Holy Trinity’s parishioners were now mostly second and third generation and began to lose the language of their ancestors. Parish rectors were being selected who could speak both Russian and English. The English language began to be used more in liturgical services.

In the late 1960s, the Sisterhood sponsored a Church Improvement Drive that funded new tables and chairs, new floor finishes, painting the exterior of the church and hall, and repairing and screening the stained-glass windows and a new carpet in the church. A new icon of the Holy Trinity was mounted in the Holy Trinity Church altar that was donated by Mr. Anthony Uchuck and the LaPasha family.

Challenges and Changes

By the late 1960’s, portions of the Washington hill section reached such a deteriorated condition that the city began to tear down segments of the neighborhood. Many parishioners became frightened enough to sacrifice participation in certain church events. Vandals desecrated Holy Trinity Church in February 1970, which required the restoration of the iconostasis and 19 icons. The church also suffered two burglaries. However, a turning point appeared when a number of Washington Hill concerned citizens entered a cooperative agreement with the city to restore homes in the neighborhood. The restoration work of the 1970s gave the old neighborhood a much-needed face lift.

While the dawn of the 1970s saw the start of substantial changes to the neighborhood environment, one key change that did not take place within the church community was a switch to the newly-forming Orthodox Church in America, created from the former Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America. Parish records indicate substantial efforts by those parishes and clergy interested in joining the new organization, which was to be completely independent of the Orthodox Church of Russia, but the Holy Trinity parish preferred to retain both their spiritual and practical affiliations with the Church of Russia, and thus became one of the thirty-plus parishes comprising what was termed the Patriarchal Parishes of the U.S.A. of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, one change was implemented at this time, namely the adoption of the revised Gregorian Calendar for liturgical use.

In 1975/76 the church hall was renovated, and a new kitchen was installed. The "old'' stage was removed, the refreshment area and outside restrooms were replaced with a new kitchen, restrooms and refreshment area. This increased seating in the hall by 40% and greatly improved food preparation capabilities, allowing for bigger and better Russian Festivals.

The decade of the 1980's saw external renovations to the church, including stained glass window protection, a new roof, removal of trees in the front courtyard of the church, and removal of the old paint to expose the original pointed red brick exterior. In 1983, major renovations were commenced on the church's interior. Painting, icon cleaning, decorating, and a thorough refurbishment were undertaken by Gibbons of Baltimore at a cost of approximately $57,000. The plaster walls were repaired and painted, the main icons cleaned and outlined with new stenciling, the four Evangelists at the corners of the church were repainted, ceiling iconography added, and the iconostasis was marbleized and gilded. This was followed upon with new carpeting, new pews, and a new chandelier to complete the beautification of the temple's interior.

For most of the 1980's, the rectory was little used and required extensive renovation. Many thoughts as to its usefulness and importance to the church were considered. Finally, a plan was approved, and work began in 1991 to restore the rectory. The brick back wall had to be completely rebuilt as it was in danger of collapse and the interior was rearranged to provide a spacious living area on the second and third floors, multi-purpose room and pastoral office on the first floor and an open space area for the Sunday school is found in what had been the old kitchen and storage room. This project took over two years to complete.

Further Growth

The annual Russian Festival also became a well-established tradition for the Holy Trinity parish which was started in 1973. It offered us an opportunity to showcase the several Russian traditions to the local neighborhood, as well as provided the parish with much needed income. Beginning with selling Russian artisan breads and desserts, the Russian Festival expanded each year. In time, Russian dances, live music, souvenirs and enhanced menu items were added to the event. Beyond the parish's financial needs, the Festival helped to strengthen friendships within the parish, requiring everyone to work together on a common project.

At the turn of the 21st century, the annual Russian Festival increased in capacity by more than 100%, when it expanded out into the street adjacent to the church under large tents. The menu items became much more diverse, the number of breads increased several-fold and a full schedule of live entertainment filled the entire weekend of the festival each year.

Also, the new century brought growing improvements in the life of the parish. Church life was active with over one hundred parishioners attending Sunday Divine Liturgy on a regular basis. The Brotherhood, Sisterhood and Sunday School were all thriving. By this time, the parish consisted mostly of third and fourth generation families with close relations to the founding members. This gave the parish a very close, tight knit family feel. More Divine services were conducted during the week for major and minor feast days. The choir grew with younger singers. More boys and young men became altar servers. Growing enthusiasm in the parish nurtured more frequent fund raisers and special events. Likewise, after major improvements at the parish cemetery (see Orthodox Cemetery), more Divine Services were being conducted in the chapel and significantly more picnics and special events were offered in the outdoor pavilion on the cemetery grounds.

In 2002 a woman’s monastery was established in the rectory. Within the first two years five women novices made up the monastery. They conducted the full daily cycle of reader services and sang during Divine Liturgy on feast days during the week. The nuns were active in the life of the parish. They assisted with a variety of fund raisers and coordinated a few efforts to raise money in support of their monastic community. Unfortunately, by 2011 the women either had transferred to other monastic communities or left monasticism.

Other changes were taking root in the opening years of the 21st Century. Because of the influence of the women’s monastery and the Russian mission at the Saints Peter and Paul Chapel, the whole parish returned to the Julian Calendar for liturgical use. Also, the composition of the parish became more diverse.

Many new arrivals from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe began settling in the Baltimore region. Recent immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Serbia and Romania joined our church community and became increasingly active in the life of our parish. Their involvement brought renewed enthusiasm to the life to the parish. By 2019, as many as 10 different languages are spoken by our parishioners.

In 2006, Bishop Mercurius (Ivanov) presented to our parish a relic of the Holy Great Martyr Barbara of Heliopolis. Over the years since then, our church community has been blessed to receive relics of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, St. Luke of Simferopol and Crimea, St. Paraskeva Toplovskaya, St. Ksenia of St. Petersburg, Martyrs Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius and Orestes at Sebaste, a small piece of the Tomb of Christ and a small piece of the Cross of Christ.

From 2010, the parish was blessed by visits of miracle working icons. The Kursk-Root Icon of the Theotokos, visited in December 2010. Also, the “Hawaiian” Iveron Icon of the Theotokos was brought to our church on three separate occasions in 2011 and 2016. Likewise, in March 2013 relics of St. Luke of Simferopol were brought to our church for two days of Divine Services.

Approaching 100 Years

With parish life thriving, the members looked to ensure our church would be around for many years to come and to be a home for future generations of Orthodox Christians in Baltimore. Knowing that our centennial celebration was not so far away, efforts first started on the outside and structure of the church to be sure our efforts inside the church would be well protected. The first major effort was to put in an entirely new roof for the church, towers, kitchen and rectory.

In 2011, major remodeling of the hall kitchen greatly expanded the square footage of working space. Soon afterwards, improvements to the restrooms, new lighting and fresh coats of paint followed. In 2013, additional church improvement projects were initiated to include a new air conditioning system, repointing of the exterior of the church, roof repairs and relining, repainting of the hall and new doors, and electrical upgrades to support the festival and air conditioning system. The courtyard was cleaned, pavers installed, and new plants planted.

By 2017, major restorations began on the interior of the church. At first, eight large icons on the east, north and south walls of the church were completely restored and enhanced. Lead iconographer, Katerina Spilio of Byzantium Art Studio Decorative and Conservation Arts and her fellow artists cleaned and enhanced the beauty of the icons. First, they removed the grime and old varnish. Next, they enhanced the icons with oil and acrylic paints to bring them to a better liturgical aesthetic quality. The goal at this stage was to create a transitional style that was neither austerely Byzantine, but no longer classic, either. Katerina and her artists made some corrections to the scale, perspective, shading and light, in order to bring the icons closer in style to the iconostasis. This helped to make the church more harmonious in style.

In the summer of 2018, the parish started the second phase of major renovations of the church interior. Scaffolding was installed throughout the interior of the church and a large “dancefloor” was placed at the top of the scaffolding for work on the ceiling. Throughout June and July, the plaster in many areas on the ceiling and the walls were repaired and prepared for painting. All other areas were scraped and the entire church was skimmed and primed. Afterwards the final coat of paint was applied. Then, from early August through September, new icons were installed on the ceiling – Christ-Pantocrator enthroned, four Evangelists and approximately 1,200 stars, and an enlarged mural icon of Golgotha in the choir loft. Also, a new border design was placed throughout the church. Regardless of the scaffolding, the clergy and parishioners continued to serve Divine Liturgy in the church on Sundays from June through the end of September. However, because of the scaffolding in the sanctuary, a small table – to serve as the altar – the Seven-Candle stand, and other icons were placed in the center of the church for Divine Services.

Finally, in 2019 on the eve of the centennial celebrations, icons of the holy Cappadocian Fathers and Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council were placed on the front wall of the sanctuary. Also, a new porcelain tile floor was installed in the sanctuary, kliros and side rooms. This will be followed by a combination of porcelain tile and carpeting to be installed in the nave of the church after the Centennial Celebrations in May 2019. Additional iconography is also planned for the walls of the sanctuary in the years to come.

Planning for such a historic celebration began several years earlier. Individual committees worked tirelessly on each important element of memorializing this important milestone – renovations, parish history research, celebration, and fund raising. Despite their many varied responsibilities, all of our parishioners were focused on the mission of such an endeavor:

Giving thanks to God, we the faithful of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, with sincere gratitude recognize the sacrifices and accomplishments of our founding Fathers and Mothers most especially at this time of our centennial celebration. With faith and love we reach out to our community, giving witness to the Orthodox faith and traditions which have stood the test of time, and we prayerfully work on building upon the foundation for future generations. To God belong Glory. Amen.


References for this text are available through Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, Baltimore MD.

O Most Holy Trinity, Our God, Glory to Thee!