Statistics

Holy Assumption is part of the Orthodox Church in America and the Diocese of the Midwest with a membership of roughly 150, with around 80 families. Currently Stacey Richter is the parish priest and Donald Wescott is the Subdeacon.

Holy Assumption is located in Canton, OH

Holy Assumption is located in Canton, OH

The parish has several different ministries available including Orthodox Christian fellowship, which meets at Malone University, St Anne’s Guild, which is a woman’s group that puts together bake sales and other fundraisers for the church, and Sunday school classes for grades kindergarten through high school. Members of the parish are also involved with FOCUS North America, which stands for the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve. There is also a catechism class held once each year. The Parish also holds an annual Dormition Festival each year, in honor of Dormition of the Mother of God. The festival is geared towards young children and has featured magic shows but has also had live bands for the adults.

The parish council consists of a President and Vice President, Treasurer and Financial Secretary.  It became an official parish in 1957.

A map of Canton with Holy Assumption Church

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Orthodox History in America

Orthodox wedding party on St. Paul Island, ca. 1898.

Orthodox wedding party on St. Paul Island, ca. 1898.

Orthodoxy in America first began to blossom in Alaska in the early 1800s. This was not, however the first attempt to bring the Church to America. The other attempts were quite feeble and half-hearted and never really got off the ground. Andrew Turnbull, a British entrepreneur tried to create a Greek Orthodox settlement at New Smyrna near St. Augustine Florida in 1768.[1] His plans were thwarted by disease and an unbearable work environment.

The first major real inroad was made when a trading post was set up on Kodiak Island by Gregory Shelikhov, a Siberian Merchant who traded furs, and wanted a monopoly for his company.[2] He sought help from St. Petersburg and told them that he had managed to convert many natives to Orthodoxy, which was, of course, a bold-faced lie.

St Herman of Alaska

St Herman of Alaska

Whatever the moral failings of Shelikhov may have been, he was the catalyst for bringing the first successful Orthodox missionaries to America. Fr Herman is the most famous of the initial eight monk missionary team sent from Valaam Monastery in Russia to Alaska, as a response to Shelikhov’s testimony. Herman was canonized in 1970 and was the first American Orthodox saint.[3]

Fr Innocent, who was also canonized, might be compared to St Cyril, who evangelized the Slavs about 1000 years earlier by creating a language for them. St Innocent created an alphabet for the Aleuts, in order to make it easier to perform divine liturgies and read the scriptures.

St Innocent of Alaska

St Innocent of Alaska

Orthodoxy had taken off in Alaska and it grew mostly through Alaskan converts rather than Russian immigrants. Bishop Gregory Afononksy in his History of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska writes that in 1860, a “report of a government inspector [estimated] the number of native Alaskan Christians at 12,000, in 43 communities, with 35 chapels, 9 churche…17 schools and 3 or 4 orphanages.”[4]

Orthodox church growth outside of Alaska was slow however. Again, there were small and feeble attempts without much success at first. Surprisingly, many efforts to grow Orthodoxy in America were combined efforts from Russians and Greeks. This betrays the distinction we see today between the Greek and Russian Orthodox in America. In 1864, a local Greek consul in New Orleans gave its permission to form what The Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches considers to be “the first Orthodox parish in the mainland United States. Like other Orthodox parishes before the age of mass immigration from southern and eastern Europe, this Eastern Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity was multi-ethnic, with Greek, Russian, Serbian, and Arab members.”[5]

St Alexis Toth

St Alexis Toth

Shortly after, Russian Orthodoxy started to gain prominence in San Francisco. Major growth was spurred by the conversion of Alexis Toth, who had been a priest in the Greek Uniate Catholic church. In 1989, Toth was refused a parish by Roman Catholic bishop John Ireland, who denied that the Uniate Churches were part of the Catholic Church.[6] This spurred Toth’s conversion to Orthodoxy and by 1917, 163 communities of Carpatho Russians joined the Russian North American archdiocese.[7] Although the initial beginnings in San Francisco were somewhat of a joint effort between the Greeks and Russians, the churches were nevertheless under the control of the Russians. It was becoming increasingly difficult for the Russian Orthodox to balance being a missionary church and a home for Russian immigrants, while also maintaining a united Orthodox church in lieu of increasing immigration from Greeks.

According to The Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches, “from 1890-1904, ten Greek Orthodox parishes were established [in the United States]…By 1922, the number of parishes had swelled to 141.”[8]

Greek immigration kept increasing until the mid-1900s when there were more than 400 parishes. By 1948, under Archishop Athenagoras Spyrou, the Greek Orthodox surpassed the Russians as America’s largest Orthodox jurisdiction.[9]

Greek Orthodox Funeral, December 23, 1908

Greek Orthodox Funeral, December 23, 1908

Other Orthodox jurisdictions that came to America during the 20s and 30s include the Serbs, the Albanians, the Antiochians, Romanians and Bulgarians.

The Communist revolution in Russia had an impact on church life in America in a number of different ways. The Serbs, who were originally under the Russian Archbishop in New York, moved into the diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church when the revolution began.

With Patriarch Tikhon imprisoned, there were many convoluted attempts to gain control of the Russian church in America, but in 1924, the Russian North American Archdiocese was proclaimed a self-governing church until a politically free Russian council could assess their status.

By the 1960s, the North American Archdiocese, also known as the “Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America” changed its name to the “Orthodox Church in America.”[10]

Some still question the Orthodox Church in America’s (abbreviated as the OCA) status as an autocephalous church, but it has operated as such for more than forty years, and is acknowledged as canonical by several major churches in Eastern Europe.

St Tikhon of Moscow, 1865-1925

St Tikhon of Moscow, 1865-1925

There were hopes that the OCA would help lead Eastern Orthodoxy into unity in America. Unfortunately, the OCA has not inspired any major moves in this regard.

The North American Episcopal Assembly was put together and met in May 2010 as an attempt to unify the Orthodox situation in America, but all major decisions concerning ecclesiastical life are still made by each jurisdiction’s mother church. Nevertheless, plans are in place for a Pan-Orthodox Council to take place around 2016.
________________
[1] Krindatch, Alexei. American Orthodox Christian Churches. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011, 9
[2] Ibid, 9
[3] Ibid, 9
[4] Afonsky, Bishop Gregory. A History of the Orthodox Church in Alaska (1794-1917). Kodiak, Alaska: St Herman’s Theological Seminary, 1977, 95
[5] Krindatch, American Orthodox Christian Churches, 10
[6] Erickson, John H. Orthodox Christians in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, 56.
[7] Krindatch, American Orthodox Churches, 13.
[8] Krindatch, American Orthodox Christian Churches, 56
[9] Ibid, 15
[10] Ibid, 17

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What’s so Great About Holy Assumption?

My first visit to my home parish Holy Assumption took place about five years ago on a stress-filled Saturday in which I had to attend a church different from my own as “homework” for a college history class. In the midst of trying to edit the last pages of the school’s newspaper, it dawned on me that I had to play in my church’s orchestra the very next day, so a different church on Sunday was not an option. Just then, I remembered my somewhat overzealous Orthodox friend telling me his church had services every Saturday night at 5:00. This was perfect! And it was only five minutes away from my college!

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The reading of the Gospel at Agape Vespers 2012 (the first service after the Easter Vigil and Divine Liturgy)

At 4:45, I rocketed through Arby’s and sped as safely as I could to the church that would later become the home of some of the most transformative and joyful experiences of my life. I had been to an Orthodox church once before. During an internship in Washington DC, my journalism professor Terry Mattingly took students who were interested to his three hour long Easter service. I was bored out of my mind, yet I still knew there was something special about what I saw that long and painful night (in Orthodox churches, standing during services is the norm) .

HA pic-Mark Drum

My band had a chance to play at the 2013 Dormition Festival. This is me on the drums.

After my “homework assignment” ended, I had a talk with the Subdeacon and my friend about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It was something I just didn’t “get.” However, instead of simply throwing as many arguments at me as he could, the Subdeacon patiently nodded and mentioned a few good books to look at. I was struck by his honesty, intelligence and warmth and I knew that whether or not I agreed with him, I had an enormous amount of respect for his beliefs. Unfortunately, these thoughts got lost in the stress of my newspaper editing. A year later, the thoughts finally returned to the forefront of my mind due to many in-depth conversations regarding scripture and tradition with my Catholic roommate. After a couple months of wrestling with Protestantism, I gave in to Orthodoxy and attended a church in Virginia for a while until I had completed my last internship and then returned to my home of Hartville, Ohio where I began attending Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton.

HA- Chili cook off tallent show 2

Parishioners applaud for a contestant in the annual talent show.

When I arrived in the church, I was overjoyed to find out that a couple guys I went to college with had been flirting with Orthodoxy as well. Eventually, a real bond was formed between all the young men in the parish, and a real love for the faith started to be nourished in all of us as we went through catechism classes and were eventually Chrismated on Lazarus Saturday in 2012. If things had happened even slightly different, I’m not sure I would be at seminary, but everything just seemed to align. Our parish priest Fr. Stacey Richter epitomizes the joy and evangelical spirit of the gospel. Whether in confession or in a sermon, it’s nearly impossible to hang on to any sort of Christian catatonia in his presence.  For a sample of Fr Stacey’s preaching on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, click here, and here for a class Fr Stacey taught on spiritual direction.

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Holy Friday service 2012

Although I took a decent number of music classes in college, I had never been in a choir in my life. My mother had been singing in front of people since an early age and had even recorded a couple albums. I never felt comfortable singing in front of people nor was I interested in choir since I had focused on drum set and percussion from an early age. Despite all this, I meandered my way into the tenor section of our church choir after about a year and a half in the parish. At first, I just stood close to the choir to see what the Stichera (the changeable parts in Orthodox services) were saying. But after taking part in some modified Matins services (the morning prayer service), where the four of us participating had to chant, I was told I was a tenor and eventually starting showing up regularly to sing the tenor line at Vespers (the evening prayer service) and Divine Liturgy (the main service of the church which includes many hymns, a gospel reading, an epistle reading, a sermon and Holy Communion).

HA- Christmas 2012 1

Holy Assumption’s children participate in an annual Yolka children’s play each Christmas

After about six months of singing in the choir, I was asked to start reading the epistle at the Divine Liturgy, which was a generous offer that still causes feelings of both gratefulness and nervousness.

This past year, I had the opportunity to sub for our high school Sunday School teacher and teach basic apologetics to a frighteningly brilliant group of high schoolers before they entered college life. It was a privilege to watch young men and women grapple with concepts like the absurdity of life without God, and the divinity of Christ in the gospels and in Paul’s letters.

HA-Bishop visit

Bishop Methias visited the parish in March 2012. A parishioner venerates the cross in his hand.

Holy Assumption is a parish known for going through tremendous growth spurts and then suddenly shrinking. However, many times the shrinking is caused by parishioners getting so infected with the Orthodox bug, that they feel the need to spread the word to different parts of the United States. I am one of three current seminarians from our parish (I am attending St. Vladimir’s Seminary, while the other two are at St. Tikhons Seminary), and there may be more on their way. Holy Assumption has been a channel of grace to me and the least I can do in seminary is learn how to channel some of that grace to others.

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