First Advisor

John P. Cavarnos

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Russian Orthodox Eastern Church in Oregon, Russians -- Oregon



Physical Description

1 online resource (208 p.)


The historical record of the Orthodox Church's missionary efforts in North America and of the development of a viable local church administration is extremely scarce at best. No major scholarly work exists in English covering the historical development of any of the national Orthodox jurisdictions which followed the mass immigration of Arab, Greek, and Slavic Christians to the New World. More unfortunately, few scholarly records exist of local or regional church histories. In a very real sense, until these “grass roots” histories are gathered and recorded, no truly complete history can be written on Orthodox Christianity in North America.

The researcher at tempting to compose such a "grass roots" religious or ethnic history, then, is confronted with two immediate problems: the total lack of any suitable secondary sources related to such local histories and hence, the lack of a suitable outline or structure to model. The first problem is easily surmounted by becoming familiar with local resources, especially church archives, libraries, local newspapers, historical societies; governmental and private agencies, and of course, the people who have lived the history. The researcher soon discovers how to balance oral interviews, which are sometimes factually vague, with primary documents, which often fail to communicate the human side of history. In short, the serious research of local religious or ethnic history will often discover a deluge, rather than an absence of sound primary data.

How to organize this wave of information then becomes the chief problem. The author hopes that the structure of this history of Russian settlement and church life in Oregon offers a viable outline to follow. A general history of the early development of the Orthodox Church in America is presented as an introduction to give the reader a feeling for what led to the establishment of the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church in Oregon and of how it related to the growth patterns of the Orthodox Church throughout North America. The body of this is a chronological history of the Russian Orthodox Church and settlement in Oregon, with each chapter focusing on different stages of this historical development. A concluding chapter summarizes this history, compares it to the patterns of other local and national Orthodox groups, and offers “educated guesses" on the future of Orthodoxy in Oregon and America. Until such time as complete histories of the Orthodox Church in America are written, any comparisons between local and national developments must remain just that, "educated guesses"

The Orthodox Faith arrived in Oregon in the 1880's with immigrants from Alaska, Europe, and the Middle East. Initially these groups worshiped together, in a Russian chapel in East Portland, following a pattern common to other Orthodox parishes in the American West. Soon, however, feelings of ethnic separation destroyed this initial catholicity and the Greeks (1907), Syrians (1934), and Ukrainians (c. 1959) established their own parishes away from Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Chapel (1894-1927) and St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (1927-1976). Other ethnic groups, such as the Serbs and Bulgarians, remained with the Russians, due to a lack of their own resources and sufficient numbers. St. Nicholas Church was increasingly Russified following small waves of new Russian immigrants in the 1920's·and 1950's. This Russification was another factor which drove away non-Russian Orthodox and discouraged converts. By the late 1960's, due to a lack of new immigrants and to the loss of old immigrants, St. Nicholas Church was slowly dying. The arrival in the 1970's of a new breed of energetic, Americanized priests literally resurrected the parish, which is now growing, Americanizing, and preparing to build a new church building in West Portland. Whether St. Nicholas Orthodox Church can meet the missionary challenge offered by a non-Orthodox population remains the challenge of the future facing the Pacific Northwest’s oldest Orthodox parish.


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